Top positive review
The greatest conflicts, it turns out
Reviewed in the United States on April 7, 2016
Liberated, A Novel of Germany, 1945, by Steve Anderson
Liberated is fiction, a novel, but it is very well-informed by history. The action is immediate, closely observed, and fast-moving. But if it is “fiction” it is based on extensive research and experience. The beginning of the narrative launches several plots all at once: a young American Captain has been appointed Commanding Officer (CO) of a German town in 1945. “Within minutes I’d be running a whole Bavarian town on my own.” It is a tall order. He is a recent arrival, before that moment he hadn’t taken part in the war’s action. But he speaks fluent German; his German parents came to the US when he was a child.
He quickly finds himself immersed in a least half-a-dozen conflicts. If the war is formally finished, it continues in many disguised ways among the German inhabitants who have very different allegiances, priorities, and cliques. Most inhabitants of the town have adopted new disguises to cope with the times under a veneer of friendliness to the Americans.
Two unexplained mysteries confront the young American Captain. During his first day in the town he discovers three bodies on a road. One is still alive, he has a concentration camp number tattooed on his arm. When the Captain returns later to give help and identify them, they have completely disappeared. A second mystery opens in the early pages of the novel when the narrator hears the whistle of freight cars passing nearby. However, he is unable to discover where the train was going or even what tracks it was using.
Only later in the novel it turns out that the freight cars were laden with valuable art works. Taken by the Germans? By the SS still secretly active? By renegade Americans? In 1945 there were countless valuable collections of art in Germany owned by Nazis who aggressively stole and confiscated, mostly from Jewish owners. A reader familiar with “The Rape of Europa,” a book and popular DVD based on it, will be acquainted with some of this material. The Americans have taken over the ancient castle overlooking the town, they have established a workshop for restoring ancient art objects, employing skilled DPs and foreign artisans eager to make a little money.
With narrative flair the novel proceeds to reveal how much chaos and conflict are hidden in this town with the fictitious name “Heimgau,” by extension Germany as a whole. The greatest conflicts, it turns out, are among the American military administrators who claim authority. Fine portraits of people-- and greed-- are of these American officers, at least one a deserter and an imposter. The young Captain-narrator is quickly demoted by new arrivals, a major and “colonel” who outrank him. He becomes a subordinate and helpless “Public Safety Administrator.” A no-holds-barred struggle breaks out between the American army officers and a German baron as they compete for booty and spoils: for gold, paintings and art works, porcelain, sculptures, priceless antiques and valuables hidden in the conquered country.
The distant freight train, with its mysterious whistle described at the beginning of the book, is located later. A great heist takes place. The plots, vividly followed and developed in Liberated, give great suspense and excitement.