Why is Nathan Schild important in Thomas Berger's novel Crazy in Berlin?

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kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Thomas Bergers’1982 novel Crazy in Berlin tells the story of Carlo Reinhart, a young German American soldier stationed in post-war Berlin as part of the Allied occupation force.  Berger had been stationed in Berlin under those exact circumstances himself, and was inspired to write Crazy in Berlin from his own experiences and observations, one of which was to avoid making blanket judgments regarding people.  It is in the process of learning about crude stereotypes that Reinhart encounters Nathan Schild, a character immediately condemned upon introduction into the story:

“First Lieutenant Nathan Schild, a traitor, handed a sheaf of papers to the German known as “Schatzi,” a courier . . .”

Schild is an American intelligence officer who happens also to be working for the Russians, what is known as a “double agent.”  His allegiance to the Soviet Union and its thin veneer of communist respectability, along with his Jewish heritage, belie his true character, and therein lies his significance in Berger’s story.  In Chapter Two of Crazy in Berlin, Schild having been introduced and labeled a “traitor,” the lowest of the low in national security parlance, is constantly reminded of the tenuousness of his situation both by virtue of his profession and his religion.  During his encounter with Schatzi, his “handler,” the latter at one point reminds the Jewish Schild of his position in life:

“I know people that are pleased at your work,” he resumed, “and if you are not so careful, they shall give you one of those posterboards to take home to Tennessee: ‘The Hitlers come and go away, but the German people stay always’.”

Intelligence and counterintelligence, it has been frequently pointed out, are complex fields of endeavor in which trust is a rare and precious commodity, and the truth, as Churchill noted, needed to be protected by a “bodyguard of lies.”  For double agents, the complexities and ambiguities native to intelligence work become even more intense, and motivations and loyalties more confused.  As this chapter progresses, Schild begins to wonder whether Schatzi is also a double agent, which would mean that he was secretly working for the Americans while Schild was secretly working for the Russians.  Schild’s importance to the novel grows with the increasing level of mistrust among characters and the emerging revelation that little in the world is black and white.  It is Reinhart’s struggle to comprehend the character of Nathan Schild that sits at the center of Berger’s denunciation of simplistic categorizations of individuals.  A Jewish American intelligence official serving in the seat of Nazi Germany, from where the Holocaust was conceptualized and commanded, while spying for the militantly atheistic Soviet Union is a compelling plot item.  Schild’s importance to Berger’s novel is, quite possibly, greater than is the story’s protagonist, Carlo Reinhart.  Reinhart may have to contend with the vile deeds of those with whom he shares a heritage, but Schild has to function as an object of near-universal contempt, and it is that role that gives Crazy in Berlin its greatest gravitas.

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