We've grown accustomed to his faces: Hitler the buffoon, Hitler the madman, Hitler the monster. Memoirs of a Confidant introduces us to Hitler the misunderstood idealist whose vision of peace and prosperity was distorted by his gangster lieutenants. The author of this benign nonsense was Otto Wagener, a forgotten Nazi who served as storm trooper chief of staff and party economist until his career was derailed by Rival Hermann Göring. According to the book's editor, Yale History Professor Henry Ashby Turner Jr., Wagener was lucky to escape Göring's blood purge of June 30, 1934. He spent the balance of the decade minding his own business in Saxony. As a major general in World War II, he surrendered the German garrison on Rhodes. Wagener wrote his memoirs while interned by the British. After his release, the general settled in Bavaria, where he puttered in conservative politics until his death in 1971 at age 83.
There is sufficient documentation to authenticate Wagener's life and writing, a comforting thought after the embarrassment of the bogus Hitler diaries and other artifacts fobbed off as pieces of the true Hakenkreuz. The only caution is that Hitler's commentaries and fanciful redundancies on history, race and destiny were reconstructed by Wagener 14 to 17 years after the events he describes. But since Hitler made a lasting impression on millions, it is not farfetched to assume that a disciple who spent hundreds of hours basking in Führerspeak could reproduce the substance and tone of his master's voice.
For this reason alone, the memoirs are a valuable contribution to 20th century demonology. Unfortunately for Wagener, fate continues to be unkind. His book drags him from the mercy of oblivion to play the part of history's fool. The Hitler he intended to re-create is not a tragic hero but a monumental bore. Gaseous generalizations and crackpot theories pour forth Like beer at an Oktoberfest. He thrills to something called the Odic force, "power rays" that flow from healthy bodies. He invokes Einstein's mathematics to justify his own mystical yearnings and "inner vibrations." He attempts to cross socialism with Darwin. He sees Jews as both "economic liberalists" and the organizers of the Soviet Comintern. Then, without a hint of irony or self-doubt, he projects his own faults on intellectuals: "seldom more than a bunch of diseased brains who toss scraps of disconnected and purely synthetically amassed knowledge in dialectically exaggerated and overly subtle formulations back and forth to each other."
Wagener does not agree with everything his leader says, but he cannot get over the way it is said: "His words expressed a wealth of ideas and a view of things and their connections that at times sounded as if they came from another world." And so on, revealing the fatal Teutonic weakness for romantic abstraction.