perhaps of how formal was the age in which he lived, is his tendency to end every letter with the words: ‘Your affectionate brother, Neville Chamberlain’. There are a few surprises in these pages: twice as many soldier MPs (32) voted for Chamberlain in the Norway Debate as voted against him (16); as late as September 1940 he seriously considered that he might have ‘another premiership after the war’. A major revelation, though, is quite how much of a force he – rather than Baldwin – was behind the Government’s determination that King Edward VIII must abdicate. ‘The difficulty, as usual, is to get the Prime Minister to make a move,’ he told his sisters on 14 November 1936. ‘I have been obliged, without telling him, to make all the [constitutional and legal] enquiries necessary.’ Two days before the Abdication he wrote: ‘I have been in the middle of things all through and responsible nearly always for the initiative as well as the drafting of all papers.’ It is perhaps a necessary attribute in anyone who wishes to be Prime Minister to believe unquestioningly in one’s own brilliance, but how many of them would write – even to their own sisters – ‘It really seems as if Providence designed my speeches to be timed at the right moment to create the effect I want at that point’, as Chamberlain did on 1 April 1939? Yet in the speech referred to he reassured the trade unions that he would not introduce conscription, only to do exactly that on 26 April. And only three days later, on 29 April, he was writing with equally invincible self-satisfaction: ‘More and more I am convinced that much of the art of statesmanship lies in accurate timing, as the fisherman knows when he is trying to get a long cast out.’ (He’d caught a 16 1/2 lb salmon in Hampshire the week before.) It is hard to warm to Neville Chamberlain, even through his correspondence with his closest relatives. It also seems incredible that these letters should have been sent through the normal GPO mail, since if the press had got hold of virtually any of them, Chamberlain would have been deeply compromised, or at the very least hugely embarrassed. Others would have been too: he records how Queen Elizabeth (the late Queen Mother) had ‘left him in no doubt’ about Churchill’s unsuitability for inclusion in the Cabinet in July 1939. In fact it would have been one of the few actions Chamberlain could have taken that might have given Hitler pause for thought that fateful summer. Imagine if the Germans had somehow intercepted Chamberlain’s letter to Ida from Chequers of 10 September 1939 – a week after the outbreak of war – in which he wrote: ‘What I hope for is not a military victory – I very much doubt the possibility of that – but a collapse of the German home front.’ From that sentence alone, it is clear that Chamberlain should not have been our wartime leader. To order this book call Ashgate on 01252 331 551
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LITERARY REVIEW Dec 2005 / Jan 2006 WORLDWARTWO
R ICHARD O VERY
PETTED BY THE FÜHRER
O N H ITLER ’ S M OUNTAIN : O VERCOMING THE L EGACYOFA N AZI C HILDHOOD
★By Irmgard A Hunt (Atlantic Books 288pp £14.99)
T HE YOUNG I RMGARD Paul, out walking with her mother in their home town of Berchtesgaden in the late 1930s, remembers being told that, thanks to the large groups of SS men guarding Germany’s messianic leader in his mountainside retreat above them, they lived ‘on a mountain free of crime’. This small but horribly ironic story is just one of many poignant recollections which make it worth reading this candid memoir of a childhood spent, literally, in Hitler’s shadow. By now it is a brave publisher who ventures to produce yet another intimate view of the Third Reich. The bookshops are drenched with them, re-hashed, re-packaged and increasingly predictable. But this remarkable book is a little gem. The picture it gives of a remembered childhood spent in the town where Hitler decided to establish his country base away from the hubbub in Berlin has its flaws: too much is clearly embroidered with family folklore and half-remembered images, for Irmgard Hunt (née Paul) was only five when war broke out in 1939, and only eleven when it finished. But she was evidently a precocious child, living through extraordinary times. And the little things she recalls speak volumes about how German society adapted to life under dictatorship. Take for example the story of the Hitler salute. She remembers when her father, a quiet, kindly man and a Hitler supporter, taught her at age three to perform the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute. She was made to stand in front of a small relief portrait of Hitler cast in red wax (a wedding present for her parents from a thoughtful friend) and told that in public or in the presence of the swastika flag she should raise her little right arm and stand up as straight as she could. Later Irmgard remembers trying to work out whether or not Hitler ‘hailed himself’. The wax portrait was solemnly melted down a few days before the German surrender in 1945, and Irmgard’s mother turned the wax into candles, which were used in the grim, literally powerless days that followed. The history of the Paul family is the history of millions
Hunt (middle), her mother, and friend
of ordinary Germans. Shocked by defeat, economic chaos, inflation and the shame of war guilt, Irmgard’s parents drifted towards support for Hitler and his movement in the hope that they would rescue Germany from disorder and moral collapse. Her father, Max Paul, was an artist who decorated pottery with pictures of alpine flowers. Married in January 1933, just before Hitler was appointed Chancellor, they lived a modest but respectable life in a small house in Berchtesgaden, where two daughters were born. The life Irmgard recalls was ordinary enough save for the occasional days when Nazi bigwigs rode along the road to Hitler’s villa; then crowds streamed out, cameras clicked and a brief atmosphere of jamboree suffused the quiet Bavarian town. On one of these occasions Hitler himself appeared. The young Irmgard, blue-eyed, blonde, sporting a smart blue dirndl dress, was spotted by the Führer. Ever alive to the photo opportunity he pulled her towards him and sat her on his knee. The family applauded and smiled and Irmgard briefly entered Hitler’s biography. For years the family talked about it. At school the young girl who had once been petted by Hitler himself was something of a star. Much of the memoir is, indeed, childish. Irmgard recalls most vividly birthdays, Christmases, family reunions, who her best friend was, how badly the teachers treated their charges. But among these more banal recollections are small nuggets. She remembers how easily anti-Semitism was communicated to German youngsters. She was lent a book on the typical Jew and can still remember being horrified by the stories of Jewish greed, rapine and dishonesty – and her surprise when her mother reproved her and told her to give the book back. Her greatest childhood thrill came one Christmas at the start of the war when Emmy Göring, wife of the corpulent commander of the German Air Force, sent a doll to every child in Berchtesgaden with a father serving in the forces. The ‘Göring dolls’ were played with endlessly, even placed under the Christmas tree in later years as surrogates for the presents that could no longer be afforded or found. Irmgard’s cosy life on Hitler’s mountain was rudely destroyed by Hitler’s war. Her father was old to be drafted, but he was not expected to see actual combat. Nonetheless the family received the cruel news in the summer of 1940 that Max Paul had drowned while on a swimming trip in the Loire in occupied France. Though he was no victim of combat, the community reacted as if he had died a hero’s death. The local party leader called in at the house to tell the widowed Mrs Paul,
LITERARY REVIEW Dec 2005 / Jan 2006