This article originally appeared on VICE Germany
Adolf Hitler has been dead for 71 years, but history's biggest villain still manages to capture the almost uninterrupted attention of German people. For news magazines, putting Hitler on the cover is still the easiest way to sell copies whenever they're out of ideas for a cover story – which is why German periodicals like Der Spiegel are notorious for doing exactly that basically every four weeks. Every year, countless new biographies, history books and documentaries dedicated to this worst person ever see the light of day. Only the better ones manage to reveal some new aspects of Hitler's life and his tragic role in history. But – until recently – they all had one thing in common: All these books and films at some point had the dates wrong.
Harald Sandner got so annoyed by seeing the wrong dates being thrown around in historic works that he decided to take on the task of reconstructing each day of Hitler's life. Sandner, who makes his living being a salesman and IT expert in a logistics company, spent 25 years collecting pictures, documents and archival materials and traveling across Europe on his own expense.
The result of all this is Das Itinerar (The Itinerary) – a 2400-page book that doesn't only list where the Führer spent each day of his life, it also documents the means of transportation he used to get there and what he did in each place – down to the number of audience members at speeches and events.
I called Harald Sandner to find out how someone ends up documenting each day in the life of Adolf Hitler.
VICE: How long did you work on this book?
Harald Sandner: Well, I've worked on it on and off for 20 or 25 years. It wasn't the only thing I was doing during that time, of course. I've also published four other books on different subjects in the last 15 years. In the meantime, I worked on Das Itinerar – and now I've finally finished it. When I start something, I finish it – but I'm happy that at the outset, I had no idea how much work would be involved with this particular project.
Where did you get the idea from?
I've always been interested in history. At some point, I started to notice how many discrepancies there were in terms of dates in Hitler's life. And the more I researched, the more mistakes and inconsistencies I found. So I thought: there should be a complete log out there somewhere. But there wasn't.
So then I started gathering dates myself. I did it for 1933 to 1945 first. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, I gained access to more archives in the former East Germany and in the Eastern Bloc. So I reworked everything I'd done up to then.
How did you go about it exactly?
Basically I started by creating a matrix of data comprised of everything I could get my hands on. For example, it's widely known that Hitler was in Berlin on September 1st, 1939 and gave a speech in front of the Reichstag. So then I tried to fill in the gaps. I wrote to archives and looked for certain places.
You're not a historian by profession. So why did you do it?
I do data processing for my real job – making sure that data is correct is a vital part of it. So the more mistakes I discovered, the more I felt the need to clear things up once and for all. I'm happy that my work exists so that historians now have a reference to avoid making mistakes.
Is it really so important to get Hitler's timeline right?
Let's take Hamburg, for example. For decades after the war, rumours circulated that Hitler hadn't liked Hamburg, that it was too cold and Hanseatic for him. But then Werner Johe wrote the book Hitler in Hamburg, which turned everything around. Johe was saying that after Berlin, Munich and Nuremberg, Hitler didn't visit any city in the Reich as often as he visited Hamburg. But of course, that's also not true. Obviously Hitler visited other cities more frequently – Bayreuth and Weimar to mention a few. But he didn't avoid Hamburg.
Do you think you've gotten to know Hitler better after completing this work?
You get a feeling about how he liked to move around, of course. Hannah Arendt once said that the definitive characteristic of totalitarian dictatorship is the ambiguity of the centre of power – and Hitler personified that centre. He didn't have a private life. He travelled around and ruled from wherever he was at the time. You can't attach his decisions to one place.
What else did you find out about Hitler?
It was interesting to see how slowly it all developed. He gave a speech in front of 50 people in 1920, then it was 100, then 300, then 500 and so on. The whole drama unfolded really slowly – and nobody realized where this trip was going to take them. You can really see this now in my book.
You often hear that Hitler was pretty fickle when it came to his work. Sometimes he would work all night but then he could step back and not do anything for weeks but go on walks. Is that true?
In principle, yes. He wouldn't do anything for weeks at a time. He was the kind of guy that put off making decisions for a long time – but once he'd made them, they were set in stone. That's what was so fatal.
Would you say that you have a fascination with Hitler?
My fascination is correct data. For me it was all about facts because I'm sick of hearing things that aren't true. My hometown Coburg, for example. Around the year 2000, it was said that Hitler had only been in the city twice. But in reality, Coburg was the first German city to make Hitler an honorary citizen. Coburg was the first Nazi city, with the first Nazi mayor and the first Nazi newspaper. Until very recently, they tried to sweep that under the carpet, and they've only recently appointed a board of historians in the city. If I put the truth on the table, then nobody can try and dispute it. I just want to dispel myths.
Do you think that this work is gaining importance today?
Klaus von Dohnanyi once said that we have to finally realise that Goethe is our Goethe, Bach is our Bach and Hitler is our Hitler. Once we get that, we'll have the chance to move past it. And a lot of heads are still infected. Take the NSU [The National Socialist Underground – a Neo-Nazi terror group responsible for a string of racist murders in the early 2000s], for example. One of their key figures, Tino Brandt, worked around the corner from me for years. It's not abstract, it's right outside your front door.
What will you do next?
With Das Itinerar I've written about ten books – eleven kilos of books if you take them all together. I think I'm going to relax for a bit now.
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