November 19, 2009 Thursday
U.K. 1st Edition
By Paul Callan
Hitler? Just a big softie
At least that's how Mussolini saw his 'sentimental' friend, according to an astonishing new diary written by the Italian buffoon's mistress
HITLER was looking anxious and excited as he waited in the thickly-carpeted conference room in Munich late that October day in 1938.
Then, in through the wide open doors strolled the burly figure of Benito Mussolini, the Italian Fascist leader, dressed in an ornate uniform.
Hitler approached, hand outstretched in greeting, a delighted smile across his face. As the two dictators hailed one another, Mussolini could not help but notice that Hitler was actually crying.
This somewhat astonishing revelation is contained in the newly-published diaries of Clara Petacci, Mussolini's glamorous dark-haired mistress. The diaries, published as a book entitled Secret Mussolini, are held by her nephew, who lives in the US. They reveal that the Italian leader saw a sentimental side to Hitler's nature.
Miss Petacci recalled how Mussolini described to her the Munich conference where he, Hitler and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, discussed the carve-up of Czechoslovakia.
"The welcome at Munich was fantastic and the Führer was very pleasant. Hitler is an old sentimentalist at heart. When he saw me, he had tears in his eyes. He really does like me a lot. But he does have angry outbursts, which only I can control. There were sparks and he was quivering, as he struggled to control himself. I, on the other hand, was unperturbed."
It is historically astonishing - if these claims are to be believed - that Hitler had such an emotionally charged high regard for Mussolini, a puffed-up, posturing braggart.
But Hitler greatly admired Mussolini, who had come to power in Italy in 1922 - 11 years before Hitler himself would become Chancellor of Germany and subject his country to the horrors of Nazism. Hitler felt a deep kinship with Mussolini and, at that point, considered him a close political brother. Hitler considered Italy one of the natural friends of his new Germany. He admired the country's art and once stated: "My dearest wish would be to be able to wander about Italy as an unknown painter."
Both men shared an obsessive nature, similar ideologies and a determination to maintain total power.
But in the relationship it seems that Hitler was the greater enthusiast. "He seemed like someone in love asking news about the person they loved, " recalled one SS colonel who had been quizzed by Hitler about Mussolini.
The Führer made many requests to meet the Italian leader but was constantly rebuffed and became visibly emotional whenever he discussed the object of his admiration.
But Mussolini was less enthusiastic.
"He's mad, " he is said to have observed on meeting Hitler for the first time.
"Instead of speaking to me about current problems, he recited to me from memory parts of his book, Mein Kampf, that enormous brick which I have never been able to read."
It is, of course, not unusual for dictators and men of evil to display a seemingly uncharacteristic gentle side to their nature. Josef Stalin, the Russian dictator who murdered even more than Hitler over a long period, would often weep easily while drunk.
He became maudlin and was easily moved by sentimental music.
In a psychological profile prepared for the US government during the war, it was concluded that Hitler had a "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde personality structure comprising two wholly different people". On the one hand, Hitler proved to be this "iron man" who felt little or no feeling for the millions who died as a result of his terrible actions.
ON THE other hand there were many times when the other side of Hitler's personality was seen in public - one which contrasted sharply with the evil in his nature.
On one occasion there was a commemorative service for German sailors who had died when the battleship Deutschland was bombed.
Hitler spoke passionately to a huge crowd, after which he walked down the line of survivors.
"The first widow to whom Hitler spoke a few words cried violently, " according to a report of the event.
"Her child, who was 10 years old and who stood next to his bereaved mother, began to cry heart-rendingly.
Hitler patted him on the head and turned uncertainly to the next in line.
Before he could speak a word Hitler was suddenly overcome. He span completely around and left the carefully prepared programme flat. Followed by his utterly surprised companions, he walked as fast as he could to his car and had himself driven away."
The US psychological report observed that, of the two personalities that inhabited Hitler's body one was a very soft, sentimental and indecisive individual "who has little drive and wants nothing quite so much as to be amused, liked and looked after".
The other personality was the opposite - hard, cruel and decisive with "an abundant reservoir of energy".
It was the first Hitler who, on one memorable occasion, wept profusely at the death of his canary.
But it was the second Hitler, the flint-hearted one, who would often scream: "Heads will roll for this."
Similarly, it was the sentimental Hitler who could not bring himself to discharge an assistant. But it was the second Hitler who could easily order the murder of thousands, including some of his best friends, and say with bloodthirsty conviction: "There will be no peace in the land until a body hangs from every lamppost."
US President Roosevelt also ordered a psychological profile be built up of Hitler. Psychiatrist Dr Henry Murray considered he played not two, but many parts. These included "expressionless Hitler", who would stand "like an unthinking dummy with an upraised hand at the front of a six-wheeled motorcar that moved at a slow pace down the great avenue between serried ranks of worshipful adherents". There was the "embarrassed Hitler" - always ill at ease in the presence of a stranger, an aristocrat, a general or anyone who made him feel inferior.
Dr Murray also broke down the Führer's personality into a "gracious Hitler" - soft, good-natured, gentle and informal - and even a "sentimental Hitler", who was easily moved to tears.
These all contrasted with a "possessed Hitler" who shrieked with fanatical fury as he addressed the masses, a "hysterical Hitler" who will even roll on the carpet with fury and shake with terror when he woke from a nightmare, and there was even the "apathetic Hitler", a limp, indolent and indecisive creature.
Nazi aides also recall that Hitler would break down and weep like a child pleading for sympathy when he found himself in difficult situations.
One such aide recalled: "In 1934, he complained of the ingratitude of the German people in the sobbing tones of a down-at-heel musichall performer. A weakling who accused and sulked, appealed and implored and retired in wounded vanity."
Hitler continued to support and admire Mussolini as the war progressed.
But this admiration started to erode after July 1943, when Mussolini was stripped of power and arrested after a revolt within his inner circle.
Hitler was afraid of the propaganda value that would follow if Mussolini was turned over to the Allies, now fighting steadily through Italy. So he personally ordered one of his favourite commandos, Captain Otto Skorzeny, the head of Hunting Group 502, to rescue Mussolini.
After locating the Italian dictator, who had been placed under house arrest in a remote hotel on top of Gran Sasso, a 6,000-feet-high mountain 80 miles north-east of Rome, Skorzeny and his men swooped in on 12 gliders.
Not a shot was fired and Skorzeny informed Mussolini: "The Führer has sent me to set you free."
Mussolini replied: "I knew my friend Adolf Hitler would not abandon me."
But the end came for Mussolini in April 1945 when he and Clara Petacci were captured as they attempted to board a plane bound for Switzerland.
The next day, both were executed and their bodies hung unceremoniously upside-down from a lamppost outside a Milan petrol station.
This time Hitler, doubtless more concerned about what remained of his own future, did not weep.