Hitler's Niece tells the story of the intense and disturbing relationship between Adolf Hitler and the daughter of his only half-sister, Angela, a drama that evolves against the backdrop of Hitler's rise to prominence and power from particularly inauspicious beginnings. The story follows Geli from her birth in Linz, Austria, through the years in Berchtesgaden and Munich, to her tragic death in 1932 in Hitler's apartment in Munich. Through the eyes of a favorite niece who has been all but lost to history, we see the frightening rise in prestige and political power of a vain, vulgar, sinister man who thrived on cruelty and hate and would stop at nothing to keep the horror of his inner life hidden from the world.
Ron Hansen is the bestselling author of the novel Atticus (a finalist for the National Book Award), Hitler's Niece, Mariette in Ecstasy, Desperadoes, and Isn't It Romantic?, as well as a collection of short stories, a collection of essays, and a book for children. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. Ron Hansen lives in northern California, where he teaches at Santa Clara University.
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She was born in Linz, Austria, on June 4, 1908, when Hitler was nineteen and floundering in Wien, a failure at many things, and famished for food and attention. Within the month she was christened as Angelika ("Ahn-GAY-leek-ah") Maria Raubal, in honor of her mother, Angela, Hitler's half-sister, but the family was soon calling the baby Geli ("Gaily"), as she was to be known all her life.
Hitler first saw his niece at a Sunday-afternoon party after the June baptism in the Alter Dom cathedral in Linz. Angela heard four hard knocks on the front screen door and found Adolf on Bürgergasse in front of the Raubal house, looking skeletal and pale in a high, starched collar and red silk bow tie and the ill-fitting, soot-black suit he'd worn at his mother's funeral in December; his wide, thin mustache so faint it seemed penciled on, his hair as chestnut brown as her own and as short as a five-day beard. With unquestioning love, Angela invited him in and hugged him, but it was like holding wood. And then she saw that hurrying up Bürgergasse from the railway station was his only friend, August Kubizek, whose father owned an upholstery shop in Linz. Angela hugged him, too, saying, "We've missed you, Gustl."
"And I, you."
She called to the kitchen, "Leo! Paula! Look who's here!"And then she noticed that her half-brother held a silk top hat in his hand and was absurdly twirling a black, ivory-handled cane, as if he were a gentleman of plenty. "Aunt Johanna's here, too,"she said. "And the Monsignor."
"Oh, Lord,"Hitler said.
Swerving out of the kitchen with atankard of beer was Leo Raubal, Angela's husband, a flinty, twenty-nine-year-old junior tax inspector in Linz whose jacket and tie were now off. Everything Hitler loathed about his dead father, Leo Raubal professed to admire, and he seemed to be imitating the late Alois Hitler as he said, "Why, it's Lazy himself! The bohemian! Rembrandt's only rival! Aren't we honored to finally have you here!"
"Leo, be nice,"Angela said.
"Who's nicer than I? I'm Saint Nicholas! I'm a one-man charity!"
Hitler's twelve-year-old sister, Paula, who suffered frequent trials with mental illness and would be nicknamed "The Straggler,"hung back in the kitchen, winding string around a fist and flirting a stare at Kubizek, whom she was fond of, until Hitler held out a present to her. "I have a gift for you, Paula!"
She scuttled forward in once white stockings and took the package, irresolutely staring at a festive wrapping of tissue paper that Hitler had hand-painted.
"You can tear it,"he said.
"But I don't want to."
"Oh, for God's sake, do it!"Leo Raubal said.
She tore off the paper and found underneath it a fat and difficult novel, Don Quixote. "You say the title how?"she asked. Hitler told her. She opened the book, and inside, where she hoped for a sentimental note from the older brother she worshiped, or even a "To My Dear Paula,"she instead found Hitler's handwritten list of other books in history, biography, politics, and literature that would possibly benefit her. Her face fractured with disappointment as she said, "Thank you, Adolf,"and hurried to put Don Quixote away.
"What a treat,"Raubal told Hitler. "Girls really go for things like that."
"She's all right?"
Raubal touched his head. "She's all wrong up here."
Aunt Johanna Pölzl, the wealthy, hunchbacked, forty-five-year-old sister of Hitler's late mother, walked down the hallway from a bedroom. She smiled. "I was taking a nap with Leo Junior when I heard your voice, Adi."
"My favorite aunt!"he said. "My sweetest darling! Are you feeling well?"
"Oh, just tired,"Aunt Johanna said. "I'm used to it."She held out her left hand and he kissed it, as did August Kubizek.
Angela got the baby from a bassinet and held the tiny girl up to Hitler's face so he could kiss her on the forehead.
Jiggling Geli's left hand with his index finger, her uncle said, "Aren't you pretty?"She gripped the finger in her fist. "Will the fräulein allow me the pleasure of introducing myself? My name is Herr Adolfus Hitler."
"Your uncle, Angelika,"Angela said, and shook the baby, trying to get her to smile, but Geli only stared at his hair. "See? She loves you."
"And why not?"he asked.
Leo Raubal called, "August Kubizek! Would you like some good beer?"
Walking into the kitchen, Kubizek said, "Clearly I have some catching up to do."
"Won't take but a pitcher,"Raubal said.
Hitler stayed in the front room as Angela gave Geli to Aunt Johanna and went into the kitchen behind August in order to get out the potatoes in jackets. Canting back into the pantry with a full stein of beer was a stout and white-haired monsignor in rimless glasses and a pitch-black soutane with red buttons and piping. "Welcome, Herr Kubizek!"he too loudly said. "Are you liking the Conservatory of Music?"
"Very much, Monsignor."
"The child's a miracle at music,"the old priest told Raubal, "You play, what, violin, viola, piano.... What else?"
"Also trumpet and trombone."
"Amadeus Mozart,"the old priest said.
Angela got a braising pan out of the oven and put it on an iron trivet on the kitchen table. "We have potatoes in jackets here. And herring rolls in the icebox."
Raubal handed Kubizek a stein of beer and a cold skillet of sliced kielbasa in ale, then focused intently on his high forehead and his soft, feminine face. "And what does our Adolf do in Wien while you study your music?"
"Oh, he works; very hard. Even to two or three in the morning."
Raubal was astonished. "At what?"
"Watercolors of churches, parliament, the Belvedere Palace. Reading in Nordic and Teutonic mythology. Writing of all kinds. And city planning. Adolf strolls around the Ringstrasse in the afternoons, carefully observing, then redesigns sections of it at night. Amazing . . .
Plot Summary In Hitler's Niece, Ron Hansen offers a meticulously researched novel about one of history's often overlooked mysteries. On September 18, 1931, Adolf Hitler's 23-year-old niece, Geli Raubal, was killed in the bedroom she occupied in her uncle's Munich apartment. The room was locked from the inside and the death was officially ruled a suicide, but even at the time there were rumors of Hitler's complicity in the crime. In the wake of the immense number of unspeakable atrocities that Hitler went on to perpetrate against the world, Geli's death became just a footnote in the story of Hitler's life. Interestingly, Hitler later would say that Geli was the only woman he ever loved. As a novelist, Hansen uses this intriguing story to look inside the personal life of one of the world's great monsters, and to try to understand some of the horror he created.
Hitler first meets Geli, the daughter of his half-sister Angela, as an infant, but the girl doesn't really attract her famous uncle's attention until she has grown into a vivacious, bright, and fun-loving young woman. When Angela becomes housekeeper for her brother at his alpine retreat in Obersalzberg, Geli joins the household. Then when the girl moves to Munich to pursue medical studies, her uncle invites her to share his apartment. Seduced by the rising Fuhrer's world of power and fame, Geli becomes her uncle's frequent companion, spending time with him and his inner circle of Nazis -- Goebbels, Goring, and Himmler. Though ostensibly dating Hitler's chauffeur, she ultimately begins a strange and private entanglement with "Uncle Alf," capitulating to his aberrant sexual proclivities. Geli tries to free herself fromHitler's possessive obsession, but her attempt to gain independence from his psychological imprisonment leads to her murder.
Questions for Discussion 1. Hansen does not portray Geli Raubal as a particularly naive or gullible young woman. To what degree is she responsible for her own fate?
2. Geli is simultaneously repulsed and seduced by Hitler's hypnotic hold and becomes one of the first victims of his madness. To what extent can Geli be seen as symbolic of Germany's seduction?
3. Do you think Geli is ever really in love with her uncle or do other emotions motivate the choices she makes?
4. In the details of their distasteful sexual relationship, we see the fine line Geli walks between being dominated by Hitler and dominating him. How does this sexual rondo play out in what ultimately happens to her?
5. Many historians believe that Geli committed suicide, but Hansen has chosen to end her story with a murder. Discuss both the plausibility and symbolism of this ending.
6. What does Hansen gain by choosing to tell this real story in the form of fiction? And what, if anything, might the story lose because of this choice?
7. One of the central characters in Hitler's Niece is Heinrich Hoffman, the Nazi-sanctioned photographer who took more than two and half million pictures that glorified Hitler. Hoffman used his art to disguise the truth about Hitler. How is Hansen using his art to tell the truth?
8. Many of Ron Hansen's novels have religious themes, drawn most particularly from his Roman Catholic faith. To what extent do issues of religion, spirituality or faith -- and of good vs. evil -- play a part in Hitler's Niece.
9. In order to bring his fiction to life, Hansen has had to portray Hitler's human side and show us qualities -- notably vulnerability and a certain measure of charm -- that might seem at odds with our historical memory. Has the novelist succeeded in creating a credible character or has he merely humanized the demonic by offering us a glimpse into the frailties of Adolph Hitler?
10. What about Geli, about whom so little historical information has survived -- does Hansen offer a convincing portrait?
11. Do you think historical fiction generally elucidates history or merely obscures the facts?
12. Did you come away from Hansen's book with any greater understanding of the enigma of Adolph Hitler -- of what made him who he was?
This Reading Group Guide comes in packs of 20 and is available free of charge from your local bookstore, or by calling 1-800-242-7737. Ask for Reading Group Guide ISBN: 0-06-095881-2.
Q: When did you first hear the nearly forgotten story of the strange love affair between Hitler and his niece, Geli Raubal? A: I was reading Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives by Alan Bullock, and he mentions Geli Raubal several times. I had never heard about her but was struck by the fact that she was the only woman that Hitler every loved or wanted to marry. I at first intended to write a short story about her, a story that would consider what it might have been like to be loved by this evil man, one of the monsters of the 20th century. Was she seduced by Hitler, was she an accomplice, or was she in love with him? I started reading other books, mostly reminiscences of people who knew her, and as I got into it I realized that there was so much more than a short story. I had a novel.
Q: What was it about Geli's story that attracted you and inspired you to write a novel? A: I've long been fascinated by Hitler's character. How did this monster have such control over people and almost win his war? He was an unprepossessing character with no education -- seemingly nothing going for him except his incredible oratory skills. Why was that enough to sway a whole country? I thought that by looking at Hitler through Geli's eyes, from her perspective, we might gain some insights.
Q: What did you feel you, as a novelist, could bring to the story that may have eluded historians and biographers? A: Historians are stuck with the facts as they've been presented, and in some ways they are facts that were massaged by the machinery of the Nazi party. And, in the case of Hitler, there are enormous gaps. But if you read between the lines, it all makes perfect sense. And that's what novelists do. I try to take the facts and fill in based on what I've observed about human behavior -- to try to figure out what would be the likeliest way for a character to get from one point to the next. That's what I've done with Geli Raubal in Hitler's Niece.
Q: And, as a novelist, you needed to get inside Hitler and, sometimes surprisingly, imbue him with human characteristics. A: I think the one thing we learn from fiction is that people are never totally good or totally bad. As hard as it is to believe, this has to have been true about Hitler as well. He had that extraordinary ability to dominate and control people, to keep people coming back to him. He had to be more than a selfish bore, or people would not have been drawn to him. Many years after the war, Hitler's architect, Albert Speer, was released from prison, and he watched film footage of Hitler for the first time in many years. He said he was struck by how dull Hitler seemed on film, as opposed to how he really was. Hitler must have had qualities that have been lost to history, that we might even label redeeming.
Q: So you think Hitler had a human side? A: Human, if not good. But, I believe he was a brilliant actor who could only present himself publicly through these personas. We have no way of knowing how he transmitted this energy, yet the millions of people he seduced could not have all been idiots. He must have been charming. Of course, the idea that Hitler was charming is startling. We think of him as that figure on the podium, spewing vengeance against the Jews.
Q: Back to Geli, who is at the center of the novel. What did you gain by casting the novel from her perspective? A: For me, she was the pleasure of the book, because unlike the others in Hitler's circle, she could make wry comments. She treats him with irony; she is not swayed by his politics. She never becomes a Nazi and even holds herself up in opposition to his ideas and gets away with it. She becomes a heroine for these reasons, a stand-in acting the way I hope I could have acted in that situation.
Q: But she doesn't really get away with her ideas. She is killed because of her independence... A: True, she is doomed from the very first moment that Hitler falls in love with her. Everyone he ever fell for was doomed, because he didn't know how to have a love affair. Eva Braun had a terrible life and was forced to commit suicide. Renata Mueller committed suicide or was pushed out of a window. I think Geli was murdered.
Q: Yes, of the numerous theories explaining Geli's death, you have chosen the one in which Hitler himself killed her. Did you make this choice for the purposes of narrative drama, or do you believe it is the most plausible solution to the mystery? A: It seems clear to me that it was not suicide. Everything goes against that, especially the conflicting testimonies of what happened the day of her death. So, once you say it was a homicide, then you're left with only a few people who could have possibly done it. That Hitler would have allowed someone else to kill her and get away with it is preposterous. It's possible to dream up a scheme where one of the others plotted the killing, but they were so afraid of Hitler that they never could have carried it out. That Hitler did it makes the most sense -- he was in love with her and needed to control her. And, even it she did commit suicide, it would have been because of Hitler, so it's metaphorically, if not historically correct to put the blame on Hitler.
Q: Geli is simultaneously repulsed and seduced by Hitler's hypnotic hold. Is this duality symbolic of Germany's seduction? A: Yes. I was consciously making that connection. You could say it was true about everyone he came in contact with. He was a seducer, and he did what he could to draw people in. Contemporary accounts talk about how Hitler worked on people -- he would spend the first hour he met someone just listening, then after an hour he had that person figured out, and then he used that knowledge to manipulate him or her. They would feel that he was a person that understood them completely. They were in his thrall. All these fierce people who headed the Nazi party and caused irreparable damage and homicides by the score, they all confessed that they felt like children around Hitler. He had some sort of talent for mind control. I used Geli to show that in the same way that he imprisoned her in his apartment, he imprisoned people in a psychological way. In some ways Geli was more resistant, but in some ways she was equally susceptible.
Q: On the surface, your novels might seem very different from one another, but are there common themes or concerns that you find yourself returning to in your fiction? A: One thing I would say is that almost all my novels are about outlaws, people on the fringe, outside of normal society. People who don't fit in. Nuns in a cloister are women who have removed themselves from society and yet are trying to establish their sense of worth. Jesse James, the Dalton brothers -- all these people feel excluded from the conversation, and yet they have the ambition to realize their goals, and they do it in their mangled way. Even Atticus, so in control at home in Colorado, is walking on the fringes when he gets to Mexico. And Hitler and Geli, too, were outsiders.
Q: Once again, as with Mariette in Ecstasy, you've written a penetrating story from a female point of view. Isn't this unusual for a male writer? A: I believe that it is risk that energizes writers. I think writers are in many ways contrarians; we like threats. Writers like to imagine things, so the more imagining we get to do, the happier we are as writers, and, we hope, the better our work is. I am challenged when I write from a woman's perspective or set my work in a historical period, because there is so much more that I have to imagine. Concrete details are what make fiction believable, what writers need to create for their readers. If I constantly push myself in creating these details, to try to see things the way other people would have seen them, it makes me a better writer. And that, of course, is better for my readers.
Hitler's Niece 3.9 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
A chilling and intimate portrait of a psychopathic narcissist from the point of view of his gullible and common-sensical niece. She is ensnared less by his infamous magnetism than by his rising celebrity and the pecuniary entrapments he foists on her. Gradually and painfully, she wakes up, in a golden cage, to the nightmarish, venomous and perverted relationship with her uncle. A 'fly on the wall', superb, bated breath, piece of prescience in hindsight. Reads like journalism, deep like history, moving like a first rate novel and tragic beyond words. Close to a masterpiece. Sam Vaknin, author of 'Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited'.
More than 1 year ago
Though the story sometimes lags, at times severely, it's interesting enough to hold me. Gives deeper reason for hating Hitler.
More than 1 year ago
This book is chilling in its depiction of Hitler as human being instead of just a symbol for evil. It shows him as the sick and sexually perverted ego maniac that he probably was....and he shows how his mesmerizing stare and speaking style catapulted him into power. I think this book is the best view into the mind of an evil man who changed the face of Germany and the history of anti-semitism. The book is excellent, but this type of material is so disturbing that it is hard to say that you 'enjoy' reading it. It will change the way you look at the history of the Third Reich
More than 1 year ago
The author states this is a fiction book based on fact. I think it should been stated this is a fiction book based on fiction. How could he have known what the exact conversations were between the individuals were and on what fact was he basing it on when the people involved are dead. How does he know how or if Hitler killed his niece? I have little doubt that Hitler was a royal fruit-cake and this would include some strange dealing when it came to sex. I think the author went a little bit too far when it came to the exact conversation and leading the reader on with to many assumptions to be fact.
More than 1 year ago
This book provokes somemore thought about the possible inner and private life of Hitler...the premise is an interesting one, given the forensic information about Geli's death: the angle of the gunshot wound to the chest and her broken nose are hardly in keeping with a suicide. The book speculates unabashedly about Hitler's various crimes, including his possible murder of Geli. However, my gut says that he would have had one of his toadies do the wet work.
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