Friday, January 30, 2015

My Battle Against Hitler: A Book Review

History is filled with stories of resistance fighters battling the Nazis, but it has forgotten those who fought with their intellect and their words. Dietrich von Hildebrand is one such warrior.

He was an ardent Catholic and professor of philosophy in Munich when Hitler started on his climb to tyranny. The professor recognized the danger that National Socialism represented, approaching his subject from the standpoint of Catholic teaching. He gave lectures, participated in seminars, and created a literary journal that were all put to use in combating what he saw as a deadly threat to the world.

The professor never got around to completing his memoirs, and what is presented in this book is a rather rough draft that can make for heavy reading. He drops countless names of his colleagues and acquaintances that will likely mean nothing to those who did not major in philosophy. Get beyond that and hone in on the heart of his story and you will find yourself in a world that did not recognize the danger that he saw with ease.

In his recollections, von Hildebrand describes his ongoing arguments, spanning almost the entire 1930's. He parries the points of those who found compromise with the Nazis as they gradually took over Germany, even as he counters what some saw as positive aspects of Hitler's gang. His influence is clear as he speaks of his need to flee from Munich and find refuge with a sister in Italy before landing in Vienna, only to watch with horror as Nazism drifted across the border despite his strongest efforts to combat the political movement.
What is perhaps most fascinating, as a Catholic, is his disgust with prominent clergymen and the bishops of Germany who either surrendered to what they felt was inevitable, found a way to live with Nazism, or went so far as to embrace National Socialism as compatible with the teachings of Jesus. Increasingly, his well-constructed arguments to the contrary fell on deaf ears and you can imagine him shaking his head in wonder at the inability of those with two good ears refusing to hear.

The book closes with a selection of von Hildebrand's essays that are of greater interest to an academic or a biographer, but are still intriguing. For example, he wrote an article that made the case for being against National Socialism, which only existed in Germany, without being against the German people. It rang of current events, as if he foresaw our present discussions about a stance against Islamic extremism equated to an anti-Muslim position.

The reader will come away with a deeper insight into the rise of the Third Reich, and how it could have enticed Catholics despite espousing values that were utterly contrary to Church teachings.

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