Saturday, June 11, 2011

On Hitler's Mountain, by Irmgard A. Hunt

On Hitler’s Mountain: Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood, by Irmgard A. Hunt.  Harper Perennial, 2005.  278 pp.  978-0-06-053218-5.

… in which the author describes her life in Berchtesgaden, Germany, during the years of Hitler’s regime.

When it comes to memoirs relating to WWII history, the selection seems to be largely dominated by Holocaust survivors or by writing from the Pacific side of the war.  For me, at least, it was easy to forget about the general population of Germany, since most of the attention goes to the Nazis or to the people who suffered under them.  Irmgard Hunt, the author of this memoir, was born in 1934, the year after Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany.  She was born in Berchtesgaden, a town in southeastern Germany that is infamous as being Hitler's home and his base of operations.  Irmgard was born to parents who had both suffered greatly in the difficult years following WWI.  Because of their difficulties in their youth, Irmgard's parents were both easily persuaded to vote for Hitler in 1933, and to support him in the following years.  Because of her proximity to Hitler's home, Irmgard was always aware of Hitler's presence; once, when she was a small child, she even sat on his knee when he spotted her at a parade.  As Germany eventually found itself at war with the Allies, Irmgard's happy early childhood changed.  Her father was called away to war, and was killed in France.  Irmgard goes on to describe what it was like being an everyday German during the war, during the years of rationing and air raids and increasing Nazi brutality directed at Irmgard's family and friends.

 Pictured above:  modern-day Berchtesgaden, Germany.  From Wikipedia.

This is definitely not a memoir intended to explain the national psychology of Germany, or to explain how it was that Hitler was able to gain, and maintain, such power over the people.  It certainly wasn't intended to justify the actions of the German people.  Mostly it was intended as a snapshot of what day-to-day life was like for the average citizen of Germany... what school was like, what kind of jobs people had, and how the war impacted their lives.  For Irmgard, the war meant that there was not enough food on the table, and it meant that she had to fear for the life of her vocally anti-Hitler grandfather, and after the war, she had to face the new information of what had been happening during the war (many of the Nazi's actions were not disclosed to the public during the war years).  There was also the lingering guilt over the fact that her father had given his life for what turned out to be an awful, awful cause.

Since the memoir is written by a woman who was a young child during the years in question, I suspect that there was some degree of artistic latitude taken with the details, but I still found this to be a remarkably honest, open book that was very illuminating for me.  The author doesn't try to justify her country's actions, and she doesn't try to get pity or sympathy from the reader.  It certainly emphasized that in most wars, neither side is 100% good or evil.  Irmgard's father, in many ways a perfectly decent man, went to war not because he hated Jews or because he wanted to kill French people, but simply because he was drafted into the Army.  And in the days after the war, Irmgard witnessed a group of American soldiers gang-raping a German teenager.  Irmgard herself admits to doing some things she wasn't proud of... through peer pressure, she once verbally taunted a Jewish family, and she enthusiastically joined the Hitler Youth.  

I certainly learned a lot from reading this book.  There are a lot of details about Hitler's rule in Germany that I didn't know, and I also don't know a lot about German culture and lifestyle.  It was certainly a very illuminating book, and at less than 300 pages, it's a fast read.  It also strikes me as an important read, as it very much emphasizes the dangers of blind patriotism and uncompromising pride in one's homeland, and it clearly illustrates the wider consequences of war.

Recommended reading for people interested in WWII history, or German history and culture.

5/5 stars

1 comment:

  1. That definitely sounds interesting... certainly a perspective that gets left out in general.


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