My Battle against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich by Dietrich von Hildebrand, ed. John Henry Crosby (Image, 352 pages)
“That damned Hildebrand is the greatest obstacle for National Socialism in Austria. No one causes more harm.” With these words, Franz von Papen, the German ambassador to Austria, summed up with uncharacteristic insight the philosopher and theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889–1977). In a confidential letter to Hitler, Papen labeled his fellow Catholic “the mastermind” of the Austrian intellectual resistance and suggested a plot to assassinate him. My Battle against Hitler tells the story of a man who dared, uncompromisingly, to follow his conscience in the face of seemingly unstoppable evil.
As his friends and acquaintances – many in high governmental and societal positions – became blinded or resigned to National Socialism’s horrors, the philosopher Hildebrand retained his moral clarity and resolve. His fight against Nazism spanned at least two decades; already in 1923, while living in Munich, he learned he was on the Nazi blacklist for his outspoken rejection of nationalism and anti- Semitism. When Hitler seized power in 1933, Hildebrand fled to Italy and later settled in Austria, founding an anti-Nazi journal. Upon Germany’s annexation of Austria in 1938, Hildebrand was forced to flee again, this time across Europe and then across the Atlantic, eventually arriving in New York in 1940. Throughout this odyssey, nothing – not the loss of personal property or the threat of death – could frighten him into silence.
That is why his voice deserves to be heard today. “From day one, his guideline was truth,’” his widow, Dr. Alice von Hildebrand, said in a recent interview. “On his deathbed he confided his whole literary bequest to me and he said, ‘If you find anything which is not true, burn it!’ That was his greatness. Truth is never ‘mine.’ It is ours. It is offered to all.” This humility kept Hildebrand from publicizing his experiences when other resisters to Nazism became widely celebrated after World War II. But Alice, whom Hildebrand married after his first wife Gretchen died in 1957, begged him to write his memoirs.
Hildebrand’s account makes up most of the book. In addition, excerpts from his essays reveal his methodical refutation of Nazi ideology and chart a philosophical road map for combating pervasive moral error.
Taken together, these writings are an essential witness to the power of a good conscience. Knowing he spoke the truth, Hildebrand possessed the rare freedom of those who know their cause will stand under the lens of the eternal. As he wrote to a former friend who – accepting the axiom vox temporis, vox Dei (the voice of the times is the voice of God) – had capitulated to Nazi ideology: “God calls us to fight the Antichrist regardless of whether we triumph, which ultimately is up to God. If God permits such evils as Bolshevism and National Socialism, then of course, as Saint Paul says, it is to test us; it is precisely our struggle against evil that God wills, even when we suffer external defeat.”