In the pantheon of leading figures in the political life of the Third Reich, few have remained as elusive, both literally and figuratively, as Martin Bormann. Jochen von Lang, a magazine journalist in the German Federal Republic, has written a relatively thorough and engaging biography of Bormann. It was Lang who, after years of research, managed to reconstruct a convincing account of Bormann’s last hours, which led to the discovery of what have been identified as Bormann’s remains in West Berlin in 1971. Lang’s reports of the details of his search make good reading, and taken together they build a compelling case for the claim that Martin Bormann died in the way Lang describes. The story of this inquiry, however, takes up only a limited portion of the book, and, in itself, is more an addendum—even if a highly original and authoritative one—to the main body of the biography.
Bormann’s youth is passed over with relative abruptness in this biography. Bormann’s stepfather (the boy’s father died when Martin was three years old) apparently made relatively little fatherly impact upon him. Thus Bormann’s adolescence, unlike that of many young men who belonged to the age group which later contributed so many to the ranks of the Nazis, was not characterized by conflict with a strong patriarch or loss of a father in World War I. Bormann reached his fourteenth birthday a few days before World War I began, but his reactions to it are unrevealed. His stepfather was not in service, and Bormann adroitly avoided his own call to the front in the very last months of the war. Because Bormann was subject to the same chauvinistic and ultranationalist influences of most Germans his age, it is unclear why he had a strongly negative feeling about the war. Indeed, the slim chapter on his “Early Days” (barely ten pages in length) points to an overall flaw in this biographical account: Lang does not describe sufficiently the experiences from which his subject’s adult personality developed; he does not study the psychological complexities of Bormann’s youth and adolescence or offer any analytical insights into his upbringing. Once the author gets to Bormann’s adult life, however, the text reads well and is reasonably thorough, although a desire to know about Bormann’s adolescent development does not subside completely.
Immediately after World War I, Bormann, like many future Nazi Party members and functionaries, joined a Freikorps brigade. His role with the right-wing Rossbach free booters was, evidently, a relatively passive one. In 1922, he joined the newly established German People’s Freedom Party, a splinter group of the DNVP. His most significant act seems to have been his involvement in the so-called “Feme” (revenge justice) murder of a party member named Walter Kadow who was considered by Bormann and several of his compatriots to be a spy and a traitor. Bormann landed in jail for his association with the murder conspiracy, although the significance of his role in Kadow’s death remains obscure. Indeed, Bormann was in the dock in early 1924 at exactly the same time his future leader, Adolf Hitler, was being tried in Munich for his leadership in the abortive Munich “Beer Hall Putsch” of November, 1923.
Bormann, a womanizer and a less than moderate drinker at this point in his life, negotiated his way into the Nazi Party by way of bureaucratic service to the administering of the insurance plan for SA men. In 1930, he paved the way for converting this plan into the Nazi Party Relief Fund. In September, 1929, he married Gerda Buch, daughter of Walter Buch, the head of USCHLA (an apparatus for resolving disputes within the Party) and herself a new member of the Nazi Party. Hitler attended the ceremony, and the marriage clearly armed Bormann with impeccable familial connections within the Party. In 1938, however, the elder Buch, who had previously angered Hitler over his investigation of the corrupt Nazi Gauleiter (district leader), went too far once again by suggesting prosecution of some of those in the higher echelons of the Party who plausibly could be held responsible for the outrages against Jews and their property on the “Crystal Night” of November 9, 1938. The result was that Buch was dropped from the Party. Gerda sided with her husband, who was unwilling to intervene on behalf of his father-in-law in the affair, and instead worked to seal her father’s demise.
(The entire section is 1827 words.)