On Hitler’s Mountain
On Hitler’s Mountain Simple, engaging, and compelling; for many people, these words are an excellent way to describe Irmgard A. Hunt’s childhood and family history. In her nonfiction book, On Hitler’s Mountain: Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood, the author gives us an accurate account of German society before, during, and after the reign of one of the most evil men who ever lived. Throughout the book, the author defines who the German people were, their beliefs, and actions through the eyes of her family.
Some of the most striking elements, however, are the portrayals of the common folk as being more humane than the dictatorial regime that so defined them. With an unfettered hand, and an original approach to one of the world’s most important periods in history, this book makes for a good read. The book begins with Hunt describing the events that transpire in this book as being “…too important not to be recorded and thus preserved”. She does this by emphasizing that the average individual who lived during this time was as compelling as the man who eventually ruled over them (1).
By giving a personal account of what happened during this time, she hopes to lay to rest why people did what they did during this time. It is through her desire to carry out this action that compelled her to write this book, as well as a hop to “…prevent a recurrence to one of history’s most tragic chapters”. Hunt also wants the young of the world to join her in this endeavor by paying close attention to the slightest indications of a dictatorship (4).
Hunt recounts in the book the history of her family on her mother’s side by piecing together the stories her mother told to her at bedtime, as well as the recollections of her father and her mother’s friend, Emilie. Her grandfather, Albin Pohlmann, was a journeyman carpenter, who married his wife Luise Damm in 1910. Due to her grandfather’s work, he had to frequently go throughout Germany. In an event that could seem a bit scandalous at the time, the author’s mother was conceived two years prior to her marriage to her grandfather.
She named the author’s mother Albine, after her grandfather’s name. When the grandfather returned, it seemed appropriate to him to marry the mother of his child. A few years later, Hunt’s uncle Hans was born (12). Perhaps the most peculiar aspect of this relationship was the fact that Luise was twelve years older that Albin, something Hunt’s mother always seemed to resent (9). Even before the era of Nazism, Anti-Semitism was well known throughout German society, and “it could be felt even in the behavior of children. In Hunt’s grandmother’s apartment complex, there lived a Jewish couple and their boy that came and went from time to time either for a leisurely stroll, or to run errands in town. It wasn’t uncommon for the neighborhood children to harass and shout imprecations at them, including the author’s mother, uncle, and Aunt Emilie. Years later, Emilie would with great regret wonder “…what had become of him during the Nazi years. ” When Emilie’s father one day saw what his children were doing to the Jewish family, he banned them from doing this any longer.
A few years later, the father aided a Jewish shopkeeper when he was in need due to Hitler’s men damaging his store. Emilie’s father was written in the book as being passively against the actions of the Nazi’s. While he didn’t seem to want to approve of what the Nazi’s were doing, he really didn’t do much against their wrongdoings. Wanting to shield his children from harm, he even forbade them from reading the newspaper, for fear of “… the evil world of politics and news…” (16). Hunt seems to portray this retelling of her mother’s history, by seemingly giving excuses to the ctions of the children as simply being normal for the era. While the response of the father deserves respect, she seems to characterize German society at this time as being too weak or passive to do anything about the wrongdoings of Anti-Semitism at the time. In 1921, when Mutti (Hunt’s mother Albine) was thirteen, she had done so well in grade school that her instructors suggested that she go on to Secondary School. Unfortunately, with the threat of inflation looming over Germany’s economy, she had no choice but to find a job.
Hunt goes on to say that “…[r]esentment and embarrassment over her lack of education would dog her for the rest of her life. ” In order to continually educate herself, Mutti decided to enroll in evening classes learning English. She also took courses in Esperanto, a politically neutral language that would foster peace and international understanding between people with different national languages. Right as she graduated grade school, Mutti was thrust into work. Barely being able to operate the machinery she used in her job, she lived day to day, trying to make ends meet.
It wasn’t uncommon for her to rush to the bakery to be able to afford bread before the reichsmark inflated itself so much so that she wouldn’t be able to afford bread when she got there (21). Mutti continued to work at this position until one day, after listening to a pro-union rally, decided to get up on a table and try to rile up the rest of the workers to go on a strike (22). Instead of being fired, the owner of the factory came to “announce that they were closing down then and there and sending everyone home” (23).
Time passed quickly in the life of Hunt’s mother. Eventually, after meeting her future husband Max Paul, she fell in love. She was just twenty three at the time (27). In 1933, they married. Much to the disappointment of Mutti’s parents, the fact that Vati (Hunt’s father) was a “… fledgling artist…” ,a career that wasn’t secure and didn’t have a future pension. The couple later moved to Berchtesgaden where Vati found work. A year later, Irmgard was born (32). Irmgard A. Hunt was born on May 28, 1934.
Even though they had wanted a boy, her parents greeted her with open arms (37). Her father and mother initially wanted to name her Helga, but at the last moment on the way to the Lutheran church where he was to register her birth he “…announced out of the blue that…he had changed his mind about my name…” and “…had entered Irmgard Albine instead of… Helga Albine…” (40). The author later curiously found out years later that she had a one-day-old baby sister named Irmgard that had perhaps been born prematurely.
This revelation was never revealed to her by her mother. For many holidays in Germany, the Nazis tried to change them in little ways, with a “…neopagan, Nordic/Germanic concept…” instead of a Judeo Christian background that so many holidays had. Weihnact (holy night) became Julfest (Yuletide), and Santa Claus was to be replaced by Weihnachtsmann (Father Christmas) (44). Many new holiday songs that the Nazis thought up were emphasized to glorify German Culture such as motherhood, instead of Christianity (47).
The author tries to portray these events as an attempt by the Nazi regime to remove tradition and put a new Germanic-centered culture in its place. Later, when Vati decided to place a swastika flag over their entryway, it almost seems as if Nazism had finally manage to sweep into the author’s home (52). Hunt frequently had friends who came over and played with her. One such friend’s name was Ruthchen (little Ruth). Peculiarly, one day, Ruth’s name was changed to Ingrid, since, Matti explained, “[r]uth is a Jewish name. ” Ingrid’s father was to join the border police, so he needed to do such an action (55).
This little snippet in Hunt’s life is a clear indication that Nazism’s Anti-Semitism had come into her family’s lives, as well as society. In some ways, Nazism had caused blind fervor in the lives of the adults around Hunt, while she herself was blinded by naivete. In the winter of 1936-1937, Hunt’s uncle Hans had decided to marry. Impatient, he quickly became a supporter of Hitler. Instead of following in his father’s footsteps by becoming a carpenter, he decided instead to become an accountant, preferring to instead have a more stable job.
When he finally married, he had to fill out a family record book that detailed whether or not he was a pure German (56). Uncle Hans perhaps didn’t like the fact that “…while they were pure Germans, they were all so very, very poor” (57). Not that long after Hunt’s third birthday, her father taught her how to properly greet in the “Heil Hitler” way. While the author at first thought that this type of greeting was a bit comical, her father assured her that this greeting he was attempting to teach her was very serious.
This would be the way she greeted stranger, as well as whenever a swastika flag went by (58). In this way, she then knew how to greet family and friends the traditional way, as well as how to greet authority. This event in the author’s life is a clear indication as to how devoted her household, and especially her father, were to Nazism at that point in time. The people around Hunt during the Third Reich had many different views concerning Hitler, and not all were Positive.
Tante Emilie, in an event on warm summer day reluctantly raised her arm in the “Heil Hitler” manner when the Fuhrer passed by in his Mercedes, for fear of possible imprisonment or worse (63). In one of the most important chapters of the book in which she met Hitler, Hunt describes the debates between her parents and her grandfather by saying, “Mutti and Vati praised Hitler for saving Germany, and Grossvati maligned everything the Fuhrer had done” (75). When Hunt eventually met Hitler, her grandfather wanted nothing to do with this event, so he left their presence, while her father praised her profusely after the fact (83).
These two men had far differing opinions on Hitler, as well as Hunt herself, who, after the death of her father in World War II, started to question Nazism as well (111). As Hitler started to gain power, he wanted to harden his philosophical grip on German society. One way he did this was through children. In the book, Hunt describes how her teacher Fraulein Stohr, a fanatical Nazi forced her to tell everyone in her class “…how proud [she] was that [her] father had given his life for the fuhrer. (111). This time in her life was already emotionally stressful, and being forced to do this action just made things worse. Her teacher frequently brought up important events such as this as well as “…Hitler’s birthday, good or bad news from the front, or the visit of a prominent local Nazi to indoctrinate us” (118). Hunt was also involved with the Hitler Youth explaining that she wanted to do so because of so many girls in her class being involved with said group (171).
Many of the activities in the Hitler Youth were reminiscent of the girl scouts and included such activities as hiking and sports competitions (173). Eventually she grew bored with this group, not liking the militaristic aspect of it (189). These indoctrinations through school helped give a different perspective of Nazism, and in many ways shaped her as a human being. As the war drew to a close, many people were just beginning to find out about the atrocities the Nazis committed. The Nuremburg trials helped expose just this to the German public. For many, this news was surprising.
Mutti described how becoming involved with anything the Nazis did was dangerous, but the author instead said that her generation was at fault for allowing these things to happen while looking the other way (243). Hunt gives a rare account of living during a most difficult time in Germany. While Nazism was certainly a bad thing to experience firsthand, for the author, it simply strengthened her convictions to never allow history to repeat itself. This book aimed to give a more humane perspective of the German people before, during, and after World War II. I believe that this book simply shows the best and worst of humanity.