Friday, May 06, 2005


It's not widely known that Hitler didn't commit suicide but escaped to the spas of Baden-Baden where he taught German as a second language to American ex-pats.

I lived their briefly in the '60s, attracted by the nearby Black Forest (which had fascinated me from my youth because of its depiction in Disney's "Snow White"). I was there also because of a family rumor that my great-grandmother had emigrated from Baden-Baden around 1880. I wanted to find ancestors and distant cousins to see how the family tree branched in the Old Country, to try and discover how geography affected our psychic and spiritual landscapes. I also wanted to know why it wasn't just called Baden.

I sat in on one of Hitler's classes on a tip from a friend who'd already been there awhile; I sat in back fearfully, expecting an explosion of rage at some point, perhaps over a split infinitive. I reminded myself the camps were no longer in use.

It didn't take him long to mention his past.

"And yes I wanted the north countries too. Which countries are those? Does anyone know?"

One girl raised her hand.


"Ja! Yeah."

"Norway," I said.

"Auf Deutsch!"

Hitler hadn't aged well and seemed a pathetic figure. He also didn't seem repentant. He boasted of taking countries as if they were fraternity pranks of a misspent youth. The deaths of so many people - did he not realize what he had done, or would that knowledge have been too much to take?

"Don't you feel responsibility for the millions killed?"

"I feel responsibility for teaching you German."

The banality of evil.

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