Review: Young Hitler

Training for totalitarianism


Lower class mate: Adolf Hitler (circled) in a 1904 school photograph

Lower class mate: Adolf Hitler (circled) in a 1904 school photograph

By Claus Hant
Quartet, £25

German scriptwriter Claus Hant's "non-fiction novel", is an unusual book. First comes a 300-page fictionalised chronicle of how an itinerant would-be artist and sociopath rose to head up the nascent Nazi Party in 1920 and set himself on course to becoming the Führer, via the crucible of the First World War. This is followed by 150 pages of notes detailing the evidence on which the novel is based.

So, in effect, it is two books, involving much flipping back and forth.

The novel's narrator, Martin, is Hitler's "best friend", who knew him from their schooldays in Austria, throughout Hitler's early struggles in Vienna and Munich, his time as a soldier in the First World War, and into Germany's post-war revolutionary turmoil.

Hant explains that Martin (who calls Hitler by the nickname Dolferl) is a composite of four of Hitler's real-life friends. Although often shocked by the fanatical and egocentric Dolferl, Martin remains fatally under his spell, which makes him an obvious metaphor for the German people as a whole.

Hant suggests that the 1918 mustard gas attack that caused Hitler's temporary blindness also triggered a psychosis for which he received psychiatric treatment at a remote hospital for "war neurotics". It seems his transformation from mere windbag to messianic leader stemmed from this episode, during which his "divine mission" was revealed to him.

When Hitler came to power, the relevant medical records disappeared, his psychiatrist "committed suicide" after a visit from the Gestapo, and the hospital was razed to the ground.

According to Young Hitler, the Nazi Party emerged from the Thule Society, a secret brotherhood of wealthy occultists obsessed with Teutonic mythology. Their bankrolling of Hitler propelled him to prominence but he later airbrushed them out of his past so as not to be associated with such crackpots. You couldn't make it up (as Mr Hant might agree).

Monica Porter's books include 'Deadly Carousel'

    Last updated: 3:16pm, February 18 2011