A deeply researched novel about Hitler’s rise to power, co-authored by Stern, a former federal judge, and Winter, a novelist (Island Bluffs, 2015. etc.).
In a German army hospital in 1918, two soldiers meet. One, the narrator, has lost all memory of his past, even his identity, so a doctor assigns him the name of a dead soldier, Friedrich Richard. Richard shows kindness to the man suffering from hysterical blindness in the bed next to him. The blind man calls himself Wolf, but his real name is Adolf Hitler. They form a strong friendship, and Richard later follows Hitler into the Nazi Party. Richard is a not-entirely-sympathetic narrator who stands 6-foot-7 and “doesn’t shy away from a fight,” willingly bashing heads to defend his friend. But he shies away from talking about his past, especially when he learns he’s inadvertently been given the name of “a dead Jew.” Meanwhile, Hitler “demanded total loyalty, but he also gave it…even to friends who disappointed him.” “Friedrich,” he says, “you must stay close to me. Always. You are the only one I really trust.” Even knowing that Richard defended a bearded Jew against three thugs, Hitler promotes him to SS Obergruppenführer. “Our Friedrich is well known for his tender heart,” he says. The fictional narrator proves a great tool to show Hitler up close, based on the authors’ research. For example, historians often portray Hitler as pathologically afraid of women. Richard tells a woman that “Hitler’s romance is with Germany,” not with fräuleins, but Hitler is attracted to young women and girls, including his niece Geli, who commits suicide after ol’ Uncle Adolf leaves her for another woman. In 1934, Richard visits a dying man in Dachau but is long since hopelessly ensnared in the Nazi juggernaut. As the novel ends, the horrors are only beginning.
An engrossing look at a monster.