When we call someone a “nightmare neighbor from hell,” we usually mean that phrase hyperbolically, but some of those who lived in the vicinity of Adolf Hitler decades ago in Germany and Austria found the term remarkably apt.
The French publisher Les éditions Michel Lafon has published the German Jewish historian Edgar Feuchtwanger’s “Hitler My Neighbor: a Jewish Boy’s Memories,” about how from 1929 to 1939, his family lived across a Munich street from the German dictator. It demonstrates that as advice, “love thy neighbor” is not always fitting.
Now 88, Feuchtwanger, who previously authored works on Hitler’s Germany, Benjamin Disraeli and other subjects, narrates his tale from the perspective of a young boy. Co-authored with French Jewish journalist Bertil Scali, the book recreates Feuchtwanger’s emotions from ages 5 to 15, much as his uncle Lion Feuchtwanger, a noted leftist novelist and playwright, did with fictional characters. On Grillparzer Street in Munich, the family resided in a comfortable upper middle class apartment, today occupied by a law firm, while across the street was Hitler’s apartment, in a building that has been converted into a police station.
As Edgar Feuchtwanger noted in The Jewish Chronicle last year: “It’s hard to conceive now that Hitler, to us the embodiment of the diabolical, was an actual person living in a flat… Nasty things creep out of the woodwork. The veneer of civilisation turns out to be thin. Scapegoats are sought; too often they have been the Jews.”
Starting in 1929, when Edgar was 5 years old, he recalls hearing his Uncle Lion explain to his father that Hitler would inevitably take over Germany and “when that happens, he will kill all the Jews.” Little Edgar dreamt one night of their neighbor across the street chasing his family down the street, in the form of Der Struwwelpeter (Shockheaded Peter), the unruly title character in a popular 19th century German children’s book.
The Feuchtwanger family drew some comfort from the observation that their car was fancier than Hitler’s, and that “Jud Süß” (Jew Süss), Uncle Lion’s 1925 historical novel based on the life of an 18th century Stuttgart court Jew, still outsold “Mein Kampf.” The former book, as Edgar notes, recounts how “in the past, other upstarts have inspired the crowd to massacre our ancestors in our own country.”