Tag Archives: Adolf Hitler

Historian’s Almanac for September 7, 2013

Yesterday, September 6, 2013, Rochus Misch died.  He was 96 years old, when the angel of death called at his residence.  He was just one of many individuals who died on September 6.  So, why do we note his passing?

Rochus Misch was the last survivor from among those who chose to spend the last days of the Third Reich along with Adolf Hitler in a concrete and steel bunker beneath the streets of Berlin.  Above, those who once hailed Hitler as one sent from providence were enduring the wrath of the Russian army.

Hitler’s intimate entourage drank champagne while recalling days of glory.  Many of them must have believed that they were participating in a Wagnerian opera.  Meanwhile Hitler cursed the German people and blamed them for the fact that his dream of a new German Reich that would last for a thousand years was ending after only 12 years.

Rochus Misch became a part of Hitler’s inner circle in 1940 after being severely wounded and receiving the Iron Cross during the German conquest of Poland.  He served as a chauffeur and bodyguard to Hitler.  Wherever Hitler went, Misch went.

Misch was, and remained up until his death, a loyal servant of the man he referred to as a “wonderful boss.”  Misch was present when the door to Hitler’s room in the bunker was opened in order to remove his and Ava Braun’s bodies after they committed suicide.  “I saw Hitler slumped with his head on the table. Eva Braun was lying on the sofa, with her head towards him,” he recalled later in an interview.

He knew of Magda Goebbels’ plan to murder her six children following Hitler’s death.  It was unthinkable, she said, for her children to have to live in a world without Hitler.  After administering the fatal poison to the children, Misch recalled that their mother came out of the room crying, and then sat down at a table and began playing solitaire.  Shortly afterwards, Magda and Joseph Goebbels committed suicide above ground in the Chancellery gardens.

Misch always insisted that Hitler was a perfectly normal person.  “He was no brute. He was no monster. He was no superman,” claimed Misch.  He never indicated remorse for the concentration camps about which he said Hitler never spoke in his presence.

Misch left what he later referred to as “the bunker of concrete” on May 2. He became a prisoner of the Russians after the fall of Berlin.  The Russians took him to Moscow, where he was tortured repeatedly, as the Russians demanded that he reveal what he knew about Hitler’s fate.

In 1954, after spending 9 years in Russian prisoner of war camps, Misch was free to return to Berlin.  He and his wife, Gerda, whom he married in 1942, opened a paint and wallpaper shop in a Berlin suburb.  Gerda died in 1997.

Rochus and Gerda Misch had only one child, a daughter, Brigitta, who learned from her maternal grandmother that her mother was, in fact, Jewish.  It was a revelation that her father was never willing to believe.

Brigitta Jacob-Engelken became an architect.  She lived for a time on a kibbutz in Israel, and has supported and participated in a number of Jewish causes.

Rochus Misch served as a consultant for two recent and highly regarded movies about the end of the Third Reich, Downfall (2004) and Valkyrie (2008).

One is tempted to wonder if Herr Misch is once again serving as Hitler’s chauffeur.

Be good, do good, and always live under the mercy.




Historian’s Almanac for August 1, 2013

Today is August 1, 2013.  It was on this day in 1914 that the Great War began when Germany and Russia declared war on each other and the French government ordered mobilization.  No event in history since the fall of the Roman Empire in the West had a greater impact on world history.  What became known as World War I was but the first act of a two-act war, the second act of which was World War II.  Had the Great War not occurred, there would not have been a Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the rise of Hitler in Germany, World War II, the Holocaust, or the Cold War.

The 11th Olympic Games opened in Berlin (1936) hosted by Adolf Hitler.  Hitler saw an opportunity for his new German Reich to be the center of world attention.  He also meant for the Olympics to display to the whole world the superiority of the Aryan race.  The first aim was achieved, but the second was a failure.  Jessie Owens, a twenty-two-year-old African American, won four gold medals.  The crowd cheered and Germany’s star athlete, Luz Long, congratulated Owens’ when he won the gold medal in the long jump.  Hitler refused to shake Owens’ hand.

Just three days before Anne Frank and her family were arrested and sent to a concentration (1944), she made her final entry in her diary.  She talked about the conflict in her personality between the serious and the frivolous.

“I know exactly how I’d like to be, how I am . . . on the inside. But unfortunately I’m only like that with myself. And perhaps that’s why — no, I’m sure that’s the reason why — I think of myself as happy on the inside and other people think I’m happy on the outside. I’m guided by the pure Anne within, but on the outside I’m nothing but a frolicsome little goat tugging at its tether. As I’ve told you, what I say is not what I feel, which is why I have a reputation for being a boy-chaser, a flirt, a smart aleck and a reader of romances. The happy-go-lucky Anne laughs, gives a flippant reply, shrugs her shoulders and pretends she couldn’t care less. The quiet Anne reacts in just the opposite way” (Diary of Anne Frank, 1952).

It is the birthday of Herman Melville, best known for his novel, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, published in 1851.  The novel was not a success in Melville’s lifetime.  It did not sell out the initial printing of 3,000 copies.  Today it is considered one of the greatest American novels.

And finally this.  Calvin Coolidge, known as “Silent Cal,” said little, but when he did speak, he spoke words of true wisdom.  E. g.:  “More people out of work leads to higher unemployment.”

Until next time, be good, do good, and always live under the mercy.

The Power of Symbols in History

Adolf Hitler is one of those historical characters who will forever fascinate us.  There is something that keeps drawing us back to Hitler and his Nazi cohorts.  Perhaps it is because Hitler was a sort of Horatio Alger hero, the small town boy who everyone disliked and thought would never make anything of himself, only to grow up to become a greater villain than the fictional Emperor Ming the Merciless?

Maybe we are attracted to all the pomp and ceremony that was so much a part of Nazism.  Hitler was a master of propaganda, especially when collaborating with the dwarfish Joseph Goebbels, the very lovely Leni Riefenstahl, and the very talented architect Albert Speer.  They all had in common a degree of megalomania that empowered their creativity.  Hitler was a talented but rejected artist, Goebbels a failed novelist and playwright, Riefenstahl a brilliant pioneer of the cinema, and Speer a psychologically damaged individual easily dominated by Hitler’s much stronger personality. Together they staged a drama more alluring than a Wagner opera.

The continued fascination with Hitler and Nazi Germany was brought home to me during the recent midterm elections.  Two images in particular caught my attention.  One was that of Ohio Republican Congressional candidate and Tea Party favorite Rich Lott dressed in a Waffen SS uniform.  The second was a campaign flyer put out by North Carolina Democrat Tim Spear, which mistakenly used a photograph of re-enactors dressed as German soldiers. 

There was nothing wrong or newsworthy about Mr. Lott’s participation in historical re-enactments.  Many men and women enjoy dressing up in historical garb and playing as if they were once more children.  It’s no different than adults who play with model train sets.  Lott’s knowledge of history is no doubt more extensive than the ad agency that produced the campaign flier for Tim Spear.

Today when “news as entertainment” is more to the public’s taste than actual news, market savvy “reporters” can turn a cat in a tree into a major news story.  I do not mention these two images so as to further embarrass either Mr. Lott or Mr. Spear.  I did not think then, nor do I think now, that either is a Nazi wannabe.  Neither do I want to suggest that the political ideas held by each, however bizarre, are as sophisticated as Hitler’s, or as evil.

If the truth be known, the macho military types among us seem to have a special admiration for the German army.  General Rommel, the Desert Fox, and General von Paulus who commanded the German 6th Army during the decisive Battle of Stalingrad are more romantic historical figures than any of the American generals, except perhaps Generals Patton and MacArthur.  Patton with his pearl handled pistols, and MacArthur with his corncob pipe were dashing figures, indeed.

 We Americans tend to have a soft spot in our hearts for lost causes.  Take, for example, the most popular of all the lost causes, the Confederate States of America.   No respectable Southern home is complete without portraits of General Robert E. “Bobby” Lee and General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.  If there is not enough room on the wall for both, then one is allowed to substitute a copy of the famous G. B. Matthews lithograph of “Lee and His Generals.”

Humans are just naturally programmed to respond to symbols.  Symbols have a powerful allure because they have meaning beyond themselves.  I recall a comment by an art critic during the debate over removing the Confederate battle flag, the so-called “Stars and Bars,” from the Mississippi state flag.  He said that it would be difficult to come up with a more appealing image, artistically speaking.  The combination of colors, triangles, squares, and stars is very pleasing to the eye, even for a Yankee like me.

The same might well be said about the United Kingdom’s flag, the “Union Jack,” or even our own “Stars and Stripes.” They are emotive symbols.  Like the Confederate flag, we are attracted to them, whether or not we identify with the historical reality they represent.

Likewise, Nazi symbols have a certain artistic quality, or aesthetic appeal, to them.  Exhibits of Nazi memorabilia attract many visitors.  Last November the National Socialism Documentation Centre in Cologne put on exhibit a small portion of an enormous private collection of items illustrating how the Nazis attempted to take Christ out of Christmas by turning the holiday into a pagan winter solstice celebration.  On display were such items as swastika-shaped cookie cutters, recipes for Nazi and Germanic shaped breads and cakes, iron cross tree ornaments, Nazi and patriotic themed cards–the list goes on and on. 

The mystery of Hitler’s appeal is the subject of a current exhibition at the German Historical Museum in Berlin.  Lines formed before the museum doors opened at 10 a.m. on October 13, the opening day of the exhibit.  An estimated 3,000 viewed the exhibit on the first day, and many since.

Before leaving this subject, I should make clear that I am not equating the Confederate States of America with the Third Reich.  The Confederacy was a rebellion on the part the Southern planter aristocracy who claimed to be defending what after the Civil War was often called “states rights.”  Of course the constitutional arguments were but a ruse meant to ward off threats to the South’s “peculiar institution.”

The Third Reich, on the other hand, was a descent into the abyss.  There is nothing quite its equal in history.  The quest to try to understand how a people, who before the First World War were thought to represent the highest level of Western Civilization, could commit such atrocities will never be fully realized.

Well, I have wandered into areas I am not qualified to address.  I have no training in the science of aesthetics, if in fact it is a science.  My artistic knowledge is limited to knowing what I like and don’t like.  But I do know that we human beings are attracted to symbols, symbols that evoke emotions we cannot begin to comprehend.  Remember, Hitler did not invent the swastika.  It is a variation of the ancient sun wheel, found everywhere in the world from the dawn of human history.  In fact, until Hitler’s use of it forever changed its meaning, it was, like the four-leaf clover, regarded as a good luck symbol.  

Enough seriousness!  In my next entry, I shall return to something humorous.