Lothar Machtan "The Hidden Hitler" (Basic Books, 2001, ISBN 0-465-04308-9; English translation by John Brownjohn)
Hitler books aren't everyone's cup of tea, but they must have an audience someplace, to judge by the 120,000+ publications produced about the notorious numero-uno Nazi since his death in 1945.
As Ron Rosenbaum's excellent overview of some of the staples of this literature ("Explaining Hitler", New York: Random House, 1998, ISBN 0-06-095339-X) pointed out, readers consuming these works generally come away with a hungry feeling: Hitler somehow manages to escape our understanding in much the same way that he eluded justice by committing suicide in his Berlin bunker. Perhaps, posited Rosenbaum, both Hitler's weirdo personality and his monstrous crimes ultimately defy explanation.
Dr. Lothar Machtan, a Bremen University historian, is undeterred by such pessimism. He offers a completely novel portrait of Hitler as a closet homosexual. At first blush, this assertion seems ludicrous. And gay critics have been especially outraged at this seeming attempt to tar homosexuals by association with the twentieth century poster boy for Manichean forces of darkness.
But Machtan is assiduous in his assertion that Hitler's sexual orientation was not the cause of his moral and political misdeeds. He argues simply that, if you want to understand Hitler's real-life personality, you must understand not only his sexual orientation but his all-consuming compulsion to hide it from the public, in an era when homosexuality was an unthinkable lifestyle choice for any public servant--- not to mention militaristic dictators.
To use a North American analogy, it is now public knowledge that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was a closet homosexual--- and this is crucial to a real understanding of both his public persona as a macho crime fighter and his extreme reluctance to act against organized crime in the US, due to the fact that mobster Meyer Lansky had covertly photographed him dressed in women's clothing, on the arm of longtime companion Clyde Tolson.
Some reviewers have been critical of Machtan's failure to provide similar 'concrete proof' of his allegations of Hitler's homosexuality, complaining that he has just recycled slanderous allegations whipped up by Hitler's political enemies. Likely, anything that would be universally accepted 'concrete proof' is not now and probably never be available. But I think many readers would be impressed as I was by the sheer weight of Machtan's direct and circumstantial evidence.
For example, Hitler's pre-1914 residence, a Vienna homeless men's hostel, just happened to be a known hangout for gay men... and Hitler's 1914-1918 military career, carefully glossed over in "Mein Kampf": why, despite four years' service, and winning the Iron Cross, did Hitler never make it past Private First Class? Machtan cites a document written by one of Hitler's fellow soldiers, Hans Mend, testifying that Hitler's sexual relationship with "his whore" Ernst Schmidt was well known to his entire regiment and its officers.
The chapter detailing openly homosexual SA leader Ernst Roehm's relationship with Hitler, and their subsequent parting of ways, casts a whole new light of the infamous 1934 "Knight of the Long Knives". Coincidentally, the purges that followed wiped out many homosexual men with intimate personal knowledge of the Fuehrer's sexual past.
Just before his suicide, the Fuehrer dispatched one of his trusted lackeys, Julius Schaub, on a dangeous mission: escape the flaming ruins of Berlin and go to Munich, where he successfully emptied the safe of Hitler's Munich apartment and burned all of its mysterious contents.
I won't spoil the excitement by revealing any more. Suffice it to say that I think anyone with an interest in the subject will find "The Hidden Hitler" to be a spellbinder, whether they end up accepting Machtan's controversial thesis or not.
This report prepared by James Wilson