A Nazi in the Family

A visit we made to Berlin in 2012 had a profound effect on me. Not only did I go into my father’s childhood home in the Berlin suburbs but also, to my dismay, I found my grandfather’s name in books about the SS.

One of the things that writing and giving talks about this story has really made me think about is how an ordinary man can go hideously wrong. And I’m keen to contribute to wider understanding of the issues my family story raises.

Writing the book
My dad had always thought his father was no more than a simple pen-pusher. In a way he was, it was just that his pen shaped the lives of thousands of concentration camp inmates.

This book does more than tell the story of a man directly involved in the Holocaust. It describes what it was like to belong to the family of an SS officer.

And it provides uplifting evidence that revealing the truth from the past brings hope and reconciliation in the present.

There have been plenty of books about the Nazis, plenty about Hitler, and a fair number told by concentration camp survivors. But what was it like being in the family of an SS officer? And how did they cope with shame and guilt after the war?

The Niemann family, when Derek was a toddler

The man in the picture on the right is Rudolf Adolf August Martin Wilhelm Niemann. My dad. I’m the blotchy wee bairn with a bear and measles.

My father Rudi and his brother Ekart were only boys when hostilities ceased, but they both provided jaw-dropping testimony to events that no child should have had to experience.

A Nazi in the Family was published in hardback in 2015, and in 2018 went into paperback. It tells the family story from the outbreak of the First World War right through to the new life my dad and his sister carved for themselves in Scotland after WW2.

The striking images in the book (including those on the jackets) belong to a large and extraordinary family archive. Sarah has digitally restored them all – have a look here to learn more.

If you have comments on the book, or if you have further information, please use the email link on our contacts page.

Telling the story of A Nazi in the Family

I have spoken to a wide range of organisations, including family history societies and faith groups such as the Jewish B’nai Brith about my family story. One of the strong themes of the book is how an ordinary man can go hideously wrong. We all have the capacity to do evil; the challenge is to prevent the bad side of human nature coming to the fore. I’m very happy to do more talks about it.

‘Building Bridges’ talks

But perhaps even better might be a talk by me and the daughter of Holocaust survivors (we’re a team!).  Have a look at the Holocaust page to find out about our work together.

Statue in a Berlin squareAre you the descendant of a WWII German living in the UK?

A Nazi in the Family touches on the broader issue of how the post-war children of German immigrants coped with their halb-Deutsch lives.

If you too are the child or grandchild of a German, I would definitely like to hear from you. Send me an email and tell me your story (click on the contact tab above).

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2 Replies to “A Nazi in the Family”

  1. Dear Scott
    I’m really touched to receive your message. Touched that you should use my experience to fire your imagination. Touched also to inspire a poem (I love it – there’s such a hinterland there that I will enjoy exploring).
    I recall vividly our breakfast when you regaled me with a wonderful story about Margaret Atwood visiting a whaling station. I’ve been using that story ever since ad nauseam.
    Do let me know how your writing workshop goes if you have time. And I hope the course is going well for you.
    Best wishes

  2. Mr. Neimann –

    Hi. I’m Scott. We met at Cambridge. I am a candidate in the Postgraduate Teaching of Creative Writing program. This weekend I am in Dubai at an Emirates Literary Foundation fiction writing workshop. The workshop leader, writer and Curtis Brown Creative collaborator Lisa O’Donnell, has asked for a three-sentence pitch for our manuscripts, and I turned to the Internet to look for words to describe how one can find reconciliation for the wrongdoings of a family’s past. Thanks for your help.

    By the way, I mentioned at breakfast one morning during the July session that I was writing a poem inspired by you.

    Best –

    the prehistoric picnic of dna and found fossils
    (finding fault in fiction)

    and peter—i think
    that was his name, for
    it comes to mind
    without prejudice
    nor classification—said
    “i found a fossil.”
    “in the metamorphic melange,
    no doubt” i commented—
    the pebbles
    igneously painting a cambridge carpark
    corralling the bones
    of creative writing,
    a quarried carpet
    of collective anatomy.

    do we become
    lost in the noticing,
    blind to the buried mouse,
    deaf to dead bird
    even though
    we shuffle closer to the garden?
    the kitchen garage home office
    lost in deeds
    detached from dirty knees
    once drawn to earth—or the dress
    dropping to shoes
    shiny as an apple?
    sport socks mid-calf,
    stripes vacant
    to anything varicose.

    thank you, peter
    or whoever you are
    your geophysical non-fiction
    erstwhile inelegant ally
    to my poetry. beneath
    a pirelli
    in the rocky lot
    i found something
    not prehistoric, but pre-pubescent,
    a human hair
    decorated in the dander
    of a thousand voices
    filled with frozen bicycles
    ice cream bubble gum goalie mask.

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