Soldier’s haunting glimpse of the Nazi horrors to come: Memoir of German trooper who fought with Hitler in WWI tells how he ranted of his hatred for the Jews… two decades before he came to power
A memoir by a soldier who served with Adolf Hitler in the First World War sheds light on how Hitler held his extreme views even as a younger man. Sopra: A photograph of Hitler that was taken during the four-year conflict
A soldier who fought in the trenches with Adolf Hitler was given a chilling warning of the horrors he would later inflict on millions of people.
Hans Mend served with the future Nazi dictator throughout the First World War and, nel 1931, penned a memoir in German about his experiences.
Adesso, I served with Hitler in the Trenches is being released for the first time in English in February by history publishers Pen & Spada.
It reveals how Hitler alienated some of his comrades by airing his far-right opinions during fierce debates between the soldiers whilst they served in Francia and Belgium.
In one exchange that foretold what was to come, he ranted that, if he were in power, he would ‘free the Germanic race of the Jewish parasites’.
In un altro, the fierce conversation – again about Jews – nearly resulted in a fight breaking out.
Dopo la guerra, Hitler rose to become dictator of Nazi Germany and his twisted ideology of racial hierarchy resulted in the Holocaust, in which an estimated six million Jewish people were systematically murdered in a network of death camps.
Hitler and Mend served together in the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment – which was also known as the List Regiment after its commander Colonel List – in France and Belgium.
Both men were dispatch runners, meaning they performed the dangerous role of carrying messages between units on the German front.
As part of the List Regiment, Hitler – who reached the rank of corporal – and Mend fought in major skirmishes including the First Battle of Ypres in 1914 and the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
Because he was Austrian, Hitler had needed special permission to serve in the German unit.
In the Battle of the Somme, Hitler was wounded in his left thigh when a shell exploded near the entrance to the dugout used by dispatch runners.
He was sent for nearly two months to recover in hospital and then demanded to be sent back to the Front. After his return, he was temporarily blinded in a mustard gas attack.
Hitler was decorated with both the relatively common Iron Cross Second Class and the more prestigious Iron Cross First Class, which was rarely given to a corporal.
The latter award came after Hitler stumbled into a French trench while delivering a message.
This image, taken in northern France shows Hitler (davanti, estrema sinistra) with fellow members of the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment. At least one of the men (indietro, secondo da sinistra) appears to be injured
The future Nazi leader pointed his rifle at the French soldiers inside and ordered them to surrender before delivering them as prisoners to his commanding officer.
But Mend’s recollections are filled with mention of Hitler’s hateful obsession with Jews.
He recalled how, during the Christmas period in 1914, he heard Hitler engaged in a ‘verbal battle’ with a fellow soldier which led to him airing his views.
Mend said he joined the conversation by jokingly asking the group, which included Hitler, ‘Which of you will become Reichschancellor at the next election?’
A comrade immediately replied that ‘it will be Hitler, and I will be Finance minister!’
Another soldier then told Mend: ‘What that chap Hitler says is rubbish. Whoever thinks chasing Jews from our country would help us?
One of the best-known images of Hitler during his time on the Western Front shows him (middle row, giusto) with some of his comrades and a pet dog in the French village of Fournes-en-Weppes, in agosto 1916
Hitler is seen second from right with some of his comrades in Fromelles, Francia settentrionale
‘We must have the Jewish investment; Senza esso, we cannot continue to conduct war and, soprattutto, what does he know of German politics?
‘I have been studying for a couple of years and know better. It seems to me better many Jews than one Christian.
‘In our party, we have many Jews who look after their work interests better than Christians.’
Mend said that Hitler then retorted: ‘Even though I am an Austrian, I know German ways better than you.
‘You can preach your red gospel to Jews and Marxists but at least spare us.’
When the argument continued further, Mend said it would ‘not have taken much more for a fight to break out’.
Hitler is seen above during his time in Fournes-en-Weppes. Hitler and Mend served together in the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment – which was also known as the List Regiment after its commander Colonel List – in France and Belgium
He added that Hitler then spoke again and ‘castigated’ Jewish bankers before saying that ‘if he were in power,’ he would ‘free the Germanic race from the Jewish parasites and send these race pollutants and people exploiters to Palestine’.
Mend himself also appeared to share Hitler’s racist views, recounting how he told him he was ‘right’ when the future dictator complained about wealthy Jewish people again.
Later in his book, Mend recalls how a Jewish member of the regiment ‘absolutely could not tolerate Hitler’.
But despite this sickening illustration of Hitler’s anti-Semitic fascism in the making, Mend also had praise for Hitler.
I served with Hitler in the Trenches, by Hans Mend, is being published Pen & Sword in February
He recalled how there were ‘very few men the regiment as resilient and fit as Hitler’, adding that ‘with unbelievable toughness he endured the greatest strains and never allowed weakness to show’.
Writing of Hitler’s actions during a battle in Wytschaete, Belgio, a novembre 1914, Mend said: ‘How he succeeded then, forcing himself through the incessant artillery fire, is still incomprehensible to me today.’
Ha poi aggiunto: ‘Adolf Hitler had, on this day, achieved amazing things and was one of those decorated after the battle with the Iron Cross, Second Class.’
Mend also referred to him and the future dictator as ‘like brothers’ who were ‘used to each other and accepted the other’s little quirks’.
Besides his racism, another incident demonstrates Hitler’s chilling nonchalance in the face of horror.
Mend recalls how, after an English plane crashed near them, both pilots presented a ‘horrible sight’ which he would ‘never forget’.
But he said that, of the men who witnessed it ‘only Adolf Hitler was uninterested’.
Ha aggiunto: ‘I could not understand his strange behaviour, è stato, and remained, an exceptional case.’
I served with Hitler in the Trenches, by Hans Mend, is being published Penna & Spada sopra 28 febbraio.