“That Austrian corporal” – The army files of Adolf Hitler, 1914-1918

A lot has been written about “That Austrian corporal”, so I will not try to write anything here that has already been said a thousand times before, but I thought that a lot of people interested in the history of World War 1 might be interested to have a look Hitlers files, held at the “Bayerisches Staatsarchiv”.

I will not comment on them, but I recommend reading this book by Thomas Weber (available in English) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Hitlers-First-War-Hitler-Regiment/dp/0199226385. It is not as bad as the reviews have it, although I read it in German language and can not comment on the English translation. 

Scans of the relevant pages in the files of the Bavarian “Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 16”

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hitler-portraet“Hitler was already 25 when he became a soldier, and he was presumably a deserter. In May 1913, the sinister painter of postcards went to Bavaria “almost certainly in an attempt to dodge the Austrian draft,” Weber writes. But now, surrounded by the cheering and patriotic frenzy at the beginning of World War I, he was drawn to battle — a struggle, as Hitler wrote, that “was not forced upon the masses, by God, but was desired by the entire people.” Hitler was assigned to the Bavarian reserve infantry regiment No. 16 (RIR 16), commanded by Colonel Julius List. According to Weber, RIR 16 was not the volunteer regiment it has been described as, and List’s regiment was not teeming with students, artists and university graduates, as many Nazi propagandists would later claim.

In fact, the share of budding and real academics among the roughly 30 percent of the army made up of volunteers was only marginal. Instead, a disproportionately large number of Jews volunteered to defend “the Fatherland” and, as Weber concludes, it’s unlikely that any of them suffered from anti-Semitic treatment. On the contrary, the Kaiser’s officers were apparently anxious to make it possible for Jewish soldiers to practice their faith on the front.

In late October 1914, the poorly trained and inadequately equipped regiment experienced its “baptism by fire” during battles for the Flemish village of Gheluvelt. With dramatic exaggeration, Hitler claimed that he was the only survivor in his platoon, which seems unlikely. According to the records, 13 men in his company died on Oct. 29. In “Mein Kampf,” Hitler wrote that this battle was only the “beginning,” adding: “It went on in much the say way, year after year, but horror had replaced the romance of the battlefield.”

After Gheluvelt, Hitler served as a courier, usually outside the firing range of artillery and machine guns, embedded in the relatively comfortable rear echelon, a place where soldiers even had set amounts of time off. These were conditions “like paradise,” Weber writes, in the eyes of the soldiers at the front, who were constantly confronted with death.”

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