Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dark Secrets of an Austrian Family (1/2)

If I had a nickel for every popular misconception and outright lie that I’ve heard or read about the Holocaust, I’d have a mansion on the Westside. Since there are so many wild claims about the worst genocide in history, I thought I'd write a blog post about them from time to time.  If you haven’t heard of these claims, you probably will eventually. The Holocaust came to an end 65 years ago, but it still casts its dark shadow across western culture today and misinformation will continue for decades to come.

As with all significant historical figures, numerous controversies emerge later that need sorting out by historians and biographers. This problem is no less the case with Hitler (pictured as a baby above), who rivals Jesus of Nazareth, Martin Luther, and Abraham Lincoln as the most written-about historical figures in the West. In fact, just about every facet of his personal life and career has spawned myths and misconceptions. I would like to address one of them here because I hear it so often from those who have never really studied the Nazis or the Holocaust. You might have heard this one: Hitler was a Jew. This misconception about Hitler, made innocently or not, is based upon anomalies, curiosities, and gaps in the historical record, as are most misconceptions and myths. But before I examine this claim, let me briefly address why people say such things.

First, there’s the person who heard that Hitler was Jewish from “somewhere,” some second-hand source. This person might come across this notion on an Internet site, a reference in a magazine article, or at the water cooler at work. But more likely he (and it usually is a he) picked it up by osmosis in the stratosphere. Since this claim goes against the accepted view of Hitler, a mass murderer of Jews, it makes the person making the claim seem educated, in the know, and in possession of a keen, even esoteric, understanding of the world that eludes the common person. One can almost hear the line, said with utter conviction in the eyes and in the voice: “Well, actually, many people don’t know this but Hitler was in fact…” The question we must always entertain, if not ask, about such people, whether they’re claiming that Franklin Roosevelt purposefully allowed the Japanese to bomb Pearl Harbor, or they’re “exposing” the government-led conspiracy to assassinate John F. Kennedy, or they’re pontificating on the meaning of Islam, is this: Have they ever studied the topic? Have they read credible sources of varying viewpoints? Have they cross-checked their sources and, from a sifting of the more probable theories, analyses and hypotheses, put together an informed opinion that is consistent with the evidence and that appreciates the complexity of the issue? Have they ever read the Bible or the Quran? Have they read any book?

While this person’s crimes are ignorance and pride, the second type of claimant has a more nefarious motivation. I believe that antisemitism can lie at the base of this statement about Hitler. That is, they’re saying implicitly that Hitler was Jewish because only a Jew could do such a horrible thing. Leave it to the Jews to murder their own people and then blame it on other races to make them feel guilty. Ascribing this sentiment to these disseminators of the Hitler-was-Jewish myth might seem a bit harsh, but I think it could be a motivation, even if the person is not fully conscious of it.

The source of the controversy over Hitler’s alleged Jewish ancestry stems from a curious omission in 1837 and a confession made just after the war. The question essentially is about Hitler’s paternal grandfather. The baptismal record for Hitler’s father, Alois, names the mother, Maria Anna Schicklgruber, but leaves a blank in the space provided for the father. Why?

While awaiting his sentence at Nuremberg where he would ultimately be hanged, the Nazi Hans Frank (pictured) claimed that Hitler commissioned him as his personal lawyer to find any incriminating evidence from his past that could be used against the future dictator. According to Frank’s inquiry, Maria Schicklgruber worked as a cook in the home of a wealthy Jewish family, the Frankenbergers, at the time of Alois’s birth. Also, the senior Frankenberger supported the child financially on behalf of his 19-year-old son, who was the father. Moreover, when Frank informed Hitler of this embarrassing revelation about his family history, Hitler came up with a bizarre explanation: since his grandmother and grandfather had the child out of wedlock and they could not support the child, they made the wealthy Jew think that he was the father in order to support the child. In the spring of 1938 Hitler had the Austrian hamlet of Döllersheim, where his father was born, wiped off the map. Very little trace of it remains today. Why?