The story is incredible: As a young Jewish boy growing up in Munich, future historian Edgar Feuchtwanger lived across the street from Adolf Hitler. With the release of a new American edition of his memoir about that period, we were pleased to feature an excerpt from the book on TIME History this week.
“He looks at me. I should look away,” Feuchtwanger writes. “But I can’t. I stare at him. Maybe I should smile? I’m his neighbor, after all! Does he recognize me? Does he know I watch him from my bedroom? Can he see inside our house? Does he watch us eating in the dining room? Does he know I’m Jewish? I don’t want him to hate me. Or my father. Or my mother. Are people looking at me? He’s climbed into a dark car, black as night, its lines as hard as stone.”
The following is an excerpt from Hitler, My Neighbor: Memories of a Jewish Childhood, 1929-1939 by Edgar Feuchtwanger with Bertil Scali, translated by Adriana Hunter. In this passage, Feuchtwanger — who grew up Jewish in Munich, across the street from Adolf Hitler’s house — recalls the lead-up to the 1930 elections that saw the Nazi party gain a serious foothold in the Reichstag:
Since we’ve been home from our vacation, there’s been talk of nothing but politics in the house. Uncle Lion’s book has been published. It’s in all the bookshops. When we go for our walks, Rosie points it out to me in windows. I feel proud when I see it. The bookseller told us it seems to be selling better than Mein Kampf. I know it says bad things about Hitler; I also know our neighbor’s a dangerous man. My parents, my grandparents, and Beate’s relations too are all saying the same thing: he’s a liar and a thief. Even the milkman talked to Rosie about it. He told her Hitler was taking all the milk for the neighborhood so there was less for everyone else. My mother was furious. According to my father, the milkman was wrong because no one can requisition their neighbors’ milk. He also said that Hitler couldn’t single-handedly drink the usual milk consumption of several families. Otherwise it would be good news because it would kill him!
He’s right in front of us, outside his building. We’ve stopped in our tracks. Rosie is stock-still. I can see he’s cut himself shaving, as my father sometimes does. He has blue eyes. I didn’t know that. You can’t see that in photos.
I thought his eyes were completely black. I’ve never seen him so close up. He has hairs in his nose, and a few in his ears. He’s shorter than I thought. Shorter than my father. Shorter than Rosie. Passersby stop, like us. He looks at me. I should look away. But I can’t. I stare at him. Maybe I should smile? I’m his neighbor, after all! Does he recognize me? Does he know I watch him from my bedroom? Can he see inside our house? Does he watch us eating in the dining room? Does he know I’m Jewish? I don’t want him to hate me. Or my father. Or my mother. Are people looking at me? He’s climbed into a dark car, black as night, its lines as hard as stone. …