Burkhard Bilger is a German-American, accomplished author and writer for the New Yorker, and the right age to have a grandfather who was a Nazi. His grandfather was old enough during the war not to be a soldier, so during the war Nazi officials placed him in charge of an occupied French town in Alsace. After the war, Grandpa was imprisoned for war crimes and then released after being acquitted in trial. Burkhard digs deep in hopes of learning how much of a Nazi his grandfather really was.
What Fatherland does best is contextualize the actions of individuals. He explains why his grandfather joined the Nazi party. It was expedient, but not a requirement. The book describes the daily interactions taking place between the Nazi-emplaced Mayor (Grandpa) and citizens in an occupied French village. Business proceeds, but eyes and ears are everywhere. Negotiations can be verbal, tactical, or violent and Bilger’s Grandfather had to navigate between Nazi orders from above and an innate sense of humanity (atypical of many Nazis.)
Without making excuses for any Nazi behaviors or policies, Burkhard Bilger asks whether there might be a dividing line between horrible Nazis and really-not-so-bad-Nazis. It is a well asked question.