Simple, engaging, and compelling; for many people, these words are an excellent way to describe Irmgard A. Hunt’s childhood and family history. In her nonfiction book, On Hitler’s Mountain: Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood, the author gives us an accurate account of German society before, during, and after the reign of one of the most evil men who ever lived. Throughout the book, the author defines who the German people were, their beliefs, and actions through the eyes of her family. Some of the most striking elements, however, are the portrayals of the common folk as being more humane than the dictatorial regime that so defined them. With an unfettered hand, and an original approach to one of the world’s most important periods in history, this book makes for a good read.
The book begins with Hunt describing the events that transpire in this book as being “…too important not to be recorded and thus preserved”. She does this by emphasizing that the average individual who lived during this time was as compelling as the man who eventually ruled over them (1). By giving a personal account of what happened during this time, she hopes to lay to rest why people did what they did during this time. It is through her desire to carry out this action that compelled her to write this book, as well as a hop to “…prevent a recurrence to one of history’s most tragic chapters”. Hunt also wants the young of the world to join her in this endeavor by paying close attention to the slightest indications of a dictatorship (4).
Hunt recounts in the book the history of her family on her mother’s side by piecing together the stories her mother told to her at bedtime, as well as the recollections of her father and her mother’s friend, Emilie. Her grandfather, Albin Pöhlmann, was a journeyman carpenter, who married his wife Luise Damm in 1910. Due to her grandfather’s work, he had to frequently go throughout Germany. In an event that could seem a bit scandalous at the time, the author’s mother was conceived two years prior to her marriage to her grandfather. She named the author’s mother Albine, after her grandfather’s name. When the grandfather returned, it seemed appropriate to him to marry the mother of his child. A few years later, Hunt’s uncle Hans was born (12). Perhaps the most peculiar aspect of this relationship was the fact that Luise was twelve years older that Albin, something Hunt’s mother always seemed to resent (9).
Even before the era of Nazism, Anti-Semitism was well known throughout German society, and “it could be felt even in the behavior of children.” In Hunt’s grandmother’s apartment complex, there lived a Jewish couple and their boy that came and went from time to time either for a leisurely stroll, or to run errands in town. It wasn’t uncommon for the neighborhood children to harass and shout imprecations at them, including the author’s mother, uncle, and Aunt Emilie. Years later, Emilie would with great regret wonder “…what had become of him during the Nazi years.” When Emilie’s father one day saw what his children were doing to the Jewish family, he banned them from doing this any longer. A few years later, the father aided a Jewish shopkeeper when he was in need due to Hitler’s men damaging his store.
Emilie’s father was written in the book as being passively against the actions of the Nazi’s. While he didn’t seem to want to approve of what the Nazi’s were doing, he really didn’t do much against their wrongdoings. Wanting to shield his children from harm, he even forbade them from reading the newspaper, for fear of “… the evil world of politics and news…” (16). Hunt seems to portray this retelling of her mother’s history, by seemingly giving excuses to the
actions of the children as simply being normal for the era. While the response of the father deserves respect, she seems to characterize German society at this time as being too weak or passive to do anything about the...