Look out for Young Hitler by Claus Hant, to be published by Quartet on 26th April.
I have always been keen to read about Hitler, and learn more, given that my father spoke German fluently, having been raised as a child in a German semi-orphanage in Jerusalem during the Ottoman rule. In the First World War, he was recruited into the German army and was stationed somewhere in Turkey. When it came to the Second World War, his sympathies were naturally with the Germans, and we, as children, were made to listen to Hitler’s rants over the wireless, direct from Berlin and syndicated throughout the occupied countries.
I recall being totally hypnotised by the man, although understanding nothing of what he said, judging it more on his delivery and the clever way the Nazis orchestrated the speeches. Richard Wagner‘s music preceded and came in the aftermath of each occasion. Both the rhetoric and the music were devastating in their effect and one was carried away by the electric atmosphere they generated together.
In those early days of the war, we were unaware of the programme of mass atrocities that the Nazi regime was already pursuing and were inclined to support the Germans against the British because of British government policy towards Palestine in the wake of the Balfour Declaration.
Many books have been written about Hitler, but none that I recall has examined his life in detail prior to assuming power in Germany in the way that this one does. Young Hitler is a work of many years of documentary research, and fills a gap to give the reader a unique insight into the man who later subdued almost the entire European continent and grew to be a monster to rank alongside Stalin in the Soviet Union. It is a book that demands to be read, for it sheds new light on Hitler without marginalising him into a figure of caricature. Hitler had remarkable abilities, albeit of a mad and evil kind. His inhumane exploits and ambitions caused untold suffering on a scale never witnessed before in civilised society.
Claus Hant is a German scriptwriter and creator of a detective series, Der Bulle von Tolz, which ran on prime time for over a decade and made German TV history with its audience figures. He has also written film scripts, the most recent being Der große Kater (Downfall), starring Bruno Ganz in a brilliant characterisation of the Führer at the cataclysmic end of the Third Reich.
For Young Hitler, styled as a ‘non-fiction novel’, Hant researched the life of the young man who became the Führer. As with the detective hero of his TV series, he asked inconvenient questions about certain uncommon events in the early life of his subject.
After years of intense research, and incorporating the latest findings of historical science, a storyline emerged that put young Hitler’s personal development into a new and unexpected perspective.
How did it happen that an insignificant young man from provincial Austria should suddenly emerge as a momentous historical figure and the personification of ruthless tyranny?
This is the question Young Hitler sets out to answer, with 150 pages of intriguing appendices to substantiate the work’s provenance. The narrative takes the reader into the mind of the man before the monster: the seventeen-year-old school drop-out and starving artist; the vagrant who spends years on the streets and in the shelters of Vienna; the lance-corporal who is fatefully changed by the First World War.
Finally, in the aftermath of that Great War, among the ashes of a demoralised and bankrupt Germany, the narrative follows the bizarre series of events that culminated in this lonely and eccentric young man becoming the Führer of the Third Reich.
As Dr Klaus A. Lankheit, a leading academic expert on Hitler at the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich, states in his Foreword:
‘Based on thorough reading and extensive research, this novel fits the acknowledged facts as known to date, while at the same time leaving space for individual interpretation. Plenty of matter, with plenty of art.’