On Hitler's Mountain: Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood
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On Hitler's Mountain: Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood

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by Irmgard A. Hunt

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Growing up in the beautiful mountains of Berchtesgaden — just steps from Adolf Hitler's alpine retreat — Irmgard Hunt had a seemingly happy, simple childhood. In her powerful, illuminating, and sometimes frightening memoir, Hunt recounts a youth lived under an evil but persuasive leader. As she grew older, the harsh reality of war — and a few brave


Growing up in the beautiful mountains of Berchtesgaden — just steps from Adolf Hitler's alpine retreat — Irmgard Hunt had a seemingly happy, simple childhood. In her powerful, illuminating, and sometimes frightening memoir, Hunt recounts a youth lived under an evil but persuasive leader. As she grew older, the harsh reality of war — and a few brave adults who opposed the Nazi regime — aroused in her skepticism of National Socialist ideology and the Nazi propaganda she was taught to believe in.

In May 1945, an eleven-year-old Hunt watched American troops occupy Hitler's mountain retreat, signaling the end of the Nazi dictatorship and World War II. As the Nazi crimes began to be accounted for, many Germans tried to deny the truth of what had occurred; Hunt, in contrast, was determined to know and face the facts of her country's criminal past.

On Hitler's Mountain is more than a memoir — it is a portrait of a nation that lost its moral compass. It is a provocative story of a family and a community in a period and location in history that, though it is fast becoming remote to us, has important resonance for our own time.

Editorial Reviews

Daily Telegraph (London)
“[A] very good memoir . . . [A] real, universal gain for understanding.”
Glasgow Herald
“Compelling . . . A chilling insight into the heart of darkness.”
Daily Mail (London)
“This candid picture of how it felt [to grow up in Germany during the Hitler years] is an enlightening rarity.”
Washingtonian magazine
“A gripping and beautifully written memoir.”
Washingtonian Magazine
"A gripping and beautifully written memoir."
Publishers Weekly
Hunt's moving, unsettling memoir is part of a literary and historical trend: examining the lives of ordinary Germans during WWII. She was born in 1934 in an intriguing locale-Berchtesgaden in Bavaria, where Hitler set up his headquarters. In fact, in one of her most compelling stories, Hunt recalls sitting in Hitler's lap during a 1941 visit, "suspiciously studying his mustache, his slicked-back, oily hair... while at the same time acutely seeing the importance of the moment." In remarkable detail, she relates the normal parts of childhood (the birth of a sister, going to a new school) interspersed with the extraordinary events (e.g., Hunt's father was one of the first German soldiers killed during the war) of the time and place. The older members of her family and others in the village had vastly differing reactions to Hitler. The author (who now lives in Washington, D.C.) remembers how some teachers said, "Heil Hitler," while others preferred more traditional greetings. She also shows how Nazism pervaded day-to-day life. Although she portrays herself as uncomfortable with the regime, she pushed to join the Hitler Youth, only to leave it in the final months of the war. Those looking for an explanation of the Hitler phenomenon will be disappointed, but readers who want a richly textured memoir of a German girl during WWII will find it here. B&w photos. Agent, Sarah Burnes. (Mar.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Hunt shares her intimate memoir of childhood in the Bavarian village of Berchtesgaden during World War II, just outside the fence encircling Hitler's alpine retreat. Born in 1934, Hunt provides an inside look at what life was like for German citizens living right under the nose of the Nazi elite. She paints a memorable picture of growing up under Nazi control, which permeated every aspect of her childhood. Her early school years were dominated by zealous Nazi principals and teachers, and she explains how she and her friends struggled to comprehend Nazism. Readers will be fascinated by her tale of sitting on Hitler's knee and chilled as she recounts classroom incidents involving children, including the son of Albert Speer, and her struggle to accept her father's death in 1941. She joined the Hitler Youth at age ten and nearly betrayed her anti-Nazi grandfather. This vital memoir reveals a child's-eye view of the brutal impact of Nazism and the ravages of World War II on nonmilitary Germans. Hunt's is a precautionary reminder of what can happen when an ordinary society chooses a cult of personality over rational thought. Highly recommended for World War II and German history collections in all libraries.-Dale Farris, Groves, TX Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An affecting, revealing memoir of girlhood in the heart of the Third Reich. Her parents gave her the definitively Germanic name of Irmgard, and small wonder: they lived in a "mountain paradise," Berchtesgaden, where Hitler kept his Eagle's Nest retreat and the Nazi leadership had villas and chalets. In 1934, when the author was born, the Nazis were already in full control of every branch of government there, "and they had begun to infiltrate all aspects of life and to dictate the everyday details of family decisions." The Nazi leadership hoped to remake society from top to bottom. Its planners and ideologues were hard at work reshaping Santa Claus into "the Christmas man . . . from the frozen Nordic sea," recruiting youngsters into social and service organizations such as the Hitler Youth, and inserting fascist ideals into every corner of private and public life. Behind closed doors, writes Hunt, her family had a qualified commitment to the cause: "my parents' Nazism was a mixed bag of enthusiasm and avoidance when possible of the most inconvenient and absurd decrees and customs." Yet they paid their party dues, submitted Irmgard to be dandled on Hitler's knee, and made other sacrifices. Her father's death in France in the early years of WWII was psychically shattering for her, Hunt writes, but she kept up appearances and more, to the point of being willing to denounce a grandfather for anti-statist attitudes. The shadow of Nazism would take time to lessen; when the American army finally arrived in Berchtesgaden, she and a friend danced in joy that the war was over, only to receive complaints from the neighbors for their "unseemly behavior in the hour of Germany's defeat and shame."Valuable firsthand look at daily life under Nazism as lived by "the average, law-abiding, middle-class German who helped sweep Hitler to power and then supported him to the end." Agent: Sarah Burnes/Burnes & Clegg

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On Hitler's Mountain
Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood

Preface: On Writing A Childhood Memoir

A sense of great urgency, after years of postponement, propelled me to write this memoir. With the passing of my parents' generation many facts of everyday life under the Nazis and the German people's feelings about the Nazi experience are already lost forever. Firsthand accounts by the average, law-abiding, middle-class German who helped sweep Hitler to power and then supported him to the end are becoming a rarity. yet the seemingly petty details of these people's lives are actually often symbolic and always telling. They illuminate the societal transitions from pre-Nazi, to Nazi, to post-Nazi, and from a post-World War I to a post-World War II mind-set. In the continuing struggle to understand the past -- both personally and as a lesson from history -- these details are too important not to be recorded and thus preserved.

Of course historians have written countless volumes documenting and analyzing Hitler and the Third Reich. Biographers, survivors, perpetrators, diarists in hiding, and novelists have presented the stories of Nazi criminals and power brokers; famous scientists and artists who either "went along" or were killed or forced into exile; politicians and military leaders of the era; and, powerfully so, the victims of the Holocaust and all others who suffered the horrors of the concentration camps. Yet even now, when enough distance from these events allows and even welcomes accounts of the Nazi era and the war from the German perspective, little has emerged about the daily lives of German families who considered themselves moral, honorable, and hardworking and whose adult members expected to live decent, respectable lives. It was those adults, those ordinary citizens, who most wanted to forget the past once the Nazi years were over and who preferred not to recall their participation in the Third Reich.

It was left to the next generation -- my own -- to seek to discover what people thought, knew, and chose to do and how it was possible for Hitler to receive their silent cooperation and often enthusiastic support. A universal answer may never be found, but perhaps an examination of just one family, mine, can provide additional understanding of what paved the way to Hitler's success and led to wholesale disaster.

I grew up in the beautiful mountains and villages of Berchtesgaden -- a wide, multibranched valley located in a part of Bavaria that juts like a thumb into the Austrian Alps. I was born there in 1934, a year after my parents had voted for Hitler and he had assumed power. Hitler had chosen Obersalzberg, a hamlet above Berchtesgaden, as his home and headquarters. His presence on that mountain stamped my early years with a uniqueness that could not be claimed by other middle-class children elsewhere in Germany. The mountain loomed large over every aspect of my childhood in this highly visible and public place, in the shadow of the Eagle's Nest and near the lair of men whom the world would come to view as monsters.

How does one remember early childhood events? Once I began the task of thinking back, I realized that my childhood memories have to a great degree remained vividly and indelibly imprinted on my mind. I was a very curious, somewhat critical child, and according to my aunt, I had a precocious talent for eavesdropping and spying. For lack of entertaining or varied media offerings and other diversions, the people of Berchtesgaden, including my family and friends, thrived on local gossip, word-of-mouth news, and repeatedly told tales. The grown-ups talked and I listened, building a reservoir of recalled stories, rumors, and commentary about all that came to pass in my town during the years of Nazi rule. Until it was quietly buried in 1946, the account of my meeting with Adolf Hitler was so much a part of our family lore that I committed every detail to memory even though I was only three and a half years old when the incident occurred. Since this is not a history but a memoir, my personal perceptions and hindsight have of course been allowed to color the happenings. Nonetheless, these impressions and perceptions that inevitably reshape memory give an accurate picture of the essence, the mood, the impact of any given event during those years.

This memoir is as much the story of my mother and my grandparents -- all passed away -- as it is my own. Many details from their lives and my babyhood came from Tante Emilie, ever cheerful, lucid, and full of memories at age ninety-six. During recent visits in Berchtesgaden, still home and summer home to my two sisters, I was greatly aided by long, frank conversations with them, their families, and friends whom I have known since my youth and who provided confirmations and a wealth of details. Old friends walked the old trails and the Obersalzbergstrasse with me, passing houses and cottages where we lived and played and where -- unrecognizably now -- the Nazi elite and the S.S. had held sway.

Thanks to my sisters and my cousins in Selb, I had access to family documents, marriage manuals, genealogical information required by the Nazis, my father's military records, letters from my Pöhlmann grandmother to her soldier husband written during World War I in the neat, steep, spiky German script that she had learned in grade school and had not practiced much since. To look at these letters was to hear the scratching of her steel pen on the lined, white pad of paper, to know from the darker script where she paused to dip her pen again into the black inkwell on the wobbly kitchen table, to sense her pauses and her hurry to finish and return to her endless chores. In addition, family photographs and documents from my mother's cupboard drawers were unearthed. They included the diary she kept during World War II, which, though terse, portrays the feelings and daily struggles of an average German woman, widowed and alone with her children, and touches on the major events of those years. The small accounting booklet she kept for eight years -- 1930-1937 -- paints a poignant picture of an utterly frugal life in which every pfenning was counted and tracked.

Throughout his years in power Hitler had remained enamored of Berchtesgaden and made some of his most momentous decisions, such as the pact with Stalin in 1939, on Obersalzberg. It was here that he received Chamberlain, Mussolini, and even the duke of Windsor and his American wife, Wallis Warfield Simpson. The conquest of Obersalzberg and the hoisting of the American flag by the 101st Airborne Division on the mountain were a fitting, symbolic ending to the war and the Third Reich.

Once the war ended and we were recovering from its anxieties and privations, we slowly began to realize to what degree the Nazis had shaped our minds and every detail of our daily lives, and the enormity of German guilt. I also began to appreciate those people, like my grandfather, who had expressed doubts, who had dared to be critical, and who, though basically powerless, had made brave attempts at resistance. They made a huge difference in my readiness to welcome the end of Hitler's reign and embrace new values despite the sadness over our many sacrifices and losses. Even then I made up my mind always to be on the lookout for signs -- however insidious and seemingly harmless -- of dictatorships in the making and to resist politics that are exclusive, intolerant, or based on ideological zealotry and that demand unquestioned faith in one leader and a flag. I hope that young people everywhere learn to recognize the danger signs and join me in the mission to prevent a recurrence of one of history's most tragic chapters.

On Hitler's Knee
October 1937

A shout went up and the crowd pushed forward. I grabbed my mother's hand and stood frozen, waiting. Then she said, "There is Adolf Hitler!" Indeed, here he was, outside his big rustic villa, the Berghof, walking among us and shaking hands, looking jovial and relaxed. He strode in our direction, and when he saw me, the perfect picture of a little German girl with blond braids and blue eyes, dressed for a warm fall day in a blue dirndl dress patterned with white hearts under a white pinafore, he crouched down, waved to me, and said, "Komm nur her, mein Boppele" (Come here, my little doll). Suddenly I felt scared and shy. I hid behind my mother's skirt until she coaxed me firmly to approach him. He pulled me onto his knee while his photographer prepared to take pictures. The strange man with the sharp, hypnotic eyes and dark mustache held me stiffly, not at all like my father would have, and I wanted to smile. Adolf Hitler, the great man they so admired, had singled me out, and in their eyes I was a star. As the crowd applauded, I saw my grandfather turn away and strike the air angrily with his cane. On Hitler's Mountain
Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood
. Copyright © by Irmgard Hunt. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Irmgard A. Hunt has been an executive at a number of environmental organizations, including the Nature Conservancy and the Environmental Partnership for Central Europe, a project of the German Marshall Fund. After years as a consultant to several international not-for-profit organizations, she retired and began to write her memoirs. She holds a B.A. from Columbia University (which she earned at age fifty-two) and an M.P.A. from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She lives in Washington, D.C., and has two children and two grandchildren.

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On Hitler's Mountain: Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 29 reviews.
momof2TN More than 1 year ago
Some interesting memoirs are not exciting reads, but I thought this one was extremely well written. I enjoy reading about all aspects of WWII and this book makes you feel like you're taking a step back in time to a childhood in Nazi Germany.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An excellent first person account of what it was like to grow up German during the Third Reich in the mountains where Hitler and his inner circle chose to build a compound for pleasure and safety. The author chronicles her life growing up in an idyllic mountain town that is dramatically changed by war and the presence of Hitler. As a child, she must grasp the changing political climate as the adults around her are often at odds with each other regarding Hitler and his policies. She has a chance meeting with Hitler and is photographed with him. Well written and insightful. Provides a point of view that is not as often shared.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this book interesting in that it was told from the perspective of a child not only born on the cusp of Naziism, but near Berchtesgaden (the site of Hitler's camp). Though not as horrific as an Auschwitz survivor's account of what happened during that period of history, it too tells of a chilling and depressing time when humanitarianism seemed all but gone.
rtink More than 1 year ago
A great read that SHOULD be accompanied with the NOOK App OBERSALTZBURG> This gives photos and the layout of everything on Hitlers Mountain.
jbc85 More than 1 year ago
While the author can only speak about the war from the perspective of a child, this is perhaps the best book I've read that talks about how/why "average" Germans got sucked into the events that occurred during WWII. This book gives tremendous insight into what life was like for ordinary people in Germany during this time, and their reactions and feelings about their involvement after the war. The book is well-written, moves at a good pace, and provides a unique and very interesting perspective to the events of that era. Thank you to Ms. Hunt for sharing her story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author shares her childhood living in the shadow of the Third Reich, and the loss of her father in the war. The author opens a window for the reader to peak in and see Hitler through her childhood eyes. It is a fascinating read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What an awesome book. The author gives us an insight I've never before understood. This book is a lesson beyond just history. I couldn't put it down. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hunt's story kept me engaged from cover to cover. She didn't just tell a chronological story, she took me with her through each year of her life on Hitler's mountain. Excellent read.
Michael-Gregoria More than 1 year ago
On Hitler’s Mountain by Irmgard Hunt is an excellent memoir portraying what it was like growing up in the heart of Nazi Germany. Everyone should know about this important time in history in which one human persuaded an entire country to accept the inhumane in the name of national pride. As a young girl, the author was an example of Hitler’s ideal for the Aryan race, but still was against the Nazi actions. In this compelling memoir, Irmgard Hunt describes what life was like growing up in Nazi Germany through her own experiences. I found this memoir to be very fascinating because it gave me an interesting new perspective about Nazi Germany. Irmgard’s own personal dilemmas are expressed in this thought-provoking book. In her childhood she is always expected to be loyal to the Nazi regime yet despite this, even she finds herself skeptical of Nazi propaganda when important moral questions are raised along the way. When the time comes that the Allies are about occupy her town of Berchtesgaden and her own people are soon to be put on trial for the actions they carried out on behalf of their country, she is faced with a very important decision: Would she stay loyal to the party that has so many unfulfilled promises or would she agree with the Allies that her country should be punished and marked with shame? Hunt discusses how nearly every person she encounters during her childhood is persuaded by the Nazis in Germany’s dark days. Some were morally deceived by Hitler in this time of great hardship, while others followed and didn’t question the party’s authority out of fear of being persecuted. Although Hunt discusses some terrible acts the Germans exercised, she also creates sympathy for the Germans by describing all the hardships they went through. Hunt places many interesting facts about her life in her well written text. By glancing over Irmgard’s life in this timeframe, I got a feel for the mood over the whole country of Germany during this time period. This memoir provides the very thought-provoking perspective of a German girl who lived during humanity’s biggest conflict and followed the Nazi propaganda surrounding her. There are so many authentic memories found in this book. If you like reading about history from personal accounts, On Hitler’s Mountain by Irmgard Hunt should be considered among the best about the rise, height, and fall of Nazi Germany.
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M_ussolini More than 1 year ago
I completed this book (circa 323 pages) in a little over a week which tells you how grand this book was. Any history that involves Nazis interests me and this book had it. I love reading books of average Germans going about their daily lives within the Third Reich. This book notes how the Nazi's infiltrated the every day lives of each German family and individual. There are also pictures of Irmgard's family and others of Germany during its Nazi occupation. Their are also plenty of German words/sentences throughout the book, fortunately there is always an English translation in parenthesis directly after the German words/sentence. In conclusion, If you like history, German history, or anything about Nazi's then you'd highly like this book as well.
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