My Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich by Dietrich von Hildebrand; edited by John Henry Crosby
Image, 2012. Hardcover, 352 pages.
Dietrich von Hildebrand was an anti-Nazi German Catholic philosopher. He was born in Florence, Italy, to German parents, including his famous sculptor and architect father Adolf von Hildebrand. He later attended college at the University of Munich where he studied under the philosopher Edmund Husserl both as an undergraduate and for his doctoral studies. In 1914, von Hildebrand converted to Catholicism. After serving as a medical assistant in World War I, von Hildebrand went on to teach at the University of Munich. During this time he became an early vocal opponent of National Socialism, or Nazism as we usually now call it.
The memoirs, which are presented in this book in a reduced format (the original is thousands of pages long), form the first part of the book and they cover 1923 until 1937 (and were written in the latter part of von Hildebrand’s life). The editing focuses on the memoirs’ segments that focus on von Hildebrand’s work against National Socialism. Therefore other aspects of his life, such as his family, only appear when they intersect with his work in that regard. That said, the start of each chapter in this part opens with a summary by the editor that introduces the section and provides any needed background. Additional summaries appear throughout the chapters when needed to connect segments of the original memoirs. We follow von Hildebrand from the first time he spoke out against National Socialism, an act that lead the Nazi’s to mark him for death shortly after the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. We then see how he fled Germany upon Hitler gaining power and, with government backing, set up Der Christliche Ständestaat in Vienna, Austria. At the time, Austria was being led by Engelbert Dollfuss, whom was opposed to Hitler and his views and like von Hildebrand saw the need for a strong Catholic nation to stand up to National Socialism. Readers will gain an understanding of the journal’s foundation, the political situation in both Germany and Austria, and von Hildebrand’s work in those regards. Von Hildebrand also traveled extensively on invitation to present his views at conferences, including those in Italy, France, and Hungary. The final section of the memoirs was cobbled together from von Hildebrand outline for the uncompleted section and the memoirs of his first wife. It describes von Hildebrand’s flight from Austria upon the Anschluss (annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany).
The second part of the book presents excerpts or the entirety of fourteen of von Hildebrand’s essays. All but two were written for his journal Der Christliche Ständestaat. There were several themes within these well thought out and deep essays. One was that anti-Semitism was unchristian. As part of this, he reminded his readers that Christianity grew out of Judaism. Another was the harm of nationalism, as it was in opposition to both Catholic Church teachings and excluded non-dominate ethnic groups. He likened it to a cult meant to harm society. A final theme was that the individual should be the focus over the collective mass. The rationale behind this was that “…the individual abandons himself to much more irresponsible and uncontrollable passions and instincts when he is part of a mass. This situation robs him of his perceptive, suspends the rules of reason, and hands him over to irresponsibility (312).” And to add to this, the masses he spoke out against in these essays was both National Socialism and Bolshevism; he saw them as having the same ideas at the core, namely a totalitarian regime that did not allow for individuals to have a say. As a whole, looking back at von Hildebrand’s essays from today, he made a lot of sense. However, not many may have seen that back then, thus why many disliked von Hildebrand. Like with the memoirs, each essay is prefaced by the editor providing needed background information and connecting it to its mention in the memoirs, if applicable.
Overall, the book was interesting. I enjoyed the memoirs and wished that more than a short summary told the story from 1938 until von Hildebrand’s arrival in America. It would have been fascinating to read about his and his family’s life in France, most spent hiding under aliases, and how they fled again when the Nazi’s invaded. However, I know he could not have spoken out in those years, so the omission is understandable. Still, it would have been a nice conclusion. On the essays, I found them eye-opening. He managed to create his arguments against Nazism through both a religious and philosophical viewpoint. Just because von Hildebrand was Catholic and viewed many things through that lens did not mean he was forced his viewpoints on others; he acknowledged that all Christians, and even the Jews, should band together to fight National Socialism. It was just that as a Catholic himself and the fact at the time Catholicism was Europe’s predominate faith, he thought that the Catholic Church should lead the fight.
Note: While von Hildebrand was Catholic and Catholic views and practices are addressed when needed throughout the book, this book can be appreciated by anyone who wishes to gain an understanding on the topic or enjoys reading about World War II, especially the resistance side of things (like me).
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.