On Hitler's Mountain: Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood by Irmgard A. Hunt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The book is an easy and natural read. It provides an honest view of one of the most painful periods in history. Irmgard does not over-analyse in the book on how the Nazi movement gained popular support, rather allowing the reader to form their opinions based on the events she describes. As I read through the book, I realize that this period in history still has lessons, not all of which has been learnt for good.
Irmgard Hunt was born in 1934, and hence was still in school during the war. The book starts with her describing her family starting from her grandparents. She describes her early childhood in good detail. It was the time when Hitler was at the height of his popularity. She has two younger sisters. As with most others, her parents were supporters as well. Her grandfather though was extremely critical and hated Hitler. Ironically he was a steadfast opponent most of his life, but briefly joined the Nazi party in 1944, a few months before the war ended since he was not getting any work (wood work) and thought this was the only way to avoid starvation.
As she grows up, Irmgard does what all others do - believe literally all that her teachers, parents, and others say. Those who have doubts are few (like her grandfather), and there is as she points out “the middle class curse of political passivity, fear of chaos, a wrongly placed trust in law and order”. National pride and patriotism, and the way they are understood by many do not help matters. Her family’s proudest moment during that time was when she sat on Hitler’s lap for a few seconds. With an organized program to tap into national pride, and systematically root out dissent, supporting the establishment was the popular mood.
The later part of the book describes the difficulties of the war leading to severe economic troubles with obtaining a full meal for the family being difficult. Her father serving in the armed forces dies. Germany loses the war and her area is occupied by American forces. This is followed by revelations of the full extent of the crimes of the Nazi regime during the Nuremberg trials. Though there are mentions of crimes by occupying forces (considered natural), there are also tales of friendly forces who help the locals recoup their lives. A sense of confusion and disquiet hits people who find that they now have to question the beliefs they held. Subsequently, Irmgard Hunt moves to the US, many years after the war ends. Irmgard Hunt visits Germany after many years to see a nation changed, and free thinking youngsters trying to understand the past that was.
During the course of the book you will find important questions speak from its pages. It is not Irmgard Hunt who provides text book answers to these however, leaving you with the need to understand and analyse yourself.
There is this good passage towards the end of the book. “Could the US ever become a dictatorship?” asks Irmgard’s mother. “Never”, she replies, and tries to explain why, “This is the oldest democracy there is. Even in bad times there are open and fair elections and orderly transitions to any new government.” Her mother wonders “If there were a bad economic downturn or perhaps a war with the Soviets, Americans too might accept a leader who promised to save them and the fatherland. We did not know how fast Hitler would change everything once he was chancellor. But he did.”
There is also a good quote in the back cover of the book, “Compelling. I came away with a deeply disquieting sense of how easy it is to be swept along on a popular mood….how quickly the monstrous can become normal.” – Marina Lewycka, author of ‘A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian’.
The book offers a good first person perspective, and yes – certainly makes you think, as good books do.
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