Given Harry Mulisch's personal background (son of a German-Austrian banker and a Jewish Dutch mother, who was spared being shipped to a concentration camp, or worse, by his collaborationist father's connections), it is natural that in his fiction Mulisch was obsessed with the Nazi episode. Here he tackles the most bewitching and bewildering Nazi-related topic: Hitler himself.
Mulisch starts by proclaiming Hitler "the most enigmatic human being of all time" - someone who cannot be grasped logically or historically. Further, "[h]e can't be explained with psychology; you need theology instead." I can sort of accept that. But Mulisch decides to transcend the limitations of reason and history and capture the essence of Hitler by approaching him through "some imagined, highly improbable, highly fantastic but not impossible fact" and seeing what that tells him about Hitler's underlying reality. In SIEGFRIED, that crucial imagined fact is Hitler's son (named, of course, Siegfried), who was secretly birthed by Eva Braun on Kristallnacht in 1938, and then entrusted for raising to a young Viennese couple who had been transferred to the Berchtesgarden. Mulisch's story of the young Siegfried adds an additional layer of ghastly inhumanity to the historical Adolf Hitler.
And what does this conceit reveal about Hitler? For Mulisch, as he proceeds with his imaginative alchemy, he learns that Hitler was a "singularity in human form" - "surrounded by the black hole of his retinue". Alternatively, he is, among human beings, what the number zero is among numbers - something that is a natural number but through multiplication by which destroys every other number. Mulisch follows his alchemic thought experiment further, leading him to the realization that "Hitler was from the very beginning the manifestation of the Totally Other: the zeroing Zero incarnate, the living singularity, who of necessity would become visible only as a mask." Approaching the matter slightly differently, Mulisch traces a sort of linearity from Schopenhauer to Wagner to Nietzsche to Hitler. The connection between the latter two was particularly close: Hitler was conceived in July 1888 - exactly at the moment when Nietzsche began to go mad; both Nietzsche and Hitler lived to the same age - fifty-six; "Nietzsche's madness lasted exactly as long as Hitler's time in power: twelve years." Grand conclusion? "[W]ith Hitler we are dealing with something like a metanatural phenomenon * * * . Except that he was not an extraterrestrial creature but an extraexistential being: Nothingness."
It probably is obvious that I regard all this as hifalutin twaddle. To the extent that Mulisch makes any sense at all, he seems to view Hitler as an Anti-Christ who mesmerized a credulous, malleable Germany and led it pied-piper-like to the progressive cataclysm of World War II. In other words, for Mulisch, without Hitler neither WWII nor the Holocaust could possibly have happened. I, however, am not willing to let the German nation off the hook so easily and exonerate it of everything save gullible lemminghood.
If you read SIEGFRIED purely for the "story", ignoring or skipping the alchemistic divination of Hitler's essence, it is a so-so novel, perhaps meriting three stars. All the pseudo-metaphysical rubbish, however, drags it down to two.