Hitler, My Neigh­bor: Mem­o­ries of a Jew­ish Child­hood, 1929 – 1939

Edgar Feucht­wanger, Bertil Scali; Adri­ana Hunter, trans.
  • Review
By – March 21, 2018

This mem­oir traces Hitler’s rise to pow­er from the unusu­al per­spec­tive of a boy who was Hitler’s neigh­bor in Munich, from the ages of five to fifteen.

Edgar (Burschi) Feucht­wanger, the author, came from a fam­i­ly of wealth and priv­i­lege with roots in Ger­many going back 400 years. The fam­i­ly had no rea­son to believe their future secu­ri­ty would be under­mined by a mad man.” Their assump­tions were wrong. This book shows how, again and again, peo­ple who were part of the intel­li­gentsia assumed that their pow­er and mon­ey would pro­tect them.

At one point, Edgar’s father, a news­pa­per edi­tor, stopped going to his office because the Nazis had done away with his job.” Par­tic­u­lar­ly impact­ful on the young Edgar was his family’s inabil­i­ty to keep Rosie, his nan­ny, because Jews were banned from employ­ing Aryans.”

One of the deci­sions the fam­i­ly faced was when and where to go if they left Ger­many. Edgar’s father vis­it­ed Pales­tine but reject­ed it as a future home because he felt they would soon be at war with the Arabs; besides, the change of lifestyle would be unten­able. Con­vinced that their cur­rent home was the best option, they chose to stay.

Dur­ing this peri­od of upheaval, Edgar was reject­ed by his peers because of his Jew­ish­ness, and tried to make him­self as invis­i­ble as pos­si­ble at school. At the same time, he was study­ing to be a bar mitz­vah. Although his fam­i­ly was assim­i­lat­ed, dur­ing this time of stress, the process gave him com­fort and direction.

Each chap­ter is intro­duced by a pas­sage from Mein Kampf that express­es increas­ing anger, rejec­tion, and vil­i­fi­ca­tion against the Jews. It is an effec­tive way to show the pro­gres­sion of Hitler’s hatred.

The cov­er of the book, a pic­ture of a young boy (undoubt­ed­ly meant to be Edgar at about sev­en), is mis­lead­ing. It is unclear if this is a book for teenagers or for adults. Because Edgar is the nar­ra­tor, the pace of the ear­ly part of the book is quite slow because it is fil­tered through a lit­tle boy’s perceptions.

Pho­tographs of fam­i­ly, Hitler, and a fam­i­ly friend being marched through the streets car­ry­ing a sign that states he will nev­er again com­plain to the police” give a fla­vor of the times and the atmos­phere in which Jews were liv­ing. The epi­logue cat­a­logs how Edgar and his co-author worked togeth­er to cre­ate the book, and a final chap­ter explains what actu­al­ly hap­pened to the main char­ac­ters dur­ing and after the war.

The val­ue of this book is in wit­ness­ing, step by step, the grad­ual accep­tance of what Hitler did to the world, and to this fam­i­ly specif­i­cal­ly, enabling the read­er to expe­ri­ence renewed empa­thy for those trapped by history.

Marge Kaplan is a retired Eng­lish as a Sec­ond Lan­guage teacher. She is a con­sul­tant for the children’s lit­er­a­ture group for the Roseville, MN school sys­tem and is a sto­ry­teller of Jew­ish tales.

Discussion Questions