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My Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the… (2014)
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Q&A with with John Henry Crosby
Q.Describe your introduction to Dietrich von Hildebrand? How did he become such an integral part of your life?
A. I suppose I can say that I was born into a relationship with von Hildebrand—though I hasten to say that I never knew him personally (he died in 1977, the year before I was born). But I was born into a family deeply shaped by von Hildebrand. My mother, an Austrian, knew him already as a girl, and her brothers and her father were students and disciples of his. My father, who joins me as editor and translator of My Battle Against Hitler, was also a student and close friend of von Hildebrand during the last decade of his life, and is one of his leading exponents today.
What may surprise some readers about my own interest in von Hildebrand is that it initially had very little to do with philosophy. What first captured my imagination was von Hildebrand the man of culture and the moral hero. In an earlier life—which is to say in my teenage years—I pursued studies in violin performance. It was in these years that I discovered von Hildebrand as a great and compelling defender of the beautiful. And since beauty has always been for me the path to grasping the truth and the good, it was not difficult to give my heart to one who so deeply understand and celebrated the beautiful.
In good time I discovered von Hildebrand the moral hero, the witness to truth against Nazi power. I was moved not just by his courage or his clarity of mind, but what really spoke to me was his heart; for he went to battle against Hitler ultimately as an act of love—for love of truth, indeed, but also for love of his native Germany and his fellow Germans, for his family, and his friends.
I've now had the privilege of working on several translations of books by von Hildebrand. But working on the memoirs has been a very special experience—almost like an interpersonal exchange with a man whose heart and soul are so deeply expressed in these pages. In considering even the slightest nuance of meaning, in struggling to capture his spirit, a bond almost like companionship has arisen between me and von Hildebrand.
Q. If you had to choose just one legacy of Dietrich von Hildebrand's life to share with the world, what would it be?
A. Oh, what a painfully difficult question! I think it's almost unfair to ask! How can I not speak about his idea that the human heart, in crucial ways more so than the will and the mind, is really what most deeply defines us as persons? Or how can I not say something about his insights into reverence and gratitude? Or how he shows us that beauty is not just a dispensable luxury but a necessity for human flourishing?
But to the question of one key legacy of von Hildebrand—and let me limit myself to a legacy embodied in My Battle Against Hitler—I would say this. His example in Vienna challenges all of us to ask ourselves if we are compromising ourselves by becoming too comfortable with evil, particularly where evil masquerades itself in goodness, desirability, and social acceptability. Are we simply "making do" and granting evil de facto power over our attitudes and actions?
This is a legacy that can easily be overlooked since, from our vantage point, it is natural to view von Hildebrand as victorious in the battle against Hitler. But that was not how von Hildebrand would have experienced it. After Hitler's ascension to power, he knew that he was not fighting for victory, at least in the short term, but to honor the demands of conscience.
In his memoirs von Hildebrand often expresses this idea of serving truth even in the face of apparent futility. I particularly love a passage in which he encounters a fellow Catholic who accuses him of failing to recognize God's will in Hitler's stunning rise to power—and in fact I've chosen this episode for the frontispiece of My Battle Against Hitler. To this confused Catholic, von Hildebrand countered, "If God permits evils such as Bolshevism and National Socialism, then of course, as St. Paul says, it is to test us; it is precisely our struggle against evil that God wills, even when we suffer external defeat."
Q. Were you surprised by anything that you came across in his memoirs?
A. I've been reading and studying the memoirs for the better part of a decade. Never during these years have they lost their luster; on the contrary they have continually increased my admiration, even my reverence, for Dietrich von Hildebrand.
What first struck me ten years ago—and what continues to move me today—is the way von Hildebrand bore the immense sacrifices required by his fight against Hitler. In circumstances that would fill even the strongest of souls with anxiety and unrest, he was able to live in great serenity and peace. And when most of us would think it quite natural to view the loss of home and possessions and friends primarily a personal sacrifice for us, I never cease to marvel that von Hildebrand above all mourned the loss of hearts and minds to the siren song of Nazi ideology.
And there is a mysterious power in the pages of his memoirs that I also find amazing. Whenever I read in them, I feel the confines of fear, anxiety, and the instinct for self-preservation begin to melt away as I am moved to view my life as an opportunity for witness and even heroism. And I know that many others who have read my translation in its various drafts have had similar experiences. The question, of course, is: How will I respond to this infusion of confidence? How will you respond? Will we rest content in being inspired by von Hildebrand's heroism? Or will we allow the power and strength of his example to prepare us for whatever may be asked of us?
Q. What do you hope to accomplish through the publication of My Battle Against Hitler?
A. I'm extremely sensitive about not wanting to limit the book's potential by interpreting it in any one direction. It is first and foremost the story of a great man, and no human life, let alone one lived with such fullness and intensity, can be reduced even to the noblest single agenda!
What I can say is that I hope this book will introduce von Hildebrand to thousands, even millions, of readers the world over. My Battle Against Hitler is not a work of philosophy, yet it is an exceptional introduction to von Hildebrand's thought. So much of what he says and does in his fight against the Nazis goes back to his major philosophical insights. Readers of this book will be well prepared, and I hope, eager to delve into his many other writings.
But much as I hope this book will be wildly successful and reach vast numbers, I cannot help think that von Hildebrand would hold out a truer, higher standard.
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:45 -0400)
"How does a person become Hitler's enemy number one? Not through espionage or violence, it turns out, but by striking fearlessly at the intellectual and spiritual roots of National Socialism. Dietrich von Hildebrand was a German Catholic thinker and teacher who devoted the full force of his intellect to breaking the deadly spell of Nazism that ensnared so many of his beloved countrymen. His story might well have been lost to us were it not for this memoir he penned in the last decades of his life at the request of his wife, Alice von Hildebrand. In My Battle Against Hitler, covering the years from 1921 to 1938, von Hildebrand tells of the scorn and ridicule he endured for sounding the alarm when many still viewed Hitler as a positive and inevitable force. He expresses the sorrow of having to leave behind his home, friends, and family in Germany to conduct his fight against the Nazis from Austria. He recounts how he defiantly challenged Nazism in the public square, prompting the German ambassador in Vienna to describe him to Hitler as 'the architect of the intellectual resistance in Austria.' And in the midst of all the danger he faced, he conveys his unwavering trust in God, even during his harrowing escape from Vienna and his desperate flight across Europe, with the Nazis always just one step behind. Dietrich von Hildebrand belongs to the very earliest anti-Nazi resistance. His public statements led the Nazis to blacklist him already in 1921, long before the horrors of the Third Reich and more than twenty-three years before the famous assassination attempt on Hitler in July 1944. His battle would culminate in the countless articles he published in Vienna, a selection of which are featured in this volume. 'It is an immense privilege,' writes editor John Henry Crosby, founder of the Hildebrand Project, 'to present to the world the shining witness of one man who risked everything to follow his conscience and stand in defiance of tyranny.'"-- "This unpublished memoir from German-Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand demonstrates his opposition to anti-Semitism, his prescient understanding of just how deadly Nazism and Hitler would be, and his courage as he perpared to flee Germany"--
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