My Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, And Defiance In The Shadow Of The Third Reich, by Dietrich von Hildebrand, translated and edited by Jon Henry Crosby with John F. Crosby
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Blogging For Books/Image in exchange for an honest review.]
In examining a book like this, one has to look at the context of the book as well as its publishing. This particular book is composed of two different elements. The first 2/3 or so of the book contains the memoirs of Hildebrand’s opposition to national socialism, and indeed collectivism and nationalism in general, from 1921 until 1937, written at the request of his much younger second wife, who wanted an account of those early days of her husband’s life before he was widowed and married her. They were written, left unfinished at his death, and left unpublished in English until now, although there was a shorter edited version published in German. Additionally, besides being a labor of love, this book is being published by a savvy Catholic imprint of a major publisher with admirable skill in appealing to intellectual American Catholics . I am not sure how large of an audience this book would have, but its appealing attempts at rehabilitating the reputation of “Hitler’s pope” and the principled Christian humanism of von Hildebrand makes this a book of interest not only to Catholics with an interest in philosophy and political history, but to any reader who desires to read a primary document of considerable importance in the intellectual battle between Judeo-Christian views about the individual (and his and her dignity) and community with the collectivist heresies of both facism/National Socialism and Communism.
This is a full-sized book (at slightly more than 300 pages) that seeks to place von Hildebrand among the core of anti-Nazi religious figures, like Bonhoffer , who have been praised and remembered for their principled hostility to Hitler’s regime. Indeed, this book makes it very clear that the author was both wise and discerning in his early hostility to Hitler as well as in choosing exile rather than death to survive as a thorn in the side of Hitler. The first section of the book, an incomplete memoir that closes just before his dramatic escape with his first wife from Austria (and which does not cover his escape through France under false documents after its fall to the Nazis and his eventual arrival in the United States, where he lived until his death), is revealing in its portrayal of a life marked by high political drama, a touching and humane concern for humanity, and for its open discussion and name-dropping of notable political and academic and cultural figures with whom the author interacted over the course of those years in Germany and Austria where he bravely stood against Nazism.
The second section of the book is made up of excerpts from von Hildebrand’s writing in this period, which are heavy in German and Latin. It is what one would expect from a philosphical academic who was deeply devoted to his faith (Catholicism), interested in political questions yet wholeheartedly opposed to the belief that politics would create a heaven on earth, gallant towards women, humane towards the suffering, passionately interested in music and the arts, and a voluminous writer who had a felicity for inventing words ending in -volk. He was, in other words, a man not unlike myself, and despite our different beliefs, he appears as someone who one would both respect and also enjoy one’s company as one discussed areas of intellectual, political, and religious interest. As a bonus, this work shows the author’s beliefs on ethics and epistemology in an appealing and practical light, and encourage me to add more of his works to my reading list, as I had never heard of him before this book. The author and his able translators deserve credit for bringing an important thinker to my attention and, no doubt, that of many others who will be enriched by reading his words, even if they do not think any better of Pope Pius XII for being his friend.
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