I met Beth Splaine at a writer’s competition in Vermont in 2019. Though we competed for a grand prize, we both won because out of that event came a great friendship. She read the audio version of Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Chronicles. Next Tuesday she and I will be doing a book presentation/signing together at Storybook Cove in Hanover, MA. Thanks, Beth for giving me a week off.
Guest Blog by Elizabeth Splaine
Several weeks ago, a woman asked me the following question: “Why are so many books being released about world War II? Haven’t people had enough of that awful war?”
Her question fascinated me, as I had just completed the final manuscript of Swan Song– an historical fiction novel about a young, Jewish opera singer who rises to fame in Nazi Germany, only to become the twisted obsession of Adolf Hitler. I thought a moment, and then I answered, “I think there are two reasons. The first is that the people who suffered through the madness are passing away, leaving the responsibility to their children to continue educating the public as to the atrocities. Secondly, people want to understand why and how Hitler manipulated the Germans to further his own megalomaniacal agenda so that it will never happen again.” Since that conversation, I have added another reason. No matter one’s political affiliation, I think we all can agree that the last several years have been the most divided in America’s recent history. Many compared what was happening in the USA to early Nazi Germany. People are looking to the past to understand the present.
People are Inherently Good
Additionally, and this is really important, I believe that most people are inherently good. We want to believe that for Hitler to have orchestrated the Holocaust, he must have been broken and twisted by circumstances into the autocratic sociopath he became. Most sane people have a hard time fitting his anti-social behavior into a societal framework of right and wrong, good and evil, black and white, so we seek to understand.
There are a lot of rumors about why Hitler became insane. He was beaten by his father. (He wasn’t. His father wasn’t affectionate, but he wasn’t neglectful either.) Hitler was ostracized as a child. (He was a loner by choice.) Hitler was gay. (No proof exists.) Hitler had trouble with women. (He was shy but had many affairs.) Hitler was a monster. (No, he wasn’t. He was simply a sociopath who convinced millions to join his cult.)
Relieving Our Own Responsibility
We, as a society, want Hitler to be a monster because it relieves us from the responsibility of owning his rise to power. Labeling him that way helps to explain away his unfathomable cruelty. Calling him a monster places him in a box that we can place on a shelf to think about later. He becomes “other” and we feel better. But what about those who followed him?
Germany’s economy was terrible after World War I when the government was required to pay reparations under the Treaty of Versailles. Germans felt disenfranchised and Hitler seized the opportunity. Hitler had learned from the Brits in World War I how powerful propaganda could be. So, he attacked the Germans’ fear and anger with propaganda surrounding the Jews. At the same time, he was courting wealthy supporters who helped his rise to Chancellor. Following that, he manipulated the legislature so the laws were changed to grow his power. Hitler told the common man exactly what he wanted to hear. Unemployment fell and Germans felt proud again, so they continued to support him, even as they saw first one group, then another, persecuted and sent away.
A Death Too Close To Home
Although there were several events that propelled Hitler forward on his asocial path- his mother’s death, his rejection from art school- none is more powerful than the death of his beloved niece, Angela “Geli” Raubal.
Hitler was forty years old when he became the legal guardian of his half-sister’s daughter, Geli, who was twenty-three. They lived together in a well-appointed apartment in Munich, her bedroom located right next to his. According to all accounts, Hitler adored Geli, and she enjoyed being the object of his attention. Although Geli showed no interest in marrying him, he wanted to possess her and control her every move. She stayed until she could stand it no more. On the night of September 18, 1931, following yet another screaming match, Geli shot herself in the heart with one of Hitler’s Walther revolvers. Hitler was out of town; Geli’s body was discovered the following morning by the housekeeper, Annie Winter.
Hitler was devastated and ordered the suicide covered up. As his memory reinvented the young woman and her suicide, her death became regal, an honorable, heroic choice to which he would refer again and again over the ensuing years.
From Reality to Fiction
This is Hitler’s state of mind as he meets fictional Ursula Becker, an operatic diva who so closely resembles Geli that he cannot help but be drawn to her. In Swan Song, Hitler yearns to possess Ursula, to consume her. But her will is strong and her personality rebellious. As she continues to defy him, his broken mind conflates the two women and, over time, the truculent Ursula becomes Geli. Hitler is left with two choices: once again cause the death of someone he cherishes or allow her to live and openly defy him. The personal decisions he makes, as seen through fictional Ursula’s eyes, reflect the turmoil he continues to create throughout the world.
I wrote Swan Song for many reasons, not the least of which is to continue educating future generations about the danger of bigotry. As the greatest generation passes away, we must remember that war is never black and white. Rather, it’s a grotesque spectrum of gray in which morals are traded for food and dignity for warmth. The ugly side of humanity is paraded before the world to be judged. In recent years we have been reminded continuously of “us” and “them.” Swan Song reminds the reader that there is only “we” and “us.” Calling Hitler a monster is an excuse for ignorance. We need to understand why and how he came to power so we can ensure that it never happens again.
You can pre-order Elizabeth Splaine’s Swan Song now. It scheduled for release October 5. Follow her at her website. Thank you for stopping by. What do you consider to be the most important lessons to learn from World War II? Have you ever listened to someone who survived that war tell their story? Share this with a friend or sign up for your own free subscription at HowWiseThen. Don’t forget to download your free first chapter of Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures.
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