Paperback reader

The German Trauma: experience and reflections 1938-2001

Gitta Sereny <em>Penguin, 383pp, £8.99</em

Did Gitta Sereny fall in love with Albert Speer? There is little doubt that she was mesmerised, as was the Fuhrer himself, by Speer's elegance, intelligence and hauteur. She was also moved by Speer's postwar rehabilitation, from the lonely struggles of his imprisonment in Spandau to his slow accommodation to his complicity in the crimes of the Third Reich. Speer always protested that he knew nothing of the plan to exterminate the Jews, and it was this contrived ignorance, as well as his superb articulacy (and, perhaps, his aristocratic charm), that saved him at Nuremberg. But Sereny, for all her fondness for the man, is in no doubt of his guilt. If he had told the truth, she writes in a postscript to her meditation on Speer, he would have been sentenced to death at Nuremberg. Instead, he lived to battle "for three decades to recapture his lost morality".

Elsewhere in this book, Sereny recalls her childhood in Austria and how she fleetingly became intoxicated with Nazism after attending a political rally. She writes well about her role in the Hitler diaries hoax, about the equivocations of the awful Kurt Waldheim and about Franz Stangl, the commander of Treblinka, who died from a heart attack "19 hours" after Sereny had completed her series of interviews with him.

The German Trauma is much more than an impressive collection of themed essays, some of which were first published in the NS. It is a stylised autobiography by an investigative journalist of insight, moral courage and rigour.

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.