‘Wolf’ by Herbert J. Stern and Alan A. Winter is a historical fiction based on Adolf Hitler’s rise to becoming the ‘Fuhrer’ of Germany. What makes ‘Wolf’ interesting is the central narrative of Friedrich Richard, the fictionalized character who becomes the closest aid of Hitler. The amalgamation of fiction and non-fiction is amazingly achieved and the readers get a perfect picture of the time in which the Nazis rose to power.
‘Wolf’ is quite an exhaustive book but it is an interesting effort at unraveling history. I am sure we have all been intrigued by ‘Hitler’ and the stature he achieved for all the wrong reasons. ‘Wolf’ breaks down this image; Hitler as a person – committed to his friendships, relationships, staunch beliefs, and political rivalries in fiction.
The story of ‘Wolf’ begins with Friedrich Richard, the man without any memory, christened by his psychiatrist while being treated at the Pasewalk Military hospital. It is 1918, and Hitler is brought to Pasewalk as well. Hitler is diagnosed with hysterical blindness set off by Germany’s defeat in the World War. This is an interesting twist, as popularly it is believed that Hitler was blinded in a gas attack though he was treated by a psychiatrist.
For the lack of staff at Pasewalk, Friedrich is attached to Hitler to help him with the day-to-day chores. This is the ground for a strong relationship to follow. The authors do not delve into Hitler’s past, except maybe for a passing reference on the close bond he shared with his mother. As for Friedrich, he has lost his memory and has no documents with him to begin a trail on his family. The doctor at Pasewalk gave Friedrich the identity of a soldier who had committed suicide sometime back. At a later juncture, Friedrich finds out that his middle name suggests he is a Jew. It is a fact that has to remain behind the curtains with the rise of the Nazis and intolerance towards Jews.
The discharge from Pasewalk sets off Friedrich and Hitler on their individual journeys. This parallel narrative brings Friedrich’s relationship with Anna, the nurse at Pasewalk and him working as a bouncer for Max, a Jew. While back in Berlin, Hitler lays the foundation for the Nazi Party, a steady disassociation from the Communist ideals. He firmly believed the Bolshevik Communists destroyed the industry in Russia. This was an early affirmation of his strong belief in ‘Communists’ and ‘Jews’ as the harbinger of Germany’s downfall.
The failure at Munich Putsch put Hitler in prison, where he wrote ‘Mein Kempf’. Wolf, the self-adopted nickname by Adolf Hitler became popular and everyone in his circle addressed him that way. Well, his stature as the ‘Fuhrer’ was not built overnight; it rather took a long navigating route through numerous elections and much political turmoil. This is an interesting part where Hindenburg, Goebbels and Bernhard Weiss come into the picture.
Friedrich’s name has parts of Friedrich Nietzsche and Richard Wagner and has also acquired the attributes of playing piano and composing music. As Lilian Harvey (the actress) and Friedrich are drawn in a relationship, we get a glimpse of the movie industry in Germany and also, America. The Jews were predominantly producing movies in both countries. The section brings out the discriminatory practices against the Jews and ‘Negroes’ practiced in America.
“In America white people had subtle and not-so-subtle ways of keeping their Untermenschen-“impure sub-humans” – in place. Newspapers ran ads for employment under the heading “white.” Housing was subtly, and in some places not so subtly, separated into white and black communities.”
Half-way through the book, you feel completely submerged in Friedrich’s story. It is intriguing how Friedrich balances his friendship with Max, who has turned into a father figure while he is also the close confidant to Hitler. At times, Friedrich directly confronts Wolf on his hatred for the Jews. For Friedrich, Jews were friends and acquaintances. It wasn’t just the anti-Semitic views, there was also the eccentric sterilization campaign limiting the birth of the unproductive persons who could be a drain on the country’s resources. The authors provide a contrasting theory in Friedrich who believed in protecting and nurturing the weak, ‘because of the weak may come the next Mozart or Einstein.’ What if they never had the chance to be born?
The book also tries to bring to light the theories surrounding Hitler’s plagiarism, especially with the ‘Think It’ poem, apparently written by him for his mother. And, ofcourse, breaking the perception of Hitler being married to the country. Hitler in ‘Wolf’ likes to socialize; women find him attractive and he enjoys their company.
While incorporating the historical landmarks, ‘Wolf’ charts the Nazi rise from a seedling party of seven men in a tavern in the early days of 1919 to the second-largest party in the Reichstag in 1930. The Hitler Youth Program numbering thousands of boys and girls is given thrust in the storyline.
“Ours was a quiet revolution. We followed the provisions of the Constitution, stood for election after election, and became the dominant party in a democracy. We made backroom deals as was done in any democracy…Unlike the American and French Revolutions, we accomplished our revolution in 1933 without firing a shot at the government.”
It is intriguing to know that in the early 1920s, many people thought that Hitler’s extreme anti-Semitic comments were more rhetoric than substance. But, the reality dawns, at first with the imprisonment of the Communists. The book gives intricate details, for instance about an abandoned munitions factory located sixteen kilometers northeast of Munich that Hitler modeled after the concentration camps built by the British to contain the Boers in South Africa.
When the book ended, I wanted it to continue and take me further in history. Probably that will be another book with Hitler during the Second World War and Friedrich against him.
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WOLF, A METICULOUSLY-RESEARCHED THRILLER, DEBUNKS THE MYTHS SURROUNDING HITLER’S LIFE
Herbert Stern and Alan Winter’s Extraordinary Novel Transports Readers to Germany – 1918 to 1934 – for a Personal View of Hitler’s Rise to Power
Perhaps no man on earth is more controversial, more hated, or more studied than Adolf Hitler. Yet many questions remain about his personal life and how he gained power. Based on extensive research, the extraordinary novel WOLF, by Herbert J. Stern and Alan A. Winter (Skyhorse Publishing; February 11, 2020), lifts the curtain so that the reader can observe through the eyes of a fictional character, how a seemingly unremarkable corporal who was denied a promotion for lack of “leadership ability” became dictator of Germany. The result is a gripping page-turner, a masterful historical novel.
The story begins in the mental ward of Pasewalk Hospital as World War I ends. A gravely ill soldier, who has lost his memory and is given the name Friedrich Richard, encounters a fellow patient: Adolf Hitler. Suffering from hysterical blindness, Hitler, also known as Wolf, becomes dependent on Friedrich for help with the simplest, day-to-day tasks. By the time Hitler’s sight returns, the two have forged an unbreakable bond.
Upon release from the hospital, Friedrich heads to Berlin to work as a nightclub bouncer, while Wolf moves to Munich where he focuses on turning a fledgling political club into what will soon become the Nazi party. After accidently killing a man, Friedrich flees to Munich and reunites with his close friend.
Persuaded by Hitler’s convictions about how to rebuild Germany in the wake of its defeat, Friedrich joins the Nazi’s inner circle. Hitler, who in real life often played one advisor against the other – and was not one to rely on any of them – trusts the fictional Friedrich so much so, that he calls upon him to help resolve both personal and national crises that are historically accurate. Throughout the sixteen years covered in WOLF, Friedrich interacts with dozens of people who largely lived the lives the authors depict – from Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels to Berlin brothel-owner Kitty Schmidt and film star Lilian Harvey.
While history has painted Hitler as a man unable to forge lasting relationships, the authors’ research has uncovered that, in fact, he built many lifelong friendships. Hitler was attractive to women, and had multiple affairs with young women as well as with the wealthy society matrons who backed the party. These relationships, which are portrayed in WOLF, “have been documented in numerous interviews over the course of seventy years, yet they have rarely, if ever, been reported by historians,” Stern and Winter explain.
During the course of the novel, Friedrich struggles to reconcile his loyalty to Hitler with his own rejection of the party’s anti-Semitism. He never wavers in his friendships with Jews, such as nightclub owner Max Klinghofer and police chief Bernhard Weiss. It is Friedrich who saves Weiss, the highest-ranking Jew in the German police, when Goebbels orders him arrested. After this incident, Friedrich promises Weiss to remain by Hitler’s side in the hope that he can help lessen the severity of increasingly harsher laws meant to drive Jews from Germany.
WOLF is an historical novel that will satisfy history buffs and fiction fans alike. For those who want more, the authors’ meticulous research can be accessed at www.NotesOnWolf.com. In combination, the novel and the notes deftly answer the question: how did a nondescript man become the world’s greatest monster? This is truly a lesson that no one can afford to ignore.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Herbert J. Stern, formerly US attorney for the District of New Jersey, who prosecuted the mayors of Newark and Atlantic City, and served as judge of the US District Court for the District of New Jersey, is a trial lawyer. He also served as judge of the United States Court for Berlin where he presided over a hijacking trial in the occupied American Sector of West Berlin. His book about the case, Judgment in Berlin, won the 1974 Freedom Foundation Award and became a film starring Martin Sheen and Sean Penn. He also wrote Diary of a DA: The True Story of the Prosecutor Who Took on the Mob, Fought Corruption, and Won, as well as the multi-volume legal work Trying Cases to Win.
Alan A. Winter is the author of four novels, including Island Bluffs, Snowflakes in the Sahara, Someone Else’s Son, and Savior’s Day, which Kirkus selected as a Best Book of 2013. Winter graduated from Rutgers with a degree in history and has professional degrees from both New York University and Columbia, where he was an associate professor for many years. He edited an award-winning journal and has published more than twenty professional articles. Winter studied creative writing at Columbia’s Graduate School of General Studies. His screenplay, Polly, received honorable mention in the Austin Film Festival, and became the basis for Island Bluffs.