‘I lived next door to Adolf Hitler’: Young Jewish neighbour of German dictator reveals ‘sense of menace’ was everywhere
- Edgar Feuchtwanger, 88, was five when Hitler moved into a flat opposite his family home in Prinzregentplatz in 1929
- Edgar’s father was thrown in Dachau concentration camp, Munich, in 1938
- He managed to get released and Edgar’s family fled Germany six weeks later
- Hitler kept the apartment right up until his suicide in April 1945
‘A few people stopped and shouted ‘Heil Hitler!’ In response, he raised his hat, like a democratic politician might do before driving off in an awaiting car. Of course I knew who he was, even as a little boy. As chancellor he was dominating the whole scene.
‘On my walk to school I used to admire the gleaming silver Mercedes coup coming and going from the underground garage at the villa of Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler’s photographer – and employer of Hitler’s mistress, Eva Braun.
‘The parents of a schoolfriend of mine lived next door to Hoffmann, and I remember, probably after the beginning of the Third Reich, Hitler sitting quietly in a deckchair in the next garden.
‘But there was a sense of menace in the air, which even as a child I could feel. In the days before 30 June 1934, later dubbed the Night of the Long Knives, the atmosphere was particularly oppressive.
‘At about six o’clock in the morning of that Saturday, I became an unwitting witness to preparations for what was to become the worst political massacre in Europe since St Bartholomew’s Night in 16th-century Paris.’
This was when Hitler eliminated the leadership of the Brownshirted SA – Stormtrooper – movement because he felt they posed a threat to his power.
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He went on: ‘I was woken up by the slamming of car doors, boots clattering on the pavement, and raised voices. I craned out of the window, which I was just tall enough to do. A long line of cars was parked outside Hitler’s apartment block, and men were rushing in and out of the door.
‘As a historian, I now know that Hitler had been laying plans to crush the storm troopers. Their leader, Ernst Roehm, a thick-set, brutish-looking man whom I once remember seeing leaving our local polling station with his mother on his arm, wanted a bigger share of the spoils of office. Hitler feared an SA confrontation with the army generals, whose support he needed.
‘In the early hours of that Saturday morning, Hitler had torn off the insignia of rank from arrested leaders of the Munich SA and handed them over for execution.
‘Then he left for Bad Wiessee, 30 miles south of Munich, where he had summoned a meeting of Roehm and the other SA leaders. As I saw, he stopped by his flat, which was en route, and most accounts put his arrival in Bad Wiessee before eight o’clock.’
He recalls another occasion how his mother once quipped that there was no milk for them on the doorstep one morning ‘because the milkman has left so many bottles at the door of the Hitler residence’.
Edgar said there was always a ‘screeching of brakes’ and the running of a ‘posse of bodyguards’ which indicated when Hitler was back at his home.
He went on: ‘At that stage, seeing him up close did not instil fear. Perhaps if I had thought about it I might have been scared, but it wouldn’t have done me any good. I was just curious to see him there.‘
After the state-sponsored Kristallnacht – Night of Broken Glass – pogrom against the Jews of Germany in November 1938, Edgar’s father was arrested and flung into the new concentration camp of Dachau on the outskirts of Munich.
Luckily he managed to get released after six weeks and escaped with his family to the UK.
Now living in Aveyron, France, Edgar wrote his memoir My Neighbor Hitler: Memories of a Jewish Child with the aid of a French journalist and it is being released next week.