Penetrating biography of a man once on such intimate terms with Hitler that his son would know the Holocaust’s progenitor as “Uncle Dolph.”
Dubbed “Putzi,” an affectionate nickname from his American mother that haunted his entire adult life, Ernst Hanfstaengl was born in 1887 to a prominent Bavarian family engaged in publishing reproductions of fine art. He struggled academically at Harvard, though he was well liked as a bon vivant and party pianist, but managed to graduate in 1909. Running the family’s New York gallery, he became an acquaintance of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s through the Harvard Club. The stage was thus set for a fascinating double life, notes Conradi, deputy foreign editor of the London Times. By 1921, Putzi had married Helene Neimeyer, daughter of German immigrants, and they had a son, Egon, but he was at odds with an older brother and decided to return home. Urged by a friend to hear Hitler speak, Hanfstaengl sensed that a country in turmoil was prone to Nazism’s lures. He joined Hitler’s entourage as a “civilizing” tutor, piano-therapist (playing Hitler’s favorite Wagnerian themes), and sometime pimp (he often worried about the leader’s lack of a sex life); later he became the party’s foreign press liaison. Fleeing the failed 1923 Munich Beer Hall putsch, Hanfstaengl made for Austria while Hitler went to Putzi’s country house, where Helene and Egon were waiting. The police followed, and Hitler attempted suicide, but Helene, upon whom the Fuehrer had an obsessive, lap-dog crush, literally knocked the pistol out of his mouth, thus securing his place in history. Finally repelled by Hitler’s extremism, Putzi (divorced by his wife in 1936) narrowly escaped the Reich in 1937, ultimately becoming a key figure in FDR’s psy-war Project S.
Deft and probing, with stunningly close-up glimpses of a maniac’s ascendancy.