There have been a large number of books written on World War II. All of them cover a myriad of topics relating to the war. The more interesting ones are written by those with first hand experiences in the war. Thanks to Image Books we now have available a memoir written by one of the most intellectual minds of that era. My Battle Against Hitler: Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich is the memoir of Dietrich Von Hildebrand. It is a fascinating look into a Catholic thinker who made it his mission to combat Nazism and Hitler through the use of intellect rather than firepower.
The book comes as a result of the urging of his wife Alice Von Hildebrand. Being his second wife and some 30 years his junior Alice felt she had missed out on some pivotal events is Dietrich’s life. She requested he record these events in a memoir. Out of love for Alice he did, producing some 5000 pages of text. These texts were used as the basis for the book which spans the years from 1921 through 1938.
You quickly learn that von Hildebrand opposed National Socialism (which ultimately morphed into Nazism) from a very early stage. Hitler had not even taken a leading role on the national stage before Dietrich began vocalizing concern over the rising support of National Socialism in Germany. In one chapter he states “As bloody as National Socialism would become, most did not see it the way I did.” Ultimately this lead to a very dangerous period for Dietrich when Hitler finally did take control of Germany. Effectively Dietrich von Hildebrand became enemy number one and was left with no choice but to flee his beloved Germany in 1933, move across Europe and eventually end up in New York City in 1940.
john Henry Crosby served as the editor and translator of this book. In 2004, he helped found the Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project. The task of selecting what to include in the book had to have been an incredible undertaking. He certainly achieved the task at hand. As you read this memoir, and as each year passes in the book, you feel as if you are eyewitness to history as the world is turned upside down during World War II.
The second part of the book contains a selection of writings from the journal he founded while in Vienna, Austria. Upon fleeing Germany this is where von Hildebrand “took up shop” so to speak. He produced this journal and wrote so profusely against the Third Reich despite being blacklisted and targeted for assassination by the Nazis. John Crosby makes an interesting point in the introduction to this section which bears quoting here.
“We have heard in the memoirs the story of how he launched the journal with the help of the Austrian chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss. It is one thing to hear von Hildebrand recalling in his memoirs a quarter of a century later the tumultuous years in Vienna, but is something else to hear him speaking in those years, in the midst of the tumult.”
If you have any interest in World War II this book should be on your list to read. Even if World War II is not of major interest to you you should read this book to see how one of the greatest Catholic intellectual minds stood up against Hitler and the Third Reich to wage a war to turn public opinion against National Socialism and Nazism. In the annals of history Dietrich von Hildebrand played a pivotal, non-combative role in World War II. We should thank both his wife Alice for insisting he put his story to paper in his memoirs and John Crosby for taking those papers and producing a book that serves von Hildebrand’s legacy well.
I received a copy of the book for this review from the publisher, Image Catholic Books.