Chapter 2: Omens

In the attempt to understand the person Adolf Hitler and his importance for the course of modern history, researchers of all descriptions have attached primary importance to the analyses of the written evidence that illustrates his pseudo-religious world-view: his "Bible" (Mein Kampf) and his "sermons" (the speeches).

Considerably less stress has been laid on the other parts of the "liturgy," which he himself saw as a vital part of his National Socialist "religion." A religion does not consist exclusively of Holy Scripture, but certainly includes symbols and rituals as well - things often emotionally much more important than the more rationally accentuated sides of religious worship. It was not without reason that Hitler again and again appealed to emotion rather than to reason in his speeches as well as in Mein Kampf.

As our experience of Reality consists of a complicated mixture of pictures, images, words, smells, emotions and tastes, the same appplies to our consciousness and consequently to our mental activity as well. We all know that we do not say all of what we think. We also know that our deepest thoughts and feelings can have decisive importance in our relations with others - and that we do not always communicate exclusively with words, but also with more or less implied signs.

Finally, we know that the same word does not always carry the same meaning to everybody. Sociologists therefore speak of the social construction of Reality, which is different to every individual. If we employ these general considerations in our attempt to penetrate deeper into Adolf Hitler's world of thought, it necessarily leads us to draw in the whole of his symbol-laden world in order to understand his world-view. It positively teems with symbols and rituals, and some are easier to decipher than others.

The ritual at the armistice negotiations at Compiègne after the campaign in France 1940 is well known. It took place in the same railway carriage as the armistice negotiations after World War I. Adolf Hitler participated in the ritual without saying a word, and he left the carriage in the middle of the meeting. He had in five weeks achieved what Kaiser Wilhelm II had not been able to do in four years; but did he attach any importance to the fact that the sun shone from a clear sky - Führerwetter - or that the negotiations took place on June 21, the date that as the "Aryan" midsummer celebration had become a holiday in The Third Reich? Did the Führer see anything symbolic in the fact that this was also the seventh anniversary of the formal collapse of the Weimar Republic - the day when all the other parties dissolved themselves?

Adolf Hitler took part in World War I as a common soldier, and in the inhuman world of the trenches he witnessed the death and mutilation of his comrades. It would mark him for life.

His baptism of fire came on October 29, 1914, near the village of Wervicq in Flanders. He almost lost his life on this occasion. A bullet tore the sleeve of his uniform, but by a wonder he avoided injury. As his comrades in the 16th Royal Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment (called Regiment List after its first commander) were killed in large numbers, this experience gave him a feeling of being destined by fate for something special. On a later occasion he was wounded, but asked to be sent back to his regiment as soon as possible.

The framework of the army undoubtedly gave him the security he had missed since the death of his mother in 1907. At the same time he had a certain amount of liberty, as he was employed as an orderly in carrying reports between the front line and regimental headquarters. After four years of war he could, in 1918, be counted among the veterans, but in spite of the heavy slaughter during all that time he was never promoted. His superior officers were of the opinion that he was not capable of being in command.

When Adolf Hitler volunteered for the German army at the outbreak of war in August 1914, he had long been under antisemitic influence. His comrades-in-arms would afterwards relate that he was a somewhat strange person who would regularly give vent to his feelings against the Jews, but since the research done by Brigitte Hamann has demonstrated that he had not become an open anti-Semite when he left Vienna in 1913, the trustworthiness of those sources may be questioned. It is at any rate a remarkable paradox that his superior officer, the man who recommended him for the coveted Iron Cross 1st Class was - a Jew.

Hitler had early shown his courage - and his valour had been appreciated. After only two months of front duty, he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class, and several other distinctions were to follow. On the other hand, it was quite unusual that he as a Lance-Corporal was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class, as this order was almost always reserved for the commissioned officers. He was presented with the Iron Cross 1st Class on August 4, 1918, near Soissons, on recommendation from artillery lieutenant of the reserve Hugo Gutmann.

Hugo Gutmann was Hitler's immediate superior officer from January 29 to August 31, 1918. His military papers have been preserved, and they tell that he was born on November 19, 1880 in Nuremberg as the son of the shop-keeper Salomon Gutmann and his wife Emma. He himself stated his religion as Jewish. In 1902 he volunteered for the army and was appointed non-commissioned officer before he was transferred to the reserve in 1904. At the outbreak of war in 1914, Hugo Gutmann was called up, and soon after he was transferred to Regiment List. On April 15, 1915, he was promoted to Lieutenant, and after that he acted as adjutant for the regiment's artillery battalion. On the same day that Hitler received his Iron Cross, the regimental commander, Freiherr von Tubeuf, wrote a recommendation on Gutmann which shows his energy as a front officer. Gutmann was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class on December 2, 1914 - incidentally the same day as Hitler - and the Iron Cross 1st Class on December 4, 1915. After that he had repeatedly shown personal courage, and he had been able to serve as the link between the regimental commander and the battalions "in a tactful and successful way."

While Gutmann's recommendation refers to concrete events in late May, 1918, where he had undertaken "actions far exceeding his duty", the arguments for Hitler's Iron Cross were extremely meagre. The recommendation speaks generally about bravery and "personal merit," but it mentions no concrete occasion which would really justify the honour.

Hugo Gutmann later gave his version of the course that led to the awarding of the Iron Cross to Hitler: an important message was to be sent from the regimental staff the the front lines. The telephone was out of order, so Gutmann promised Hitler and another orderly the Iron Cross 1st Class if they could deliver the message safely.

It took Gutmann two months to redeem his promise, as that sort of dangerous assignments was really an everyday occurrence, and therefore was normally not considered a basis for this extraordinary distinction. That Gutmann succeeded may be due to the fact that the regimental commander was absent between July 26 and August 4. In his absence the regiment was commanded by Freiherr von Godin who was a stranger to the regiment and thus hardly able to appraise the justice of awarding Lance-Corporal Adolf Hitler the honour.

Later on, Hitler himself was remarkably silent concerning the events that led to the award of the Iron Cross. It would have been an obvious move to exploit this conspicuous evidence of bravery and courage as political propaganda right from the beginning. But Adolf Hitler only started to wear his Iron Cross in 1927 - and he wore it from then on and until his death at every conceivable opportunity. It was evidently a symbol which had a particular meaning to him.

But was his silence due to the fact that his Iron Cross had not been awarded for any conspicuous achievement - with reality standing in stark contrast to the myths that later circulated in The Third Reich of his having singlehandedly taken a group of French soldiers prisoner? Or did he see it as a totem of the decision to become a politician that he had taken on November 10, 1918 - and in that case why?

Perhaps we can track this to his specific attack on the very man who had procured it for him:

I did not wear the Iron Cross 1st class during the World War [1914-18] because I saw how it was awarded. We had a Jew in the regiment, Gutmann, an unparallelled cowardly person. He wore the Iron Cross 1st Class. It was revolting and a disgrace.

Was this exasperation only due to the fact that two months had elapsed from the time when Gutmann had promised him the Iron Cross and the time that he got it? And was it really sheer coincidence that this spiteful attack on Gutmann took place precisely on November 10, 1941, the anniversary of his decision to become a politician?

The Führer had exactly at that time repeated his prophecy of Final Judgment on Jewry in his traditional speech to old companions in Munich on November 8, and thereby he had speeded up the preparations for the systematic extermination programme. One of the consequences of this speech was Reinhard Heydrich's invitation to a conference at Berlin-Wannsee, to coordinate the Final Solution of the Jewish Question, flanked by Goebbels' notorius article in "Das Reich" entitled "The Jews are to blame."

Hugo Gutmann was still unmarried when, at the age of 38, he was demobilized on February 8, 1919. He married the year after and his wife later bore two children. Late in 1933 he asked the Bavarian War Archives for a copy of his military papers - probably in order to take advantage of President Hindenburg's stubborn defence of the civil rights of the Jewish war veterans. Hugo Gutmann at that time owned an office-furniture shop in Vordere Steingasse 3 in Nuremberg. Together with his family he escaped in 1939 to Belgium, and in 1940 he came to the United States, where he changed his name to Henry G. Grant. According to the historian Werner Maser, he received - by Hitler's intervention - a pension from the Third Reich down to the end of the war.

If this is correct, Adolf Hitler must certainly have been unclarified and self-contradictory in his relations with Hugo Gutmann. But if Gutmann really was the Jew who was responsible for the radicality of Hitler's antisemitism, why didn't Hitler just put him out of the way?

In a secret speech of April 29, 1937, the Führer explained his strategy in the struggle against the Jews: he would not challenge the Jews in open combat, but he would slowly and safely manoeuver them into a corner, so that he could stab them without their resisting.

The German Jews had, by the so-called Nuremberg Laws, in reality been segregated from German society in 1935, and shortly before the Parteitage in Nuremberg 1936 Hitler gave the orders for the rearmament program which would make Germany ready for war in the course of four years.

Was it meant as a personal foretaste of the sweets of revenge when he met with Gutmann precisely during these Parteitage and exchanged memories in an almost cordial atmosphere? Was it the cat playing with the mouse?

The symbol for Hitler's struggle against the Jews was the swastika, which should supplant the Christian cross. Originally, it was an ancient "Germanic" sign for the sun, and it was set obliquely in order to stress Nazism as the movement that created order in the chaos symbolized by the white circle of the flag. The red ground would be the symbol of the blood, the basis and foundation of the Aryan racial community.

On the very standard which had been used in Hitler's amateurish and abortive coup d'etat in 1923 was conferred the status of a relic. By the laying on of hands Hitler consecrated every year at the Parteitage at Nuremberg the new standards, as he demonstratively wore the Iron Cross and the swastika armlet side by side.

Was it a coincidence that this ritual took place for the first time in 1927, when the Parteitage - also for the first time - was held at Nuremberg - Gutmann's home town? And that it was on this occasion that Hitler wore the Iron Cross publicly for the first time?

In his first years as a politician, Adolf Hitler often used the name Wolf when he would hide his identity for some reason or other. It was as Herr Wolf that he acquired the house on Obersalzberg. When he became famous - and feared - he rarely used the name again - until June 6, 1940.

On this day, when the British Expeditionary Force had just been evacuated from Dunkirk, he moved his headquarters nearer to the front. The idyllic village of Bruly-le-Pêche was situated in Belgium near the French border and it was surrounded by a growth of old oaks. The original code name had naturally enough been Waldwiese. Adolf Hitler promptly changed this to Wolfsschlucht. Since then he often used the word Wolf as a part of the name of his headquarters. Was this a deliberate symbolic action with a profound meaning that was known only to Adolf Hitler?

Opera lovers will recognize the name Wolfsschlucht. In many ways it plays the principal part in Carl Maria von Weber's opera Der Freischütz. Wolfsschlucht is the setting for the conclusion of a pact with the devil. Likewise, it symbolizes the German forest - and, in the high-flown symbol world of the National Romantic Movement, thereby the original German genius. When the the opera had its first performance in 1821 it was received with enthusiasm because of its "Germanness," and even today it is regarded as the German national opera. Hitler's enthusiasm for opera was notorious, but the research in this particular field has been concentrated on Richard Wagner's influence. We know, however, that Hitler knew Der Freischütz and that he had a personal perception of its contents.

When we take into consideration how Hitler used the Wagnerian mythology as an expression of his own thoughts, it appears natural to assert that Der Freischütz had helped him to put words, images and explanations on the traumatic experience that he had had on November 10, 1918 in Pasewalk.

In that case the opera holds evident parallels to his own experiences: the hero Max (Hitler) makes a bargain with the evil Samiel (Jewry) through the hunter Kaspar (Hugo Gutmann) in order to attain social recognition (the Iron Cross). The heroine Agathe represents the Germany to which Hitler had dedicated his love, and the final "Free Bullet" was the Iron Cross that he had received by Gutmann's intervention, and which instead of hitting Agathe/Germany could now be used in carrying through the final thrust against Jewry.

An over-interpretation? Perhaps. But Adolf Hitler gave new names to every one of his headquarters - with a single exception: after the fall of France in 1940, he established new headquarters, called Wolfsschlucht 2, at Soissons. As the Führer had obliterated the memory of his father by converting his father's native village, Döllersheim, to a military training ground, it may have been the memory of Hugo Gutmann that he obliterated by deciding to locate Wolfsschlucht 2 exactly at Soissons - near the place where he in the summer of 1918 had earned his Iron Cross.

Questions and interpretations like the ones posed on the preceding pages might at first sight seem somewhat speculative, but the many surviving sources for Hitler's life, and the many scientific analyses that have been carried out on his personality, prove that he was extremely logical in his actions according to his own view of the world. Symbolic actions played a decisive part in his relations with his surroundings. His consistent ritualization of everything in his daily life - like dress, shaving, or walks - seems positively morbid.

In recent years, psychiatry has developed a particular diagnosis for the description of people whose life is ruled by rituals and obsessive actions which has become of vital necessity to them.

The condition is called OCD - Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. It is estimated that it affects about one per cent of all children and adolescents and about two per cent of all adults. It is often a violent incident, directed towards the person or in their closest environment, that provokes the disease.

The documentation for Hitler's obsessions is voluminous. Although it is difficult to make a hundred per cent certain diagnosis on the basis of this material, it is on the other hand so well founded that his psychological problems must be seen as an expression of OCD - or that it, at least, suggests a similar mental disease.

The person Adolf Hitler was a dreamer whose conception of the world was characterized by factors as different as the divine service of the Catholic Church, social-Darwinistic and nationalistic currents, the world of opera, architecture, painting and silent movies, beside the performance of politicians before the masses. His relation to his surroundings was distant and characterized by rituals, calculated to confirm himself and his staging of his own life. He wanted to be an architect; he became an architect in his own special way by creating a Gesamtkunstwerk which by far exceeded his Wagnerian ideal in its totality. As the Führer of the Third Reich he created an entirely new social order.

Chapter Three...