A German-Canadian's search for the truth about the murder of a Canadian airman near his hometown, and his quest for truth, justice and reconciliation in Canada and in Germany
Growing up in Hitler's Germany, Peter Hessel witnessed the Allies' ruthless bombing of his hometown, Chemnitz. Nearly sixty years later in Canada, Hessel heard about a brutal, fatal beating of a nameless Canadian POW in the streets of a small town just a few blocks from where Hessel's own family had taken shelter.
Who was this "unknown Canadian airman," and who were his murderers? Canadian authorities had forgotten the deed and never completed their investigation. Hessel felt compelled to reopen the file. His search for answers to these troubling questions would take him back and forth between Canada and Germany, as he combed through stacks of wartime records and tracked down eyewitnesses.
The Mystery of Frankenberg's Airman is the account of painstaking research in a quest for the truth about an unsolved war crime. As Hessel chronicles his discovery of the airman's identity and details surrounding his death, he also describes the RCAF's role in the destruction of Chemnitz, Dresden, and other cities, and honours not only the 10,000 Canadian airmen who lost their lives for a cause they believed in, but the countless civilians caught under their bombs.
His research leads him to the identity of the murder victim, to the victim's sister, and then to a moving reconciliation where Germans who remember the airman's final days and witnessed his murder participate in a private memorial near the site of his death.
This book offers a nuanced account of the morality of ordinary people, and of the actions of nations at war.
"This book is a simultaneously a tragedy, a love story, a war story, a detective story, a look into that German phenomenon known as 'collective guilt' and, perhaps above all, a story of reconciliation between average citizens from former enemy states."
"Hessel is a natural storyteller, and this well-documented, well-researched book will be a great addition to the library of any World War II buff."
"An incredible book."
"...an impressive bit of detection...[Peter Hessel has served the cause of truth and justice."
"The book is much more than an account of solving a mystery... Hessel displays a rare understanding of both national [Canadian and German perspectives."
"The Mystery of Frankenberg's Canadian Airman is an excellent read, and a worthwhile addition to any library. ... it is a strong personal story of the investigation of a war crime. Given the relative ease with which one determined individual solved the mystery after nearly 60 years, it should cause any reader to pause and ask why it is so difficult to bring other war criminals to justice."