The Next Chapter

Dennis Bock's novel The Good German is a fictionalized account of the death of Adolf Hitler

The Toronto author spoke to Shelagh Rogers about writing a fictionalized account of Georg Elser, a man who attempted to assassinate the German leader of the Nazi Party in 1939.
The Good German is a novel by Dennis Bock (Jaime Hogge, Patrick Crean Editions)

This segment originally aired on Oct. 31, 2020.

Dennis Bock is a writer, editor and teacher from Toronto. His novel Going Home Again was a finalist for the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize. His other works include the novels The Ash Garden and The Communist's Daughter and the short story collection Olympia.

His latest is the novel The Good German. It is a reimagined history in which, in 1939, a German man named Georg Elser succeeded in assassinating Hitler. But what unfolds is an alternate history where fascism reigns in Europe, and an atomic bomb is dropped on London, and Elser must reckon with the knowledge that his act of heroism changed the course of history — and for what end?

In real life, Georg Elser failed in his plan to carry out an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler and other high-ranking Nazi leaders. Bock spoke to Shelagh Rogers about writing a novel that changes real events. 

The horrors of war

"When I was a kid, before I understood what the Second World War was and what the Holocaust was, I was already identified as somebody who had some sort of responsibility for the horrors that occurred during the war. 

I'm not trying to cast myself as a victim in any sense of the word, but I was exposed to a prejudice that I didn't understand based on my heritage.

"My parents came to Canada from Germany in the 1950s and I was born in the mid-1960s. At that point, the war wasn't really that far away from us still. In the schoolyard, I was accused of being something that I wasn't, that I didn't understand being the son of German immigrants.

"I learned a low-level prejudice at that stage. I'm not trying to cast myself as a victim in any sense of the word, but I was exposed to a prejudice that I didn't understand based on my heritage."

Fascinated with history and a man named Georg Elser

"I kind of stumbled across the story of Elser a couple of years ago and I was intrigued. I was impressed by the courage and bravery that this sort of person would have to muster in order to to carry out this amazing plot against Hitler's life.

"He came very close, but not close enough. I had the very basic outlines of his life swimming around in my head for a while. I'm drawn to characters who have a great amount of sway over history. 

I was impressed by the courage and bravery that this sort of person would have to muster in order to to carry out this amazing plot against Hitler's life.

"But also I'm interested in, not so much of the global shifts that occur in history, but how those geopolitical changes and forces affect the smaller people."

Staying optimistic

"Elser is a naturally optimistic man. He's not naive, but he hasn't been as tormented by his heritage as his wife has been, for example. Once she arrives in Canada as a teenager, she feels the pressure of the prejudice as she represents a group of people and ethnicity that is disparaged and disdained by the rest of the community. 

Elser is a naturally optimistic man.

"There is a sort of balance between the two. He is the more positive force and she is sort of the voice of the reality as it is now in that world. So they work well together. But there is also a profound difference of understanding in terms of what the world represents for each of them."

Dennis Bock's comments have been edited for length and clarity. 

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