Preface: On Writing A Childhood Memoir
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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