von Kurt Maier
Anna Rosmus Hitlers Nibelungen. Niederbayern im Aufbruch zu Krieg und Untergang. Grafenau : Samples Verlag, 2015. 328 pages. €34.90.
Nuremberg was the focal point of the Nazi Party. A massive rally was held in the city, with thousands of Brownshirts and Wehrmacht soldiers marching before the Fuehrer in memorable scenes recorded by filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. While the event took place only once a year, it was in the smaller city of Passau where the spirit of the Nazi party reigned supreme.
How Passau became the holy grail of Nazi myth and legend, Anna Rosmus tells us in her book Hitlers Nibelungen. The author was born in Passau and has written other books about its Nazi past. She is known in Passau and throughout Germany as the woman who besmirched her birthplace. So resistant was the city government to her uncovering its Nazi connection, that it took a court order for Rosmus to gain access to its municipal archive.
As a child, Adolf Hitler lived in Passau. This association was the spark that ignited every prominent and lesser National Socialist to visit the town. Heinrich Himmler and his family lived several years there. Its location on the German-Austrian border, combined with the confluence of the Danube with two other rivers, was seen as Germany’s gateway to the East. Not only was Austria to be united with Germany but Eastern Europe, meaning Poland and the rich soils of Russia, were to be open to German settlement.
The Nibelungenlied, Germany’s national epic, composed in the Middle Ages, held particular importance for Passau, since the town plays a role in the medieval work. The theme of Germanic courage and loyalty emphasized in the epic carried over to 20th century Passau. The great hall where Nazis gave speeches is named after the Nibelungen.
What makes Rosmus’ work particularly valuable is her identifying Passau families active in the Nazi movement. Connecting all the dots resulted in a spider web. Her work is perhaps the first that cites the names of the maternal and paternal families, a useful aid for genealogical research.
The one name that appears on almost on every page is that of Max Moosbauer, Passau’s mayor. He lost no opportunity to stage nationalistic festivals, invite prominent Nazis, and blame the Jews for Germany’s loss of the war in 1918. Moosbauer made sure that the few Jewish residents of Passau were persecuted, and their houses and businesses confiscated.
The persecution of war criminals at the Nuremberg trials was only the tip of the iceberg. Most Nazis were never brought to trial. Those sentenced served only a few years at most. Almost 70 years later, it makes painful reading when the author cites Baldur von Schirach, head of the Hitler Youth and ruler of Vienna, Austria, as escaping a death sentence and being released from prison with Albert Speer. Schirach was responsible for the deportation of thousands of Austrian Jews to the camps.
Hitler rewarded his military officers with generous sums and estates. Rosmus reports that Fieldmarshal Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb was granted 250,000 marks plus various properties. He was permitted to keep the money after the war, while Jewish survivors had to prove they suffered losses.
With Hitlers Nibelungen, Anna Rosmus has conducted invaluable research showing how Nazi ideals need not be forced on a town and its people. Passau had already embraced them.