A Nazi childhood

On Hitler's mountain by Irmgard Hunt is an unusual read. There are plenty of memoirs of Nazi Germany, but they're virtually all told from the perspective of anti-Nazis or those who were persecuted by the Nazis. Hunt's parents were both Nazi sympathisers, both were party members at some point; and she was brought up in Berchtesgaden at the foot of  "Hitler's mountain". When she was three, she was even cuddled by the Fuhrer; and a picture of him hung over their fireplace.

And, yes, it does all sound rather creepy. But where this book is so brilliant is that it shows how Nazism worked - why it was so attractive to many middle and working class Germans whose lives were blighted by the deprivation of the years following the First World War. There was nothing unusual about Hunt's family. They weren't especially political, they were very much ordinary hard-working Germans, and yet they all became implicated in what would become one of the most atrocious regimes of the twentieth century.

Hunt is sometimes unbearably honest. She doesn't shy away from culpability, she doesn't pretend that the man in the street didn't know about the cattle trains en route to the concentration camps or the forced deaths of mentally ill children. However she does make it clear that many people only knew a very small part of the whole, and were content to shut their eyes to what they chose not to see. In a scary way she brings the humanity of the Nazis to life : the SA officer who hid away his own sick child, but presumably knew what was happening to other children; the SS soldier in love - you wouldn't even want to think about what he'd probably been doing on the Eastern Front. And so her reason for writing her memoir becomes clear.

Those writing from an anti-Nazi perspective are always going to portray them as the monsters they were. But what's important to remember is that these monsters had a human face; their politics were extraordinarily seductive, and seduced and entranced many an ordinary person. We can sometimes be content to think that it could never happen here, we could never behave like that - but the truth is that given the right or wrong conditions humanity is capable of anything. Hunt's memoir is a salutary lesson.


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