Queer as Volk?
A new book claims Hitler was a closet case.
Still, in the field of "Hitler studies" (as Don DeLillo memorably dubbed it in White Noise), the notion of a secret key that would decode Hitler is a temptation for even the most respectable historians. I probably should mention an ambiguous reference by Machtan to my own book, Explaining Hitler, which examines, skeptically, various claims to have found the "hidden" truth about Hitler. Machtan calls it "probably the most lucid overview to date of (non-German) attempts to 'explain Hitler,' " and I would love to accept the compliment. Except that it can't be that lucid a book (to him at least) since Machtan inaccurately describes me as stressing the "inexplicability" of Hitler. My book attempts repeatedly to make the distinction between saying "Hitler is inexplicable" and my belief that "Hitler has not yet been adequately explained"—the position staked out by the Israeli scholar Yehuda Bauer, widely recognized as one of the foremost historians of the Holocaust, who believes that we just may lack sufficient biographical evidence for any certainty.
Of course it's not inconceivable that Hitler was secretly homosexual, but Machtan's evidence falls short of being conclusive and often falls far short of being evidence at all. Take Machtan's Exhibit A, the "Mend Protocol," the closest thing he has to a "smoking gun," and his only extant "documentary" evidence that Hitler may have engaged in a homosexual act.
The "Mend Protocol": It has a Ludlumesque ring to it, although this supposed eyewitness account from a known blackmailer and forger is more sordid and noir. And the document itself is not much more substantial than a Ludlum novel as evidence. Machtan's main endorsement of the Mend Protocol's importance and authenticity comes from the same Werner Maser who "found" Hitler's son and who tells us that the Mend Protocol "played an important role in the German resistance movement to Hitler."
That in itself, if true, is sad but revealing. The story of the German resistance to Hitler is, with a few heroic exceptions, the story of a "Resistance" that was forever resisting action. Always on the verge of making a move against Hitler, these generals and intelligence officers could never find just the right time and circumstances to act, delaying with Hamlet-like dithering until the Red Army and the Allied D-Day invasion doomed Hitler. But we are supposed to believe that this frequently self-mythologizing Resistance which couldn't be motivated to oppose Hitler's state terror and mass murder was deeply moved by a report from a blackmailer and forger that Hitler might have been homosexual during World War I. That tore it.
Who is Mend, on whom so much of Machtan's thesis depends? Machtan is candid in displaying the reasons for skepticism about his source, calling him "a parasitical hanger-on (who had fallen out of favor)." A World War I dispatch runner who was billeted with Hitler in the trenches, Mend fell on hard times after the war, garnering convictions for "theft and false pretenses," then for "theft of property," then for "forging documents." Having compiled this sterling record for veracity and trustworthiness, Mend saw Hitler's rise as an opportunity to capitalize on his wartime association by peddling a book about Hitler as a soldier.
When Hitler was on the rise, Mend's stories were all about Hitler's "brilliant traits of character … he was just the same in the field as he was today … courageous, fearless, outstanding." Then, apparently because Hitler wouldn't do enough to promote Mend's book on their wartime camaraderie, Mend started threatening that he'd really tell the truth. A pattern of payoffs, abortive extortion, arrests, and ultimately imprisonment on child molesting charges followed for Mend (who eventually died in one of Hitler's jails). Toward the latter stages of this blackmail war he supposedly produced the "Mend Protocol," a long memorandum of his convoluted history with Hitler. Here's its pallid "smoking gun":
In 1915, we were billeted in the LeFebre brewery at Fournes. We slept in the hay. Hitler was bedded down at night with Schmidl, his male whore. We heard a rustling in the hay. Then someone switched on his electric flashlight and growled "Take a look at those two nancy boys." I myself took no further interest in the matter.
Setting aside the ludicrous, lofty tone of the last sentence, that's the best evidence for the "new revelation." I find Machtan's other evidence even less convincing. Machtan's real contribution is not his dubious gay-Hitler thesis, but a deeper picture of the blackmail culture that surrounded Hitler (who himself used manufactured testimony to frame one of his recalcitrant generals as a homosexual).
Much of the rest of Machtan's book relies on interpreting virtually all Hitler's male friendships as homoerotic and then assuming that homoerotic meant physically homosexual. Or on secondhand reports of someone reading an alleged police report (such "dossiers" were a fixture of the blackmail culture that surrounded Hitler from the beginning). Many of these apocryphal secret files allegedly center around Hitler's military career and the somewhat puzzling fact that for all his front line service, he was never promoted beyond corporal. Machtan believes this was because of Hitler's well-known (and yet somehow "hidden") homosexuality.
I've called these reports of some bombshell file supposedly cached in some secret location the "lost safe deposit box syndrome," and sure enough Machtan tells us he hopes evidence supposedly hidden in "Swiss strong boxes" will eventually shore up his shaky gay-Hitler thesis. I'm doubtful. One of the lost dossiers, reports of which he relies on, the so-called "Dollfuss dossier," purportedly also "proved" Hitler's grandfather was a Rothschild.
So, that's Machtan's case for Hitler's homosexuality. Now let's see how he treats evidence to the contrary. Consider the case of Mimi Reiter, for instance, a woman Hitler courted in the mid-'20s. Machtan quotes only part of her story, which was printed in the German magazine Stern in 1959. She was a shop girl in Hitler's Obersalzberg retreat, and Machtan gives credence to the existence of a relationship but quotes only from the beginning of her description of it. From the time, on a woodsy picnic, when Hitler "Hugged me real tight around the neck. He kissed me. He didn't know what to do."
Ron Rosenbaum is the author of The Shakespeare Wars and Explaining Hitler. His latest book is How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III.