Ear­li­er this week, Nicholas Kul­ish wrote about the Rosen­crantzs and Guilden­sterns of his­to­ry. His most recent book, The Eter­nal Nazi, co-authored with Souad Mekhen­net, is the sto­ry of Nazi physi­cian Dr. Arib­ert Heim, who fled post­war jus­tice and hid in Egypt from Nazi hunters. He is also the author of a nov­el, Last One In. He will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

What’s a Nazi?” It was a ques­tion I had nev­er heard before or even con­sid­ered pos­si­ble but there the man stood, ask­ing me in total seri­ous­ness what Nazis were.

In ret­ro­spect it made per­fect sense. I was in one of the most iso­lat­ed places on earth, deep in South Sudan’s Jon­glei State. There was no elec­tric­i­ty and no run­ning water. In the rainy sea­son, which was just begin­ning, the roads were flood­ed and the dirt land­ing strips often too mud­dy for even small air­planes to land. Oth­er than the occa­sion­al Unit­ed Nations heli­copter the peo­ple here were com­plete­ly cut off.

I was six years old when Raiders of the Lost Ark, with its Nazi vil­lains, made every­one I knew want to be an archae­ol­o­gist with a bull­whip. We read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank in junior high. Schindler’s List came out my fresh­man year of col­lege and I went to see it with my par­ents when I was home on win­ter break, while Pri­mo Levi and Elie Wiesel were promi­nent­ly fea­tured on the syllabus.

Study­ing Ger­man, the Holo­caust was ever present. One of the first lines of poet­ry you learn is Paul Celan’s Der Tod ist ein Meis­ter aus Deutsch­land,” death is a mas­ter from Ger­many. Unfor­tu­nate­ly for the peo­ple of South Sudan or the Cen­tral African Repub­lic, the master’s dis­ci­ples still roam the earth.

I arrived in Nairo­bi a year ago to work as the East Africa cor­re­spon­dent for The New York Times but I hadn’t quite fin­ished work­ing on The Eter­nal Nazi, a book that grew out of my work as the newspaper’s Berlin bureau chief. That was how I found myself sit­ting in a plas­tic chair, under a tree try­ing to rewrite the epi­logue. The young South Sudanese man approached, want­i­ng to know what I was doing on my MacBook.

I’m work­ing on a book,” I said.

What’s it about?” he asked. His Eng­lish was quite good because, as a refugee, he had gone to school in Kenya.

Nazis,” I said, prompt­ing the ques­tion that so dis­armed me. They were real­ly bad and they killed lots of people.”

For the peo­ple of South Sudan, after decades of war with ter­ri­ble atroc­i­ties against civil­ians com­mit­ted by all sides, that described a lot of people.

Like how many?” he asked skep­ti­cal­ly. I thought about the six mil­lion killed in the Holo­caust, the Sovi­et sol­diers and civil­ians, the peo­ple buried in the Lon­don blitz or drowned in ships sunk by U‑boats.

Mil­lions,” I said. Tens of millions.”

Oh,” he said, nod­ding, find­ing the num­ber suf­fi­cient. That real­ly is a lot.” He paused then asked me, What were they called again?”

Nazis,” I said.

I’ll remem­ber that,” he said, then left me alone to write for as long as my bat­tery last­ed or until I could find a generator.

Nicholas Kul­ish is an author and cor­re­spon­dent for The New York Times. Read more about him and his work here.

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