The Benevolent (novel)

The Benevolent ( Les Bienveillantes ) is a novel of historical fiction written in French by the American Jonathan Littell . It tells the life of a former German SS officer who helped carry out massacres during the Holocaust. The book has been awarded two of the most prestigious French literary prizes: the Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie française and the Prix ​​Goncourt in 2006. The Benevolas is the first novel written in French by Jonathan Littell, who had already published with Before a science fiction book entitled Bad Voltage , in 1989.


The title The Benevolous makes reference to the trilogy of the Ancient Greece Orestíada , written by Aeschylus . The Erinias or Eumenides (from ancient Greek Εύμενίδες, ‘benevolent’), later called Furias by Latin mythology, were the female embodiment of revenge, goddesses who persecuted and tormented those who murdered a progenitor. In the tragedies of Aeschylus, Orestes, who killed his mother Clytemnestra to avenge the murder of his father Agamemnon, is pursued by these creatures. The goddess Athena, intervening to establish a court to judge the case of the Furies against Orestes. This one is acquitted, and Athena makes the Erinias accept the verdict and become the most beloved of the Gods, and show and share just mercy and gratitude. The Furies accept the covenant and take the name of Benevolus.

When asked why he wrote a book like The Benevolent , Jonathan Littell evokes a paralyzing photo he discovered in 1989 of a Soviet partisan, Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya , who was hanged by the Nazis. 1According to him, he saw in 1992 the film Shoah of Claude Lanzmann, of which the bureaucratic aspect of the process of the genocide exposed by Raul Hilberg made a special impression on him. 2 In 2001, he decided to quit his job at Action Against Hunger and start an eighteen-month investigation into Germany, the Caucasus, Ukraine, Russia and the Netherlands. He read about two hundred books on Nazi Germany, the Eastern Front, the Nuremberg Trials and the genocide process. 1 In addition, Littell studied the literature and the archival films of World War II and the trials after the end of it. The author worked on the novel for five years.

The writer says that he wanted to focus on the thought of a murderer and the origins of demociding or state murder , 3 showing in the novel how we can make decisions that lead or not to a genocide. 4Littell also explains that he laid the foundations of the protagonist Max Aue, imagining how he would have behaved himself had he been born in Nazi Germany. 5 Another aspect that kept Littell interested in these same aspects was the Vietnam War as a child. 6 According to him he said: “My childhood terror was to be selected to be sent to Vietnam and made me kill women and children who had done nothing to me.” 5

Summary of the story

The book is a fictional autobiography describing the life of Maximilian Aue, a former SS officer who decades later tells the story of a crucial part of his life: when he was an active member of the forces of the Third Reich. In the novel, Aue accepts his responsibility for his participation in the massacres of Jews, but most of the time he feels more like an observer than a participant.

The Benevolas is divided into seven chapters, each with the name of a baroque dance, following the sequence of the Bach Suite. The narrative of each chapter is influenced by the rhythm of each dance. 7

“Tocata” In this first chapter, the narrator is introduced to the reader and discovers how he ended up in France. He is the director of a lace factory, has a wife, children and grandchildren, although he has no real affection for them and continues with his homosexual encounters on business trips. It speaks of an incestuous love that later we will know that it directs towards his twin sister. He explains that he has decided to write about his experiences during the war for his own benefit and not as an attempt to justify himself, and insists that so many good and bad men were taken to form the SS. He closes the introduction by saying: “I live, I do what is feasible, I do what everybody else does, I am a man like the others, I am a man like you. Come, if I tell you that I am like you! ”

«Alemandas I and II» Aue describes his life as a member of one of the murder squads of the Einsatzgruppen in Ukraine, specifically in the Crimea, and in the Caucasus. It describes in detail the massacres of Jews and Bolsheviks behind the front lines (one of those described is that of Babi Yar in Kiev, 1941). Although it seems that his indifference to the atrocities that presence is increasing, he begins to experience daily vomiting and suffers a nervous breakdown. Upon returning from his sick leave, he discovers that a superior officer has decided to transfer him to Stalingrad in 1942.

«Courante» Aue toma parte en los últimos días de la batalla de Stalingrado. Como antes, él es un soldado observador, el escritor del reportaje más que un combatiente. En medio del caos, violencia y hambre más absoluta, logra mantener una conversación con un comisario político ruso sobre las similitudes entre el nazismo y el punto de vista de los bolcheviques, dando pie a que el narrador vuelva a indicar su apoyo intelectual a la causa nazi. Aue es gravemente herido en la cabeza y evacuado de modo milagroso justo antes de la rendición alemana en febrero de 1943.

“Zarabanda” During his convalescence in Berlin, Heinrich Himmler himself awarded him the Iron Cross of the Class for his heroic action in Stalingrad. Still on sick leave, he decides to visit his mother and stepfather in Antibes, in France occupied by Italy. According to him, both are brutally murdered while he sleeps soundly. Aue leaves the house without giving notice of the crime to anybody and returns to Berlin.

“Minueto (in Rondós)” Aue is transferred to the Federal Ministry of the Interior led by Himmler, where he deals with tasks related to management and bureaucracy in the concentration camps, struggling to improve the living conditions of those prisoners selected to work in Factories in order to increase productivity. The reader finds the highest Nazi bureaucrats organizing the implementation of the Final Solution to the “Jewish problem” (eg Adolf Eichmann, Himmler or Rudolf Höß) and gives a view of the Auschwitz concentration camp. The protagonist also spends some time in Budapest at the time when preparations are being made to transport Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. The reader bears witness to the internal war between those concerned with the production of war, such as the architect Albert Speer, and those who are devilishly trying to implement the Final Solution. During this period, two policemen of the Kripo, SS officers investigating the murder of Aue’s mother and stepfather begin to visit him on a regular basis, tormenting him with questions that leave no doubt about the suspicion of Aue’s participation if.

«Aire» Aue visita la casa vacía de su hermana en Pomerania y se sume en sus fantasías eróticas con su hermana gemela. Los dos policías de la Kripo siguen su ruta hasta la casa, pero Aue se las arregla para esconderse de ellos.

“Giga” The protagonist returns to Berlin between the lines of the Soviet front with his friend Thomas, that has gone until Pomerania to rescue it. In the German capital is a great majority of his companions preparing to escape in the chaos of the last days of the Third Reich. He meets Hitler in his bunker and is decorated by the same Führer. He fled through the underground tunnels of the Berlin U-Bahn, where he again coincides with the police who are pursuing him for his possible involvement in the double murder. Although the case has been dismissed several times by the judge, the police are not able to accept defeat and are preparing to execute Aue. The storm of Russians in the tunnels ends the life of one of the police and with Aue fled. The last encounter between the protagonist and the second policeman takes place in the zoo of Berlin, but Thomas, a friend of Aue, finishes with the policeman and soon Aue kills to Thomas and it takes the papers and the uniform of the French worker by the That Thomas wanted to pass himself off to flee to France, knowing that his high position in the SS would have been enough to be executed when he was caught. Although not explicit at the end of the story, since the beginning of the novel the reader knows that Aue’s multilingualism will allow him to cross the French border with his new identity and live another life there.

Main characters

Maximilian Aue

He is a former SS Nazi officer. The book is written as his memoirs. Aue’s mother was from the French Alsace and his father, who abandoned them and disappeared from his life in 1921 was German. Aue’s mother remarries to a Frenchman, Aristide Moreau, with whom Aue does not get along well at any time. After a childhood in Germany and a teenage years in France, where he will attend the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, he moves to the German university to study law. Aue is a cultured intellectual with a good education who loves classical music. With a doctorate in Law, speaks fluently German, French, Greek and Latin. He is homosexual, which will carry serious problems in the homophobic Nazi society.

Family of Aue

Una Aue / Frau von Üxkull

It is the twin sister of Aue that causes him an incestuous desire. She is married to Von Üxkull, and although he appears very sparingly in person, Aue’s imagination dominates, particularly with regard to sexual fantasies. She lives with her husband in Pomerania, but a long period of the novel appears living in Switzerland with him. As her husband, she is critical of the Nazi regime.

Berndt Von Üxküll

The husband of Una Aue is a landowner (Junker) paraplegic of Pomerania. A veteran of the First World War who fought alongside the father of the Aue in the Freikorps. He is a composer who has stayed away from the Nazis. His name probably refers to Nikolaus Graf von Üxkull-Gyllenband, a tough anti-Nazi, von Stauffenberg’s uncle.

Heloïse Aue / Heloïse Moreau

It is the mother of Aue who, believing that her first husband had died, remarried, this time with Aristide Moreau. Max has not accepted the death of his father and has not forgiven his mother for the second marriage.

Aristide Moreau

Max’s stepfather. There are vague references to the fact that it was linked with the French Resistance. Moreau is also the name of the “hero” of Flaubert’s “Sentimental Education”, a book Aue reads later in the novel. In French, the name Aristide remembers to “Atrides”, 8 the name given to the descendants of Atreus. One of his sons is Agamemnon, present in the ” Orestíada ”.

The twins Tristán and Orlando

They are two mysterious twins who live with the Moreau, but who are probably the result of the incestuous relationship between Max and his sister Una. The epic poem “Orlando Furioso” is marked by a theme of love and madness, while the legend of “Tristan and Isolde” tells the story of an impossible love, two themes that can be found in “The Benevolent ”. Referring to Fig.

Other fictional characters

Thomas Hauser

Thomas is Max’s best friend and the only person Max meets in all his destinations. As SS officer is the main source information about the Nazi bureaucracy for Max. He helps Aue in countless ways, both helping him in the professional career and rescuing him from his sister’s house in Pomerania. It saves the life of the protagonist at the end of the novel before being assassinated by this one.

Hèlene Anders, born Winnefeld

A young widow Aue meets at the pool in Berlin. When he finds himself seriously ill, she goes to the apartment and takes care of him until he recovers. While her interest in him increases, Aue avoids any kind of physical contact with her. The girl leaves Berlin and writes to Max asking if he intends to marry her. It does not appear again. In Greek mythology, Helena marries Menelaus, the brother of Agamemnon.

Dr. Mandelbrod

The mysterious Dr Mandelbrod plays an important role as protector and promoter of Aue, thanks to his connections with senior Nazi party officials, in particular with Himmler. He was an admirer of Max’s father and grandfather. At the end of the book the reader sees him offering his services to the Soviets.

Officers Weser and Clemens, policemen of the SS

They are the two detectives of the Kripo in charge of the investigation of the double murder of Hèlene and Aristide, and they continue and they ask to Aue as if he were a suspect of having committed it. They play the role of the Erinias in the novel. Referring to Fig.

Dr. Hohenegg

A friend of the protagonist He is a doctor interested in nutrition and the conditions of soldiers and prisoners in concentration camps. Aue knows him in Ukraine during the Nazi offensive against the Soviet Union. The two take part in the Battle of Stalingrad and manage to flee from death. Aue meets him again after his return to Berlin.

Historical characters

  • Líderes Nazis: Adolf Eichmann, Hans Frank, Reinhard Heydrich, Heinrich Himmler, Adolf Hitler, Rudolf Höß, Albert Speer, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Walter Schellenberg, Theodor Oberländer.
  • French Nazi collaborators and sympathizers: Robert Brasillach , Lucien Rebatet .
  • Other historical figures: Richard Baer , Paul Blobel , Hermann Fegelein , Odilo Globocnik, Arthur Liebehenschel , Josef Mengele , Arthur Nebe , Theodor Oberländer , Otto Ohlendorf , Otto Rasch , Franz Six , Eduard Wirths , Dieter Wisliceny , Werner Best .
  • Contemporary authors who are not related to Aue: Ernst Jünger , Charles Maurras , Louis-Ferdinand Céline , Paul Carell ..
  • Historians quoted by Aue: Alan Bullock , Raul Hilberg , Hugh Trevor-Roper .


  1. ↑ Jump to:a b Garcin, 2006
  2. Back to top↑ Littell and Nora, 2007 , p. 28
  3. Back to top↑ Deutsche Welle, 2006
  4. Back to top↑ Littell and Nora, 2007 , p. 31
  5. ↑ Jump to:a b Assaf, 2008
  6. Back to top↑ Littell and Nora, 2007 , p. 27
  7. Back to top↑ Littell and Millet, 2007 , p. Referring to Fig.
  8. ↑ Jump to:a b c Mercier-Leca, 2007


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