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

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

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 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060532185
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/31/2006
Series: P.S. Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 223,464
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.90(d)

About 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. After years as a consultant to several international nonprofit organizations, she retired and began to write her memoirs.

The narrator of over 100 audiobooks, Christa Lewis has been nominated for an Audie Award and earned multiple Earphones Awards for recordings that have become Audible bestsellers. Christa is a classically trained actress and graduate of Boston University's actor training program.

Read an Excerpt

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.

Reading Group Guide


Born in 1934, Irmgard Hunt grew up in the Bavarian village of Berchtesgarden, in the shadow of Hitler's infamous "The Eagle's Nest." In this fascinating memoir, she offers an intimate glimpse into German life in the Third Reich, recalling an "ordinary" childhood in an extraordinary time and place.

Discussion Questions

  1. Can you pinpoint the moment in your own life when you discovered the meaning of loss? What was that moment for Irmgard? Think of the children in your own life: do you believe that a child can ever truly understand death's logic?

  2. How do you think Irmgard's experience of the loss of her father changed when, many years after his death, she realized that not only was he stolen from her by war, but also by flawed ideology?

  3. As a reader, did you find yourself sympathizing with Irmgard, or were you hesitant to feel sorry for a victim of the Nazis who did not suffer the Konzentrationslager? Before reading On Hitler's Mountain had you thought of the psychological burden borne by German children of the Third Reich? How do you think their suffering differed from the guilt of their parents' generation?

  4. Think back to your childhood. What were the major world events that influenced your own world view? Did you have a teacher or an adult in your life who shaped your opinion of the people of another nation, ethnicity, or racial group? Was there a moment when you realized that your own thoughts and ideas might have been manipulated by another's prejudices or by the political culture of the times?

  5. How do you think Irmgard's brutal and early experience with the unfathomable forces of chance, time, history and circumstance set a course for her life? Do you believe that she would have grown to be a different person if she had been born ten years earlier or ten years later?

  6. It has been said that "a man's character is his fate." Do you believe that character is immutable, or can it be influenced by the times in which we live? How is the destiny of the led bound to the leader?

  7. Discuss whether you feel that ordinary citizens, both men and women, are an integral part of the political decisions and events of which they can become either beneficiaries or victims. What, if anything, could an average German who disagreed with the Nazis or became disenchanted with them have done about Hitler once he was in power? How much influence do you think your own personal politics has on the public and foreign policy decisions of your own national government?

  8. This leads to a question many people have asked. Could a Hitler happen here? If you think so what would be the circumstances? Are there aspects of life in the United States that would prevent a Hitler from occurring here?

About 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 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 34 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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
FicusFan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this book for a RL book group. We have a tradition of Nazis for Christmas so that is how the book got picked. It also sounded so fascinating, an inside look from someone who was there. Unfortunately it was Nazi-lite, very little insight into the whys and wherefores of the German's love of Hitler. I don't know if its because she doesn't know, or if she is afraid of offending her family and fellow countrymen? The result is rather unsatisfying. I understand that as a small child she would have been oblivious to a lot, but she is writing it as an adult. I think if she wrote: when I was 5 this is what happened, and then added a section that has the adult looking back and re-evaluating, and added: as an adult, I know this is what really happened, or this is what it meant. She seems to have done very little re-evaluation or self-reflection (or is unwilling to share).The book is pretty standard about tough times, ala the depression, with the Wiemar Republic that affected her parents. The economic relief that Hitler brought in the early years seems to cement their devotion. The town's isolation from the violence and atrocities (but really don't they all say 'We didn't know'), kept them loyal. A few quiet local disappearances that are ignored, because they are foreign or Jews - but there was no hatred in her town. The way a local family hides their 'slightly defective' daughter from official sight once an older 'severely defective' child is forcibly taken to a state hospital and mysteriously dies. Their cultural inability to speak up or stand against authority means there are no questions and no protests. The prevalence of informers as a damper on freedom. It covers all bases to explain a.) we didn't know, b.) it wasn't that bad, c.) we were too afraid, d.) there was nothing we could do. But really that explains why they didn't object, but does little to explain the infatuation with those who supported Hitler all the way through, and continued to do so in the face of deprivation and personal loss.There is a little about the arrival and occupation by American troops. I get the impression that she doesn't want to say anything that will insult her new countrymen (she now lives in the USA)so it seems very anodyne. The book is still interesting, and sad when her father dies in France. She mentions the Holocaust and doesn't deny it. She says it was horrible and they are all guilty and have a debt to pay. Yet she doesn't go into details, or show how it connects to her life or the life of her town. What the impact was on her parents and the older people who were active Hitler supporters.At one point she says that she wrote the book because the older generation won't talk about it. In this book she talks about it, but in a general and non-specific way, like something from ancient history. Kind of like the non-apology, apology.
abbie47 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was quite enjoyable. There could, perhaps, have been more about how they felt when they learned about the atrocities that had been committed under Hitler.
JanaRose1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have read a number of holocaust survival books. This is the first book I have read from the point of view of a German. Irmgard and her family lived on the mountain of Berchtesgarden, the same mountain which Hitler built his alpine retreat. Her family, like most Germans, joined the Nazi party amidst Hitler¿s promises of economic stability and prosperity. During the war they experienced food and heating shortages, but managed to survive in their peaceful little town. Although they heard rumors of Jewish transport trains, they knew nothing of the horrors committed at the concentration camps. As one of the last areas to be conquered by the Allies, Berchtesgarden was spared most of the destruction of other German cities.Although this was an interesting book taken from a unique point of view, it was slow at times. I found it hard to sympathize with their struggles and hardships, not because they were German, but because of the author¿s writing style.
SteveRambach on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I thought the book was based on a weak incident- a four year old got to sit it Hitler's lap. It told the rise and fall of the Third Reich from the mountain of Berchtesgarden. Who really cares. It seems so insignificant from her as opposed to the soldiers WITH THE OLD BREED- E.B. Sledge or HELMET FOR MY PILLOW by Robert Lecke or from a war point of view- RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH and many others.
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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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