“But What’s One More Murder?” Confronting the Holocaust in Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther Novels

  • Anthony Lake Khalifa University


Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series of Nazi Germany-set historical crime novels use irony in the exploration of themes of complicity, guilt and redemption in relation to the Holocaust. The use of irony enables Kerr’s protagonist Bernie Gunther to confront and describe the Holocaust and establish his sense of selfhood as an anti-Nazi. However, it does not empower him to resist the Nazis actively. Bernie seeks to confront the Holocaust and describe his experiences as an unwilling Holocaust perpetrator when he led an SS police battalion at Minsk in 1941. Later, his feelings of guilt at his complicity with the Nazis in the Holocaust haunt him, and he seeks redemption by pursuing justice to solve conventional murders. The redemption that Bernie Gunther pursues is called into question in the ninth novel in the series, A Man Without Breath (2013), when the possibility of active resistance to the Nazis is revealed to him when he witnesses the Rosenstrasse Protests in Berlin in 1943. This revelation raises the questions of agency and choice, and forces an ordinary German like Bernie Gunther to confront the possibility that he might have actively opposed the Nazis, rather than allow himself to become their accomplice.Keywords: detective fiction; Holocaust; Philip Kerr; irony; guilt; redemption

Author Biography

Anthony Lake, Khalifa University
Dr. Anthony Lake is Assistant Professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at Khalifa University, Abu Dhabi, UAE. He gained his DPhil in English Literature at the University of Sussex in 1997. He has taught at universities in the UK, Turkey, Jordan and the UAE. His current research is concerned with the representation of the Holocaust in contemporary historical crime fiction. His publications include articles on Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron and E. M. Forster.


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