June 28, 2023


Publication Date: May 2, 2023

Print Length: 336 pages

Previous Author Publications:
Noodling for Flatheads: Moonshine, Monster Catfish, and Other Southern Comforts  (2002)
Global Warming (1992)
The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2001)



After learning that his grandfather, Karl Gonner, was the chief Nazi official in charge of a small village in Alsace, Bilger resolved to learn more about his grandfather’s role. The answers he discovered were mixed. Even though his grandfather served two years in a prisoner of war camp as a Nazi collaborator, his death sentence was commuted when evidence showed that he sheltered the citizens of Bartenheim from the worst of the Nazi brutalities. Nearly a century later, Bilger searched through archival records from World War II to understand the man his grandfather was and the choices he was forced to make.


Jacobs, Alexandra. “A grandson investigates the ‘reasonable’ Nazi in the family.” The New York Times, May 14, 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/14/books/review-burkhard-bilger-fatherland.html.

Simon, Scott. “Burhard Bilger’s book “Fatherland’ explores his family’s Nazi past in Germany.” NPR, May 6, 2023. https://www.npr.org/2023/05/06/1174468863/burkhard-bilgers-book-fatherland-explores-his-familys-nazi-past-in-germany.

Kelly, Hillary. “What kind of Nazi was he?” The Atlantic, May 22, 2023. https://www.theatlantic.com/books/archive/2023/05/fatherland-book-nazi-germany-review/674129/

The Economist.  “In “Fatherland” an author reckons with his Nazi grandfather.” May 18, 2023. https://www.economist.com/culture/2023/05/18/in-fatherland-an-author-reckons-with-his-nazi-grandfather


  • In what ways did the complicated history of the Alsace region contribute to the Nazis’ determination to “germanize” the region they occupied during World War II?

  • Through his research, what did Bilger learn about his grandfather’s past and the complex role he played as the chief Nazi official in the village of Bartenheim?

  • Was Bilger’s grandfather guilty of war crimes? To what extent did his efforts to protect the residents of his town counterbalance his association with the brutal occupation of France by Nazi Germany?

  • Bilger’s family rarely talked about their experiences in Germany during World War II. After he completed his research, was Bilger able to make peace with his grandfather’s association with the Nazi Party?

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Every month I offer a Book Club suggestion that highlights authors who write about their family history and explore themes of identity.
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