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Arthur Nebe

Title: The mask of the mass murderer
Author: Kevin Prenger
Publisher: Brave New Books
Published: 2018
Pages: 235
ISBN: 9789402154832

Between August 8, 1944 and April 9, 1945, a total of 90 persons suspected of involvement in resistance activities against the incumbent Nazi leadership were put to death in Plötzensee prison in the Berlin suburb of Charlottenburg. Especially those involved in the attempt and coup of July 20, 1944, were executed here. The list of names contains a very conspicuous one, Arthur Nebe.

Arthur Nebe (November 13, 1894 – March 1945). was a First World War veteran who rose through the ranks of the police within the Nazi Empire to Reichskriminaldirektor (head of the criminal department) in the rank of SS-Gruppenführer. He also was the head of the predecessor of Interpol. It appears from everything, he was a capable and honorable police officer, as far as possible within the Nazi regime. As early as the end of the 30s, he had ties with a group engaging in discussing and planning resistance activities with the ultimate intention: disposing of Hitler, with or without violence.

Hans Gisevius, Nebe's friend and fellow resistance fighter, has attempted to paint a picture of honorable resistance fighter Nebe after the war. The mask of a tough SS leader would hide a determined resistance fighter. That Nebe was indeed active within resistance groups has been repeatedly confirmed in the meantime.

At the same time though, Nebe was involved in Aktion T-4, the organized murder of sick and disabled persons using poison gas. From June 1941, Nebe was in charge of Einsatzgruppe B, one of the death squads that murdered political Kommissars, partisans and Jews in the occupied territories in the Soviet Union. Under his direction, a total of 45,000 persons have been murdered, predominantly Jews. When one realizes, all this took place within a time frame of just over 3 months, the bloodthirstiness of this gruesome act becomes clear.

Nebe asked to be transferred back to Berlin and his request was granted but even then, there was no end to the bloodlust of this hero of the resistance. Following a – largely failed – attempt at escape of 76 British airmen from a Prisoner of War camp, 50 men were murdered in reprisal on orders by Nebe. He also was closely involved in the murder of Gypsies.

During the attempt on Adolf Hitler, July 20, 1944, it was Nebe's task to coordinate the judicial machinery after the putsch. The attempt failed however and Nebe was obliged to go into hiding. Eventually he was betrayed and arrested. Nebe was hanged in March 1945. The exact date is unknown).


In his 4th book, Kevin Prenger (1980) paints a well-arranged picture of a man who evokes mixed feelings after the war.

Has Nebe been a resistance fighter? Not in the usual sense of the word. Nebe was a Nazi and was able to build an impressive career within the Nazi regime. Yet he was not satisfied. As a conservative individual, he had supported the rise of Nazism but gradually he had become increasingly disillusioned in a regime that did not meet his expectations. Especially the fact that the police machinery had steadily grown into a political instrument was something Nebe could only accept with difficulty.

The internal corruption, the moral decay making normal police work increasingly difficult, was a thorn in Nebe's side. In his dissatisfaction he found sympathizers with whom he drafted plans to achieve the desired changes by means of a putsch.

Not the noble motives like the aversion of the tyrannical suppression, the Holocaust or anti-war feelings encouraged Nebe to resist actively. On the contrary; Nebe played a decisive and active role in the reprehensible murder actions of the Third Reich. In hindsight, Nebe was far more the unconscionable war criminal wearing the mask of a resistance fighter than the other way around, so the author concludes.

Rating: Very good


Translated by:
Arnold Palthe
Article by:
John Smeets
Published on:
Last edit on:
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