Edgar Feuchtwanger, the historian who lived next door to Hitler

Historians in the News
tags: Hitler

To be a Jew in Germany in the 1930s was not comfortable. Edgar Feuchtwanger, a schoolboy in Munich at the time, knew the fear and the dread shared by all German Jews witnessing the unstoppable ascent of a madman. Yet his situation was different. Very different.

In 1929, Adolf Hitler moved into Mr. Feuchtwanger’s neighborhood. With money from his publisher, Hitler took a nine-room apartment on the third floor of No. 16 Prinzregentenstrasse (Prince Regent Street). It was luxurious, with two bathrooms and two kitchens. Edgar, 5 years old, could see it from his window, a building not 100 yards away on Grillparzerstrasse. And for the next nine years, until the Feuchtwangers fled Germany in 1938, Edgar lived virtually side by side with a man bent on exterminating him, his family and every family like his, not only in Germany, but as far as the Reich could extend its dominion.

Mr. Feuchtwanger (FOISHT-vanger), whose memoir, “I Was Hitler’s Neighbor,” was published last year in translation in Britain, will speak about his childhood, and the man who cast his shadow over it, at the 92d Street Y on Friday at 2 p.m. The book, originally in French, has not been published in the United States.

Today, at 91, he could well be the last German Jew alive who grew up within arm’s reach of Hitler and observed him day to day, if only in fleeting glimpses. Speaking in a relative’s apartment in Midtown on Wednesday, Mr. Feuchtwanger, a historian who taught for 30 years at the University of Southampton, in England, and now lives in a village near Winchester, recalled his brushes with Hitler, and some of the turning points in 20th-century history. He brought with him, in a manila envelope, notebooks from his days at the Gebele School in Munich, filled with assignments on patriotic themes and decorated, here and there, with tributes to the leader whom Germans were learning to call Führer.

The neighborhood, he said, was stocked with Nazis. On his way to school, he walked past the villa of Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler’s photographer, the man who introduced Eva Braun, then his shop assistant, to Hitler. Often, he caught a glimpse of Hitler lounging in a deck chair in the garden. Not far away was the house of Ernst Röhm, head of the Nazi Party’s paramilitary wing. ...

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