~Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
"I FELL ON MY KNEES AND THANKED GOD"
When the 1914 -1918 war broke out, a war described by Field-Marshall Lord Allenby as 'a lengthy period of general insanity', Hitler, believing the war would set everything to right expressed himself thus:
For me it was a deliverance. I am not ashamed to say it today: I fell on my knees and thanked God.
Ordinarily Hitler need not have been destined for the armed forces as for many years he had been afflicted with tuberculosis. However on 5 February 1914, months before war broke out and there being any necessity for him to take up arms in defence of his country the twenty-five year old Adolf Hitler applied for military service and was turned away as 'Unfit for the army or auxiliary corps. Too weak. Rejected.'
Passionate as always about the unification of German blood spanning the artificial state of Austria, the landlord of his Munich lodgings, Herr Popp, recalled the small plaque posted over his young lodger's bed. It read 'Freely with open heart we are waiting for you/Full of hope and ready for action/We are expecting you with joy/Great German Fatherland, we salute you'.
THE UNKNOWN STUDENT
Here he lived in perfect obscurity, happy to spend his none labouring hours absorbed in studying, reading, composing poetry, and of course sketching, drawing and painting. The address was 34 Schleissheimerstrasse and one of the interesting quirks of history is that at number 106 lived the equally unknown (and unknown to each other) Ilyitch Ulyanov (Lenin).
On August 1, 1914, a huge, enthusiastic crowd including Hitler gathered in a big public plaza in Munich - the occasion - to celebrate the German proclamation of war.
Two days later, Hitler volunteered for the German Army, enlisting in a Bavarian regiment. On first hearing the news of war Hitler had sunk to his knees and thanked heaven for being alive.Hitler volunteered at age 25 by enlisting in a Bavarian Regiment. After its first engagement against the British and Belgians near Pyres, 2500 of the 3000 men in the Hitler's regiment were killed, wounded or missing. Hitler escaped without a scratch.Throughout most of the war Hitler had great luck avoiding life threatening injury. More than once, he moved away from a spot where moments later a shell exploded killing or wounding everyone.
After the war he told G. Ward Price, an English reporter, how once he was eating his dinner with his comrades in a trench. "Suddenly a voice seemed to be saying to me, 'Get up and go over there.' It was so clear and insistent that I obeyed automatically, as if it had been a military order. I rose at once to my feet and walked twenty yards along the trench, carrying my dinner in its tin can with me. Then I sat down to go on eating, my mind being once more at rest. Hardly had I done so when a flash and deafening report came from the part of the trench I had just left. A stray shell had burst over the group in which I had been sitting, and every member of it was killed."
In 1918, about two months after winning the Iron Cross, Hitler was blinded by mustard gas during a battle. He was taken to the Pasewalk military hospital in northern Germany where he was diagnosed as suffering from "psychopathic hysteria."
Hitler was consequently placed under the care of a psychiatrist, Dr. Edmund Forster. What exactly was done to Hitler while under Dr. Forster's care is uncertain because years later, in 1933, the Gestapo rounded up all psychiatric records related to Hitler's treatment and destroyed them. Dr. Forster "committed suicide" in that same year.
Doing everything in his power to overturn this rejection, on 3 August 1914 Adolf Hitler sent a personal letter to the King of Bavaria begging him to be allowed to enlist as a volunteer. His plea was accepted and he joined the 6th battalion of the 2nd Bavarian Infantry Regiment.
On 20 October 1914, during the German advance on France and confrontation with the equally belligerent 2,000,000 strong British army of the empire, Hitler in a letter to Frau Popp his landlady confessed:
I find it hard to contain my enthusiasm. How many times have I wished to test my strength and prove my national faith!
FOUR YEARS ON FRONTLINE STRUGGLE
For four long years Hitler fought along the frontline trenches of the Western Front's most furiously contested battlefronts. These apocalyptic conflicts included the names of places still renowned for their valour and sheer scale of lives lost. All grace the colours of many a regiment. Yser, Ypres, Flanders, Neuve Chapelle, La Bassee, Arras, Artuis, Somme, Fromelles, Alsace Lorraine, Aillette, Montdidier, Soissons, Rheims, Oise, Marne, Champagne, Vosle, Monchy, Bapaume.
During those terrible years the future leader of the German people displayed exemplary courage in a conflict that involved more than forty battles. He was wounded on 5 October 1916 and hospitalised for two months. Then he was back at the front until 15 October 1918 when he was hospitalised again, this time for gas poisoning.
Throughout the course of the war he was cited for valour and distinguished conduct in the field. He was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd class on 2 December 1914. He was also awarded the Bavarian Military Medal 3rd class with bar, and later the Iron Cross 1st class. He received, as did all wounded soldiers, the Cross of Military Merit.
"A MODEL OF COOLNESS AND COURAGE"
Lieutenant Colonel Godin, in his official request that Hitler be awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class, stated:
He was a model of coolness and courage in both trench warfare and assault combat. He was always ready to volunteer for carrying messages in the most difficult and dangerous situations.
On awarding this recognition Colonel Anton Tubeuf further stated:
He was always ready to help out in any situation, always volunteered for the most difficult and most arduous, and the most dangerous missions, and to risk his life and well-being for the Fatherland. On a human level, I felt closer to him than to any of the other men.
Of him World War One veteran Colonel Spatny, then in command of the 16th Regiment, was equally affirmative:
Hitler inspired all his comrades. His fearless courage and devotion to duty, particularly in combat impressed them. His qualifications, modesty, and his admirable sobriety earned him the greatest respect of his comrades and superiors alike.
Werner Maser, former head of the Institute of Contemporary History at the University of Munich, has written a large neutral biography called Hitler, Legend, Myth and Reality (Harper and Row, 1971). The objective record is clear:
Hitler's wartime record - campaigns, decorations, wounds, periods in hospital and on leave, is fully documented. In addition there is evidence to show that he was comradely, level headed and an unusually brave soldier, and that a number of his commanding officers singled him out for special mention.
And in 1922, at a time when Hitler was still unknown, General Friedrich Petz summarised the High Command's appreciation of the gallant and self-effacing corporal as follows:
Hitler was quick in mind and body and had great powers of endurance. His most remarkable qualities were his personal courage and daring which enabled him to face any combat or perilous situation whatsoever.
Even those historians least favourably disposed towards Adolf Hitler, such as Joachim Fest, conceded that
Hitler was a courageous and efficient soldier and was always a good comrade.
The same historian noted:
The courage and the composure with which he faced the most deadly fire made him seem invulnerable to his comrades. As long as Hitler is near us, nothing will happen to us, they kept repeating. It appears that made a deep impression on Hitler and reinforced his belief that he had been charged with a special mission.
John Toland, another respected but hardly revisionist historian wrote:
In the course of the preceding months he had escaped death on innumerable occasions. It was as though he had been wearing a good luck charm.
THE NEAR CAPTURE OF THE FRENCH PREMIER
The noted French historian, Raymond Cartier ruefully mused that
Corporal Hitler was in all probability one of the German soldiers who got closest to Paris in 1918.
In another of history's ironies Adolf Hitler was one of a patrol that nearly captured the French Premier Clemenceau, but that is another story.
The times that Hitler cheated death became a legend that has baffled historians ever since. Typically in one corner of conflict the troops of List Regiment were held down in shell craters, the trenches having already been destroyed, among the ruins of a village called Le Barque. Of the nine regimental couriers seven had just been killed. In the command post, such as it was, there were ten officers and two couriers. Suddenly a British bomb exploded at the entrance to the refuge. There was just one survivor, Adolf Hitler.
During his years at the front, as many pictures testify, Adolf Hitler far from being a loner was very comradely. Ever his own man his daily routines were characterized by civility. He never was known for embracing trench crudities or brothel humour, and was generous to a fault. Yet despite having a personality that usually draws disdain the soldier Adolf Hitler was highly respected by his comrades.
THE TIRELESS SOCIALIST
Even Sebastian Haffner, a Jewish writer and fanatical Hitler hater, was forced to admit
Hitler had a fierce courage unmatched by anyone at the time or since.
Another Jew by the name of Karl Hanisch, who shared lodgings with Hitler, recalled him as "pleasant and likeable man who took an interest in the welfare of all his companions".
He later recalled that his fellow lodger "was neither proud nor arrogant, and he was always available and willing to help. If someone needed fifty Hellers to pay for another night's lodging, Hitler would always give whatever he had in his pocket without another thought. On several occasions I personally saw him take the initiative and pass the hat for such a collection".
Hitler's war heroism is a matter of record and it was only when he entered politics, in a bid to stem his rising popularity, that is was ever questioned. Typically however detractors were forced to recant and pay damages. Historians have noted that Adolf Hitler was born poor and died poor. In fact he was the only statesman who never had a bank account.