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"Books were his world . . . I just can't imagine Adolf without books. He had them piled up around him at home. He always had a book with him wherever he went."

--August Kubizek, The Young Hitler I Knew.

If all goes well, we will be out of our old house and into our new one within a month. If one little thing goes wrong, we will be out of our old house and on the street with three adorable little dogs possessing no marketable skills within a month. I tell myself not to entertain the second possibility, because nothing ever goes wrong in the construction trades or with real estate transactions.

I tell myself everything is going to be all right.

There are reasons to be optimistic. The new house has a roof and cabinets and they are coming to install a meter to make sure we don't get any free electricity. The front door has been painted the correct color. A Cherokee Princess dogwood tree has been planted at the back of our lot. One of four mirrors for our various bathrooms has arrived.

Everything is going to be all right.

I have been preparing for this moment for more than a year. I have given away thousands of items nobody wants anymore. About 10,000 compact discs have moved along. The DVD collection has been reduced to a good armful. I'm down to one set of golf clubs and a few extra drivers, putters and wedges. My clothes are manageable; my dresser is as empty as it needs to be.

Karen has packed up everything she has to pack up. We now have two plates, three bowls, four spoons, a couple of forks and chopsticks. Our walls are free of art. Most of her clothes have been stowed away.

I still have work to do. Karen is helping me.

Which is good, except for some philosophical differences. I see the complete set of promotional Uncle Drew bobbleheads as a potentially valuable collectible which someone somewhere would probably love (and might pay for). She sees it as a candidate for the Goodwill bin.

For her, books are for reading and passing on to others who might find them interesting. She treats them like friends, they pass through her life lightly, and are pleasantly re-encountered from time to time.

To me they are insulation, a kind of armor with which we should girdle our lives. They are physical objects with inherent weight and value, representing a special kind of (sadly non-fungible) wealth. My precious. I arrest them and lock them in my dungeon.

Just different strokes. We work it out. Consider this recent conversation I copied down verbatim.

She asks:

Why do we have 48 books on Hitler?

That's hyberbole. We don't have 48 books on Hitler.

Yes, we do. I counted.

They're not all on Hitler; a lot of them just tangentially touch on Hitler, who, after all, was a pretty big deal in the annals of evil. Some are about the Weimar Republic, others about the second World War, some are about the rise of Nazism.

We have 48 books with the name "Hitler" in the title. I'm not talking about The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

Yeah, "Hitler" is one of those words like "cats" or "diet" that jumps out at the susceptible. What can I say? I'm fascinated by the dark potential of our kind.

Besides, Hitler is a big subject. An otherwise unremarkable Austrian comes muttering out of Bavaria, drops out of school, fails an entrance exam at the Vienna Academy of Arts, spends seven years slacking in Vienna and later Munich, living in a doss house with only his orphan's pension and the very occasional sale of a derivative watercolor for income.

In 1914, he volunteers for the army and goes off to the front where he earns some distinction as a soldier--he wins two Iron Crosses for bravery and is wounded three times. He works as a courier, one of the most dangerous jobs you could have in the German infantry. He is almost killed when a command bunker he's running toward is obliterated by an enemy mortar. Then he volunteers for even more dangerous duty as an artillery spotter working in No Man's Land.

Yet, despite his war record, he never rises above the rank of corporal because of a perceived lack of leadership ability.

Then five years after the end of the war he's leading the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich.

It seems wrong to have all this material dedicated to the worst villain of the 20th century. We cannot have 48 books on Hitler.

Why? It's not like he's getting paid royalties. You can't cancel Hitler like R. Kelly.

I don't want the movers to see these. They'll think you are a Hitler freak. You're not a Hitler freak, are you?

We've been married for 25 years. Don't you think you'd know if I was a Hitler freak by now?

I don't know. I just discovered your secret cache of Hitlernalia.

You just took them off the book shelf in the hallway where most of them have been for 20 years. I don't think we've added a Hitler book since Volker Ullrich's Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939 came out in 2016.

We don't need 48 books on Hitler. You can keep five.

Five? We've got five books on Rasputin.

We'll get to those later.

Fine; I'll keep the Ullrich; and Ron Rosenbaum's Explaining Hitler from 1999; John Toland's 1977 biography; Allan Bullock's 1991 dual portrait Hitler and Stalin; and former British intelligence officer Hugh Trevor-Roper's The Last Days of Hitler from 1947.

Those are the ones that spark joy?

No, not exactly. I mean, I'll admit Hitler is a pretty depressing subject all around. It's just, well, I'll probably write about him again. We ought to pay a lot of attention to Hitler, we ought not simply dismiss him as a madman or an aberration. If we put him in a box and call him evil, we're letting ourselves off the hook. Maybe we all have the seed of a Hitler inside us, maybe we all ought to be mindful of our capacity for self-deception and cruelty.

We ought to remember that he was a guy, that he probably really did love his German shepherds.

Like Blondi? The one he fed cyanide in the bunker?

Right. He had his personal physician, Werner Haase, test the capsules on her. Apparently he was inconsolable when she died. By Hitler's lights, he was doing the best thing for Blondi, and for Eva Braun. Things were pretty grim in the Führerbunker at the end. Lots of bills were coming due.

In Hitler's defense . . . .

You're not defending Hitler.

I'll take all of them to CALS. I'll just drop them at the door and run away.


Philip Martin is a columnist and critic for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at and read his blog at

Editorial on 03/12/2019

Print Headline: PHILIP MARTIN: Hitler and me


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  • Lifelonglearner
    March 12, 2019 at 12:08 p.m.

    My rule for the past several years is to only buy rare or out of print books that I cannot get from CALS. The funny thing is my wife has organized my office bookshelves based on size and color coordinated.