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The Hidden Hitler. (Books: Heil Mary: like we don't have enough problems--now a new book claims Adolf Hitler was gay? The Advocate's Charles Kaiser grills historian Lothar Machtan, author of the hidden Hitler).

The Hidden Hitler. * Lothar Machtan * Basic Books * $26

Was Adolf Hitler a homosexual? In The Hidden Hitler, Lothar Machtan, an associate professor of history at Bremen University in Germany, answers that question with a resounding yes. According to Machtan's book, "it is important to recognize [Hitler's] sexual orientation as a historical fact." And Machtan does not assert that just because of Hitler's "poses," "gestures and body language," "his accessories (mustache, whip, etc.)," his "effeminate cast of feature, his taste for muscular, monumental art," and "the marked pleasure he derived from contemplating the male physique" --characteristics that the author lists in his introduction, only to dismiss them as serious evidence of anything.

Given the hostile attitude of most historians toward homosexuality in the 1950s and '60s, it might seem reasonable to assume that any corroboration that the 20th century's greatest villain was also a gay villain would already have received plenty of attention. But Machtan thinks all the important indicators of Hitler's sexuality were ignored until now by German scholars because there was a "taboo" against any discussion of homosexuality in his country until "the last two or three years."

As for the failure of all the historians of every other nationality to identify this facet of Der Fuhrer's personality, Machtan explains to The Advocate that "one of their theories" is that Hitler's private life "is not interesting at all in understanding his political career because, besides his political career, Hitler was merely empty."

But there is another reason that what is obvious to Machtan has never been obvious to everyone else. Dozens of serious historians have already pointed out that Hitler had plenty of openly gay friends and allies, especially in the early part of his career. And Machtan does a good job of providing that Hitler was never very interested in women; even his relationship with Eva Braun, the woman he married in his Berlin bunker in 1945 just before they both committed suicide, was almost certainly platonic. However, it requires a leap of faith--which, so far, only Machtan has been willing to make--to take the next step and assert that Hitler was obviously a practicing homosexual.

The problem becomes clear as soon as you ask the author whom he considers the most reliable source for his explosive "revelation." His answer is that "the Mend protocol is quite reliable. Not just because of this document, which is amazing enough, but mostly because of the life stow of that man."

Hans Mend served with Hitler during World War I. According to Machtan, Mend divulged "his secret information to an opponent" of the Nazi regime in 1939 in a "protocol" that included this explosive tidbit: "In 1915 we were billeted in the Le Febre 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 a those two nancy boys.' I myself took no further interest in the matter."

The trouble is, there are endless problems with this "evidence," beginning with its provenance. Machtan says the protocol was included in a registered letter from London, sent to a German diplomat named Werner Otto von Hentig. It came from "a certain Helge Knudsen," about whom the author apparently knows nothing. And there is absolutely no way to judge its legitimacy.

Furthermore, while Machtan thinks "the life story" of Mend bolsters the document's authenticity, his own book provides plenty of evidence to the contrary. Mend was convicted in 1919 of "theft and false pretenses" and convicted again in the 1930s of "forging documents in an attempt to obtain a veteran's disability pension." And in 1931, at the behest of the Nazi Party, he lent his name to Adolf Hitler im Felde 1914-1918--an adoring description of Hitler's heroic service during World War I. Machtan tells us Mend wasn't smart enough to "string a sentence together properly, let alone a whole book" and that he was a "parasitical hanger-on." And yet this is also the author's most reliable source on Hitler's homosexuality.

One reason Machtan attaches so much importance to this dubious evidence is that Mend was later persecuted by the Nazis in an operation that "we may assume" was "planned and ordained by Hitler himself." (This book is replete with assumptions like that.) In 1936 Mend was accused of "sexual offenses against children" and sentenced to 2 1/2 years of hard labor. "Why this policy of wholesale repression, these drastic methods of intimidation?" the author asks. "Just to teach an insignificant braggart a lesson? One would think not. Despite the transparency of Mend's self-important behavior, he did possess a power Hitler was clearly afraid of: the power to divulge his insurmountable past ... and Hitler must have felt haunted by it." Really?

Asked why he had given so much weight to the testimony of a not-very-intelligent convicted criminal, Machtan replies, "You have to take into account that all people surrounding Hitler or belonging to his entourage were, in some ways, criminals." That is certainly true--but it is also one of the reasons it is so hard to assert anything with any confidence about Hitler's private life. Pressed further, Machtan concedes, "We don't have sources that describe his sex life in great detail, so I think this is a matter of speculation. But you know, that is the task of every historian: to evaluate those sources and to look if there is maybe only a piece of truth in it."

Fair enough; but in that case, unless your motivations were more commercial than scholarly, why would you describe Hitler's homosexuality as a "historical fact"?

Kaiser is the author of The Gay Metropolis, published by Harcourt Brace.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Kaiser, Charles
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 20, 2001
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