The Nazi-era and Adolf Hitler's devastating rule are among the most extensively researched themes in German historiography. Now a new book, published this week in Berlin, has traced the whereabouts of the world's most infamous dictator from his birth in 1889 until his death in 1945.
In a staggering 2,432 pages, "Hitler — The Itinerary. Whereabouts and Journeys from 1889 to 1945," paints the picture of a highly mobile politician, who seemed to be everywhere at once, didn't keep regular office hours and, in fact, seemed to shun offices most of the time. It also portrays Hitler, to some extent, as a regular person who liked to eat bread soup (a local Weimar specialty), got haircuts and took his future wife, Eva Braun, out to the opera. And that's exactly the problem for some.
“There's a certain danger to overemphasize Hitler's human side and to thereby make him more relatable,” said Arnd Bauerkämper, historian at the Free University Berlin, adding he still appreciated the book as a work of reference.
Harald Sandner, the author of the four volume work, is a part-time historian who devoted more than two decades to sifting through tens of thousands of documents and photographs in order to chronicle every location Hitler visited, the means of transportation he used to get there and whom he met. Sandner said he deliberately included quotes showing Hitler's “inhumane characteristics ... and his inability to sympathize with his victims.”
At a book presentation on Tuesday, appropriately held in a gloomy Berlin World War II bunker-turned museum, however, Sandner also rejected the notion of Hitler as a monster without any human traits: “Hitler was extremely evil, but he was also a human being, someone who could be quite charming when interacting with other people.”
The publication of the chronicle comes just months after an annotated reissue of Hitler's anti-Semitic pamphlet “Mein Kampf,” which had been banned from reprint in postwar Germany, sparked a national debate. Despite the controversy, “Mein Kampf” became an instant success and is still at the top of the country's bestseller list. Sandner's tome naturally has a much smaller circulation – only a few hundred copies have been sold so far. But its author said he understands the fascination Hitler still holds for many people.
“Who's more interesting than Hitler? His career -- from a homeless person to the most admired, most powerful and then, rightly so, the most hated man in the world -- is unique in all of history,” he said
Interestingly, the dictator does not come across as the shining leader he liked to present himself as in public. Some incidents described in the book are so bizarre that they could even pass as comical, if it wasn't for their disastrous historical implications.
For instance, there was the day Hitler found himself surrounded by police in the house of an acquaintance named Erna Hanfstaengl after a botched attempt to overthrow the government of the Weimar Republic in November 1923. When the future dictator vocally announced that he'd rather kill himself than to go to jail, Hanfstaengl wrestled the gun from his hand in a “ jiujitsu move.” Hitler was subsequently arrested wearing only his “pajamas with a blue dressing gown.”
One of the goals of his work, Sandner explained, was to shatter the myth surrounding the dictator even today. “Hitler himself is the best therapy.”
But is it really vital for the understanding of the darkest chapter of German history to know what Hitler had for lunch before shooting himself in the head in the Führerbunker with his Walther PPK pistol in 1945 (spaghetti with a light tomato sauce)? Probably not. Martin Sabrow, director of the Potsdam Center for Contemporary History, however, regards this aspect of the book as typical for the way in which Germans remember their past today: “There's a strong desire for the authentic in our historical culture. ... We want to shed light onto the evils of the past while keeping our distance at the same time.”