Hilter In Pasewalk
Hitler in Pasewalk, by Bernhard Horstmann
Published in Germany a few months after David Lewis’ The Man who Invented Hitler, Horstmann’s book treats the same topic, namely the astonishing personality change that immediately after the end of World War I came over the twenty-nine year old, previously unnoticed Corporal Adolph Hitler. For four years the morose loner had served with unhesitating dedication to soldierly duty on the western front without giving the slightest indication of leadership capabilities or of a thirst for power. He was, therefore, a man of a cast wholly different from that of the one bearing the same name whom we meet in histories of World War II. Pointing to essentially the same documents, both Lewis and Horstmann explain the metamorphosis in terms of the hypnosis used in the neurological center of Pasewalk by Professor Edmund Forster to treat the hysterical blindness that had befallen Corporal Hitler roughly three weeks before the end of the war. Lewis’ work, among other things a veritable eye-opener on developments in psychotherapeutic technique in the 19th and early 20th centuries, covers much more material than Horstmann’s and is more thoroughly researched, a circumstance that explains, for example, the wide differences between the two accounts of Edmund Forster’s visit to Paris in 1933: Lewis clearly had access to the better sources.
On three separate grounds Horstmann’s book has a value of its own. The first is the light it sheds on a question pertaining to Hitler’s rise to power that had remained more or less moot. It had been well known that General von Schleicher, Hitler’s predecessor as Chancellor, and von Schleicher’s close associate General von Bredow, both of whom were murdered in 1934 during the alleged Röhm-putsch, had had nothing whatever to do with Röhm or the SA; yet no convincing theory as to the real reason for their murder was ever able to gain currency. Horstmann shows that in the summer of 1932 at von Schleicher’s instigation Colonel von Bredow had seized medical records pertaining to the events of Pasewalk and containing Edmund Forster’s diagnosis of Corporal Hitler as a “psychopath with hysterical symptoms.” Word of this diagnosis must have gotten abroad, for later in the same year, a few months before Hitler was made Chancellor, General von Schleicher was urgently warned by a high-ranking friend that if Adolph Hitler came to power, and if he, von Schleicher, did not get rid of those documents, his life and the life of General von Bredow were lost. In point of fact, while General von Schleicher was an idealistic and politically minded man whom Hitler had good grounds to fear, von Bredow had no political ambitions at all. His murder was typical of the chilling brutality that characterized the Nazi movement right from the start and ultimately united the better part of the world against it. In both cases the murder was followed by teams of men ransacking their victim’s living quarters in search of papers.
The second ground is connected with what may seem the weakest point in the argument of both Lewis and Horstmann: the circumstance that the document most central to their common thesis is a chapter taken from a rather second-class novel. When Hitler came to power in 1933, he had the SS launch a vigorous campaign to destroy everything and everyone in any way connected with his treatment by Edmund Forster in November of 1918, first of all the documents. Anticipating their move, Forster, who understood perfectly the historical importance of his personal records of the case, made copies of them and drove to Paris, where he made contact with such exile authors as Joseph Roth, Alfred Döblin and Ernst Weiss. What happened to the other copies is not known, but it is known that one copy was left with Ernst Weiss. When Forster returned home several days later and was then gradually made to realize that the SS had him in their cross-hairs, he came to think that flight would be useless, and cheated them of his life. In the following years Ernst Weiss, destitute in Paris, made a last ditch survival effort by competing for a prize offered in the US for the best novel written by Germans in exile. His attempt, The Eyewitness, tells in the first person the life story of a psychologist. The heart of the book is a gripping chapter that recounts a therapeutic session in which the protagonist, who uses the technique of hypnosis in a place called P., cures a patient named A. H. of hysterical blindness. As the rest of the novel has serious literary deficiencies, Ernst Weiss was not awarded the prize he coveted. Unaware that an immigration visa and passage by ocean liner awaited him at the American Embassy, he took his life as German troops entered Paris in June of 1940. All the papers found in his apartment were destroyed, but the typescript of The Eyewitness had been sent to the US in 1939. After the war it found its way to Germany, where it was published in 1963. Of those who read it, none seems to have recognized the initials P. and A. H. or the story of the hysterical blindness. Ten years later, in 1973, US Naval Intelligence declassified a report on “Adolph Hitler’s Blindness” based on information supplied by a Dr. Karl Kroner, who had been a colleague of Edmund Forster at Pasewalk. Kroner stated that he had been present when the blind Corporal Adolph Hitler was admitted and placed in the care of Professor Forster. At that point, it could be documented that the protagonist of Ernst Weiss’ novel was, in fact, a historical person, namely Edmund Forster, that P. was Pasewalk and that his patient A. H. was another historical person. At this point, therefore, the incredible importance of The Eyewitness was waiting to be discovered. The one who put two and two together seems to have been Prof. Rudolph Binion, who, having once realized the facts of the matter, went behind the Iron Curtain to do research on Edmund Forster in Greifswald before writing a foreword to the English translation of Ernst Weiss’ novel, which appeared in 1977, presumably at his instigation. Chapter VIII of Horstmann’s book consists of the very dramatic chapter that makes up the heart of that novel. Horstmann then sets himself the task of taking that chapter as Michelangelo once took the breached slab of marble, and arriving by a series of removals at a text as close as possible to the case record Edmund Forster had turned over to the chapter’s author, much as the great Florentine once arrived at his statue of David. Hence, chapter IX of Horstmann’s book consists of highly plausible reflections by which the author himself crystallizes a certain number of principles that were to guide his undertaking, for example that unlike the chapter in the novel, the case record on which it was based may be presumed not to have contained literary or dramaturgical flourishes. In line with the same goal, chapter X consists of an expertise written by Frau Heidi Baitinger, a psychotherapist who specializes in the technique of hypnosis. In the sentences written by Ernst Weiss, who by training was a surgeon, Frau Baitinger perceives the unmistakable ruminations of a masterful colleague. To her trained eye the strategy applied by Edmund Forster was instantly transparent, and she explains it with great clarity. In the course of the war Forster had seen many cases of hysterically induced blindness. Men who could no longer take being on the front would go blind. Their blindness did not follow from an act of will, but rather from a partial loss of will. Professor Forster knew how to be overbearing, and his usual technique in such cases was simply to roar indignantly at his patient for abandoning his comrades in their hour of need. His success rate was astonishing. The usual pattern was that the patient, who suddenly could see again, would be overcome with gratitude. He had not enjoyed his blindness, nor had he had the slightest inkling that he himself was the cause of it. In the case of Corporal Hitler, who genuinely longed to be back at the front with his comrades, Forster understood immediately that his usual strategy could only be counter-productive and took a different tack. The session took place at night, in the dark, and consisted in genuine hypnosis. He hypnotized his patient telling him that his corneas had been burnt by the mustard gas, that as hypnosis goes by way of the eyes, he could not be hypnotized, that he would never see again, unless he had the kind of will that comes only once in a thousand years, unless he were like Jesus or Mohammed, who had wills stronger than nature. Then he lit a candle and held it before his patient’s eyes—which had not been burnt at all—and asked him what he saw. Dissatisfied with the vague reply, he charged him to do better. The patient saw then first the light, then his hands, and finally the rest. Hitler came away from that session knowing himself to be possessed of unconquerable will, to have been chosen by Providence to be the man of the millennium who by his will could triumph over the laws of nature. In April of 1939, an article appeared in Cosmopolitan reporting a statement made by Hitler about his days in Pasewalk: “And as I lay there, the realization came to me that I would liberate the German people and make Germany great.” The monster was born in Pasewalk. The tragedy of it all stems from the fact that Edmund Forster, unexpectedly released from military service one or two days later, suddenly found himself in a chaotic and threatening situation and never got a chance to free Corporal Hitler from his post-hypnotic suggestion.
Frau Baitinger’s expertise is undoubtedly one of the most valuable parts of Horstmann’s book. “Gladly do I confess,” he writes, “that Frau Baitinger’s comprehensive and wholly objective analysis is what gave me the courage to bring the complex topic “Hitler in Pasewalk” before the public.” (p. 139) The shortened version of the dramatic chapter of Ernst Weiss’ novel, Horstmann’s historiographic David, appears in his book as Appendix I.
The third ground reflects the fact that Herr Horstmann’s doctorate is in law. He raises the question of the influence of hypnosis on responsibility. To answer it he is content to quote a passage from an author named Roxin, a recognized authority on the theory of jurisprudence. Roxin’s unambiguous statement is that hypnosis or post-hypnotic suggestion has exactly no bearing whatever on the question of responsibility, that it is impossible for a person to commit a crime under hypnosis from which he would otherwise shrink. In her expertise Frau Baitinger raises the same question and gives convincing reasons for taking the same view. Hypnosis is a technique enabling the therapist to connect elements already present in the patient’s sub-conscious mind, which is a kind of memory. It does not enable the therapist to create new memories.
Dr. David Marshall