Sunday, February 18, 2007

Book review: I was Hitler's Prisoner

This is a book review I posted in a different forum (, and which I thought might be of interest to others.

Stefan Lorant: I was Hitler's Prisoner
Translated from German by James Cleugh.

First published April 1935, my copy was published by Penguin Books in 1939.

This is the tale of Stafant Lorent's six and a half months of being a prisioner of the Nazis. Lorant was the editor of M√ľnchner Illustrierte Presse, a non-political, but Christian and Conservative, paper based in Munich.
The reason for Lorant's arrest was that his newspaper was anti-Hitler. The major reason for his release was that he was a Hungarian citizen, and that the Hungarian goverment put pressure on Germany for his release.

Lorant is a powerful writer, and his writing is even more powerful because it was written so early in Hitler's reign.

I try to grasp, I try to understand how the Germans could have induced to deliver up their country to Herr Hitler and his henchmen. Had they no suspicion that their "Leader" would turn Germnay, the land of poets and thinkers, into a land of narrow-mindedness and barbarity?

The above is early in the book (p. 12), and describes what many have thought since World War II, but Lorant wrote it in his cell on the 19th March 1933, and followed it with:

I dispair when I think of Germany's future. Will Germany be able to survive this futher dreadful trial? Will the German people come safely through the purgatory of National-Socialism?

The book describes Lorant's thoughts of how Hitler got elected, and also the experiences Lorant has while a prisoner.
The prison life described by Lorant is not as dreadful as one would have expected of a Nazi prison, but this is still early in the Nazi reign, and I'm sure that most of his fellow prisoners' condition went drastically downhill with time. Not that the six months didn't see their share of death and misery.

It was a interesting book, and it makes it clear that all the signs were obvious from the start of Hitler's reign, though perhaps no one could realize the lack of humanity possible.

One more passage from the book, to show how Lorant and his fellow prisoners experiences the burning of books:

11th March
To-night the German students in Berlin have burnt twenty thousand books in the Opernplatz. That is the outcome of the campaign against "the un-German spirit." Bands, torchnearers, bonfires, the burning of books - that is how the fight against culture is being conducted. Time leaps back. Germany is in the Middle Ages.

Here on the fourth floor of the police prison, are men who have spent a great part of their lives in the company of books, and who love books. They are mourning to-day. Books are being burnt in the Opernplatz. ... We have forgotten the hopelessness and the misery of our position. The burning of the books makes us suffer.

We are ashamed of the Germans who have staged this medieval scene. We read with dismay the pronouncements made as the books were consigned to the flames.

Of course this barbaric act pales compared to later acts by the Nazi regime, but as a book-lover, these paragraphs are absolutely horrible to read.

If people can get hold of the book, I would certainly recommend reading it - especially if they have an interest in WWII.

Stefan Lorant seems to be a very interesting person - read more at this website.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read this book when I was 12 or 13, while living in the Canadian arctic, and was absolutely fascinated, as I would have been reading a horror story. I'm glad that Stefan Lorant survived.

February 18, 2010 1:06 AM  

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