Monday, May 29, 2006

BOOK: David Clay Large, "Where Ghosts Walked" (cont.)

[Continued from last week.]

David Clay Large: Where Ghosts Walked: Munich's Road to the Third Reich. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1997. 039303836X. xxvi + 406 pp.

The Nazi putsch of 1923 started with the Nazis interrupting a meeting (where the conservative politician von Kahr was the chief speaker) in one of Munich's large beer halls. At some point during the putsch, the crowd started growing restless; Göring tried to reassure them that von Kahr would not be harmed, “ ‘And anyway,’ he added, ‘you've got your beer. What are you worrying about?’ ” (P. 177.) “The Bürgerbräu management later presented the Nazi Party with a huge bill for its activities that evening. In addition to charges for heroic quantities of beer and food, the statement demanded compensation for the breakage or disappearance of 143 steins, 80 glasses, 98 stools, 2 music stands, and 148 sets of cutlers.” (P. 182.) Interestingly, Hitler was quite indecisive and on the verge of giving up on several occassions during the putsch (pp. 182, 187); Ludendorff, on the other hand, was much more determined and energetic, and if it wasn't for his initiative, the putsch might have collapsed even sooner than it did.

After the putsch, the Nazi party went into decline, partly because the economy picked up and the people were no longer as desperate for extreme political solutions, and partly because Hitler had been in prison for a while and there was no other suitable leader during his absence. Eventually the Bavarian government even lifted the public speaking ban on Hitler, thinking that the party is now so insignificant as to be harmless. This was probably a mistake, however: since Hitler was such a charismatic speaker, the fact that he was allowed to address public gatherings again was very helpful in the Nazi party's efforts to recover its fortunes (pp. 215–6).

During the mid- to late twenties: “[I]ts demographic base was more diverse than many thought. Audiences at rallies might have looked overwhelmingly lower middle-class, but in reality only about one third of the Munich membership came from this socioeconomic group. One fourth was comprised of workers, and the rest belonged to the solid middle and upper classes.” (P. 218.)

Apparently, expediency played a major role in the origins of the SA uniform: initially, the brown shirts “were leftovers from the defunct German colonial service, purchased on the cheap” (p: 216).

By the time the WW2 ended, Mein Kampf had been translated into sixteen languages and sold ten million copies. “Yet within months of the end of the World War II the book had become so rare in German ythat the American occupation government had difficulty finding copies for its Amerika Haus libraries. In 1949 the Bavarian government, which took over the copyright, prohibited further publication or dissemination of the book in Germany, making the remaining copies quite valuable on the black market.)” (P. 198.)

“Dwarfish, clubfooted, and full of venom, Goebbels was like a personification of Thomas Hobbes's definition of life: ‘nasty, brutish, and short.’ ” (P. 198.)

After the Nazis came to power in 1933, they settled many old scores, often quite soon, not just against leftists but also against their conservative critics. Fritz Gerlich, a conservative journalist, complained indignantly while being beaten by the SA: ‘You beat me? A founder of the patriotic movement?’ Gerlich's shock that the Nazis could thrash a patriot encapsulated the dleusions that many Bavarian conservatives harbored regarding the events of 1933.” (P. 240.) Similarly, the leaders of the conservative Bavarian People's Party (BVP) “believed that their party could function in the new order as a kind of loyal opposition, protecting regional and religious interests through gestures of goodwill toward the regime.” And yet in a few months, their party was simply banned, many of its functionaries placed in ‘protective custody’. “So much for the conservative dream of cooperation with National Socialism.” (P. 243.)

So many Nazi bigwigs had bought villas at Lake Tegern that it became known as Lago di Bonzi (p. 252). :-)

By the time of Hitler's purge of the SA in 1934, president von Hindenburg was so senile that “he addressed Hitler as His Majesty when the latter patiently related how he had just saved Germany” (p. 255); he died a few weeks later.

It is well-known that the Nazis opposed modern art, and organized a famous Exhibition of Degenerate Art in 1937. But interestingly, “Nor were the Nazis alone in this practice; in 1937 the Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow mounted an exhibition of ‘degenerate’ Russian art. (As is well known, the Communists and Nazis had many qualities in common, including similar tastes in art and architecture; this had been graphically evident in their monumental pavilions at the 1937 Paris World's Fair.)” (P. 264.)

On the other hand, here's an example of an artist that did find favour with Hitler: Adolf Ziegler, whose “favorite genre [. . .] was recumbent nudes of startling verisimilitude, a specialty that won him the sobriquet Reichsschamhaarpinsler (official pubic hair painter of the Reich).” (P. 264.)

Chapter 8 is about the social life of Munich under the Nazi era. “[D]uring the 1930s Munich reasserted its claim to being Germany's capital of good times, a distinction it had ceded to Berlin in the Weimar period. [. . .] Munich's brown bosses [. . .] believed that if their city could not be the most powerful, it could be the most lively.” (P. 268.) This seems to agree well with the impression I got from reading Ernest Pope's 1941 book Munich Playground. In fact Large mentions Pope several times in this chapter.

Regarding Pope's claim that Unity Mitford “denounced so many people that she became known as ‘the most dangerous woman in Munich’ ” (p. 272; and see p. 133 in Pope's book), Large comments that “as another commentator has pointed out, there is no concrete evidence that she ever denounced anyone at all” (p. 272). Here he quotes David Pryce-Jones, Unity Mitford: A Quest (1976), p. 95. (Pryce-Jones' book, incidentally, apparently caused quite a stir among Unity's sisters, most of whom complained that it was too harsh on her; see Mary Lowell's The Mitford Girls, pp. 494–8.)

Jessica Mitford, Unity's radical leftist sister, also failed to shoot the Führer, thouch she later claimed to have made his acquaintance through Unity just for this purpose. If retrospective claims were bullets, Hitler would have been dead a dozen times.” (P. 271.)

Hitler “despised hunting and called the hunting fraternity a ‘green Freemasonry’ ” (p. 276). But some other Nazi leaders were enthusiastic hunters, e.g. Göring and the Munich party bigwig, Christian Weber. “While Göring, ‘Master of the German Hunt,’ was a relatively responsible hunter who sought to protect as well as to kill game animals, Weber simply slaughtered as many beasts as he could. He established the Hunting Museum partly to show off his trophies.” (P. 276.) Large doesn't mention or comment on the rumour reported by Pope, namely that Göring occasionally hunted people that had been released from prisons especially for that purpose (Munich Playground p. 133). As for Weber, Pope has several other splendid anecdotes about him (“His name is the only christian part of these 350 pounds of degenerate fat”, Pope p. 30).

“Speer is wrong in his memoirs when he says that Hitler planned to be buried in Linz” — apparently he opted for Munich instead, and even “drew a sketch of his mausoleum” (p. 282).

P. 295 mentions some of the ridiculous bits of quasi-paganism promoted by the Nazis “as alternatives to traditional religiosity. [. . .] While such pagan rites never entirely supplanted traditional Christian customs, not even among the SA and SS, they succeeded in horrifying the Munich clergy”.

From the late 1930s, the authorities organized frequent air-raid drills for the population. “[T]o make people keep their eyes to the skies, the authorities suspended dummy bombs from streetlamps, like air age swords of Damocles.” (P. 301.)

After the first allied air raids reached Munich, the population vented its anger in the form of jokes against Göring, who as commander of the Luftwaffe failed to protect them from enemy bombers. “Another joke had Labor Front leader Robert Ley admonishing Göring to speak to the Münchners to lift their spirits. ‘I can't do that,’ says Göring, ‘because I haven't been able to prevent enemy planes from braching our defenses. Your lot is much easier, Ley, for you've promised the people sunny and open dwellings, and that's what they're getting.’ ” (Pp. 320–1.)

After a large air raid in 1942, Thomas Mann (who had lived in exile abroad for several years by then) commented: “ ‘The idiotic place has historically deserved it. [. . .] [Munich] is a citadel of stupidity.’ ” (P. 325.)

“[M]any of the books sent from home [to the Eastern Front] met an even less dignified fate; as one soldier put it, they ‘performed the most necessary of services’ in field latrines.” (P. 323.) This reminds me of a fine old limerick: “There was a young fellow named Chivy/ Who, whenever he went to the privy,/ First solaced his mind,/ Then wiped his behind,/ With some well-chosen pages from Livy.”

In 1943, Goebbels began “closing down businesses that he thought were not important to the war effort”, starting with gourmet restaurants, as they catered only to the wealthy. Göring tried to prevent his favourite restaurant from being closed, but Goebbels “put it out of business by sending SA squads to smash its windows” (p. 336).

There's an interesting section about the White Rose resistance group, which was active in Munich in 1942. Apparently religious impulses were a stronger part of their motivation than I was aware of (pp. 326–333).

When allied soldiers liberated Dachau in late April 1945, the horrors they saw there led them to act in a way that I cannot find entirely commendable. “Driven to a frenzy of hatred by such sights, the GIs lined up more than a hundred German guards and mowed them down point-blank with their machine guns. They shot other guards in the legs to hobble them while prisoners hacked at them with bayonets.” (P. 345.)

After the war, George Patton became the U.S. military governor in Bavaria. “Patton became convinced that denazification was ill advised under the circumstances. Like Scharnagl [the mayor of Munich], he believed that ex-Nazis no longer presented a danger in comparison with the Communists. Postwar Allied policy, he declared, was persecuting a ‘pretty good race’ and opening German lands to ‘Mongolian savages.’ ” (P. 350.) He made efforts to slow down the denazification process, and eventually his Nazi-friendly statements drove Eisenhower to remove him from his position.

“[I]t took time to eliminate all the signs of the recent times; in early 1946 one could still see advertisements for Stürmer magazine and the Sparkasse der Hauptstadt der Bewegung on some walls, while a few streetcars still carried signs warning, ‘Be careful what you say! The enemy is listening in!’ ” (P. 353.)

Interestingly, Large always refers to the inhabitants of Munich by the German term ‘Münchners’ rather than the English one, ‘Munichers’ (which is the term used e.g. by Pope). Actually, ‘Münchners’ seems a bit curious — it's a German word with an English plural suffix attached to it; if I understand correctly, in German the plural form would be the same as the singular, i.e. ‘Münchner’.

One annoying thing about the endnotes: there isn't a separate list of books cited; instead, the first endnote that refers to a particular book mentions its bibliographic details, while subsequent endnotes refer just to the title. The problem is if you don't read all the endnotes and then come upon one that has just the title, and then you have no idea where to look for the other details (as you don't know where that book was first cited).

This is not a bad book, and you can see that the author is making reasonably successful efforts to write in a pleasant and readable style; but nevertheless reading it was a bit of an effort for me: I find that I'm simply not that interested in the history of Nazi Germany from a specifically Bavarian perspective. For me, the early chapters about the pre-WW1 cultural life of Munich were the most interesting, but overall I didn't really feel that they contributed much to my understanding of the origins of Nazism. If you just want an entertaining book about Munich under the Third Reich, I recommend you to read Pope's Munich Playground instead.


  • David Clay Large's earlier book, Between Two Fires: Europe's Path in the 1930s, is mentioned here on the dust jacket and sounds interesting. But I recently saw in a bookshop another book about the 1930s, which sounds even more interesting: A Low Dishonest Decade: The Great Powers, Eastern Europe, And the Economic Origins of World War II, 1930–1941, by Paul H. Hehn.

  • Ernest Pope's Munich Playground, which I read last year; a very pleasant and readable book. Pope spent much of the pre-WW2 period in Bavaria as a newspaper correspondent. Large quotes several of his anecdotes in Where Ghosts Walked (see chapter 8). Actually the fact that I'd read Pope's book was part of the reason why I now wanted to read Large's as well; I was curious if he would mention Pope and how a modern historian's view of Nazi-era Munich would compare with Pope's contemporary description.

  • There are several interesting-sounding books about the occult roots of Nazism, i.e. its early connections with various more or less bizarre and utterly silly little cults, occult groups, secret societies, etc.; see the list in the comments of this post.

  • Ernst Toller, one of the leaders of the Bavarian soviet republic in 1919, later moved to the U.S. and wrote an autobiography, I was a German (1934). Cited here on pp. 370, 374.

  • G. H. Horstmann: Consular Reminiscences (Philadelphia, 1886). Apparently the memoirs of the American consul in Bavaria. Cited on p. 363.

  • Modris Eksteins: Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (Boston, 1989). Cited on p. 370. The title and the description on amazon sound extremely interesting.

  • Lion Feuchtwanger: Success: Three Years in the Life of a Province (1930). A 781-page “roman à clef of Munich in the early twenties” (p. 123), it “contained cutting caricatures of Hitler and his followers” (p. 207). By the author of Jew Süß.

  • Unheard Witness (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1957), the “(not always reliable) memoir” (p. 150) of Putzi Hanfstaengl. Among the early Nazi supporters, Putzi was a rarity in being an upper-class cosmopolitan rather than a lower-middle-class beer-hall brawler. He later fell out with Hitler, and ended up working for Roosevelt during the last years of the war. (It seems that the British edition was titled Hitler: The Missing Years; London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1957; New York: Arcade, 1994, 1559702788.)

  • Friedrich Percyval Reck-Malleczewen: Diary of a Man in Despair. New York, 1970. How can one resist a book written by someone with a name like that? The anti-Nazi author “encountered Hitler at the Osteria [Bavaria, his favourite restaurant in Munich] in 1934 when he, Reck, was carrying a loaded pistol”. Hitler, as often at that time, was without bodyguards, and Reck says that “ ‘If I had known the role this piece of filth was to play [. . .] I would have [shot him] without a second thought’ ” (p. 371). See also the related passage on Jessica Mitford, quoted above. As for Osteria Bavaria, apparently it still exists, under the name Osteria Italiana.


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