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Crossing Hitler: The Man Who Put the Nazis on the Witness Stand Kindle Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
Few historians have mentioned Hans Litten. Ingo Müller's Hitler's Justice makes no mention of him, nor does Louis Snyder's Hitler's German Enemies, or Peter Hoffmann's 847-page The History of the German Resistance 1933-1945. And despite the fury Litten provoked in Hitler, he isn't in the index of John Toland's two-volume biography, Adolf Hitler. In English, the only biography of him before this was by his mother, Irmgard Litten (A Mother Fights Hitler in UK, Beyond Tears in the US).
Why has one of Hitler's boldest early opponents been so woefully neglected? First, Litten was arrested just after the Reichstag fire, less than a month after Hitler took power, so virtually all his opposition to Hitler came during the rise to power, when opposition to Hitler was safer and more common. Confined to prison until his death by suicide in early 1938, he never had a chance to voice opposition to the regime. That's precisely what Hitler intended.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Hett doesn't dedicate much space to Litten's personal life, if, indeed, he had a personal life. He was an obsessive man for whom everything revolved around the goals he pursued in the courtroom. There is detailed coverage of Litten's role and Hitler's difficulty in the 1931 Eden Dance Palace Trial in which four Nazi stormtroopers were accused of the attempted murder of three people at a Berlin party, a trial that may have sealed Litten's fate years hence. A year later, Litten was expelled from court for politicizing another trial of Nazi stormtroopers, this time for a violent clash with the communist Combat League Against Fascism. The book then follows Litten's movement through a series of prisons and concentration camps as a political prisoner after he was arrested in 1933.
Hans Litten is an interesting, if not likeable, man who had an important career at a pivotal time and place in history. But I found "Crossing Hitler" most illuminating when discussing the legal climate in Germany in the years just before and after the Nazi party came to power. The author goes beyond the idea that the Weimar judicial system was simply soft on the political right to present a broader picture of a varied legal system that was in the throes of upheaval in the early 1930s, yet managing still to function. The tireless efforts of Hans Litten's friends Max and Margot Furst and his mother Irmgard to free him from prison reveal a bureaucracy in the grasp of Nazi power but not yet entirely subdued by it. "Crossing Hitler" is an insightful and sometimes eloquent look at how a legal system behaved in the midst of political turmoil, through he experiences of a revolutionary lawyer.
My apologies for mentioning another book. However, the reason why I do so, is because Crossing Hitler is a biography of Hans Litten, who put Hitler on the witness stand in the Eden Dance Palace trial of 1931. What few realize is that Litten's questions had the potential to cause Hitler to pejure himself (thus throwing him in jail) and fracture the Nazi party. Indeed, it takes little imagination for an "alternative history" sci-fi reader such as I, to wonder what would have happened if such a thing had come to pass? How many lives would have been spared? How much destruction avoided? How different would the world now be?
This is the concept that intrigued me into deviating into the realm of non-fiction.
The book really delves into Hans Litten's personality, beliefs and motivations. It looks closely at his life both from childhood right up to his death in Dachau concentration camp - the ultimate price paid for humiliating Hitler. Likewise, it looks closely at those who surrounded Litten, and the consequences of their association with him. To give him credit, Hett (the author) did a fantastic amount of research for the book, basing the arguments he provides largely on documented historical fact, backing it up with notes at the end citing the exact references.
Likewise, while the author clearly is familiar with other biographies of Hans Litten, he strives to fully understand this brave lawyer and uses historical facts to justify his views.
Personally, I found the book rather heavy, and would have enjoyed it more if more time had been devoted to Hitler's time on the witness stand.
In all, though, I recommend this well researched book.
Litten who esposed left wing political causes and embraced his Jewish heritage found himself in constant conflict with the Nazi party and what they were attempting to do in Germany. The result once Hitler took power was that Litten was thrown into Dachau first as a political prisoner and, later, because of he was a Jew. Hitler had Litten tortured, humiliated and tried to defeat him. All the while Litten held on to the knowledge of that he was on the side of right and that eventually Hitler would get his due.
A fascinating biography, Crossing Hitler is well researched and written by Benjamin Carter Hett. Hett knows his history--he is an Associate Professor of History at Hunter College and also knows the law having practiced as a former trial lawyer. His background gives us unique insight into Germany just as the country was turning the corner from the devestation of the first World War only to be plunged into darkness by the Hitler and the Nazi party. The only flaw with the book is that sometimes Hett lets the pacing lag a bit. Given that this book operates as both biography and history focusing on the trial where Litten put Hitler on the stand, I expected the book to open with that trial and work in details backwards from there. Perhaps it was my expectation but a chronological detailed account of Litten's life while important should have been bookended by the trial and its aftermath. To Hett's credit, he isn't pedantic and his style immediately involves you in the events he describes.
Hett gives us a unique portrait of Litten through interviews and correspondence that reveals a complex man who while a hero could be every bit as human and frail as you or me. Once the moment of bravery has past, it's how you deal with the consequences of that bravery that gives us a sense of the character. This is an extremely well written book that despite some minor flaws should be read particularly by those who felt that all Germans didn't oppose Hitler, the Nazi party and their transformation of Germany from a rising nation to a butcher shop that tore apart the country as it needlessly took human lives.
All I know about Hans Litten is what was in this book but he doesn't strike me as a particularly "heroic" figure. If fact, he comes off as being rather neurotic and self-absorbed. He was a radical lawyer who's first concern was his obsessive pursuit of his own private ideological agenda. I don't see how he was this great enemy of Nazism (at least, no more so than the many other brave people who resisted the slide into Fascism). What happened to him was very sad but, again, how many thousands of other Germans found themselves suffering the same fate?
On the one hand, all the victims should be honored and remembered; on the other hand, I don't see how Litten was so special. I suspect his quasi-fame is more about myth-making than about historical fact. But for the fact that Litten happened to cross-examine Hitler in some relatively minor case in the early 1930s, I doubt that anyone would have ever heard of him. He's famous by a happenstance.
Anyway, the book is pretty good and worth reading if you have any interest in the time-period.
My first two reviews leaned heavily towards explaining the problems I had with the writing style (references, continuity, format, etc.) of "Crossing Hitler." My first review frequently referred to the author (as is done in academic reviews), so I made my comments about the writing style more generalized in the second review, but apparently remained too impersonal, as it was also deemed by Amazon as not abiding by the guidelines they have set out. Therefore, with respect to the writing style of "Crossing Hitler," I will simply state that I found it to be lacking and extremely frustrating. As such, I would think that serious scholars of history would not find this book helpful or interesting. For those who are not concerned with academic rigor, the writing style will most likely be less problematic.
As for the historical significance of "Crossing Hitler," I imagine that this depends upon the readers familiarity of the topic. However, I must emphasize that "Crossing Hitler" IS NOT ABOUT Hans Litten's "cross-examination" of Adolph Hitler as the title and description suggest. Instead, "Crossing Hitler" is a tome about the purported importance of Hans Litten, in part because Hans Litten "had the courage" to call Adolph Hitler to the witness stand. The so called "Hans Litten's Cross-Examination of Adolph Hitler, May 8, 1931," is not a court transcript, but rather a synthesis of the multitude of newspaper articles reporting on the event. The short discussion of the trial in the text of the book, along with this "transcript" (as provided in the appendix), make it clear that the judges, not Hans Litten, did most of the questioning; although the book suggests that Litten "provided" the questions to the judges. As such, in my opinion, "Crossing Hitler" is of no historical significance. And, given that there are other books written that cover the same material, "Crossing Hitler" adds nothing new to the fabric of knowledge (or understanding) of this period in history. On the other hand, if you are unfamiliar with the political environment or with Litten's story, and you don't mind poor writing, "Crossing Hitler" may be of interest to you.
Perhaps a more important question--indeed, for me--is the relevance or functionality of "Crossing Hitler." When I opted for the book, I was assuming that the book contained actual court transcripts and would rely upon other primary documents such as letters, briefs, summations, even memoirs, to analyze this rather unique event, and then explain the relevance to the over all rise of the Nazis in Germany. However, there are, apparently, no primary sources pertaining to the "cross-examination" of Hitler, and the book makes no effort--as I see it--to explain the importance of the "cross-examination." Rather, the book attempts to re-tell the story of a "communistic," "aristocratic," "anti-Nazi" attorney who spent his short career primarily "defending" poor, communist party affiliated criminals. As far as I am concerned, "Crossing Hitler" is a biography of a historically insignificant man, Hans Litten, whose only "claim to fame" is that during one of his "defenses" he was able to convince the criminal court of Berlin to call Adolph Hitler to the stand. This is not to say that this event is not relevant, but rather that the book, "Crossing Hitler," fails to demonstrate its relevancy. Hence, I would imagine that "Crossing Hitler" would appeal to readers interested primarily in biographies of "lesser" known individuals, or to readers looking for a soft core, specialized version of German politics prior to World War II.
For these reasons, and others (which I had in my first two drafts), I found reading "Crossing Hitler" to be anything but enjoyable, interesting, or enlightening. In fact, the only reason I have given the book two stars is because the "Epilogue," the only interesting part of the book, provides information about earlier--yes, this book is NOT the first book on the subject (Litten's mother and friends started writing books in the late 1930s)--works on Hans Litten and events not discussed in detail that have led to admiration of Hans Litten among German attorneys. If you are looking for biographical accounts of this time period--or of Litten, himself--I would suggest the potential reader seek out other books.
If you would like to see my second review of this book (I did not save the first), which details stylistic, academic, and other problems with "Crossing Hitler," please contact me and I would be happy to send you a copy. Also, if you are having problems finding other books I allude to above, I can let you know which ones are available on Amazon; (I also included them in my other reviews).
As always, if this review was not helpful to you, I would appreciate learning the reason(s) so I can improve my reviews. My goal is to provide help to potential buyers, not get into any arguments. So, if you only disagree with my opinion, could you please say so in the comments and not indicate that the review was not helpful. Thanks.
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