It started all with an unsolved quadruple murder near the house where I lived peacefully with my family back in 2010. I stumbled over these events by sheer chance – if one permits a word like “chance“ with its rather positive connotations to be used in context with such a horrible crime…

I worked then as a journalist for “Geo“magazine in Germany and had to write a piece about daily life just immediately after World War Two. I had chosen, not surprisingly, my own home town as the first focus of my research. Hamburg was one of Germany’s biggest cities and one which was especially hard hit during the war. So, what better place to discover what life was like among the rubble? And what better way to get an interesting story than by searching the police files? For, I figured out, the police had access to every strata of society, officers had to re-discover their own city, which was in some quarters so completely destroyed that even experienced officers lost their way – because there was no way any more, no street, no house, no monument left, just rubble.

I thought of the Black Market and of refugees, of Nazis trying to hide themselves, of former soldiers, of orphans, of smugglers and Allied officers, of exiles returning home (But where was their home in all this destruction?), of the „Trümmerfrauen“ cleaning rubble with their bare hands…

All this I found and much more – but then I interviewed one of the active CIs of today’s Hamburg police. Unresolved murder cases are never closed under German law. So this officer showed me a rather tiny, old file and, well, I was stuck: In the first weeks of 1947 – which was the coldest winter in Europe during the 20th century – one by one, four victims were discovered at different places throughout the Eastern quarters of Hamburg, just around the corner from where I lived. Two young women, a girl, maybe six to eight years old, and a man who might have been about seventy. All were strangled, all were naked (but without any traces of sexual violence), all were hidden in the ruins of bombed houses. And nobody knew who they were…

In fact, though the Hamburg police searched until well into the Sixties throughout Germany and even within the Soviet occupied regions of Eastern Europe, no one had ever been able to identify even one of the four victims. Had they all been members of the same family? Or where they not related at all? Were they Germans? Refugees from the East? Displaced Persons? No one knows. And, of course, if you have no identity, you have no motive and no suspect.

The contents of this tiny old file never left my side, even long after I had finished my article. So, finally, I decided to transform an unsolved crime into a solved one, at least fictionally. I wrote an historical police procedural about it. And as it happens, once you start, you’ll discover very soon that there is so much more to tell about this rather dark and gloomy and, at the same time, strangely strong and optimistic period of German history. Instead of one novel I finally wrote three. And in this trilogy I could describe it all: the Black Market and the fate of the refugees, hidden Nazis, former soldiers and fighting orphans, old and new and false currency, smugglers and „Trümmerfrauen“, lost art and forgotten artists – and it also gave me the opportunity to portray some of the (surprisingly young, capable and idealistic) British soldiers who occupied Hamburg, shared the life in ruins and were responsible for a good part of Germany’s material, moral and political resurrection after the twelve dark years of Nazi-terror.

Cay Rademacher was boring in 1965in Northern Germany but now lives in Southern France.  He studied history and philosophy in Cologne and Washington DC, and is a founding member of the renowned German history magazine, Geo Epoche.  He continues to write for Geo Epoche as a freelancer, also for Die Zeit and Mare.  He is the author of three thrillers featuring Oberinspektor Frank Stave, who is fighting crime in the ruins of British-occupied Hamburg in the post-war1940s.  The Forger is the third in this trilogy.

The Forger by Cay Rademacher is published by Arcadia, £8.99

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