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Review: 'A Serial Killer in Nazi Berlin'

"A Serial Killer in Nazi Berlin" by Scott Andrew Selby (Berkley, January 2014). Credit: Berkley Books

A SERIAL KILLER IN NAZI BERLIN: The Chilling True Story of the S-Bahn Murderer, by Scott Andrew Selby. Berkley, 294 pp., $26.95.

It seems almost comical to read about Nazis trying to nab a serial killer in wartime Berlin when they were murdering people by the millions, but it did happen, and it is the subject of Scott Andrew Selby's new book. From December 1939 through July 1941, a nondescript character named Paul Ogorzow went on a spree of ascending violence against women -- beginning with minor harassment and graduating to rape and murder. He stalked women heading home from work late at night on the S-Bahn, part of the Berlin metro train system. Most of his victims were married women whose husbands were away, serving in the military.

By this time Britain was conducting bombing raids on Berlin, so at night the city was blacked out, including the commuter trains, making it easier for Ogorzow to stalk his victims. Also, the victimization of women whose husbands were fighting for the Fatherland was a story the Nazis did not want told, so propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels squelched news reports of the crimes, making it difficult to alert women to the danger. The police were a long time realizing that a serial killer was at work and even longer tracking him down.

The hero of this story -- if you're ready for a Nazi hero -- was police Commissioner Wilhelm Ludtke, who doggedly pursued his quarry under intense pressure from the Nazi bigwigs, who made his job more difficult. The cops eventually got their man, who lost his head on the guillotine. It should come as no surprise to learn that Adolf Hitler was a great fan of the guillotine. Ogorzow's trip from trial to blade took less than a day. The Nazis did not bother with search warrants or apprise suspects of their rights.

This is a fascinating story, but the author apparently assumes that his readers not only know nothing about World War II but also have trouble reaching simple conclusions. Thus we are told that Heinrich Himmler was "a very powerful Nazi official" and that the British preferred to bomb at night because "it was very dangerous for the Allies to fly bombing sorties while the sun shined," when the pilots "ran a high risk of being shot down." Who knew?

Not surprisingly, Ludtke, officially a member of the SS, ended up working for the CIA after the war.


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