Johann Brenner, an idealistic physician and ardent German nationalist, has joined the Nazi Party and willingly participated in its "crimes against humanity." His Jewish boyhood friend, Philipp Stein, has also become a doctor. Their lives inevitably intersect until their last, fateful meeting. After the war, Brenner, now with stolen papers and a new name, has become a janitor in the courthouse where the Nuremberg Trials are being held. Hoping to "heal himself" and begin a new life with his estranged wife, he decides that he must write her a letter telling what he has done--and why.
"...reveals the skein of forces that press on an ordinary life: professional ambitions; needs for esteem and belonging; the desire to emulate or obey those charismatic and self-certain figures who would shape us for their own ends; the anesthetizing affects of family crises; the self-serving construction of historical memory; and inattention to the best convictions of the good people who love us...powerful in the way it constructs this awareness and in the unexpected, haunting, and richly symbolic unfolding of its final moments." -- from the "Foreword" by E. Thomas Moran, Director, Institute for Ethics in Public Life, State University of New York at Plattsburgh
"This meticulously researched, brilliantly written novel about the descent into darkness of two friends, one a Nazi, the other a Jew--and both doctors in Hitler's Germany--will haunt readers of history and fiction alike." -- Margaret Lavinia Anderson, Professor of History, University of California / Berkeley
"Skopp's desire to fathom what can turn an ordinary man into a callous Nazi doctor leads him and the reader on a memorable trip through hell as we watch Johann Brenner's descent, step by plausible step." -- Ann Blaisdell Tracy, author of Winter Hunger, I am Ahab, Higher Ground, and What do Cowboys Like?
"A horrifying study of moral corruption." -- Nick Woodin, author of The Natural History of the Present
"What leads men and women of good will to violate fundamental ethical principles? How do they justify their behavior? Are we all capable of such acts? And if so, how can we guard ourselves from making these choices? These are the questions at the heart of my endeavor. ... My novel describes [an "ordinary" Nazi doctor,] able, for a while, to justify his actions and believe he was still fulfilling his sworn responsibilities to "do no harm." It tells the story of his descent into this abyss. And it allows me to raise two questions: first, what, if anything, can a perpetrator do to redeem himself? and second, what should society do if it becomes aware of his deeds? I have tried to be as faithful and attentive to historical events as I can be. ... Everything [in Shadows Walking] either did happen or, I believe, could have happened. I want to evoke an historical reality--from the experiences Johann Brenner and Philipp Stein might have had in their childhood, to their involvement in the First World War and its chaotic aftermath during the fourteen years that "Germany tried democracy," to the impact of the Nazi regime on their lives and choices. These are crucial public events, affecting everyone who lived through them. The novel's more incidental facts, too--from the color of the American automobiles in Nuremberg in the immediate aftermath of World War II, to the improbable herd of goats in the streets of war-ravaged Berlin, to the slaughterhouse next to the train station in Freiburg--are drawn from my study of the sources, from reading other historical accounts, and from my personal experiences." -- from the author's "Afterword and Acknowledgments."