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Queen Mary Historian publishes book to critical acclaim

Dr Daniel Lee from Queen Mary University of London’s School of History has received critical acclaim for his book about little-known SS officer Dr Robert Griesinger.

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Dr Daniel Lee of Queen Mary University of London's School of History
Dr Daniel Lee of Queen Mary University of London's School of History

The book, The SS Officer’s Armchair, tells the story of the life of Dr Robert Griesinger from Stuttgart, a low-ranking Nazi official who, like most Nazis outside of Hitler’s inner circle, has remained relatively unknown. As such the book offers a unique insight into one of the darkest periods of Europe’s history.

It began with an armchair

The origins of the work are almost as extraordinary as the story itself. In October 2011 Dr Daniel Lee was at a dinner party where a Dutch woman told a disturbing story about an armchair that her mother had recently taken for re-upholstering. Upon collection it was discovered that the chair, which was bought in Prague in 1968, and had been in the family for decades, was stuffed with Nazi documents, covered in swastikas. 

As a historian of the Holocaust Dr Lee was immediately interested in this unusual story and decided to investigate further.

The life of an ‘unremarkable’ man

Dr Lee examined the papers that were found and went on to explore the history behind them. Dr Lee’s research explored the life of Dr Robert Griesinger including where he lived, and he even met the surviving children of the officer who co-operated in telling the story of his life. The work shows that Griesinger was more than a cog in the Nazi machine: as sympathetic to the Nazi project he helped it to continue functioning. Like millions of other Nazi enablers, Griesinger stands as an example of an ordinary person whose choices impacted on the course of history.

Dr Daniel Lee, Senior Lecturer in Queen Mary’s School of History said: “I am delighted by the positive responses to my new book. Following the biography of a low-ranking Nazi allows us to see things which are invisible when we concentrate only on those at the top of the regime. I would like to thank the School of History at Queen Mary for providing such a stimulating environment since I joined the university.”

Critical acclaim

The book, published on 1 October 2020, has received critical acclaim from reviewers. Times journalist David Aaronovitch highlighted that the strength of the work is in the fact that it sheds light on the almost banal, everyday examples of life under the Nazis. He writes: “Understand this mediocre Nazi and you understand the terrible tragedy of 20th century Germany.”

Bart Van Es from The Spector wrote: “The strength of Lee’s book is the way these facts of history are twinned with the perverted domesticity of everyday Nazism. SS men, for example, were encouraged to push prams and change nappies.” Van Es also highlights that Griesinger’s children claim to know nothing of their father’s past. “The armchair stuffed with hidden swastikas is an apt symbol for that weird and disturbing double life,” he added.

Renee Ghert-Zand from The Times of Israel wrote that “Lee shifts the spotlight from Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and his inner circle to the masses of administrators without whom the Third Reich could not have functioned.”

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