The Cross or the Swastika is the sequel to S.J. Tagliareni’s entertaining and engrossing WWII novel, Hitler’s Priest. Many of the same real and fictional characters that the author wrote about in Hitler’s Priest also play important roles in The Cross or the Swastika, with Tagliareni’s thoughtful and complex story about the horrors of WWII. Besides telling a powerful, page-turning story, the novel asks and answers the question why so many people accepted the lies and propaganda spread by the Nazi party and its leaders.
During the course of reading Hitler’s Priest and The Cross or the Swastika, one of the things that will strike readers forcibly is the fact that neither monsters nor heroes are born, they are made. By the Nazi party being willing to accept the premise that the Jews were responsible for them losing WWI, that lead the members of the party to accept yet further premises about the Jewish people being responsible for all of the ills of society. In turn, many of the everyday citizens of Germany began believing the lies and propaganda that were being spread by the Nazi party, accepting fabrications about the Jews that eventually lead to their being sent to the concentration camps.
A very interesting aspect of The Cross or the Swastika is that the author lets readers in on what he imagines the thought processes were of Adolph Hitler and other Nazi party leaders, like Goebbels. In The Cross or the Swastika, we read that even Hitler did not originally start out with the idea that all Jewish people should be sent to the concentration camps and put to death.
Originally, Hitler’s plan was to try to make the Jewish population of Germany leave voluntarily, by making life in Germany extremely difficult for them. It was only when that plan did not seem to be working as quickly and efficiently as he had hoped it would that Hitler started searching for some other means to handle what came to be called the “Jewish problem,” and hit on the idea of incarcerating them in concentration camps.
As with Hitler’s Priest, the German architect, Hans Keller, who became a Catholic priest with the intentions of spying on the Vatican, plays an important role in The Cross or the Swastika. The author recounts how Keller went undercover and initially became a Catholic priest, while sending back reports to Germany, and also how Keller eventually wound up as a prisoner in a jail in London. Keller stops short of nothing to try to please Hitler and others in the Nazi party, even going to the extreme of killing his own parents, a couple who took him in and raised him as their son. Their only crime was taking him into their home, giving him their love and wanting the best for him.
Joseph Goebbels was, as the author puts it, an “opportunist.” He did not start out life despising the Jewish people, but he saw them as a sort of tool, or “gift,” which he could use in his favor to enable the Nazi party to eventually dominate all of Europe. He came up with the idea of rallying the citizens of Germany behind a cause, and using the Jews as scapegoats, placing the blame of all of Germany’s woes on their backs.
In The Cross or the Swastika, Tagliareni gets into why the Catholic church was not, at least at first, prone to speak out against Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party. The Centrum Party, in Germany, was largely made up of Catholics, and they opposed Hitler and the Nazi regime. Hitler came up with a way to get rid of the Centrum Party by colluding with the power structure of the Vatican, while saying that in return, he would allow Catholics to continue living and worshiping in Germany without being prosecuted.
Hitler sent one of his advisers, Heinrich Schmidt, to the Vatican to offer them the proposal. If Schmidt told them a pack of lies, it mattered not to Hitler, as long as the power structure of the Vatican went along with his proposal. Hitler wanted Schmidt to get the Pope to sign a Concordat, which would dissolve the Centrum Party and give legitimacy to the Nazi Party. The Holy Father felt he had little choice but to sign the Concordat, as he did not want to risk that Hitler would prosecute Catholics and kick them out of Germany or do away with them.
The Cross or the Swastika by S.J. Tagliareni is an excellent and thought-provoking sequel to Hitler’s Priest. The author skillfully interweaves fact and fiction in his creation of a novel that is epic in scope. When given the choice between two alternatives, accepting either the cross or the swastika, people of today might think that the decision is an easy one to make, but the choice was not so obvious to the people of Germany when Hitler was rising to power. They faced the reality of a very bleak situation, which seemed hopeless, and Hitler offered them hope for the future of Germany. Fans of historical fiction and great literature will want to add The Cross or the Swastika to their reading lists.
Written By: Douglas Cobb