by John Scott Gurner
Deep River Books, 2021
Reviewed by the Rev. Cariño Casas
November 9 marks the anniversary of the infamous Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, when Nazi Germany openly terrorized its Jewish citizens, and the rest of the German population either turned a blind eye or unashamedly participated. This night of destroying synagogues and invading Jewish homes happened in 1938, almost a full year before World War II started. Six years later, the world would learn, but only begin to grasp, that the Nazis and their collaborators murdered 6 million Jews in a cold, industrialized fashion. Anti-Semitism through the ages has always been ugly, but what drove the Nazis’ hatred into hideous genocide?
In the nearly 80 years since the Holocaust survivors were liberated, historians, activists and politicians have considered the psychological, sociological, theological, political, and economic motivations of the Third Reich. Yet, how many of us have considered the spiritual powers behind the hatred? John Scott Gruner compels us to consider that question in his novel The Infidel.
The historical fiction spy thriller begins in an unexpected place, with the execution of theologian-turned-spy Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Yet, for the protagonist Ernst Teschler, watching the hanging of his childhood pastor is only a brutal nightmare. It is 1938, and Ernst is a promising young officer in the German Army. His uncle, the SS General Reinhard Heydrich, has grand and diabolic plans for his nephew. Heydrich is a member of the Black Knights, a satanic coven of SS officers who will devise the Final Solution. The novel is fast-paced with violent action at every turn. The violence caught me off guard, but what did I expect in a World War II novel?
Ernst takes up his uncle’s invitation to join the SS just in time for Kristallnacht. He has orders to blow up the town synagogue, but he is taken aback by the bloodlust and hate in his comrades and even the town folk. As the synagogue burns, he sees a solitary cloud morph into a pillar of fire over the ruins. The Shekinah Glory of God will pursue Ernst, as will the demons worshipped by the leaders of the Schutzstaffel (SS). The visibility of the spiritual realm in this book reminded me of Frank E. Peretti’s This Present Darkness. In an interview, Gruner acknowledged being inspired by Peretti’s work.
Gruner began studying the occult connections to the Nazi machine after first learning about Dietrich Bonhoeffer in seminary. Gruner found that the spiritual motivations for the Holocaust have been largely hidden, and through The Infidel, intends to expose the demonic aspects of anti-Semitism and anti-Christianity. He has studied the topic for two decades and interviewed Holocaust survivors and a journalist present at the Nuremberg trials. Gruner chose the historical fiction genre in hopes of reaching a broad audience, young and old, religious and secular.
“We are living in the day when the persecution of Jews and Christians can only increase,” Gruner said in a phone interview. The book is meant to serve as a prophetic warning. “I really hope the church does not remain silent. As the Apostle Paul said, ‘stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.’ Yet, in the days to come, God shall prevail and claim the victory.”
The book ends in 1942 as the death camps are being initiated, and I would have liked an epilogue explaining what happens to the historical members of the SS. Gruner is hoping to write a sequel (or two) that would complete the picture of how Satan – through deep-seated cultural anti-Semitism and Heinrich Himmler’s SS occult religion – stoked the Nazis to mass murder and how the God of Israel was and is faithful to his covenant people, even in the midst of the Holocaust.
After you read this book, you should be ready to join the Rev. David Pileggi in Poland for his Narrow Bridge Jewish History tour, which considers some of the historical figures that appear in Gruner’s novel.
The Rev. Cariño Casas is the Communications Director of CMJ USA. She began as the media coordinator of Christ Church Jerusalem in 2014. She previously worked as a newspaper copy editor and photojournalist. Cariño serves as a deacon in the Anglican church in the Pittsburgh area.
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