Review: I Knew Hitler by Kurt G. W. Ludecke

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I Knew Hitler by Kurt G.W. Ludecke 

The widely forgotten Kurt G. W. Ludecke was a gambler, a charming womanizer, wandering adventurer, sometime writer and armed bohemian of Weimar Germany’s Volkisch right, also became a very early member of the Nazi Party in 1922. Quickly gaining the confidence of Adolf Hitler and the would-be Fuhrer’s inner circle through his intelligence and desperately needed financial donations, Ludecke possessed an intimate entree to the highest leaders of the Nazi Party from before the Beer Hall Putsch to the weeks before the Night of the Long Knives, at which point Hitler threw him into the Oranienburg concentration camp as his personal prisoner.

I Knew Hitler is a long and digressive personal memoir that abounds with self-promotion, even by the standards of that genre. About half of Ludecke’s musings are on the tediously dull trivialities of his life abroad and his self-important “philosophy” as a lonely Nazi “idealist”. This turgid banality is sharply punctuated by  his useful and at times, quite insightful, accounts of being Hitler’s emissary to such personages and groups as General Eric Ludendorff, Benito Mussolini, Henry Ford, Hungarian and American national socialists, the Ku Klux Klan and various feuding Nazi potentates and figures of the volkisch Right in Germany. Ludecke is at once a shrewd observer of Hitler’s tactical maneuvers and weaknesses as a politician while being remarkably blind to the capricious elements of Hitler’s character as he tested Hitler’s patience with lectures and tireless lobbying on behalf of the muddled and ineffectual Alfred Rosenberg, whom Ludecke admired uncritically. While giving Hitler realistic advice on foreign affairs, Ludecke showed a remarkable gift for gravitating to positions – very mild antisemitism while embracing the social radicalism of the Strassers, Ernst Rohm and the SA revolutionaries – as Hitler moved rapidly in the opposite direction. Nor did Ludecke’s incipient dalliance with Magda Goebbels or his social rebuff of the increasingly powerful Hermann Goering help his cause any.

What most likely did Ludecke in with Hitler – who seemed to retain some lasting affection for him, which probably saved Ludecke’s life and spared him rough treatment by the Gestapo – was Ludecke’s attempt to straddle the worlds of Hitler’s personal intimates; the informal, casual,”apolitical” household world of Hitler’s drivers, bodyguards, cooks, hangers-on and other assistants and the “political” world of the senior Nazi leaders who were expected to defer to Hitler’s newly exalted status as Fuhrer at a certain respectful arms length, no matter how close or long their personal association with him in the early days. Ludecke appeared to be blind to this unspoken requirement, stubbornly determined to win a place in the Nazi hierarchy without giving up his familiarity and access to Hitler’s person. Albert Speer later had to successfully navigate this transition in social relations with the Fuhrer when he moved from being Hitler’s personal architect and something approaching a friend to becoming Hitler’s powerful Reichsminister of Armaments and War Production. The “Old fighters” who could do that, like the gauleiters, Goering, Max Amann, the repugnant Julius Streicher or Sepp Dietrich, were rewarded by Hitler with power and favor. Many who could not, like Ernst Rohm, were killed in the purge of the SA. These “martyrs” were the men whom Ludecke was so busy embracing politically – even after being warned off by Hitler to either stay away from “politics” or to take an offered job as the Nazi press spokesman in Washington, DC -when the Gestapo unceremoniously carted him off to prison.

Ludecke wrote his memoir, which he dedicated to the memory of Ernst Rohm and Gregor Strasser, before Hitler started the Second World War or launched his mad genocide of European Jewry. Many times, Ludecke refers to himself in the text and his faction as “the idealists”of “revolutionary” National Socialism whom Adolf Hitler had betrayed, coming to see Hitler, after two spells of imprisonment at Hitler’s hands, as a kind of dangerous sorcerer’s apprentice who was bound to lead Germany astray.

Unfortunately for Ludecke, not unlike many Communists a generation later who were forced to face the truth about Stalin after Khrushchev’s secret speech, in disavowing Hitler, Ludecke only rejected the sorcerer, but not the sorcery.

The pull of ideology runs deep.

1 thought on “Review: I Knew Hitler by Kurt G. W. Ludecke”

  1. I had a spinster great aunt from Los Angeles, who died in the mid 80s. But in the mid 30s she traveled through Europe and saw Hitler at a Bayreuth Festival. I can’t remember her story enough to know whether she “met” Hitler or just saw him, but she said that he was spellbinding as an orator.

    A sociopathic orator, but spellbinding nonetheless.

    But for Ludecke to ignore Hitler and embrace his enemies – he may have embraced Nazism but he was tone-deaf politically.

    Of course even not being tone deaf and being in der Fuhrer’s good graces still meant eventual death for all but Speer and Rudolf Hess (and Hess can thank the British “hospitality” for saving his life :-) )

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