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Hitler’s Italian Fantasy Life November 16, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

Beachcombing offers today an other example of a historical dream. However, unlike the nightscapes of Leonardo or Augustine, here, instead, is a fantasy from Adolf Hitler.

Now Hitler’s private life is not particularly well known. There are unsubstantiated rumours about his genealogy and his sexual preferences, and his family relations (including a possibly murdered niece). And this lack of knowledge means that we don’t know what Hitler conjured up in his head when he lay back in bed or on the couch between rabble rousing. Until forty the best bet is that he dreamt about power and German troops marching through Paris with Wagner playing on the radio. But once he had achieved that there are hints that he fantasized, instead, about the dolce fare niente to the south of the Alps.

Certainly, in Hitler’s Table Talk, a record of the Fuehrer’s delirious ‘wisdom’ dispensed to his dinner guests in the years in which he led Germany, we hear time and time again about Italy and its beauty.

Part of this stems from Hitler almost homo-erotic love for Mussolini: ‘[a]s I walked with [the Duce] in the gardens of the Villa Borghese, I could easily compare his profile with that of the Roman busts, and I realised he was one of the Caesars’.

But the more important reason for this enthusiasm is the memory of the road not taken: Hitler’s failed life as an artist. Hitler recalls the beauty and wonders of the peninsula, connecting it with his dissipated aesthetic side.  

‘I lived marvelously in Italy. I don’t know any country that enlivens one more. Roman food, how delicious it is!’

Or ‘The Italians have a splendid foundation of peasantry. Once when I was travelling to Florence, I thought, as I passed through it, what a paradise this land of southern France is ! But when I reached Italy – then I realised what a paradise on earth can really be!

And the highest praise for a wannabe Bocklin: ‘From the cultural point of view, we are more closely linked with the Italians than with any other people. The art of Northern Italy is something we have in common with them: nothing but pure Germans’.

Of course, all these mix in with effortless and rather condescending put downs from cold Germany. But the point is that Hitler had a Tonio Kruger thing going and it is apparently here that AH’s heart roamed in his moments of rest. ‘My dearest wish would be to be able to wander about in Italy as an unknown painter.’

The most interesting word in this sentence is ‘unknown’. For Hitler going back to being an artist was not just an escape from politics but an escape from success.

When he had finished shouting at his generals he managed to lie back then and saw himself painting a Gothic church just outside Perugia or Piacenza, while, doubtless the local peasants threaded flowers for his hair or offered him polenta dotted with peppercorns.

Heavy the head that wears the crown…

What is sometimes not appreciated is the extent to which Hitler’s fantasies may have changed the course of the war in Italy. On several occasions, but most notably with the German army’s illogical retreat from Florence, Hitler seemed to have preferred strategic discomfort to the ruin of Italy’s architectural marvels. A shame he and Kesselring didn’t extend the same courtesy to the Italian people…

Beachcombing is now taking not only historical dreams but historical fantasies as well: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com