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Growing up in the beautiful mountains of Berchtesgaden -- just steps from Adolf Hitler's alpine retreat -- Irmgard Hunt had a seemingly happy, simple childhood. In her powerful, illuminating, and sometimes frightening memoir, Hunt recounts a youth lived under an evil but persuasive leader. As she grew older, the harsh reality of war -- and a few brave adults who opposed the Nazi regime -- aroused in her skepticism of National Socialist ideology and the Nazi propaganda she was taught to believe in.
In May 1945, an eleven-year-old Hunt watched American troops occupy Hitler's mountain retreat, signaling the end of the Nazi dictatorship and World War II. As the Nazi crimes began to be accounted for, many Germans tried to deny the truth of what had occurred; Hunt, in contrast, was determined to know and face the facts of her country's criminal past.
On Hitler's Mountain is more than a memoir -- it is a portrait of a nation that lost its moral compass. It is a provocative story of a family and a community in a period and location in history that, though it is fast becoming remote to us, has important resonance for our own time.
Hunt's moving, unsettling memoir is part of a literary and historical trend: examining the lives of ordinary Germans during WWII. She was born in 1934 in an intriguing locale Berchtesgaden in Bavaria, where Hitler set up his headquarters. In fact, in one of her most compelling stories, Hunt recalls sitting in Hitler's lap during a 1941 visit, "suspiciously studying his mustache, his slicked-back, oily hair... while at the same time acutely seeing the importance of the moment." In remarkable detail, she relates the normal parts of childhood (the birth of a sister, going to a new school) interspersed with the extraordinary events (e.g., Hunt's father was one of the first German soldiers killed during the war) of the time and place. The older members of her family and others in the village had vastly differing reactions to Hitler. The author (who now lives in Washington, D.C.) remembers how some teachers said, "Heil Hitler," while others preferred more traditional greetings. She also shows how Nazism pervaded day-to-day life. Although she portrays herself as uncomfortable with the regime, she pushed to join the Hitler Youth, only to leave it in the final months of the war. Those looking for an explanation of the Hitler phenomenon will be disappointed, but readers who want a richly textured memoir of a German girl during WWII will find it here. B&w photos.