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My Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 21, 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 Hildebrandthough 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 lifewhich is to say in my teenage yearsI 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 lovefor 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 experiencealmost 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 Hildebrandand let me limit myself to a legacy embodied in My Battle Against HitlerI 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 powerand 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 agoand what continues to move me todayis 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.
“Dietrich von Hildebrand's memoirs give us an inroad into the soul of another Germany, a Germany thoroughly different from that of Adolf Hitler and of the Nazis. In the years just after the First World War, he warned against the danger of exaggerated nationalism and pleaded for the reconciliation between European nations. Later he would defend the common Christian and Jewish roots of European civilization. His example warms the hearts of all those who love freedom and are willing to defend the values of our civilization.” –Rocco Buttiglione, Italian statesman and close collaborator with St. John Paul II
“At this moment in history, no memoir could be more timely than Dietrich von Hildebrand’s account of how and why he risked everything to witness against the spreading evil of National Socialism. With much of today’s world silent as Christians face increasing persecution, many good men and women are asking themselves what they can do. This remarkable book will challenge and inspire them.” –Mary Ann Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Law, Harvard University and Former US Ambassador to the Holy See
“There is but one man who can stand with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, both in intellectual brilliance and in bravery toward the Nazis; that man is Dietrich von Hildebrand. I am privileged to strongly recommend this important book as a superb introduction to this great hero of the faith. May it spawn a new generation of devotees and champions of his extraordinary thought and life.” –Eric Metaxas, New York Times bestselling author of Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy and Miracles.
“Dietrich von Hildebrand, unlike so many European Christians of his time, was an early and vigorous critic of National Socialism; a man of brilliant intellect and articulate pen who spoke out forcefully against Nazi hatred of the Jews; a scholar who defended the Christian understanding of society and the human person at immense personal cost. This wonderful collection of his writings acquaints us intimately with an extraordinary man of faith. It’s mandatory reading for anyone interested in a fuller understanding of a profoundly important era.” –Charles J Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia
“Dietrich von Hildebrand was brave in his public writings against the Nazis, brave in his hair-raising escape from Vienna in 1938. He was also bold and uncompromising in his convictions about responsibility, love, and liberty. This book brings the bold von Hildebrand back into our midst." –Michael Novak, author of Writing from Left to Right
"In the life of Dietrich on Hildebrand, we see how Catholic faith and sacramental life gave him insight, strength and freedom of spirit to confront the anti-Christian tides that swept through Western culture in the twentieth century. This compelling and inspiring memoir is a testimony to the integrity of a Christian who challenged the destructive force of the Third Reich, its dehumanizing political philosophy and its false vision of human life. I strongly recommend this memoir as a testimony to the transforming influence of the lay vocation at work in the world, exemplified in Dietrich von Hildebrand." -Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C.
- Item Weight : 1.35 pounds
- Hardcover : 352 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0385347510
- ISBN-13 : 978-0385347518
- Dimensions : 6.49 x 1.19 x 9.52 inches
- Publisher : Image; 1st US edition (October 21, 2014)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,143,269 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The last third of the book has excerpts, letters and articles he wrote to argue against the erroneous philosophy which was the ruin of that era. Much of his philosophy can be applied to our current times. I thoroughly enjoyed the book.
Too much detail in the memoir; only interesting to scholars of minutia. At times the memoir reads like the author was intent on "dropping names" of officials, or tried to list as many people as possible so those listed - and their remote relatives - would all buy the book.
But I don't want to be overly critical. It was amazing what this man from a privileged class did to stand up for human rights, truth, faith and reason. This book should inspire us.
What I learned: I understand in a new way the pettiness, ignorance, and brutal thuggery of Hitler himself and his regime. It was even scarier than I had thought -- concentration camps are not the whole story.
The best part: Following the memoir are 14 articles written and published by von Hildebrand as he fought the Nazis during their ascendance. The gem of them all is "The Jews and the Christian West," written in 1937, in which he shows how Jewish beliefs, culture, and thought (like those of the Greeks) form a foundation of Western civilization. I highly recommend this book as a lesson in history and clear thinking -- and as an inspiration to promote human dignity despite the cost.