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Sunday, 10 June 2012

I Was Hitler's Neighbour

As a boy growing up in Munich Edgar Feuchtwanger witnessed the rise of Germany’s dictator at extraordinarily close range.
Libraries have been filled with books about Hitler and the Third Reich and as an academic historian I have made my own contribution. I am also one of the dwindling band of survivors of that period and my vantage point was a particularly close one. I was born in Munich in 1924. In 1929, when I was five, Hitler moved into a large apartment about 100 yards from where I lived on Grillparzer Strasse in a similar flat with my parents. Social Democrat propaganda in the election campaigns of the early 1930s proclaimed: ‘Hitler says he is a friend of the workers, but he lives in a nine-room flat in Munich.’

For my family it was a dangerous proximity. My father’s elder brother was Lion Feuchtwanger (1884-1958), one of the most successful writers of the Weimar period. His novel Jew Suss (1925) was a worldwide bestseller. In 1930, coinciding with Hitler’s electoral breakthrough in September of that year, he published another novel Erfolg (Success). It was a panoramic picture of Bavaria in the early 1920s, the period that culminated in Hitler’s failed Munich Beer Hall Putsch of November 1923. There is a bitingly satirical portrait of Hitler as ‘Rupert Kutzner’, the garage mechanic with the gift of the gab, who founds a political party, the Truly Germans. Hitler was furious and Goebbels, in his newspaper Der Angriff (The Attack), threatened revenge when they came to power, as they did a little over two years later. For the Nazis my uncle Lion was public enemy number one among the Weimar intelligentsia. Nevertheless my parents only left Germany following Kristallnacht in November 1938, when my father’s brief incarceration in Dachau made it plain that the situation was life-threatening. Until my teens Hitler’s comings and goings were thus part of daily life. I witnessed, from the opposite side of the road, his transformation into the Great Dictator.

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