March 12, 2011

SO THERE WAS NO SWIFTBOAT?:

A Hero in His Own Mind: Hitler Biography Debunks Mythology of Wartime Service (Georg Bönisch, 3/10/11, Der Spiegel)

Thomas Weber, a 37-year-old historian from the western German city of Hagen who teaches at the University of Aberdeen, in Scotland, examined a group of documents that -- astonishingly enough -- had remained virtually untouched under layers of dust in Bavaria's main state archive. The find includes documents relating to Hitler's regiment, brigade and division, court documents complete with witness testimony, and confiscated letters that had been sent with the field post -- a treasure trove for any researcher.

In his book "Hitler's First War" (published in German for the first time this week), Weber uses these documents to help rebut the widely held views about Hitler's early years and demystify certain legends about them. For example, Weber concludes that the unit Hitler served with was by no means a sort of precursor to the Nazi Party, as some have claimed. In fact, as Weber and his researchers discovered, only 2 percent of the soldiers in that unit would later go on to join the Nazi Party.

What's more, Weber finds that Hitler was never the front-line soldier that he and the Nazi propagandists would later make him out to be. Instead, he says that this historical whitewashing was a highly political act in the run-up to the so-called Machtergreifung, the Nazi seizure of power. Indeed, as historian Gerd Krumeich writes, this was necessary because there was "hardly any other overlapping of the opinions of society at large and the so-called Nazi 'revolution'" that was as solid as their shared opinion of the legacy of World War I and all the dramatic events associated with it. In reality, however, Hitler spent almost the entire four years of World War I a few kilometers behind the main battle line and therefore often outside the most dangerous areas. His job as a runner also meant that he was by no means in the "midst of bombardment."

According to Weber's provocative conclusion, Hitler's political identity was hardly burned into his consciousness by traumatic experiences at the front. In fact, Weber writes, Hitler was "confused" when he returned from the war, and his political identity "could have still developed in different directions." [...]

After his failed putsch attempt in 1923 and a brief time in prison, Hitler and his minions cleverly used the supposed wartime experiences of the would-be World War I hero to win more votes on his way to the top. "It was thus really in the period of 1925 to 1933 that the myth of the List Regiment took center stage in Hitler's rhetoric," Weber writes.


Posted by Orrin Judd at March 12, 2011 8:35 AM
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