DVD61 - Hitler the Unknown Soldier 1914 - 1918
Adolf Hitler the fighting man is the subject of this engrossing feature, chronicling the future dictator's combat experience as a foot soldier in World War I. Excerpts from Hitler's letters from the front, recollections of regimental comrades, and evaluations by his officers offer a revealing portrait of a brooding, fearless loner who preferred battlefields to brothels, frontline service to home leave, and kept the men he frequently risked his life to protect at arm's length. Original German, British, and American wartime footage presents a graphic visual impression of life in the trenches. In a world of death, hardship, and discipline, Hitler sought comfort in the companionship of his English terrier, and in sketches and watercolors he rendered during lulls. This candid, meticulously researched program provides an intimate, well-rounded, and unique picture of the most controversial figure of the 20th Century. It speculates on the influence wartime service exercised on his personal and political development, filling a critical gap for any sincere appraisal of Hitler's psyche, motives, and subsequent actions.
This candid, meticulously researched program provides an intimate well-rounded, and unique look at the Fuehrer's Great War record. Using his letters from the front, recollections of his comrades in the trenches and evaluations of his Imperial German officers. - Michael Kelly, PzG President
What kind of a soldier was he?
Details: Running time: 80 minutes, Black & White, English Language.
DVD 61 =
“Hitler, The Unknown Soldier”
The chief insight provided by Hitler, The Unknown Soldier is this: The impact he made on history would probably never have happened without World War One. Immediately prior to his participation in that conflict, he was beginning to succeed as a free-lance painter after several years of difficult struggle. Although he was interested in and studied those subjects which later went into the formation of his ideology, the focus of his life was art and the living he hoped to make from it.
Before 1919, although very proud of his country, like most of his fellow Austro-Germans, he had no intention of entering politics. From his childhood until the outbreak of war, his temperament was aesthetic, not revolutionary or militaristic. Hitler’s pre-war paintings had nothing whatsoever to do with warfare, politics or propaganda. They were expressions instead of his peaceful personality that delighted in sun-filled scenes of nature and Viennese architecture. Four years of death, suffering, pain, hunger, blindness and defeat in World War One would have been enough to change any man.
In Hitler, The Unknown Soldier we learn that he only began thinking about getting involved in political action before he was mustered out of the Army. In early, 1919, his superiors tasked him with writing patriotic leaflets and published articles to counter Marxist propaganda disseminated throughout Germany. This assignment appears to have been the catalyst for his political work, because it gave him an opportunity to systematize his thoughts for the first time.
Hitler, The Unknown Soldier consists of an eighty-minute-long interview with Professor Ian Kershaw, a British historical biographer, interspersed with film clips of First World War vintage to the Third Reich, and brief observations of obscure persons who were close to the Fuehrer. They include his pre-World War landlady, secretaries, servants, etc., and contribute some of the program’s most interesting revelations. For example, we learn why he really was a vegetarian from his butler, who explains that Hitler could not bear so much as the scent of cooked meat, because all his mucous membranes had been permanently ruined during the same gas attack that temporarily blinded him.
Hitler, The Unknown Soldier is especially valuable, because it brings into clear focus this truly seminal period in his life, which is ignored or glossed over in most other biographies. Even avid students of the Fuehrer’s early life will be surprised by the extent of his personal courage, which won him the Iron Cross First Class, which was only very rarely awarded to enlisted men. What distinguished him from most of his comrades was his willingness to volunteer when others were too exhausted.
As a courier, his duties were among the most hazardous of all front-line soldiers. Why, then, did he never rise above the rank of corporal? Simply because he had no ambition to become an officer, but preferred life among his comrades. A popular song of the time, “My regiment, my homeland,” epitomized his feelings.
Professor Kershaw makes an unbiased, mostly even-handed presentation, though he stumbles over a few points. For example, he states that Hitler was hypocritical in claiming to prefer a personally simple existence, while he enjoyed a fleet of luxury cars, and lived in a mansion with servants. But as the German head of state it would have hardly been proper for the Fuehrer of the Third Reich to have lived alone in a studio apartment and taken the commuter bus to the chancellery every day.
Kershaw also criticizes him for “turning against his friends, when it was politically expedient, such as Ernst Roehm.” For a history professor, this is a particularly unforgivable gaff, because even less accredited students of Third Reich history know that Roehm was in the process of cutting a deal with General von Schleicher, a particularly anti-Nazi aristocrat, and, worse yet, with the French government’s connivance, to overthrow the state and arrest or execute Hitler, who had no choice but to act as he did.
Kershaw’s statement that Hitler was a loner, unable or unwilling to form personal relationships is not only refuted by the professor own words, when he tells of the Fuehrer’s dispatch-runners, Hans Wind and Balthasar Brandtmeier, whose own grandsons later testify in the program to Hitler’s lasting friendship with his closest comrades.
Another, less important error occurs when the program narrator describes the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk that withdrew Russia from the fighting as having been signed on “January 28th, 1919”; in fact, the war was over for near three months by that time; the treaty was actually signed in 1918.
Hitler, The Unknown Soldier is by no means given over entirely to talking heads. Most of the presentation is profusely documented with newsreel and other footage, much of it seen nowhere else. Particularly interesting are shots of World War One trenches that still survive, together with Hitler visiting the soldiers’ graveyard at Langermark in 1940, and the same cemetery as it appears today.
Bonus material in the form of a “slide show” of First World War German postcards accompanied by original 1914-1918 German music is especially interesting, and certainly helps set the temporal mood for this fascinating program that must be seen repeatedly to fully appreciate the significance of this period for Adolf Hitler.
- Mac Roland's