"LETTERS TO HITLER," edited by Henrik Eberle, Polity, $25, 240 pages (nf)
The prism of history has given the world an accurate picture of Adolf Hitler as a ruthless Nazi dictator, who callously exploited his own people and murdered millions of innocents throughout Europe.
He is rightly regarded as one of the greatest monsters of all time, and his name will be linked with evil for centuries to come.
Yet Hitler was loved by millions in the 1930s and early 1940s. For the German population, Hitler offered strength after defeat in World War I, redemption after the humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles, and the promise of prosperity in the destructive storm of the Great Depression.
Edited by German historian Henrik Eberle, “Letters to Hitler,” presented in English for the first time, illustrates the broad feeling of German admiration and love for their leader. Making use of letters recently made available from the Soviet archives, Eberle gives us a unique and captivating view of one nation's devotion to its dictator.
These pages are filled with ordinary Germans offering advice, making declarations of loyalty, requesting favors (autographed portraits of Hitler were apparently in high demand), and giving thanks. Birthday greetings abound as Germans saw Hitler's birthday as the perfect moment to express all of the above. Very few of these letters appear to have been answered by Hitler personally. Many authors of these letters received a reply from Hitler's subordinate Albert Bormann (brother of the infamous Martin), who assured them of Hitler's interest in their concerns.
One petition was from a women whose 21-year marriage ended when her late husband ran off with a much younger woman. The writer begged Hitler to allow her to receive her husband's pension instead of the “privileging of a Jewish woman.” Another is a heart-breaking appeal from a Jewish plumber who lost his job as a result of the Nazis' anti-Semitic policies, yet still believed that Hitler was a just man: “Very respected Mr. Reich Chancellor, use your authority to give us hope that we can live again. I shall thank you thousands and thousands of times for it.”
The letters also contain poems of devotion: “You are the one that God sent us/ In deepest need and highest distress/ With a bold hand you ended Germany's disgrace/ Now the bright dawn of the future shines forth!”
Eberle's book strengthens our understanding of Hitler's hold over the German people and stands as an important social history of the Third Reich.
This English edition is also edited by Victoria Harris and is translated by Steven Rendall. The book contains little in the way of profanity or sexual themes, though some readers might be put off by the expected anti-Semitism found in many of the letters.
Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at Salt Lake Community College. He is also the co-developer of the popular History Challenge iPhone/iPad apps. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org