Hitler’s early life has long been an inscrutable mystery. Read any book about him and you will discover how little can be pinned down as fact. What does stand out is the paradox that he was clearly an unremarkable drifter who somehow managed to garner significant popular support in the early 1930s and ultimately became Reich Chancellor. All books to date struggle to offer a convincing explanation for this, posing more questions than they answer.
The origin of this problem stems from the highly distorted and selective historical record Hitler left us. His book Mein Kampf is his largely invented heroic account of his experiences as a soldier in the First World War and how that crucible forged his world view and ‘calling’ to lead Germany back to greatness. At this time he was becoming a prominent public figure taking pains to suppress, destroy or distort any evidence or any one threatening to contradict his own version of his life. Historians have had to rely unsatisfactorily on Mein Kampf along with the few surviving crumbs of credible historical evidence.
However not all of the credible evidence has been lost to us. Recently the German historian Thomas Weber got lucky when the Bavarian State archives recovered the dusty, previously lost war diary of the regiment Hitler served in during the First World War. It proved a valuable mine of information which contradicts many of the assertions Hitler made about his war service and the war generally. The diary also provided Weber with leads to other previously unknown sources such as descendants of the men who served with Hitler. His book Hitler’s First War at last opens up a window on Hitler’s early life.