“One Man’s War“, G. L. Lathian, 2014.
It doesn’t take long, in this story, to find out it takes place in a secret history or alternate history.
We hear, as a woman interviews one Lutz Bergmann, that the “real Adolf Hitler” died in an asylum years ago. It wasn’t the death Bergmann planned when he shot Hitler in the back of the head all those years ago.
Off the record, Bergmann reveals his final secret, the one regret of his life.
His story goes back to October 1914. Bergmann meets Hitler in the enlistment line, seemingly for Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment 16 which is where he served in our timeline. The two become fast friends. They even look alike. And Hitler is easy to like.
In battle, a “bond forged in blood” forms between the two. Both are aggressive and ambitious. But Hitler is more – observant, on the make, constantly observing and theorizing about human behavior. Hitler even runs an experiment on his theory of the “big lie” and convinces a private his perfectly normal dentition is off-center.
Hitler, says Bergmann, was a genius, his casual remarks set Bergmann thinking about them for hours. Both are German nationalists though neither are German. Bergmann was born in South Africa. Hitler is, of course, Austrian. Both think “We’re run by rich politicians that claim we all live equally, yet are they down here on the frontlines, shovels in hand, digging in for the night with the rest of us?”
There, the similarity ends. Bergmann identifies Jews as those rich politicians. Hitler does not.
The two are separated when Hitler is reassigned to the regimental staff. Years later, though, they are reunited when both are wounded and sent to the hospital.
Hitler doubts the cause they fight for: “We fight for nothing and for that reason we’ll lose this war. … Will duty be enough to win this war?”
In the days of their recovery, they play chess, discuss the great men of history – Sun Tzu, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Frederick the Great, “men that would be remembered by ink and memory long after their bones turned to dust”.
One day, unable to resist the allure of Hitler’s most private thoughts, Bergmann sneaks a look at Hitler’s diary.
Hitler, he finds out, thinks his constant ranting about Jews makes him uneasy about his relationship with Bergmann.
The two separate again and, when on leave with some other soldiers in Munich, Bergmann decides to do what Hitler will not: put his theories into practice. He leads some other soldiers in beating a Jew.
In his first unequivocal evasion, Bergmann claims the beating only broke some ribs, blackened an eye. Actually, the Jew died.
Bergmann and Hitler are reunited one last time “in Cormines” (I haven’t been able to find out if that’s a real place). Hitler, a corporal, takes charge of a unit as the highest ranking officer. Before the two make one last charge, they have an uneasy exchange.
Talking about their plans after the war, Hitler frankly disagrees when Bergmann says he sees Hitler ruling men after the war,
“My ideas aren’t right for this time.”
… “I believe they are. Perhaps you’re just not the right man for the moment.”
… “Lutz, war has changed you … Or maybe I have.”
As Hitler goes over the top, Bergmann stays behind, shoots Hitler, and leaves him for dead.
It’s at this point that the tension and curiosity of the story evaporate when the authors (G. L. Lathian is actually Garret Streater and Luke Jessop) release the conceptual bonds. What could have become an interesting alternate or secret history fizzes.
We learn no consequential details about Bergmann’s reign — only that he seems to have been a leader, “a man whose legacy can be seen by the millions of crosses and unmarked graves scattered across the world.” And then we get a predictable revelation — Bergmann hates Jews out of a loathing of his own Jewishness.
Certainly the chaos hinted at by Bergmann’s killing a Jew in Munich around the end of the war is congruent with the social unrest, the riots and mutinies, that were convulsing the last days of the German Empire. The main attraction though is not World War One but Hitler the man.
The socialist ideas he hints at were part of Hitler’s thoughts. Are the authors implying, or at least making us consider, that things might have been better for Germany if Hitler’s style socialism minus the anti-Semitism would have replaced the German Empire?
And who is Bergmann’s interrogator? This timeline’s version of a Nuremburg prosecutor? A psychologist?
More of a starting point for a longer work than a satisfying story.
World War One Content
- Living Memory: No.
- On-Stage War: Yes.
- Belligerent Area: Yes.
- Home Front: Yes.
- Veteran: No.
More World War One in Fantastic Fiction.