Why I Wrote This Book
The conception of this book dates back to an evening, years ago in Los Angeles. I was sipping some Robert Mondavi red with Nancy and her friend Bridget. Nancy I had once met in Austria, and she had offered to let me stay in her home if I ever visited L.A.
It was my first trip to the US, and I immediately felt welcome sitting in that backyard in Santa Monica on that balmy August night; that is, until the second bottle of wine was opened and Bridget started to question me. What did my father do during the Second World War? I told Bridget that my father had been drafted into the German army. 'So your dad was one of THEM!' she screamed, 'Your dad was one of Hitler's henchmen!' I tried to point out that my dad was just a young man of 20 when the war broke out, but it made no difference. The evening descended into a barrage of accusations against me, (whom Bridget repeatedly called a Nazi) and everything German. Even a car on the street, an old Mercedes, was accused of being a 'Hitler staff car'. I don't remember exactly how that evening ended, but I came away thinking that the US was indeed 'different'. Before visiting the US, I had lived in several European countries, and in Latin America. The fact that I was from Germany didn't normally provoke any particular reaction. On rare occasions it had led to a smug remark or a Hitler salute, but it had never compelled anyone to create such a fuss as it had on my first day in the United States.
I lived in L.A. for five years and never experienced anything like that memorable evening again. What I did notice, however, was an occasional but distinct aversion when I mentioned that I was German. I wondered why so many Americans refused to accept that the Germany of today is quite different to the Germany ruled by Hitler. Why were these Americans unable to turn that page in their history books? Was it because Nazi Germany had given Hollywood the most diabolical villains ever? Had that led to the impression that Hitler's Nazis were alive and well? Was it because the emigrants who had escaped the Third Reich continued to keep the image of the Jew-killing German alive? Or was it because many in today's world see the US as an evil power and some Americans feel the need to invoke a notorious but dead political system that makes US foreign policy look benign in comparison?
Whatever the reason - I became acclimatised to remarks about Hitler and the special attention that Germans sometimes receive in the US. But I also realised that the mention of Hitler wasn't necessarily meant as an insult. Many Americans asked about Hitler out of genuine interest. They had heard certain things but couldn't make sense of them, or they simply wanted more information. So they asked me, assuming that, as a German, I would know more about Hitler than they did. They were wrong: I knew very little about the man, and almost nothing about his youth. In today's Germany, 'Hitler' is not a topic in which anyone is particularly interested. Firstly in school, and thereafter by the media, Germans are fed the same stale story about the despicable Adolf Hitler. The endless repetition of the same one-dimensional tale is enough to kill off any interest pretty fast.
My general lack of interest in Hitler only disappeared when I met Harriett in L.A. She had studied to be an opera singer in Vienna and happened to be Jewish. Harriet's connectedness with Austria, and particularly Vienna, her enthusiasm for Wagner and her Jewish family background had led her to know more about Hitler than I did, but still some questions remained unanswered. 'Hitler wrote an opera?' 'Did Hitler really live on the streets as a young man?' 'It is true that he was involved with a secret society?' These kinds of questions came up during our long walks in Los Feliz, and every time I went back to Germany I checked the libraries for the answers. It wasn't long before my storyteller instinct was piqued, because the story of the young Hitler is an extremely odd one indeed. What makes it so remarkable is the fact that as a young man, Hitler did not display any talent or trait that might indicate that only a few years later he would become one of the most powerful rulers the world has ever known.
This seemingly inexplicable disparity troubles even the most renowned historians. To these, Hitler remains 'a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma' (Churchill). How did a lowly World War One veteran, with neither substantial education nor wealth, rise to become the most powerful leader in Europe in the space of just fifteen years? What transformed the mediocre artist and eccentric of pre-1919 into the conqueror of Europe and one of the shaping hands of today's world? What planted the seed in Hitler's early life that made him what he eventually became: the twentieth century Satan?
There is no one in the history of mankind whose life has been dissected by as many historians, psychologists, psycho-historians, medical doctors, and sociologists. And yet, according to psycho-historian and Hitler researcher T. Kronbichler, 'Adolf Hitler [. . .] is an existential research problem for historians and psychologists alike'.1 Sir Allan Bullock, the eminent author of an early Hitler biography, admits: "For my part, the more I learn about Adolf Hitler, the harder I find it to explain and accept what followed. Somehow the causes are inadequate to account for the size of the effects. It is offensive to our reason and to our experience to be asked to believe that the youthful Hitler was the stuff of which [. . .] the Caesars and Bonapartes were made. Yet the record is there to prove us wrong."2
Is that unsolved mystery the underlying reason why Hitler remains a topic that continues to attract the curiosity of so many people worldwide? Do people instinctively feel that they haven't been told the entire story? Do they feel that something important is missing? As every historical tradition begins with storytelling, I looked at Hitler's life through the eyes of a storyteller from the very beginning of my research, paying particular attention to his story's incongruence, its gaps and its crucial turning points. After years of intense research, a coherent storyline began to emerge, a storyline that sheds a new light on the 'Hitler puzzle'.
1 'Ein zusammenfassender Überblick ergibt, dass Adolf Hitler [. . .] für Historiker wie für Tiefenpsychologen
gleichermaßen ein existenzielles Forschungsproblem ist.' T. Kornbichler, Adolf-Hitler Psychogramme, Frankfurt 1994, p.139
2 Franz Jetzinger, Hitler's Youth, foreword to the English translation, London 1958, p.10 quoted from: R.G.L. Waite, The Psychopathic God Adolf Hitler, New York 1977, preface