Hitler at Home by Despina Stratigakos
|Hitler at Home by Despina Stratigakos|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: Exceptional for the way it turns something so niche into a masterpiece. One of the books of the year.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 368||Date: October 2015|
|Publisher: Yale University Press|
Please do not make Hitler look good. Words to live by that the author of this volume received from her mother, a Kefalonian who knew Nazi abuse when she saw it. Rest assured that the book does not do that, but it certainly provides a much fresher, more eloquent and interesting look at certain aspects of his life, and introduces us to someone else from the Nazi times – Gerdy Troost, who might as well be summarised as Hitler's interior designer. In picking apart the entire life of Troost, the nature of her work and how the buildings and décor she surrounded Hitler in became a part of his propaganda, we get a refreshingly new yet authoritative book, that for those with an interest in this side of our recent history will easily be considered one of, if not the, best book of the year. The person who does come out with the laurels worn highest is our author.
If you never thought of Hitler's lifestyle and homes, then think again. While we won't ever clearly know exactly where he was when he was maturing – park benches, for one, are mentioned – it was a fact that he never had a house built specifically for him, and was well into his mature adult life before he owned a home. His being Chancellor gave him official buildings in Berlin – which were refitted courtesy of Gerdy Troost and her husband; he had a large Munich apartment wherein he shipped the people who had been his landlords (and where his niece died in mysterious circumstances); and he massively expanded and adapted a chalet-styled building in amongst the wondrous Alpine view overs Berchtesgaden – in the very south-eastern tip of his country. It helps when you have no tax bills, and fortunes coming in from writing Mein Kampf.
The trio of buildings were all worked on by the Troosts, and Gerdy, who lost her husband at a young age, in particular. She was a noted designer, and while stepping away from buildings and interiors for more work for the Nazi party, was a stalwart believer in Hitler. Her life, that should not be known by this author so well, as a lot of her personal files are still under lock and key for a few more years, is brilliantly itemised, from her belligerent faith that Hitler, and his own artistic, architectural and design sensibilities were perfect for her to engage with and fight against, to the post-war attempts to fix her in the scheme of Nazis by the victorious Allies. She had received some of the highest civilian honours, and lots of money, from Hitler personally.
But the book is also superlative in detailing what she did with the buildings, and how these made the cult of Hitler so intriguing. Early propaganda was focused on turning a strange bachelor with a rabble-rousing past to a child-loving, homely, honest, decent man of the Volk, who loved nothing more than humble life in his mountains, away from the turmoil of political demands, and engaging more with the spirit of the soil. (The only lapse in this book is that it doesn’t ask how the peaks of the Alps and their ethos ever fit in with the German ideal as seen by those living, say, on the flatter lands outside Hamburg.) The great hall at his Bavarian retreat had a huge window, that became a noted hallmark of his domestic life, that could be sunk into the floor to reveal a massive spatial connect with sacred, mythological, German territory.
This book might not sound as fascinating, readable and elucidating as it is. I was put off by the very introduction, fearing things would be too dry and academic. But it's the result of a sheer labour of love (just see the copious pages and pages of bibliography), in the hands of what surely must be the best person on this whole planet to tell this story, and told in the best way imaginable. The depth of aside detail is incredible – the facts gathered regarding when Hitler's homes had been looted and witnessed by Allied journalists for the first time are most memorable. The style is clear, warm and approachable, although it might claim a politicised, academic interpretation on every comment then made, as if every speaker, reporter, photojournalist and more had a professorial insight to what they were saying and how it would be read for decades. But the import of the book – one of the first and certainly the most substantial look at how the public view of Hitler was formed and informed by his private spaces and vice versa – is not to be dismissed. This is an incredible volume.
In contrast to reviving the interest in noted Nazi followers, books such as Hitler's Forgotten Children: My Life Inside the Lebensborn by Ingrid von Oelhafen and Tim Tate show how awkward it can be for the person on the Berlin Omnibus to even find where they came from. You might also be interested in Hitler's Private Library: The Books That Shaped His Life by Timothy W Ryback.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Hitler at Home by Despina Stratigakos at Amazon.com.
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