Book review: ‘On Hitler’s Mountain,’ by Irmgard A. Hunt
Special to the Daily
The tragic outcome of Nazi Germany is well-documented, and the last generation of survivors will soon be saying their final farewells, leaving behind only their stories, each one as powerful and as important as the last. Crucial to a real understanding of the era is an analysis of those who supported the seemingly incomprehensible rise of Adolf Hitler.
The 2005 memoir “On Hitler’s Mountain: Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood,” by Irmgard A. Hunt, provides an indispensable personal perspective, one that the author was compelled to share.
Hunt was born in 1934, a time in which the Third Reich was increasingly shaping the country in which she was destined to spend her childhood. As her parents were fervent supporters of Hitler, his charismatic rise to power shaped her worldview. Not only did she grow up in the country that had paved the path for the Fuhrer’s ascension; her daily life took place directly in the shadow of Hitler’s infamous mountain headquarters in Berchtesgaden.
Hunt was inspired to write her account of her experiences in the hopes of lying bare, in honest recollection, the conditions that allowed such an individual to acquire and hold power. Doing so, she hoped, would assist future generations in recognizing and resisting the seductive allure of people such as Hitler.
Brush with a German dictator
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“The average, law-abiding, middle-class German who helped sweep Hitler to power and then supported him to the end” was the type of person her family represented, and it is through studying their histories that society can be better prepared to resist repeating such a devastating course.
Hunt reveals her own brush with the German dictator when she was only 3 years old, when Hitler took a photo with her on his knee, seeing her, Hunt reflects, as a “perfect picture of a little German girl with blond braids and blue eyes.” For her part, she says, “I remember being ill at ease perched on his knee and suspiciously studying his mustache, his slicked-back, oily hair and the amazingly straight side part, while at the same time acutely aware of the moment and the man.”
She admits that recalling that interaction now gives her chills, as she later came to view Hitler as “a monster.”
But as a child, she was swept up by Hitler’s sway because her parents were, and they looked upon the leader’s compound with awe, marveling as figures of importance came and went, all while the Fuhrer plotted his Final Solution from his famous Berghof living room, its massive picture window looking out onto the pristine meadows and forests Hitler associated with the pastoral folk ideology he so much admired.
Against this surreal backdrop, Hunt recounts a childhood tempered by both the privations of war and the disillusionment of its aftermath. With Hitler’s invasion of Poland, a wake-up call occurred for some of Hitler’s supporters; his positions were no longer simply rhetoric. When Hunt’s father was drafted, “the reality of war and the inevitability of our personal involvement suddenly became clear.”
This reckoning continued as the war deepened and Hunt recalls that her sunny childhood disposition darkened, replaced by an agonizing sense that all that they believed in would eventually fall apart.
Betrayal and hope
Though in the beginning, the high-mountain valley remained free of the worst of the war, eventually the eyes of the Allies fixated on it, and the many air-raid drills they had endured became suddenly real, as the bombs began to fall.
The end seemed inevitable, and with Hitler’s death, it came quickly, with most former supporters feeling betrayed by the man who had once promised them so much. “It dawned on me then that we were no longer at war, the guns and bombs were silenced, and I would grow up in a world totally different from the one that Hitler had so forcefully instructed us to believe in.”
Most average Germans had been unaware of just how different Hitler had planned the world to be — a world void of people who did not fit his strict Aryan guidelines. With each year following the war, West Germany emerged from the cocoon Hitler had assembled, but the shame remained. Yet, Hunt blossomed, embracing the chance to maneuver through adolescence, in spite of its passage being tainted by the guilt of what Hitler had done.
Hunt tells her story with a fervently repeated plea — that only through a careful and honest analysis of history, with all of its blemishes and horrors, can mankind truly progress into a more open and enlightened species. She warns against blind devotion and overzealous patriotism, and she insists that even established democracies such as the United States cannot take what they have for granted.
“Citizens in a democracy have a duty and a right to object if, in the name of patriotism, their government tries to dismantle laws that assure freedoms or demands that patriots follow blindly and make sacrifices for the wrong causes.”