On Hitler’s Mountain: Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood is my first completed read of 2017. In Irmgard Hunt’s memoir, she recounts growing up under Hitler. She tries to understand how ordinary German people succumbed to Nazi rule, and understand the legacy of the Third Reich so that it never happens again.

As I was reading this book, I found myself underlining so many passages. While I don’t think we are on the cusp of another Holocaust, there are certain parallels in the rhetoric of the Nazis and our current climate.

The ground rules in a German family were the same as in the German state: Punish independence, rebellion against orders, and speaking up; instead, foster unquestioning obedience, submission, orderliness, and hard work.” (15).  If you have read or studied much about some fundamental evangelicalism (Quiverfull, patriarchy), then you will see the parallels here with the idea of unquestioning, unwavering obedience.

Hunt takes to task the general passivity of the German people, including her own family.  She highlights how conditions in Post-World-War 1 Germany set the foundation for Hitler’s ascension to power and how he enthralled supporters.  “But Mutti (mother) said that they were deeply alarmed by the local newspaper headlines of daily violence in the streets of big cities and the chaos that might lead to another Bolshevik revolution or worse, all out civil war (19).”

Further, she talks about how her parents’ generation were “easy prey” for Hitler.  “After years of being made to feel like beggars and scum, they lent an eager ear to the man who told them that Germany was not only a worthy nation, but a superior one  (emphasis mine). Anyone who promised economic stability would capture the nation’s mind and soul as well. Of all the Weimar politicians, only Hitler understood fully that playing up patriotism and making false promises to every interest group wold garner a following. And most important, perhaps, he realized that instilling fear of a vaguely defined enemy- the “conspirators of world Jewry”- would bring suspicious and traumatized people, including my own mother and father, to his side (emphasis mine, 29).”

As I read these passages, I was struck by the alarming similarities to language being used today.  It made me recognize even more the importance of ensuring we learn from history and do not repeat it- that we hold each other accountable.

Hunt acknowledges that ordinary Germans did not really know about the mass killings by the Nazi party until the very end and aftermath of the war.  But they were inundated with only Nazi propaganda. Early on, people understood that to speak against the furher was tantamount to treason. Still, Hunt recognizes that all Germans of that era bear some culpability in the actions of the Holocaust, even when they knew nothing about it. Complacency and passivity and silence are as destructive as committing the acts.

Hunt recalls how she was torn between Nazi indoctrination- looking forward to joining the Hitler Youth, for example-and the reality she saw around her. There was never enough food to eat, though the Nazi officers living above the village on the mountain, had plenty.  Her own mother seemed to still love the Fatherland, but as the war dragged on and on, began to become jaded.  While Hitler and his henchmen encouraged women to be active in the war effort, as well as keepers of the home, Hunt’s mother resisted as much as she could.

Outside recalling the horrors of the Third Reich, Hunt also movingly recounts the lean times during and after the War. She also explores how one’s moral code can shift a bit when survival is at play.    And, she tells the story of the mundane, every day activiites during war time. Children are still children, parents and children still have conflict.  It is a glimpse into a very ordinary life in an extraordinary time.

For anyone with an interest in history and who likes personal memoirs, you must consider reading this book. If you are at all concerned about the rhetoric being spouted today in this country, I urge you to read On Hitler’s Mountain.