A sense of great urgency, after years of postponement, propelled
me to write this memoir. With the passing of my parents' generation many facts
of everyday life under the Nazis and the German people's feelings about the Nazi
experience are already lost forever. Firsthand accounts by the average,
law-abiding, middle-class German who helped sweep Hitler to power and then
supported him to the end are becoming a rarity. yet the seemingly petty details
of these people's lives are actually often symbolic and always telling. They
illuminate the societal transitions from pre-Nazi, to Nazi, to post-Nazi, and
from a post-World War I to a post-World War II mind-set. In the continuing
struggle to understand the past -- both personally and as a lesson from history
-- these details are too important not to be recorded and thus preserved.
Of course historians have written countless volumes documenting
and analyzing Hitler and the Third Reich. Biographers, survivors, perpetrators,
diarists in hiding, and novelists have presented the stories of Nazi criminals
and power brokers; famous scientists and artists who either "went
along" or were killed or forced into exile; politicians and military
leaders of the era; and, powerfully so, the victims of the Holocaust and all
others who suffered the horrors of the concentration camps. Yet even now, when
enough distance from these events allows and even welcomes accounts of the Nazi
era and the war from the German perspective, little has emerged about the daily
lives of German families who considered themselves moral, honorable, and
hardworking and whose adult members expected to live decent, respectable lives.
It was those adults, those ordinary citizens, who most wanted to forget the past
once the Nazi years were over and who preferred not to recall their
participation in the Third Reich.
It was left to the next generation -- my own -- to seek to
discover what people thought, knew, and chose to do and how it was possible for
Hitler to receive their silent cooperation and often enthusiastic support. A
universal answer may never be found, but perhaps an examination of just one
family, mine, can provide additional understanding of what paved the way to
Hitler's success and led to wholesale disaster.
I grew up in the beautiful mountains and villages of
Berchtesgaden -- a wide, multibranched valley located in a part of Bavaria that
juts like a thumb into the Austrian Alps. I was born there in 1934, a year after
my parents had voted for Hitler and he had assumed power. Hitler had chosen
Obersalzberg, a hamlet above Berchtesgaden, as his home and headquarters. His
presence on that mountain stamped my early years with a uniqueness that could
not be claimed by other middle-class children elsewhere in Germany. The mountain
loomed large over every aspect of my childhood in this highly visible and public
place, in the shadow of the Eagle's Nest and near the lair of men whom the world
would come to view as monsters.
How does one remember early childhood events? Once I began the
task of thinking back, I realized that my childhood memories have to a great
degree remained vividly and indelibly imprinted on my mind. I was a very
curious, somewhat critical child, and according to my aunt, I had a precocious
talent for eavesdropping and spying. For lack of entertaining or varied media
offerings and other diversions, the people of Berchtesgaden, including my family
and friends, thrived on local gossip, word-of-mouth news, and repeatedly told
tales. The grown-ups talked and I listened, building a reservoir of recalled
stories, rumors, and commentary about all that came to pass in my town during
the years of Nazi rule. Until it was quietly buried in 1946, the account of my
meeting with Adolf Hitler was so much a part of our family lore that I committed
every detail to memory even though I was only three and a half years old when
the incident occurred. Since this is not a history but a memoir, my personal
perceptions and hindsight have of course been allowed to color the happenings.
Nonetheless, these impressions and perceptions that inevitably reshape memory
give an accurate picture of the essence, the mood, the impact of any given event
during those years.
The foregoing is excerpted from On Hitlers
Mountain by Irmgard Hunt. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be
used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10
East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
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