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Hitler and The Spear of Destiny: 3 of 5.
In my hands I hold a book about Nostradamus, the sixteenth-century French mystic whose predictions of epic calamities have fascinated generations, and whose stanza "From poor people a child will be born who with his tongue will seduce many people" has been interpreted as prophesying the rise of Adolf Hitler.
Printed on high-acid paper, this volume, with its 137 brittle, crumbling pages, bears a publication date of 1921 but feels centuries older.
The book promises to "decypher and reveal for the first time the prophesies on the future of Europe and the rise and fall of France from 1555 to 2200." Its final pages offer additional mystical edification in a series of advertisements for related texts: Memoirs of a Spiritualist, The Wandering Soul, How Can I Protect Myself From Suggestion and Hypnosis?, Soul and Cosmos, The Realm of the Invisible, and Human Destiny and the Course of the Stars. Pasted inside this moldering volume is one of Adolf Hitler's bookplates.
The Predictions of Nostradamus belongs to a cache of occult books that Hitler acquired in the early 1920s and that were discovered in the private quarters of his Berlin bunker by Colonel Albert Aronson in May of 1945. As part of the Allied occupation forces, Aronson was among the first Americans to enter Berlin after the collapse of the Nazi resistance. "When my uncle arrived, the Russians took him on a tour of Hitler's bunker," one of Aronson's nephews recalls. "He said that the Russians had pretty much picked the place clean, but there were some pictures and a pile of books they let him take." According to the nephew, the books remained in Aronson's attic until his death, at which point they were bequeathed to his nephew, who donated them to Brown University in 1979.
Today the eighty volumes are housed in the basement vault of Brown's rare-book collection at the John Hay Library, where they share shelf space with Walt Whitman's personal copy of a first edition of Leaves of Grass and John James Audubon's original folios of Birds of America. According to Samuel Streit, the associate librarian for special collections, the Hitler books have attracted virtually no attention from scholars. Streit himself has examined the collection only once, and his most vivid recollection was the Hitler bookplate. "I know this sounds strange," says Streit, an amiable man in his mid-fifties, "but from the standpoint of bookplate design, it is quite tastefully done."
Like the Library of Congress collection, Brown's eighty Hitler books constitute a hodgepodge: picture books, art journals, an Italian libretto of Wagner's WalkÜre, a 1937 edition of Mein Kampf, and two editions of Alfred Rosenberg's The Myth of the Twentieth Century.
The more than a dozen books on the occult include several devoted to Nordic runes, among them a 1922 history of the swastika, richly illustrated with nearly 500 diverse renderings in Egyptian hieroglyphics, Greek pottery, Mayan temples, and Christian crosses.
The Dead Are Alive delivers "incontrovertible evidence on occultism, somnambulism, spiritualism, with sixteen photographs of ghosts." Among the photographic images that fill the final pages of the volume is one of five people levitating a table at an 1892 séance in Genoa and another allegedly showing the ghost of a fifteen-year-old Polish girl, Stasia, being consumed by a "luminous, misty substance." A picture of a rather stately-looking Englishman is captioned "The Phantom of the English writer Charles Dickens who died in 1871 and is buried in Westminster Abbey. He appeared in 1873 and was photographed."
The canon of Hitler historiography declares that Hitler flirted with occultism in the early 1920s, and that he recruited some of his closest ideological lieutenants Rudolf Hess, Martin Bormann, Alfred Rosenberg, and Heinrich Himmler from the Thule Society and similar Nordic cults. "When I first knew Adolf Hitler in Munich, in 1921 and 1922, he was in touch with a circle that believed firmly in the portents of the stars," Karl Wiegand, a former Hitler associate, recalled in an article for Cosmopolitan in 1939.
"There was much whispering about the coming of 'another Charlemagne and a new Reich.' How far Hitler believed in these astrological forecasts and prophesies in those days I never could get out of the FÜhrer. He neither denied nor affirmed belief. He was not averse, however, to making use of the forecasts to advance popular faith in himself and his then young and struggling movement."
Most scholars dismiss the notion that Hitler seriously entertained the ideas of these cults, but the marginalia in several of his books confirm at least an intellectual engagement in the substance of Weimar-era occultism. The Brown collection contains books by such figures as Adamant Rohm, a "magnetopathic doctor" from Wiesbaden; Carl Ludwig Schleich, a Berlin physician who pioneered the use of local anesthesia; and Joseph Anton Schneiderfranken, who wrote numerous books on reincarnation and otherworldly phenomena under the pseudonym Bô Yin RÂ.
One of the most heavily marked books is Magic: History, theory and Practice (1923), by Ernst Schertel. When I typed the author's name into one Internet search engine, I scored eight hits, including sites on Satanism, eroticism, sadomasochism, and flagellation. When I typed his name into Google, I scored twenty-six hits, including sites on parapsychology, astrology, and diverse sexual practices. According to a Web site for Germany's sadomasochistic community, Schertel wrote numerous books on flagellation and eroticism, and was "a central figure" in the German nudist movement of the 1920s and 1930s.
Hitler's copy of Magic bears a handwritten dedication from Schertel, scrawled on the title page in pencil. A 170-page softcover in large format, the book has been thoroughly read, and its margins scored repeatedly. I found a particularly thick pencil line beside the passage "He who does not carry demonic seeds within him will never give birth to a new world."
One of the oldest volumes of literature still in the Hitler Library is a 1917 German edition of Peer Gynt, Henrik Ibsen's epic of a "Nordic Faust" who cuts a swath of human suffering‹betraying friends, abandoning women, trading in slaves, and committing cold-blooded murder‹on his way to becoming "emperor of the whole world." When challenged to account for his sundry trespasses, Gynt declares that he would rather burn in hell for excessive sins than simmer in obscurity with the rest of humanity. Edvard Grieg set this cruel play to beautiful music. Hitler's copy of Peer Gynt handsomely illustrated by Otto Sager bears a simple inscription by its German translator: "Intended for his dear friend Adolf Hitler. Dietrich Eckart. Munich, October 22, 1921."
Few people could call Hitler "Freund," and fewer still "lieber Freund." For Hitler, Eckart was both friend and family, a mentor and a father figure. When the two men first met, late in 1919, Hitler was a thirty-year-old political upstart a little more than a year out of the trenches, without a penny to his name. Eckart was a fifty-one-year-old playwright with a runaway hit (his adaptation of Peer Gynt), a paintbrush moustache, a morphine addiction, and a legendary hatred of Jews; one Munich newspaper described him as a "raging anti-Semite" who would "ideally like to consume a half dozen Jews daily with his sauerkraut."
After working with Hitler at an early Nazi Germany Party event, Eckart began grooming him for political life. He bought Hitler his first trench coat, gave him instruction in public speaking, and introduced him to members of Munich society, often with the icebreaker "This is the man who will one day liberate Germany." Hitler once called Eckart the "polar star" of the Nazi Germany movement, and dedicated the first volume of Mein Kampf to him. "Follow Hitler!" Eckart allegedly exhorted on his deathbed, in 1923. "He will dance, but the music to which he dances was composed by me."
For all the vitriol Hitler spewed upon Judaism, he came to hold Christianity in equal disdain. "Christianity is the worst thing that ever happened to mankind," he declared during an after-dinner rant in July of 1941. "Bolshevism is the illegitimate child of Christianity. Both are an outgrowth of the Jew."
Hitler was the classic apostate. He rebelled against the established theology in which he was born and bred, all the while seeking to fill the resulting spiritual void. As the Hitler Library suggests, he found no shortage of latter-day prophets peddling alternative theologies. Mathilde von Kemnitz, the wife of Erich Ludendorff, the venerated World War I general who joined Hitler in the Munich putsch, promoted a neo-Teutonic pagan cult that called for the destruction of churches and the creation of forest temples and places of sacrifice. A 1922 volume of her writings, Triumph of the Will to Immortality, bears a bizarre and cryptic inscription to Hitler.
Now don't forget you young, blessed soul,
Hitler tolerated Kemnitz's neo-pagan looniness until Ludendorff's death, in December of 1937. In the autumn of 1939 the Nazi Germany government, invoking wartime rationing, terminated paper supplies for Kemnitz's publication At the Holy Well (Am Heiligen Quell), effectively silencing her movement. Kemnitz, who survived the war, never forgave Hitler the betrayal.
Guida Diehl, a prolific Weimar writer who fancied herself the "female FÜhrer," showered Hitler with titles, including Burn! Holy Flame! and The Will of the German Woman. In a handbook on how to conduct a German Christmas in "times of need and struggle," Diehl wrote to Hitler, "We struggle for the German soul, which fashioned the German Christmas from Christ himself! Sieg heil!" There is no indication that Hitler ever opened, let alone read, any of Diehl's books.
Unquestionably the most significant unread volume in the Hitler collection is a 1940 edition of Alfred Rosenberg's The Myth of the Twentieth Century, the Nazi Germany classic that, with more than a million copies in print at the time, was second only to Mein Kampf for the Nazi Germany movement.
In the course of its 800 pages Rosenberg delivered the theological framework for a National German Church intended to subsume "the best of the protestant and catholic churches" and eliminate the "Jew-infested Old Testament." Denouncing the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as a "counterfeit of the great image of Christ," Rosenberg envisioned a "fifth gospel" depicting Jesus as an Aryan superman‹"The powerful preacher and the raging prophet in the temple, the man who inspired, and whom everyone followed, not the sacrificial lamb of the Jewish prophets, not the man on the cross."
This particular edition of Rosenberg's legendary anti-Semitic screed has a handsome dark-blue linen cover and contains a full-page black-and-white photograph of Rosenberg standing before a shelf of leather-bound books. Dressed in a three-piece suit, he looks more like a Boston banker than the ideological fanatic who wrote some of the most offensive and impenetrable prose of the Nazi Germany era before being hanged in Nuremberg in 1946. The book bears the Hitler bookplate but is in mint condition; the binding cracked when I opened the cover.
Despite Rosenberg's repeated attempts to establish his Myth as official party doctrine, Hitler insisted that the book was a "private publication" that represented Rosenberg's personal opinions. In conversations Hitler admitted that he had read only "small portions" of it and described it as unreadable. Joseph Goebbels concurred, calling The Myth an "intellectual belch."
Hitler's selective reading or nonreading of the pseudo-theological texts in his library makes those books he did read, and especially those in which he left marginalia, all the more significant. Here is where the Hitler Library is most useful. In the Fichte volumes given to him by Riefenstahl, I encountered a veritable blizzard of underlines, question marks, exclamation points, and marginal strikes that sweeps across a hundred printed pages of dense theological prose.
Where Fichte peeled away the spiritual trappings of the Holy Trinity, positing the Father as "a natural universal force," the Son as the "physical embodiment of this force," and the Holy Ghost as an expression of the "light of reason," Hitler not only underlined the entire passage but placed a thick vertical line in the margin, and added an exclamation point for good measure.
As I traced the penciled notations, I realized that Hitler was seeking a path to the divine that led to just one place. Fichte asked, "Where did Jesus derive the power that has held his followers for all eternity?" Hitler drew a dense line beneath the answer: "Through his absolute identification with God." At another point Hitler highlighted a brief but revealing paragraph: "God and I are One. Expressed simply in two identical sentences His life is mine; my life is his. My work is his work, and his work my work."
Among the numerous volumes dealing with the spiritual, the mystical, and the occult I found a typewritten manuscript that could well have served as a blueprint for Hitler's theology. This bound 230-page treatise is titled The Law of the World: The Coming Religion and was written by a Munich resident named Maximilian Riedel. During the first week of August 1939 the manuscript was hand-delivered to Anni Winter, Hitler's longtime Munich housekeeper, with the request that it be passed to Hitler personally. An accompanying letter read,
Riedel made a smart tactical move in delivering his manuscript to Hitler's Munich residence. Whereas at the Berghof, Hitler received hundreds of books, and at the Reich Chancellery all such correspondence went through secretaries' hands, in Munich the only filter was Hitler's housekeeper. Based on the marginalia, it seems that Hitler not only received the Riedel manuscript but also read it carefully with pencil in hand. Individual sentences and entire paragraphs are underlined, sometimes twice or even three times.
In this densely written treatise Riedel established the groundwork for his "new religion," replacing the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost with a new tripartite unity, the "Körper, Geist und Seele" - "body, mind, and soul."
Riedel argued that traditionally mankind has recognized five senses, which relate only to the physical aspects of our existence, and that this hinders our ability to perceive the true nature of our relationship to God and the universe. He offered seven additional "senses" that every human being possesses, which are related to the subjective perception of the world; among them Riedel included our inherent sense of what is right and wrong, our emotional sense of another person, our sense of self-preservation. On a two-page centerfold he illustrated his theory with a circular diagram in which various concepts‹"soul," "space," "reality," "present," "past," "possibility," "transformation," "culture," "afterlife," "humanity," "infinity" are connected by a spider web of lines. "The body, mind and soul do not belong to the individual, they belong to the universe," the author explained.
Riedel's "trinity" seems to have attracted Hitler's particular attention. A dense penciled line parallels the following passage: "The problem with being objective is that we use objective criteria as the basis for human understanding in general, which means that the objective criteria, that is, the rational criteria, end up serving as the basis for all human understanding, perception and decision-making." By using the five traditional senses to achieve this "objectivity," Riedel declared, human beings exclude the possibility of perceiving‹through the additional seven senses he identified‹the deeper forces of the world, and are thus unable to achieve that unity of body, mind, and soul. "The human mind never decides things on its own, it is the result of a discourse between the body and the soul," he claimed.
The sentence not only caught Hitler's attention beneath it is a thick line, and beside it in the margin are three parallel pencil marks but was echoed two years later in one of his monologues. "Mind and soul ultimately return to the collective being of the world," Hitler told some guests in December of 1941. "If there is a God, then he gives us not only life but also consciousness and awareness. If I live my life according to my God-given insights, then I cannot go wrong, and even if I do, I know I have acted in good faith."
As I sat in the rarefied seclusion of the Jefferson Building's second-floor reading room one day, listening to the muffled roar of traffic and the distant wail of police sirens in late-summer Washington, I attempted to comprehend the full significance of this sentence to which Hitler seems to have responded so emphatically. Back in 1943 Walter Langer had concluded correctly, to my mind that in order to understand Hitler one had to understand his profound belief in divine powers.
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