Fatherland is a 1992 alternate history detective novel by English writer and journalist Robert Harris. Set in a universe where Nazi Germany won World War II, the story's lead protagonist is an SS officer investigating the murder of a Nazi government official who was one of the participants at the Wannsee Conference. In so doing, he discovers a plot to eliminate all attendees of the conference in order to help Germany establish better political relations with the United States.
The book's plot inverts some of the conventions of the detective novel. It begins with a murder and diligent police detective investigating and eventually solving it. But since the murderer is highly placed in a tyrannical regime, solving the mystery does not result in the detective pursuing and arresting the murderer, but in the contrary - the murderer pursuing and arresting the detective.
The novel was an immediate best-seller in the UK. It has sold over three million copies and has been translated into 25 languages.
Cover of the first UK edition
|Genre||Thriller, alternate history|
|7 May 1992|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||372 (first edition, hardback)|
|ISBN||0-09-174827-5 (first edition, hardback)|
It is April 1964 in Nazi Germany, specifically the week leading up to Adolf Hitler's[note 1] 75th birthday. Detective Xavier March is an investigator working for the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo), as he investigates the suspicious death of a high-ranking Nazi, Josef Bühler,[note 2] in the Havel on the outskirts of Berlin. As March uncovers more details, he realises that he is caught up in a political scandal involving senior Nazi Party officials, who are apparently being systematically murdered under staged circumstances. As soon as the body is identified, the Gestapo claims jurisdiction and orders the Kripo to close its investigation.
In the story, March meets with Charlotte 'Charlie' Maguire, a female American journalist also determined to investigate the case. They both travel to Zürich to investigate the private Swiss bank account of one of the murdered officials. Ultimately, the two uncover the truth behind the staged murders: Reinhard Heydrich,[note 3] the head of the SS, has ordered the Gestapo to eliminate the remaining officials who planned the Final Solution (of which few Germans are aware) at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942. The elimination is being hurried to safeguard an upcoming meeting of Hitler and United States President Joseph P. Kennedy by ensuring that the fate of the missing Jews can never be revealed. Maguire heads for neutral Switzerland, hoping to expose the evidence of the extermination to the world. March, however, is denounced by his ten-year-old son and apprehended by the Gestapo.
In the cellars of Gestapo headquarters at Prinz-Albrecht-Straße, March is tortured but does not reveal the location of Maguire. Globocnik boasts that Auschwitz and the other camps have been totally razed, and March will never know the truth for certain. Kripo Chief Arthur Nebe stages a rescue, intending to track March as he meets with Maguire at their rendezvous in Waldshut-Tiengen on the Swiss/German border. March realises what is happening and heads for Auschwitz, leading the authorities in the wrong direction.
The Gestapo catches up with March at the unmarked site of Auschwitz. Knowing that Maguire has had the time to cross the border into Switzerland, March searches for some sign that the camp existed. As Gestapo agents close in on him in a helicopter, March uncovers bricks in the undergrowth. Satisfied, he pulls out his gun and leaves the readers to draw their own conclusions.
Harris, in the book's Author's notes, explains that many characters in the novel are based on the real people with the same names and, indeed, the biographical details are correct up to 1942. After that, the narrative is fictional. The following descriptions follow what is in the novel.
In each case, the description following the name describes how they appear in the novel, again following reality up to 1942.
Throughout the novel, Harris gradually explains in a fictional backstory the developments that allowed Germany to prevail in World War II. The author explains in the Author's notes that, except for the backstories of the fictitious characters, the narrative describes reality up to 1942 and is subsequently fictional. A significant early point of divergence is that Reinhard Heydrich survived the assassination attempt by Czech fighters in May 1942 – which in reality killed him – and later became head of the SS. (Another divergence is the political career of Joseph Kennedy, who was disgraced in 1940 during the Battle of Britain. In this timeline, for an unexplained reason his political fortunes do not suffer - or possibly, recovered after the German victory - and he becomes president.) The Nazi offensives on the Eastern Front ultimately pushed back the Soviet forces, with the Case Blue operation succeeding in capturing the Caucasus and cutting the Red Army off from its petroleum reserves by 1943. The Nazis also found that the Enigma machine code had been broken. A massive U-Boat campaign against Britain thereafter succeeded in starving the British into surrender by 1944.
In the novel, King George VI, the British Royal Family and Prime Minister Winston Churchill flee into exile in Canada. Edward VIII regained the British throne soon afterwards, with Wallis Simpson as his queen. The US defeated Japan in 1945 using nuclear weapons. Germany tested its first atomic bomb in 1946 and fired a non-nuclear "V-3" missile above New York City to demonstrate an ability to attack the continental United States with long-range missiles. Thus, after a peace treaty in 1946, the US and Germany are the two superpower opponents in the Cold War of this world.[note 4] There is a reference to a brutal regime having power in China, but no reference to its ideology and whether it is headed by Mao or somebody else.
The fictional backstory describes how, having achieved victory in Europe, Germany reorganises Europe east of Poland into Reichskommissariats. Following the signing of the Treaty of Rome, Western Europe and Scandinavia are corralled into a pro-German trading bloc, the European Community. By 1964, the United States and the Greater German Reich are involved in a Cold War. The only exception is Switzerland, which retains its neutral status.
The German invasion of the Soviet Union has died down into an endless guerrilla war in the Ural Mountains and Siberia. Mounting casualties (at least 100,000 since 1960, according to the novel) have sapped the German military, despite Hitler's statement (quoted in the novel) about a perpetual war to keep the German people on their toes. Dead German soldiers are returned to Germany in the middle of the night.
The action of the novel takes place from 14–20 April 1964, as Germany prepares for Hitler's 75th birthday celebrations on the 20th. A visit by the President of the United States, Joseph P. Kennedy, is planned as part of a gradual détente between the United States and the Greater German Reich. The novel suggests that the Nazi hierarchy is eager for peace because its efforts to settle the conquered Eastern lands are failing due to continued resistance from Polish and Soviet partisan movements. Moreover, the Nazis failed to instill their ideology in the younger generation, and many young Germans turn away from it – though active opposition to the regime is limited.
The Holocaust has been explained away officially as merely the relocation of the Jewish population into areas of Eastern Europe where communications and transport networks are still very poor. Despite this, many Germans suspect the government has eliminated the Jews, but generally do not care or are too afraid of the Nazi authorities to say or do anything with this knowledge. Some surviving Jews escaped to Soviet territory, where they have provided testimony of the extermination efforts - while Nazi authorities decry this as Bolshevik propaganda, the outside world is aware of the Holocaust. The American president, however, remains neutral so as not to further damage relations, and refers only to vague "human rights violations" he wishes to investigate while visiting Berlin.
The end suggests that the plans of both Kennedy and Hitler might be seriously derailed by the documents which the book's protagonists obtained and which Charlie successfully smuggled out of Germany. Their publication, giving concrete hard evidence on the systematic murder of the Jews, might cause the cancellation of the Hitler-Kennedy summit and sabotage the plans for a German-American Détente, on which the Nazis were counting for economic recovery. It might also cause Kennedy to fail in his bid for re-election in November 1964. The book does not mention who the opposing candidate is and what policies does that candidate support, though it might be more of an anti-Nazi Cold Warrior.
The first few pages of Fatherland feature two maps: one of the city centre of Berlin and another showing the extent of the massively expanded Greater German Reich, which now stretches from Alsace-Lorraine (Westmark) in the west to the Ural Mountains and lower Caucasus in the east.
The Reich has retained Austria (now known as the "Ostmark"), Slovenia, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and Luxembourg (now named "Moselland"). In the East, Poland is still ruled as a colony by the General Government while Soviet territory west of the Urals has been divided into five Reichkommissariats: Ostland (Belarus and the Baltic states), Ukraine, Muscovy (from Moscow to the Urals), and Caucasus, along with Generalkommissariat Taurida (Southern Ukraine and the Crimea). There is also mention of a German naval base in Trondheim, Norway where the Reich's nuclear submarines are based.
Berlin has been remodelled as Hitler's "capital of capitals", designed according to the wishes of Hitler and his top architect, Albert Speer,[note 5] and is the world's largest city, with a population of ten million. The virtually powerless "European Parliament" is based there.
In the novel, the rest of Western and Northern Europe, excluding Switzerland, has been corralled by Germany into a European Community (made up of Portugal, Spain, France, Ireland, Great Britain, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland). Eastern European countries dominated by the Germany of Fatherland include Croatia, Greece, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Albania, and Serbia. The nations of Fatherland's EC, despite being nominally free under their own governments and leaders, are presumably only just sufficient to police their own territory. European nations are under constant surveillance by Berlin and are subordinate to Germany in all but name – the German flag flying over the Union's headquarters being twice as big as those of the other nations.
By the time the Reich had turned its eyes to Switzerland, seeking to absorb its German-speaking cantons, the stalemate of the Cold War had settled in and Switzerland had become a convenient neutral spot for diplomacy, and for American and German intelligence agents to spy on each other. Consequently, Switzerland is the last state in Europe with a foreign policy independent of Berlin.
In the backstory, the United States is locked in a Cold War with the Greater German Reich. Since the end of the war in 1946, both the US and Germany have developed nuclear and space technologies. Japan was defeated by the US after the United States detonated one atomic bomb on Japanese territory. The United States is said to have not participated in the Olympic Games since 1936, but is expected to in 1964.[note 6]
A passing remark hints at China being ruled by a harsh government, but its precise nature is not mentioned. A greatly reduced Soviet rump state consisting of Siberia, the Russian Far East and Central Asia still exists with its capital in Omsk, while the United States supplies weapons and funds which are used by the Russians to tie down German forces in the Urals. Although German propaganda plays down the war in the east, the war on the Eastern Front is taking its toll.)[note 7]
Canada, Australia and New Zealand are now allied with the United States. Princess Elizabeth resides in Canada and is recognised by Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States as the rightful queen of the United Kingdom. Winston Churchill also lives in Canada.
The novel describes that since the end of the war, a stalemate has developed between Germany and the United States, which seems to overshadow international relations. New German buildings are constructed with mandatory bomb shelters; the Reichsarchiv (German National Archive) claims to have been built to withstand a direct missile hit.
In the novel, Germany concentrates on the containment of the USSR. Hitler has taken some steps to soften his image over the years, and now wears civilian clothes most of the time instead of Party uniform. Nonetheless, no substantive changes have taken place in the Nazi regime's basic character. The Reichstag Fire Decree and the Enabling Act of 1933, the legal bases for Hitler's dictatorship, remain in effect. The press, radio and television are tightly controlled. Dissenters are still sent to concentration camps. Conditions in the camps are reputed to be as harsh as they were in the 1930s and 1940s, though the International Red Cross is occasionally given staged inspections.
In the novel, the bedrock of Nazi ideology is still the policy of blaming subversive and minority groups for Germany's economic and social problems. Jews, Communists, homosexuals, and interracial relationships (particularly between "Aryans" and Slavs) continue being scapegoats for the Nazi Party. Nazi propaganda has previously depicted America as a land of corruption, degeneracy and poverty. However, as the diplomatic meeting between Hitler and Kennedy nears, German propaganda is forced to change its image of America to a more positive view.
Despite its ideological and moral decline, Germany has a high standard of living, with its citizens living off the produce of their European satellite states and freed from physical labour by thousands of Polish, Czech and Ukrainian workers. The European nations export high quality consumer goods to Germany (noted imports are domestic electronics from Great Britain) while also providing services, such as an SS academy at Oxford University and imported domestic staff. Hitler's personal tastes in art and music remain the norm for German society.
Military service is still compulsory. Eastern Europe has been colonised by German settlers (although local partisan resistance movements are still active) and the German population has soared as a result of Nazi emphasis on childbirth. As the original generation of Nazi leaders that founded the party and came to power alongside Hitler are now beginning to die off, increasing numbers of Nazi officials are well-educated technocrats in the mould of Albert Speer. The police force is integrated with the SS, with police officers having honorary SS ranks.[note 8]
According to the main characters, however, German society in the early 1960s is becoming more and more rebellious. The young generation have no memory of the instability that paved the way for Hitler's rise to power. Student protests, particularly against the war in the Urals, American and British cultural influence, and growing pacifism are all found in Nazi society. Jazz music is still popular and the German government claims to have come up with a version which is free from "Negroid influence". In spite of the general repressiveness, the Beatles' real-life Hamburg engagements have happened here as well (and have already been denounced in the state-run press). Germany is under constant attack by terrorist groups, with officials assassinated and civilian airliners bombed in-flight. Christianity is suppressed, and Nazi youth organisations are compulsory for all children. Universities are centres of student dissent, and the White Rose movement is once again active.
The Nazis continue with their policies for women, encouraging them to remain in the home and bring up many children (still emphasising the first two elements of Kinder, Küche, Kirche), although women are clearly present in the Nazi bureaucracy. Nazi organisations such as Kraft durch Freude still exist and fulfill their original roles such as providing holidays to resort areas under German control. German citizens are still encouraged to contribute to the Winterhilfswerk. A sprawling transport network covers the entire Reich, including vast autobahnen and railways in the manner of the actually proposed Breitspurbahn system, carrying immense trains.
The level of technology in Fatherland is much the same as in the actual 1960s. The German military uses jet aircraft, nuclear submarines, and aircraft carriers, while civilian technology has also advanced considerably. Jet airliners, televisions, hair-dryers, coffee machines, and photocopiers are used in Germany.
The United States and Germany appear to have sophisticated space technology. Germany's space program is based at the old rocket-testing facility at Peenemünde on the Baltic coast. The extent of space exploration is not specified, but a conversation between March and Maguire suggests that German boasts about being ahead of the Americans in the Space Race are justified.
British scholar Nancy Browne noted the similarities between the ending of "Fatherland" and that of Ernest Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls": "Both novels end with the protagonist about to embark on a single-handed armed confrontation with a large number of Fascists or Nazis, of whose outcome there can be no doubt - but the reader does not witness the moment of his presumed death.(...) Like Hemingway's Robert Jordan, Xavier March is facing this last moment with an exhilaration born of having no further doubts and dilemmas, no more crucial decisions which need to be made, nothing but going through on his chosen course and dying in a just cause. And like Jordan, in sacrificing himself March is ensuring the safe escape of the woman he loves.
A TV film of the book was made in 1994 by HBO, starring Rutger Hauer as March and Miranda Richardson as Maguire for which she received a Golden Globe Award in 1995 for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV. Rutger Hauer's performance was also nominated, as well as the film itself. The film also received an Emmy nomination in 1995 for Special Visual Effects.
The novel was serialised on BBC radio, starring Anton Lesser as March and Angeline Ball as Charlie Maguire. It was dramatised, produced and directed by John Dryden and first broadcast on 9 July 1997. The ending is changed slightly to allow for the limitations of the medium: the entire Auschwitz camp is discovered in an abandoned state, and Charlie Maguire's passage into Switzerland is confirmed to have occurred.
The unabridged audiobook version of the novel was released by Random House Audio in 1993, read by Werner Klemperer, best remembered for his two-time Emmy Award-winning role of bumbling Colonel Klink on the 1960s TV series Hogan's Heroes.
The novel is in seven parts, each of several chapters. The first six parts describe the fictitious events of Tuesday, 14 April to Sunday, 19 April 1964 and are named after the individual days. Part seven, Führertag is set on Hitler's 75th birthday, 20 April 1964.