No Escape: My Young Years Under Hitler's Shadow by W John Koch; In My Brother's Shadow by Uwe Timm (Translated from the German by Anthea Bell) - review by Jonathan Mirsky

Jonathan Mirsky

Looking Back in Horror

No Escape: My Young Years Under Hitler's Shadow

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WJK Books 293pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

In My Brother's Shadow

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Bloomsbury 148pp £12.99 order from our bookshop
 

Pressed hard by the press, television and books, we struggle these days to understand why American and British soldiers torture and – it is alleged – kill prisoners. Having finally been arrested, charged and faced with sentences for their acts at Abu Ghraib and Camp Bread Basket, the convicted men and women say they were following orders. That was also the plea of German soldiers who did terrible things on a far vaster scale during the Second World War. It turns out to have been misleading: in W John Koch's sometimes over-detailed memoir – as in some other Holocaust studies – we learn that German soldiers could refuse to murder Jews. But, in the blood-curdling scene that makes No Escape unforgettable, when Koch refused, another soldier was on hand to shoot the prisoners, and Koch was made to finish off those who did not die with his entrenching spade, or be executed himself.

Wolfram (he hated this name) John Koch was born in 1925 in Silesia, to modestly well-off parents. His grandparents were very well off, but his father had only a brief period of success as a furrier and then went drunkenly downhill, at one point so resentfully that he became, to

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