Linking Hitler’s “Faustian rags-to-riches story” to his consuming hatred for the nobles of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Most students of history know that Hitler’s nationalism was born well before World War I. Longo (Chair, Education/Washington & Jefferson Coll.; Isabel Orleans-Braganza: The Brazilian Princess Who Freed the Slaves, 2008) finds an early manifestation in a moment when a homeless, starving Hitler, shoveling snow, spotted Archduke Franz Ferdinand's nephew and wife, the future Habsburg emperor and empress, entering the lobby. “We were about as important to them, or for that matter to Vienna, as the snow that kept coming down all night, and this hotel did not even have the decency to send a cup of hot coffee to us,” Hitler would later complain. He got grim satisfaction, even weeping tears of relief, when Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, but the damage had been done: Franz Ferdinand and his Habsburg kin had annexed Slavic lands and turned the hated Slavs into the most ethnically and religiously diverse polity in Europe. Pledging a program of ethnic purification and nationalism, Hitler took further revenge by arresting the archduke’s sons and sending them to Dachau not only for having spoken out against him, but for the mere crime of having been born into the family. Longo’s account does good service in tracing the long enmity Hitler felt for the Habsburgs and the extraordinary measures he took to erase the royal family, which in the end outlasted him; the author interviewed descendants in writing his book. Interestingly, Longo also notes that well before mounting his anti-Semitic race war, Hitler was obsessively scornful of his Czech schoolmates, their presence the product of Franz Ferdinand’s marriage to a Czech, and their roles as, Hitler believed, “the architects behind the Slavization, marginalization, and destruction of German Austria.” Unfortunately, the book is overlong and full of clichés (“It was the winter of his discontent") and set pieces out of proportion to the news it brings.
A middling account that may interest students of the Third Reich and the psychology of nationalism.