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Unfortunately, Hitler never inventoried his books, and the only detailed accounting of his libraries comes courtesy of the former United Press correspondent Frederick Oechsner, who met Hitler repeatedly and was evidently able to acquaint himself intimately with the Führer's book collections. "I found that his personal library, which is divided between his residence in the Chancellery in Berlin and his country home on the Obersalzberg at Berchtesgaden, contains roughly 16,300 books," Oechsner wrote in his best-selling book This Is the Enemy (1942).
According to Oechsner, the biggest single share of Hitler's library, some 7,000 books, was devoted to military matters, in particular "the campaigns of Napoleon, the Prussian kings; the lives of all German and Prussian potentates who ever played a military role; and books on virtually all the well-known military campaigns in recorded history."
Another 1,500 volumes concerned architecture, theater, painting, and sculpture. "One book on the Spanish theater has pornographic drawings and photographs, but there is no section on pornography, as such, in Hitler's Library," Oechsner wrote. The balance of the collection consisted of clusters of books on diverse themes ranging from nutrition and health to religion and geography, with "eight hundred to a thousand books" of "simple, popular fiction, many of them pure trash in anybody's language."
By his own admission, Hitler was not a big fan of novels, though he once ranked Gulliver's Travels, Robinson Crusoe, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Don Quixote (he had a special affection for the edition illustrated by Gustave Doré) among the world's greatest works of literature.
The one novelist we know Hitler loved and read was Karl May, a German writer of cheap American-style westerns. In the spring of 1933, just months after the Nazis seized power, Oskar Achenbach, a Munich-based journalist, toured the Berghof in the Führer's absence and discovered a shelf of Karl May novels at Hitler's bedside. "The bedroom of the Führer is of spartan simplicity," Achenbach reported in the Sonntag Morgenpost. "Brass bed, closet, toiletries, a few chairs, those are all the furnishings. On a bookshelf are works on politics and diplomacy, a few brochures and books on the care of German shepherds, and then pay attention you German boys! Then comes an entire row of books by Karl May! Winnetou, Old Surehand, Bad Guy, all our dear old friends." During the war Hitler reportedly admonished his generals for their lack of imagination and recommended that they all read Karl May. Albert Speer recounted in his Spandau diaries,
No one knows the exact extent of Hitler's library. Though Oechsner estimated the original collection at 16,000 volumes, Gassert and Mattern assert that it is impossible to determine the actual dimensions, especially since the majority of the books were either burned or plundered in the final weeks of the war an assumption confirmed in part by Florian Beierl, the head of the Archive for the Contemporary History of the Obersalzberg, in Berchtesgaden.
According to Beierl, Hitler's Berghof experienced successive waves of looters: first local residents, then French and American soldiers, and eventually members of the U.S. Senate. Beierl showed me archival film footage (taken by the legendary World War II photographer Walter Rosenblum) of a delegation of American senators Burton Wheeler, Homer Capehart, and Ernest McFarland emerging from the Berghof ruins with books under their arms. "I doubt if they were taking them to the Library of Congress," Beierl said.
I have also been told that a portion of the Hitler Library may have been seized by the Red Army. "Stalin was so paranoid about Hitler that he sent trophy brigades to search for anything connected with him," says Konstantin Akinsha, a former researcher for the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States. "His skull, his uniforms, Eva Braun's dresses, her underwear‹they are all in Moscow." Akinsha told me recently that in the early 1990s he heard rumors about a depository in an abandoned church in Uzkoe, a suburb of Moscow, that allegedly contained a huge quantity of "trophy books," including some that had belonged to Hitler.
Grigory Kozlov, another "trophy" sleuth, confirms that a "secret depository" did indeed exist in Uzkoe for more than four decades, with tens of thousands of books stacked from floor to ceiling. "At the beginning of 1995 there was a big discussion about trophy books," Kozlov told me. "They decided to remove these books from Uzkoe and destroy all traces that showed there had been some sort of secret depository there." Now, he says, the books have been dispersed anonymously in libraries and archives across Russia. "I don't know what's true or not," Kozlov told me. "Books were evacuated without records, confiscated without records. I don't know if anyone is ready to talk."
The 1,200 of Hitler's books in the Library of Congress most likely represent less than 10 percent of the original collection. Nevertheless, when I first visited the Hitler Library, in April of 2001, I was surprised to discover that despite the incompleteness of the collection, I could easily discern the collector preserved within his books. In more than 200 World War I memoirs, including Ernst Jünger's Fire and Blood, with a personal inscription to "the Führer," I encountered Hitler the "Austrian corporal," with his bushy moustache, his somber demeanor, and his battlefield service, during which he was twice wounded and for which he was twice decorated, once with the Iron Cross first class.
In two olive-drab paperbacks, guidebooks to the cultural monuments of Brussels and Berlin, published by Seemann Verlag and costing three marks each, I glimpsed Hitler the aspiring Frontsoldat-cum-artist. The Berlin guide has Hitler's signature in faded purple ink on the inside front cover, with the place and month of purchase: "Fournes, 22 November 1915." In the Brussels guide Hitler simply scrawled "A. Hitler" in pencil; the last three letters trail downward like unspooling ribbon. A chapter on Frederick the Great is especially worn, its pages tattered, marked with fingerprints, and smeared with red candle wax. Tucked in the crease between pages 162 and 163 I found a three-quarter-inch strand of stiff black hair.
In dozens of books, with salutations from the likes of Prince August Wilhelm son of the last German Kaiser and the heirs of the Bechstein piano dynasty, I saw Hitler the protégé of Germany's financial, social, and cultural elite. One book on Führertum "leadership" was presented to Hitler by the industrialist Fritz Thyssen, who had introduced him to some of Germany's leading businessmen at a decisive meeting in Düsseldorf in January of 1932.
"To the Führer, Adolf Hitler, in memory of his presentation to the Düsseldorf Industrial Club," Thyssen wrote on the inside cover. Several books are inscribed to Hitler from Richard Wagner's youngest daughter, Eva, who had married Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Chamberlain was an anti-Semitic Englishman best known for his book The Foundations of the 19th Century, in which he advanced the thesis that Jesus was of Aryan rather than Semitic blood. Hitler read Chamberlain during his Vienna period, and had a brief audience with the aging anti-Semite at the Wagner estate shortly before being sent to Landsberg Prison. "You know Goethe's differentiation between force and force," Chamberlain wrote Hitler in October of 1923. "There is force which comes from chaos and leads to chaos, and there is force which is destined to create a new world." Chamberlain credited Hitler with the latter.
In a French vegetarian cookbook with an inscription from its author, Maïa Charpentier, I encountered Monsieur Hitler végétarien. And I found hints of Hitler the future mass murderer in a 1932 technical treatise on chemical warfare that explores the varying qualities of poison gas, from chlorine to prussic acid (Blausäure). The latter was produced commercially as Zyklon B, which would be notorious for its use in the Nazi Germany extermination camps.
I also found, however, a Hitler I had not anticipated: a man with a sustained interest in spirituality. Among the piles of Nazi Germany tripe (much of it printed on high-acid paper that is rapidly deteriorating) are more than 130 books on religious and spiritual subjects, ranging from Occidental occultism to Eastern mysticism to the teachings of Jesus Christ books with titles such as Sunday Meditations; On Prayer; A Primer for Religious Questions, Large and Small; Large Truths About Mankind, the World and God.
Also included were a German translation of E. Stanley Jones's 1931 best seller, The Christ of the Mount; and a 500-page work on the life and teachings of Jesus, published in 1935 under the title The Son: The Evangelical Sources and Pronouncements of Jesus of Nazareth in Their Original Form and With the Jewish Influences. Some volumes date from the early 1920s, when Hitler was an obscure rabble-rouser on the fringe of Munich political life; others from his last years, when he dominated Europe.
One leather-bound tome with WORTE CHRISTI, or "Words of Christ," embossed in gold on the cover was well worn, the silky, supple leather peeling upward in gentle curls along the edges. Human hands had obviously spent a lot of time with this book. The inside cover bore a dedication: "To our beloved Führer with gratitude and profound respect, Clara von Behl, born von Jansen von den Osten. Christmas 1935."
Worte Christi was so fragile that when the attendant brought it to me, he placed it on a red-velvet pad in a wooden reading stand, a beautifully finished oak contraption with two supports that could be adjusted with small brass pegs to fit the dimensions of the book. No more than a foot wide and eighteen inches long, the stand had a sacred air, as if it belonged on an altar.
I reviewed the table of contents "Belief and Prayer," "God and the Kingdom of God," "Priests and Their Religious Practices," "The World and Its People" and skimmed the introduction; then I scanned the book for marginalia that might suggest a close study of the text. A white-silk bookmark, preserved in its original perfection between pages 22 and 23 (only the portion exposed to the air had deteriorated), lay across a description of the Last Supper as related by Saint John. A series of pages that followed contained only a single aphorism each: "Believe in God" (page 31), "Have no fear, just believe" (page 52), "If you believe, anything is possible" (page 53), and so on, all the way to page 95, which offers the solemn wisdom "Many are called but few are chosen."
On page 241 appears the passage "You should love God, your Lord, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your spirit: this is the foremost and greatest commandment. Another is equally important: Love your neighbor as you would love yourself." Beside this passage is one brief penciled line, the only mark in the entire book.
Given Hitler's legendary disdain for organized religion in general and Christianity in particular, I didn't expect him to have devoted much time to the teachings of Christ, let alone to have marked this quintessential Christian virtue. Had this in fact been made by the pencil of Hitler's younger sister, Paula, who occasionally visited her brother at the Berghof and remained a devout Catholic until her dying day? Might some other Berghof guest have responded to this holy Scripture?
Possibly but though most of the spiritually oriented books in the Hitler Library were gifts sent to the Führer by distant admirers, several, like Worte Christi, were obviously well read, and some contained marginalia in Hitler's hand that suggested a serious exploration of spiritual matters. If Hitler was as deeply engaged with spiritual issues as his books and their marginalia suggest, then what was the purpose of this pursuit?
In the spring of 1943, while the outcome of World War II hung in the balance, the U.S. Office of Strategic Services forerunner to the CIA commissioned Walter Langer, a Boston-based psychoanalyst, to develop a "psychological profile" of Adolf Hitler. As Langer later recalled, this was the first time the U.S. government had attempted to psychoanalyze a world leader in order to determine "the things that make him tick."
Over the course of eight months, assisted by three field researchers and advised by three other experts in psychology, Langer compiled more than a thousand typewritten, single-spaced pages of material on his "patient": texts from speeches, excerpts from Mein Kampf, interviews with former Hitler associates, and virtually every printed source available. Langer wrote,
In his summary Langer outlined eight possible scenarios for Hitler's course of action in the face of defeat. The most likely scenario, he suggested in a prescient moment, was that Hitler's belief in divine protection would compel him to fight to the bitter end, "drag[ging] a world with us a world in flames," and that ultimately he would take his own life.
Langer based his assessment not only on Hitler's repeated references to "divine providence," both in speeches and in private conversations, but also on reports from some of Hitler's most intimate associates that Hitler truly believed he was "predestined" for greatness and inspired by "divine powers." After the war Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, one of Hitler's chief military advisers, seemed to confirm the Langer thesis. "Looking back," he said, "I am inclined to think he was literally obsessed with the idea of some miraculous salvation, that he clung to it like a drowning man to a straw."
Experts since then have been of two minds on the matter of Hitler's spiritual beliefs. Ian Kershaw argues that Hitler consciously constructed an image of himself as a messianic figure, and eventually came to believe the very myth he had helped to fashion. "The more he succumbed to the allure of his own Führer cult and came to believe in his own myth, the more his judgment became impaired by faith in his own infallibility," Kershaw writes in The Hitler Myth (1987). But believing in a messianic myth is not the same as believing in God.
When I asked Kershaw in 2001 whether he thought Hitler actually believed in divine providence, he dismissed the notion. "I don't think that he had any real belief in a deity of any sort, only in himself as a 'man of destiny' who would bring about Germany's 'salvation,'" he declared. Gerhard Weinberg, who helped sort through the Hitler Library back in the 1950s, likewise dismisses the notion of Hitler as a religious believer, insisting that he was driven by the twin passions of Blut und Boden racial purity and territorial expansion. "He didn't believe in anything but himself," Weinberg told me last summer. Most historians tend to agree.
Some non-historians, however, have different views. In the 1960s Friedrich Heer, a prominent and controversial Viennese theologian, identified Hitler as a misguided "Austrian Catholic," a man whose faith was disastrously misplaced but nevertheless sincere. In a dense, 750-page treatise Heer saw Hitler the Austrian Catholic at every turn: the nine-year-old choirboy catching his first glimpse of a swastika in the coat of arms at the Lambach Monastery; the beer-hall orator whose speeches resound with biblical allusions; the Führer of the Reich who re-created the splendor of the Catholic mass at the annual Nuremberg rally.
Even his virulent hatred of Jewry found sustenance in those roots. Fritz Redlich, an eminent Yale psychiatrist, asserts in his book, Hitler: Diagnosis of a Destructive Prophet, that Hitler acted from a profound belief in God. Noting Hitler's own words "Man kommt um den Gottesbegriff nicht um" ("You cannot get around the concept of God"), Redlich told me last summer that he was certain Hitler believed in a "divine creature." He rejected suggestions that Hitler's invocations of the divine were little more than cynical public posturing and insisted that we ought to take Hitler at his word: "In a way, Hitler was a terrible liar, but he was a tactical liar. In his essential line of thinking he was honest."
Traudl Junge, Hitler's former secretary, would not go so far
as to say that Hitler believed in God, but she did believe
that Hitler's repeated references to the divine were more
than just for show. Junge who died of cancer in February
of last year told me the previous summer that Hitler spoke
of such things in private as well as in public. After two and
a half years of daily contact with Hitler, she was convinced
that he believed in some form of divine protection,
especially after surviving a dramatic assassination attempt
in 1944. "After the July 1944 attack," she told me, "I believe
he felt himself to be an instrument of providence, and
believed he had a mission to fulfill."