Audio-book Review By Chet Yarbrough
(Blog:awalkingdelight) Website: chetyarbrough.com
By Laurent Binet
Narrated by John Lee
Judging from Laurent Binet’s “HHhH”, Hitler may be the only WWII leader who earns a lower place in Dante’s circles of hell than Reinhard Heydrich. Except for those steeped in history, the name Reinhard Heydrich does not resonate like Eichmann, Goebbels, Himmler, and Hitler. Heydrich is Hitler’s action-man, an organizer and perpetrator of the “final solution” that exemplifies the world’s shame.
Heydrich is called the “blond beast”, an image suggesting a golden-haired Teutonic giant wielding a canister of Zyklon B in one hand and a German Luger in the other. When looking at a picture of Heydrich, the image seems in error. Pictures of Heydrich show a man who is far from handsome with a receding hairline, enormous nose, and tiredly furtive eyes. Heydrich’s tight lipped, unsmiling, and elongated face is menacing. He looks like a stern father or teacher; capable of whipping or smacking knuckles of a child with a leather belt or an 18” ruler.
Based on Binet’s “HHhH”, Heydrich is considerably worse than a stern father or teacher. Heydrich is a mass murderer with an education equal to Leopold and Loeb, a murdering mentality rivaling Pol Pot, and a policy instinct reminiscent of Joseph Stalin. Binet writes that Heydrich excelled academically and athletically in school but gathered a hatred for humanity from real and perceived slights from peers and competitors. Heydrich grows into manhood with ambition to be first among equals. He joins the German navy only to be discharged for bad behavior; as fate would have it, just at the time of the rise of Nazism.
After joining the Third Reich, Heydrich comes to the attention of Hitler and is assigned to Himmler in the SS. Heydrich impresses Himmler and Hitler with his organizational skill. Heydrich takes over the SS, creates a special security force called Einsatzgruppen–death squads that are ordered to disrupt and/or murder any opposition to the rise of German Nazism. The Einsatzgruppen came into existence soon after Germany’s Kristallnacht attack on Jewish businesses.
Heydrich’s rise in the Third Reich leads to his appointment as Nazi ruler of Czechoslovakia after the Czech government’s ignominious defeat through Hitler’s intimidation of Edvard Benes, its aged President.
The denouement of Binet’s book is the attempted assassination of Heydrich
by two Czechoslovakian patriots, Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis. These two men, one is Czech and the other Slovak, know they are unlikely to survive the attempt but become symbols of allied resistance to German occupation.
An interesting aspect of this novel, other than its factual reporting, is Binet’s first person narration that is concerned with history’s fictionalization. It is a panegyric on the impossibility of truly writing an accurate history of historical events. In the end, Binet’s factual veracity seems better than average but he acknowledges his story is, after all, a historical novel, a fictionalized presentation of actual events.
In spite of history’s reporting limitations, a listener will know a lot more about Reinhard Heydrich after reading or listening to “HHhH”.