Fatherland (novel)

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RobertHarris Fatherland.jpg
Cover of the first UK edition
Author Robert Harris
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Thriller, alternative history novel
Publisher Hutchinson
Publication date
7 May 1992
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 372 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN ISBN 0-09-174827-5 (first edition, hardback)
OCLC 26548520

Fatherland is a best-selling 1992 thriller by the English writer and journalist Robert Harris. It takes the form of a detective story in an alternative history in which Nazi Germany won World War II. The lead protagonist is an SS officer investigating a 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 to help Germany gain better political accommodations with the United States.

The novel was an immediate best-seller in the UK. It has sold over three million copies and has been translated into 25 languages.[1]


The story begins in Nazi Germany in April 1964, in the week leading up to Adolf Hitler's 75th birthday. The plot follows detective Xavier March, an investigator working for the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo), as he investigates the suspicious death of a high-ranking Nazi, Josef Buhler, 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. In fact, as soon as the body is identified, the Gestapo claims jurisdiction and orders the Kripo to close its investigation.

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, 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 Europe's 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 Albrechtstrasse, 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 Artur 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.



  • Xavier March. A detective in the Kriminalpolizei with the concurrent honorary rank of Sturmbannführer (major) in the SS, March (nicknamed "Zavi" by his friends) is a 42-year-old divorcé living in Berlin. He has one son, Pili (Paul), who lives with March's ex-wife, Klara. March's father died in 1929 from wounds sustained while serving in the Imperial German Navy in WWI and his mother died in a British bombing raid in 1942. March commanded a U-Boat in World War II and was decorated for bravery and promoted. He married after the war, but the marriage steadily deteriorated afterward. His military service helped him rise through the police ranks to detective. By 1964 he is unknowingly being watched by the Gestapo for what they perceive to be his half-hearted allegiance to the Nazi regime; for example, he has never contributed to the 'winter-relief', and has never applied to join the Party like others of his rank and age.
  • Charlotte "Charlie" Maguire. A 25-year-old American woman, Maguire lives in Berlin reporting for the obscure news agency World European Features. Midway through the novel, she and March fall in love and begin a relationship. Maguire comes from a political family but is something of a tearaway. The daughter of an American diplomat and German actress who left prior to the war, Maguire speaks perfect German.
  • Hermann Jost. An SS cadet, 19-year-old Jost discovers the corpse which triggers March's investigation. Midway through the novel, Jost is punished by being sent to the Eastern Front for 'special training'.
  • Paul "Pili" March. March's ten-year-old son, Pili lives with his mother and her partner in a bungalow in the suburbs of Berlin. Pili is a fully indoctrinated member of the Jungvolk — the junior section of the Hitler Youth for boys between the ages of 10 and 14. Later in the novel, Pili denounces his father to the Gestapo, all the while unaware of what they will really do to him.
  • Max Jaeger. March's friend and Kripo partner, Jaeger is 50, lives with his wife and four daughters in Berlin, and is disinclined to question 'the system'. At the end of the novel Jaeger drives the getaway car that rescues March, but it is revealed that he was the one who had betrayed March, and that the "rescue" had been arranged by the Gestapo.
  • Walther Fiebes. Fiebes is a detective working in VB3, the Kripo's sexual crimes division, along the corridor from March's office. Fiebes seems to relish his work investigating sexual crimes cases including rape, adultery, and interracial relationships.
  • Rudolf "Rudi" Halder. March's friend and a crewman on his U-boat, Rudi is now an historian working at the immense Central Archives, helping to compile an official history of the German military on the Eastern Front.
  • Karl Krebs. Krebs is a well-educated young officer in the Gestapo, and an example of the typical modern SS-trained officer functionary.


  • Odilo Globocnik. An aging Obergruppenführer in the Gestapo and right-hand man of Reichsführer-SS Reinhard Heydrich, nicknamed "Globus". Globus is the principal antagonist of the book, personally responsible for the assassinations of the Wannsee officials. After March's apprehension by the Gestapo, Globus takes over March's interrogation, administering several brutal beatings.
  • Arthur Nebe. The chief of the Kripo, Nebe by 1964 is an old man with a sumptuous office in Berlin. Initially appearing to support March's investigation for political reasons despite the Gestapo's involvement, Nebe eventually ascertains the threat posed to the Reich's international standing by March's investigations and weaves a ruse to March so that he reveals the whereabouts of the evidence.

Historical mentioned[edit]

  • Adolf Hitler. Elderly leader of the Reich. He won the World War II in 1946 and he has drastically improved his tyrannical image, wearing civilian clothing and holding speeches at calm, rather than furious rate. He had Heydrich to create a plan to eliminate the Wannsee Conference officials.
  • Heinrich Himmler*. Head of the SS. He kept his image as an infamous leader of the elite German Special Forces and was considered to be the next head of German Reich and a successor to Hitler. However, he was killed in a plane crash in 1962. He was replaced by Heydrich.
  • Reinhard Heydrich*. He is the current head of the SS. Heydrich is considered a likely successor to Hitler. He is officially the antagonist of the book, although he was never seen in person in the book. He oversees the assassinations of the Wannsee officials personally to eliminate the possibility of one of them revealing the existence of the concentration camps or the Final Solution.
  • Hermann Göring*. Göring died in 1951, years before the book storyline due to an unknown disease. The main Berlin International Airport is named after him.
  • Joseph Goebbels* Goebbels is still alive with his children as high ranking Nazi officials. He is still in charge of the Nazi propaganda and he had the concentration camps destroyed in the aftermath of the Final Solution and he created false stories regarding the extermination of the European Jews.
  • Winston Churchill*. Former United Kingdom Prime Minister, Churchill left the country after the defeat of UK was imminent, and he exiled himself to Canada and currently lives there.
  • Princess Elizabeth*. Princess Elizabeth was opposing the Nazi Germany during the World War II, and as such, she fled the country with Churchill and they both reside in Canada.
  • Edward VIII*. After the defeat of the UK by the German Reich, Edward VIII was reinstated as the puppet leader of the British Throne by Hitler himself along with Wallis Simpson, and they reign as Emperor and Empress of the British Empire.
  • Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.*. Current president of the United States.
  • Charles Lindbergh. The US Ambassador to Germany.

Also possibly referenced to but never mentioned by name are the Beatles and their recent appearances in Hamburg, which was permitted by the German Reich.

Some attendees of the real Wannsee Conference are central to the plot, but the others are already dead at the time of the novel's events.


Alternative World War II history[edit]

Throughout the novel, Harris gradually explains the fictional historical developments that allowed Germany to prevail in World War II. Although not specifically stated, the earliest point of divergence is that Reinhard Heydrich survived the assassination attempt by Czech fighters in May 1942 – which in reality killed him – and became head of the SS. 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 uncovered the secret of the Enigma machine code having been broken by Polish mathematicians. A massive U-Boat campaign against Britain thereafter succeeded in starving the British into surrender by 1944, while the D-Day invasion by the Allies never occurred.

King George VI and Winston Churchill flee into exile in Canada. Edward VIII regained the British throne soon afterwards, with Wallis Simpson as his queen. Although the Germans pushed the Soviets east of the Ural Mountains, the conflict there continues.

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, the US and Germany are the two superpower opponents in the Cold War of this world.

Alternative post-war history[edit]

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 rump of the Soviet Union, still led by Stalin, wage an endless guerrilla war with German forces 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 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.

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.

Greater German Reich and international politics[edit]

Fatherland '​s 1964 Europe

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, and is the world's largest city, with a population of ten million. The virtually powerless "European Parliament" is based there. 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 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.

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.

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 two atomic bombs on Japanese territory. The United States is said to have not participated in the Olympic Games since 1936, but is expected to in 1964.

A passing remark hints at China being ruled by a harsh government. A greatly reduced Soviet rump state consisting of Siberia, the Russian Far East and Central Asia still exists, 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. Africa and South America are not referred to in the novel.

Canada and Australia are now allied with the United States. Princess Elizabeth resides in Canada and is recognised by Canada, Australia and the United States as the rightful queen of the United Kingdom. Winston Churchill also lives in Canada.

The novel does not make references to the League of Nations or a possible existence of the United Nations. However the International Red Cross still exists in the world of Fatherland.

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. It is not explicitly stated whether Germany and the United States are the only nuclear powers in the world of Fatherland.

Nazi society[edit]

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, incest, 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 enjoys 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 classical 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 has been integrated with the SS, with police officers including Xavier March holding honorary SS ranks.

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 makes use of 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 (though the last of these remains strictly controlled to prevent dissemination of subversive literature).

Both the United States and Germany appear to possess sophisticated space technology. Germany's space program is based at the old rocket-testing facility at Peenemunde on the Baltic coast. Although the extent of space exploration is not specified, a conversation between March and Maguire suggests that German boasts about being ahead of the Americans in the Space Race are justified. This is most likely due to the fact that the German rocket scientists and engineers who in reality moved to the United States after the war would still be working for the Nazis in this timeline.

In other media[edit]


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.[2]


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.

Release details[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rosenfeld, Gavriel David (2005), The world Hitler never made, Cambridge University Press, p. 87, ISBN 0-521-84706-0 .
  2. ^ [1]

External links[edit]