The Arty Semite

Their Pen-Pal Adolf

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share

Understanding how a nation can embrace anti-Semitic tyranny is a complex problem. “Letters to Hitler”, out in May from Polity Books, helps explain the matter. Historian Henrik Eberle, co-author of “The Hitler Book,” has selected from thousands of letters written by Germans of all ages from 1925 to 1945 from a collection found in Moscow’s KGB Special Archive, where they were transported after the war.

Originally published in 2007 in a lengthier version by Verlagsgruppe Lübbe as “Letters to Hitler: A People Writes To Its Führer” these missives created a media sensation in Germany and even inspired a 4-CD audio book. The impression is of a people sadly brainwashed, such as the Karl Fessler family, who in the early 1930s sent a photo of their ten month old daughter Rita, “raising her little hand in the German salute… If she is shown a picture of Uncle Hitler she immediately salutes.”

Furthering the belief in predisposition among Germans for fascism is a plea mailed circa 1934 from a 13-year-old girl in the Memel territory, annexed by Germany but today in Lithuania:

Come as soon as you can and save us from the Jews and Lithuanians. Here the Jews are not only taking our bread away from us, but even sacrifice Christians at Easter time. Every child is afraid to go into a Jewish shop before Easter.

By aping their parents’ prejudices, these indoctrinated German children represented the future of Nazism. Childrens’ reading material was propagandized to fit the times, as a schoolteacher declared in 1934 after his children heard Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “The Secret Garden” read aloud: “It sprang from every heart that the royal son who thus frees his people and makes it happy is none other than Adolf Hitler.”

Some notes of praise contain the seeds of irony akin to the biting wit of Ernst Lubitsch, who directed the 1942 anti-Hitler comedy “To Be or Not To Be”; one suppliant sends handkerchiefs with the Führer’s face embroidered on them, only to be rejected, possibly due to the prospect of having devotees wipe their noses on them. Ditto the rebuff received by an ambitious entrepreneur who wanted to market brands of Führer cigarettes and cigars since, he argues, the cigars named after the Prince Of Wales have sold well. Overall the message is, as expected, grim, of a flock of faithful worshipers racing towards disaster and infamy.

Watch historian Henrik Eberle speaking about Hitler in 2010.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Henrik Eberle, Ernst Lubitsch, Adolf Hitler

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.