Probably my favorite sci-fi genre is Time Travel. Loved the classic A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, and more recently, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. My first published novel was Time Flying (written under the name Dan Garmen). A common storyline in the genre involves using a time machine to travel back to Adolph Hitler’s early days and killing him, or as some writers believe, killing his mother while she’s pregnant with the future Fuhrer. I saw a documentary recently about Hitler and his rise to power that was eye-opening, and it gave me an idea that I might pursue in a future work, maybe even the in-progress sequel to Time Flying, tentatively titled Passed Lives.
Adolph Hitler didn’t just come into being, a fully formed anti-semite tyrant-in-training. In fact, the circumstances that led to the Holocaust were unique and highly improbable, and include an ironic twist that I was shocked to have never heard before. I understand why history hasn’t focused on this irony, but it’s a bit shocking nevertheless.
Most people know Hitler wasn’t even German. He was born in Austria. Many also know he was a failed artist before joining the German Army to fight in World War I. Looking at the young Hitler’s art work, I have to admit, he was pretty good, but apparently not good enough for the prestigious Vienna Academy of Art. Modern day experts say Hitler was moderately talented, but without any “latent genius.” After being turned down twice for admission, and not even allowed to sit for the entrance exam, Germany’s future ruler ended up living a bohemian life on the street, living for a time at a men’s hostel. Finally, he joined the Army as Germany entered the War.
Hitler served bravely, and was wounded twice, the first time in 1916, the second two years later. It was that second injury that some historians believe changed the world in horrible ways. With corporal stripes on his arm, Hitler was serving as a message runner, highly dangerous work that involved delivering orders and messages. While delivering a message, the trench complex Hitler was in came under gas attack, and he was severely wounded. Recovery took a long time, requiring both physical and emotional therapy. Research has shown that the mustard gas used in the attack Hitler was injured in can cause serious damage to the brain that can lead to behavioral and personality changes.
Angered at Germany’s surrender, Hitler came out of the war damaged, angry and humiliated by the defeat, and even more so by the harsh penalties imposed on Germany by the Allied powers. Even though he showed no animosity toward Jews before the war, after, he began to believe they had caused the war, and pretty much all the problems in the world. There’s a case to be made that Hitler’s anti-Jewish fanaticism was caused by a gas attack. A British gas attack no less.
Being a fanatic hater is one thing, but being a fanatic hater with incredibly persuasive communication skills is much rarer. World War Two and the Holocaust could, at least in part, be a result of such a communicator suffering brain damage from a British gas attack. So, I understand the whole “travel in time and try to kill Hitler before he rises to power” thing, but I think there’s a simpler solution.
If I had a time machine, I’d use it, travel back to about 1910, and do everything I could to help Hitler get accepted to art school. He becomes an artist, draws mediocre pictures all day, and enjoys his bohemian life that doesn’t involve getting bombed in gas attacks, or attempting to conquer the world and kill all the Jews.
I’ll let you know how it works out.