“Let Sleeping Dogs Lie”: The story of a Nazi descendant

There are shelves upon shelves of books about Holocaust victims and survivors, both non-fiction and fiction. The scope and implications of the tragedy will never be forgotten. But what of stories about those people on the “other side”; those who dispensed the infamous injustice?

In the provocative novel “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie”, a story about a German descendant of a Nazi, Mirjam Pressler explores the lesser-told legacy of the Nazis’ historical sins.

When wealthy 18-year old Johanna Riemescheider travels to Israel for a class project and stumbles upon evidence of her grandfather’s dark involvement in World War II, she is highly disturbed; her family’s great fortune is actually stolen wealth from innocent people as per anti-Semitic laws of the Third Reich.

Johanna expresses an interest in deferring college and returning to Israel to find a way to personally atone for her grandfather’s sins, and her father becomes enraged and her boyfriend grows distant.

Not long after, Johanna’s grandfather commits suicide and she receives a huge inheritance sum from him. Unsure what to do with the “dirty” money, Johanna finds herself troubled with guilt that isn’t hers to feel.

Pressler’s novel is almost an impassioned plea for forgiveness from those with Nazis in their family tree. It is somber and awash with apologies, but also defiant in the form of Johanna’s narration. Her predicament is a gripping one, told with sad practicality and sensitivity. She is young and unabashed and, at first, she seems incapable of pity or remorse. To witness the transformation of her character is to begin to understand the mentality of an entire group of people whom are historically condemned as villains without souls. This intriguing novel presents a well-known aspect of history, but from a perspective that is seldom told.

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