Who bears the blame for World War II and Germany’s crimes against humanity? Are all Germans guilty? How do you punish the guilty once you find them? How do you wipe out National Socialism in Germany so that it never comes back? In The Aftermath, by Rhidian Brook, these questions are everywhere and there are no easy answers.
The Aftermath, according to the author’s afterword, is partially based on Brook’s grandfather’s experience in post-War Germany. Houses were requisitioned for British, French, American, and Russian officers in the various occupation zones. Brook’s grandfather made a deal with the original family to share the house. From that idea, Rhidian Brook spins out his tale of guilt, revenge, and putting the past in the past.
Colonel Lewis Morgan is given a house in the Elbchausee area of Hamburg, a house that belonged to an architect who is now trying to get a Perilschein, a certificate that shows he was vetted and found to be “clean” of the taint of Nazism. Morgan’s family soon joins him. The arrangement is fraught from the beginning. Rachel and Edmund Morgan have been told not to fraternize with the Germans, because they are “different” and because they may be former Nazi Party members. Herr Lubert and his daughter, Freda, don’t exactly feel lucky to still be in their homes because of the constant reminders that they are being constantly judged. Freda is especially angry. The former Bund Deutscher Mädel had been thoroughly indoctrinated by the Nazi regime. On top of it, she blames them for killing her mother during a fire-bombing. Even though the house is large, it struggles to hold all that distrust under its roof.
Colonel Morgan, a British officer, has been tasked with trying to rebuild this corner of Germany and oversee de-Nazification efforts. Unlike most of his colleagues and fellow officers, Morgan has some sympathy for the starving people around him. He does not see them as automatically guilty of the terrible, unspeakable crimes of the Second World War. In spite of his generosity, Morgan is targeted by Freda’s unbalanced lover, Albert Leitman. Meanwhile, Morgan’s wife grows closer to their upstairs lodger, as the architect has more sympathy for Rachel’s grief for her dead eldest son than her husband seems to have.
There are so many aftermaths in The Aftermath that it’s a wonder no one collapses under the psychic load. Rachel has her grief. Morgan has his impossible task. Freda has her anger. Herr Lubert is caught in the endless vetting process. And there are the inevitable questions, historic questions that still don’t have satisfactory answers. Does each German alive during Hitler’s era who didn’t resist guilty? Does collective guilt really exist? How to the victim’s of Nazism get justice?