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Seeing Hitler in real life

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Seeing Hitler in real life

Old 30th Aug 2020, 11:07
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Seeing Hitler in real life

My mother is 87 and was born in Austria, somewhere near Vienna. She spent most of her life in the Austrian Alps during WWII as a refugee escaping the Nazis with her mother and sisters. Her brother was forced to join the German Army and lost his life on the Russian front, but she survived. Later on, she emigrated to the UK and married my father who was in the RAF and fought during WWII. My father passed away a long time ago but told me all sorts of stories about his service during the war and afterward. My mother has been reluctant to tell me stories but did learn about how her family continually moved to escape the Nazis.

Just yesterday, I learned from a family friend that she actually saw Hitler in real life. She didn't meet him she just saw him in an open-top vehicle, I assume visiting Vienna. My mother never told me about this and am reluctant to ask her about this, but at some point, I think I should. I live half a planet away and due to COVID I can't visit but do call often just to see how she is. Of course, I will go back to the UK if she becomes ill, but right now she's doing fine.

For some reason, however, I just can't get it out of my head that she actually saw Hitler. I'm having a tough time processing this and wondered if anyone else here is in the same position or knows someone who is. I suspect some might see this as some weird liberal "look at me" post but that couldn't be further from the truth. For those who might understand what I'm getting at, do you have any advice? My mother lived with this for so long without telling me and I'm sure she has a good reason for doing so, but she is also a part of history and is in a group of people that is growing smaller every day.

Sorry for the somewhat discordant post, but hope one or two of you will understand how I feel.

Thank you.
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Old 30th Aug 2020, 16:34
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There are huge numbers of people who got on with life after the terrible days of war and chose to let sleeping dogs lie. Perhaps this is one of those cases. Obviously, many thousands (or more) saw Hitler as he went about his role.
My mother has vivid memories of seeing the aftermath of an air raid shelter taking a direct hit in the war. She has had a morbid fear of fire ever since.
Why not simply say to her... "I hear from (insert name here) that you actually saw Hitler yourself... What was happening then?" or something like that. She will either share her memory or dismiss the subject. I doubt that the actual occasion would form a traumatic memory for her.
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Old 30th Aug 2020, 16:58
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Hitler visited Vienna several times immediately after the German take-over in '38 and there were some vast processions along the Ring I believe.

I understand your mother's reluctance to talk - as the unofficial family historian I've hit the same wall a few times - one of my family fought at Casino and he only talked about it once, another spent the whole of WWI in the front line and NEVER talked about it.

Sometimes the best thing is to get someone a lot younger - a grandchild, a great grandchild or a neighbours kid she knows to ask the question - somehow it seems less threatening to people who are old and they can open up.......

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Old 30th Aug 2020, 17:33
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Take a look at 'Hunting Hitler' on Freeview Ch 38 fridays at 9pm BST (may be repeated other times) .
Not sure if it's a hoax or if it's true but the claim is they've traced his escape route intitlally to Argentina then Brazil and Paraguay.
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Old 30th Aug 2020, 17:40
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Hokulea,
I think this has impacted you far more than it would have impacted your mother. Asturias and Anglian raise points about other peoples experiences but these are where there has been a traumatic event or experiences.

I wouldn't rate just seeing Hitler in an open topped vehicle as a traumatic event. What we know about him now makes it seem so. Just talk to her about it.
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Old 30th Aug 2020, 20:04
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Unhappy

At the risk of getting all Monty Python about seeing Hitler, my father who passed away a couple of years ago, told us that he had been taken by my grandfather to a Nazi rally when they were touring Vienna and Germany in the 30's! To say I was surprised is an understatement and I said that "you might want to keep quiet about that one Dad..!!!" apparently my grandfather had gone to 'see what all the fuss was about' and my father was too young to remember anything much. One just hopes they didn't pay an entrance fee/carry any torches etc. In these days when you can get in trouble for spelling LGBTQ the wrong way, letting on that you have attended a Nazi rally with real Nazi's and with you-know-who as the keynote speaker, is probably something you don't want to advertise .
Flug
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Old 30th Aug 2020, 20:25
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I think that the secret to asking her, is telling her that there are not many of her kind left and that the youngsters need to know the story so that we can try and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Hearing the story from a real witness Is much better than reading a book about it. She might be more amenable to opening up if she is telling her story.
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Old 31st Aug 2020, 03:04
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I often thought of asking my father why he studied the German language in the "20's" to the point of becoming completely fluent and literate in all aspects and a noted scholar at the time.

During the 30's, when Germany was rising from the ashes of WW1, a new populism and confidence had started to develop. This then led to more students seeking to improve their ability to communicate and trade with what was being seen as an emerging power. So I put it down to a simple desire to improve his job prospects.

It made sense to me, but oddly, even before the start of WW2, he no longer pursued any interest in the language and would only bring it out of the closet as a party trick much later to surprise people. Was he involved in something which he never spoke of? Unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to have a conversation about it which I now much regret.

It will be worthwhile not to let this small piece of history in your family slip by.

IG


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Old 31st Aug 2020, 05:18
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My wife's grandfather was "in the war" but according to his wife, he didn't want to talk about it, so no-one asked and he didn't tell. However when his wife died, given a few respectful years I took the plunge and asked him. And what followed were several long conversations that he'd been dying to have since 1945, and which his wife had told him no-one wanted to know. He was overjoyed that someone was interested in what he had to say.

Turned out he was first into France in 1939, missed Dunkirk, was made PoW and spent the war in a number of locations, all of which were fresh in his mind. He was repatriated in a Lancaster in May 1945 and the whole thing was an amazing story.

I doubt I'd have regretted not asking him, because I'd never have known what I'd lost. But instead we have a far richer picture of him now that he's gone.

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Old 31st Aug 2020, 05:25
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In 50 years time, when the Delete Culture has wiped Donald Trump and his excesses from the history books, will anybody actually stand up and say "I voted for that goose."
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Old 31st Aug 2020, 05:53
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Father of a girl I knew once showed me an invite to a pre war embassy function he attended. It was signed by one A Hitler.... Also, a close friend from Sweden told me over lunch one day that his great aunt was Herman Göering's mistress. I said that I doubted that he mentioned that very often.. No, I don't,he replied. Neither of them was very concerned about the events.
The girl's father was also one of a very large familly, spread over several countries, and as a military govenor in occupied Germany, he found it slightly awkward that the mayor of the main city in his area was a cousin.
My father flew Hurricanes in France and the BoB, then Spitfires and commanded a Squ in Torch. He had a few unpleasant memories, it was only later that I realised that he had only talked to me on the odd occasions that he did, not my other siblings.

Edit: Just looked, and it seems that the great aunt of my Swedish friend was HG's first wife, Carin.

Last edited by DownWest; 31st Aug 2020 at 06:27. Reason: Fact check
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Old 31st Aug 2020, 06:38
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Originally Posted by Hokulea View Post
... wondered if anyone else here is in the same position or knows someone who is. I suspect some might see this as some weird liberal "look at me" post but that couldn't be further from the truth. For those who might understand what I'm getting at, do you have any advice? My mother lived with this for so long without telling me and I'm sure she has a good reason for doing so, but she is also a part of history and is in a group of people that is growing smaller every day.

Thank you.
Hokulea, I can share an almost exact parallel story.
My partners mother would have been a little older than your mother. She was born and lived the first part of her life in the Austrian Alps (though she had worked as a maid in Graz). She had two brothers in the German armed services, the older of whom also disappeared in Russia (his picture, in uniform, still hangs on her bedroom wall, we haven't had the heart to change her room since she died). Neither her nor my partners father (who died several decades ago) spoke about their wartime experiences other than they knew each other from both working in a steel factory during that time. My partners father came to Australia after the war as he was a stateless person and when looking to settle down wrote to my partners mother, to see if she was interested in marriage. She came to Australia and married him here.
One night a couple of years before she died while we were sitting in the lounge and a documentary on WW2 was playing on the television (though none of us were really paying it much attention) she looked up and saw some old newsreel of Hitler in an open topped car in a parade and simply said, "I saw him, you know". We pressed a little bit and she said that every one (from the factory we assume) was given a day off if they would go and watch him go by. So she did. It wasn't anything more sinister than that.

In fact, we went back to her home town after she died and talked to the few of her friends who were then still alive (they are all gone now) and we got clues of some things but either they didn't know everything or wouldn't tell us either. We also found a lot of records regarding my partners father in Australian refugee records. We think he wouldn't speak of his experiences due to his fear of retribution by post war Jugoslavian communist forces (even 40 years later in Australia). When they met in Austria, he was almost certainly some form of "forced worker" (Zwangsarbeiter) though not a slave worker. There seems be a story about her being threatened with punishment and being told not to give bread to a group of forced workers (including him?) but we cant confirm the details.

From what little bits we have been able to piece together I think she was just a fairly normal, kind hearted person, very parochial* in a lot of ways. The partners father _may_ have deserted from one (or more!) Slovak conscript armies before being a forced worker (because of it?) and may have done some shady things (black market?) directly post war but probably due to circumstances of the time and was a perfectly fine law abiding naturalised citizen for the remainder of his life in Australia. Both of them just normal folks born into a bad place and time, dealt with it as they could.
* If you know of the writings of Peter Rossegger you'll understand exactly what I mean.

I would advise you ask you mother her stories though. Some of the things we found out, I don't think either of my partners parents would have freely talked about, one for maybe embarrassment and one from fear, but that will vary from person to person.

Certifs

Last edited by certifs; 31st Aug 2020 at 07:49.
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Old 31st Aug 2020, 07:04
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Originally Posted by Imagegear View Post
I often thought of asking my father why he studied the German language in the "20's" to the point of becoming completely fluent and literate in all aspects and a noted scholar at the time.


IG
Imagegear, was he a physicist?

I believe that a great deal of scientific literature of the early 20th century was from Germany (world leaders in maths, synthetic chemistry and atomic physics as well as other science disciplines). I had heard it was common for English speaking scientists in those fields to learn German to keep abreast of developments in Germany from German published papers. Of course Mr H. pretty much stuffed up that whole unbiased sharing of science concept even before the war.

Certifs
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Old 31st Aug 2020, 07:30
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Many , many people met Hitler. He was far less paranoid about meeting the general public or military than you might think. He did however change plans and randomise his movements to minimise known threats. Really not that uncommon at all.

Last edited by George Glass; 31st Aug 2020 at 07:53.
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Old 31st Aug 2020, 08:10
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Thank you very much, everyone, your replies have been very helpful. I think I was surprised to find out that my mother told someone else, albeit a close friend, but had never told me. I can think of a few reasons for this, all of them quite reasonable, but will redouble my efforts to get her to talk about this period of her life. I think it's important I explain this is very important to me to know and understand my family's history before the opportunity is lost. What she has told me in the past was fascinating and has made me realise that no matter how bad things are right now, it doesn't compare in any way to what she and millions of others experienced during the war.
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Old 31st Aug 2020, 08:59
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Erm.... isn't this an aviation forum?
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Old 31st Aug 2020, 09:46
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Aloha!

It is possible that your mother might have seen AH in the border region of Germany and Austria, as he had his favourite residence just outside Berchtesgaden ? I'm sure he might have made trips locally both privately and for functions. Maybe it was before WW2 really got going and AH was more relaxed in his movements before becoming paranoid after the attempt on his life.

It was a moment in modern history for your mother to have seen AH, but as in all these sightings (including the present) it probably wasn't more than a passing excitement (either positive or negative), much like I see the Queen close up at the Epsom Derby each year. Time seems to give these encounters a magical sheen, perhaps because they cannot be repeated.

The participants of the turmoil of WW2, and other conflicts are often reticent to discuss their experiences, putting it behind them as the best course of action to get on with their lives. I would definitely ask a parent/uncle/auntie about different aspects of their experience, they can choose to say no and that also should be respected.
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Old 31st Aug 2020, 10:25
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Originally Posted by DH106 View Post
Erm.... isn't this an aviation forum?
Yes, it is, which is the reason I brought this up here. I'm sorry if you don't like that, but was hoping some people here would understand why I brought this up. My mother escaped the Nazis while my father did his best to help RAF pilots shoot down Luftwaffe pilots, which included him flying as the radar/RDF operator on mosquito night fighters. I'm simply trying to get a little more perspective on my family's history in a forum I know, feel comfortable posting on and within which I've made a few friends who share a common history whether it WWII or later conflicts. I apologize if you don't approve of it. And again, thank you everyone else for your responses, they have been very helpful.
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Old 31st Aug 2020, 12:41
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Originally Posted by Quemerford View Post
My wife's grandfather was "in the war" but according to his wife, he didn't want to talk about it, so no-one asked and he didn't tell. However when his wife died, given a few respectful years I took the plunge and asked him. And what followed were several long conversations that he'd been dying to have since 1945, and which his wife had told him no-one wanted to know. He was overjoyed that someone was interested in what he had to say.

Turned out he was first into France in 1939, missed Dunkirk, was made PoW and spent the war in a number of locations, all of which were fresh in his mind. He was repatriated in a Lancaster in May 1945 and the whole thing was an amazing story.

I doubt I'd have regretted not asking him, because I'd never have known what I'd lost. But instead we have a far richer picture of him now that he's gone.
You make a very god point, and one which I have had close personal experience of.

Mrs ATN's late grandfather was at Arnhem as a medic, and obviously saw many very distressing injuries. He talked little about it, but back in the 90s when the UK was commemorating the Battle of Arnhem, the memories that the coverage brought back landed him in a mental hospital for some time. Not everyone want to don their old uniform and remember their experiences in war, many, especially those who served during the times of conscription would rather pigeonhole their experiences, but the media fails to understand this.
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Old 31st Aug 2020, 13:21
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I think that very traumatic experiences are often pigeon-holed to varying degrees as the psyche is just too over-flooded with stressful data to process it properly. A survival method perhaps, to keep the organism going and functioning. In the past (100years and further), there were no tools/methods to safely release these maladies from the mind, so we just got on woth things, perhaps even had to just to survive normal daily life. Observing people with majorly traumatic experiences attempting to release their effects, it's a tricky business and for some you are just cast into a fast flowing river where respite is often being whirled around in various eddy currents when you think you've managed to find the river bank.

Those generations preceding us were very practical, because they had to be, and the pigeon-holing and not discussing a part of that.
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