Letters to Hitler Detail Ordinary Views of History

APHistorian Henrik Eberle holding a copy of "Letters to Hitler" at a book fair on Wednesday in Frankfurt, Germany.
BERLIN -- At first glance, the letter carefully printed in a child's hand seems innocuous, nothing more than the expression of a young crush: "I love you so much. Write me -- please. Many greetings. Your Gina."

But the note takes on a more sinister tone when its recipient is known: Adolf Hitler.

The 1935 letter is one of more than 20,000 examined in Russian archives by German historian Henrik Eberle, 300 examples of which are reproduced in his book "Briefe An Hitler" -- "Letters to Hitler" -- published in German last week.

The letters give a unique glimpse into the minds of ordinary Germans during the Nazi era, from party sycophants and citizens bedazzled by the Fuhrer, to political opponents and Jews suffering under the regime.

Eberle, who teaches at the Martin Luther University in Halle, stumbled across the letters when researching his 2005 book "Das Buch Hitler" -- "The Hitler Book" -- and knew he had come across a treasure trove.

"It is important to show the whole picture," Eberle said. "There are totally normal people's feelings, and then there are also the thoughts of the prominent people."

The Nazis were meticulous about keeping records, and the letters had been carefully stored in Berlin archives. They were seized by the Soviet army as part of the spoils of war and have sat in Moscow for more than six decades.

While certain individual letters have been previously published -- like one from World War I hero General Erich Ludendorff complaining of the diminishing freedoms under the Nazis -- the vast majority have never been seen by the public.

"It was known that there was this archive, it was known it was available to be seen, but there hasn't been a book that's brought them all together," Eberle said.

The 476-page book, which was presented last week at the Frankfurt International Book Fair, is only available in German. Publishers Gustav Luebbe GmbH & Co. said there were no immediate plans for an English edition.

The letters illuminate the German zeitgeist from 1925 -- the year that Hitler published the autobiographical "Mein Kampf" detailing his ideology and ambitions -- to 1945, when he ended his own life in a Berlin bunker.

Early letters were generally expressions of solidarity with the Nazi party program and questions about Hitler's views, Eberle said.

In 1925, a man named Alfred Barg, who signed the letter between two scrawled swastikas as a "deeply faithful friend," wrote to ask what Hitler felt about alcohol consumption and whether the party would use the swastika and its black, red and white colors should it come to national power.

"Mr. Hitler drinks no alcohol aside from a few drops during very special events and he is a nonsmoker," Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess wrote back. "You should already know how we stand on the colors black-white-red and the swastika."

The letters were primarily sorted by Hess and later Albert Bormann, brother of Hitler's confidant and private secretary Martin Bormann. They were marked with red ink if not shown to Hitler or green ink if he had been made aware of them, Eberle said.

"They were all letters written to Hitler, but Hitler certainly did not read them all," he said. "I read some 20,000 and that wasn't all of them."

A few from people deemed dangerous -- including a woman who claimed to be Hitler's relative -- were forwarded to the Gestapo for investigation.

Many went unanswered, though some drew responses that ranged from the cold and bureaucratic to the lighthearted.

The letter from 7-year-old Gina, for example, was part of a series from a Berlin family in which the parents also noted that the girl wanted to marry Hitler.

Bormann wrote back that the letters "brought the Fuehrer true happiness."

From 1933, when the Nazis were elected to power, to 1939, the year Germany started World War II with the invasion of Poland, the number of letters increased astronomically -- primarily expressions of support for Hitler from within Germany and around the world.

"From 1933 to 1939 it was jubilation -- particularly after the [1938] annexation of Austria," Eberle said. "There were so many letters after that you couldn't read all of them -- at least 10,000 from England, America, Austria -- from around the world congratulating him."

Erich Oberdorfer, of Vienna, wrote Hitler to express his deepest thanks for incorporating Austria into the Greater German Reich.

"Only this way will a new world be born," he wrote.

But others, though their letters were in a minority, were shocked by what the annexation meant to them.

"After the first days of jubilation were over, we were aghast to learn that while I am eligible to vote, my wife, being stigmatized and inferior because of her Jewish heritage, must stand aside," wrote Franz Ippich, a military bandmaster from Salzburg.

"So I decided ... to ask you: Please erase the dishonorable, Jewish heritage of my wife, which is not her own fault. ... [By doing so] my wife's and my offspring will become your loyal and enthusiastic followers who will bless you for all your life."

The letter went unanswered, and Ippich eventually fled with his wife for South America.

There were protests early on from abroad about the Nazi policies, but there was never any response.

"Hitler was uninterested," Eberle said. "The high point of the protests was 1934, but then I think most people realized it made no sense to protest."

The nature of the letters that were sent near the end showed the panic and desperation felt by the German people as the western Allies pushed in from France and the Soviets from the east.

"In 1945 there was a lot of advice, a lot about 'wonder weapons' -- the people wanted to do what they could against the Allies and would make suggestions," Eberle said.

"For example, one proposed ... cannons that would shoot steel nets into the air to take down low-flying aircraft."

But in 1945, it seems that most were either too preoccupied with events or fed up with the Nazis to write any more.

While Hitler got 10,000 to 20,000 birthday cards in 1938, Eberle said, in 1945 he got fewer than 100.