Jan 14, 2009

Lifestyle - Adolf Hitler, a lover of books who quoted from Hamlet

London, Jan 13 (IANS) Better known for burning books rather than collecting them, Adolf Hitler owned an estimated 16,000 volumes and was a voracious reader who loved Shakespeare, says a new book.

'It was by any measure an impressive collection: first editions of the works of philosophers, historians, poets, playwrights and novelists,' historian Timothy W. Ryback writes in his 'Hitler's Private Library: The Books That Shaped His Life'.

'He read voraciously, at least one book per night and sometimes more, he claimed. 'When one gives, one also has to take,' he once said. 'I take what I need from books',' says an extract from Ryback's book published in the Sunday Times.

The book, which is to be published in Britain next month, says Hitler ranked 'Don Quixote', along with 'Robinson Crusoe', 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' and 'Gulliver's Travels', among the great works of world literature.

He also owned a multi-volume German-language set of the collected works of William Shakespeare, the entire set bound in hand-tooled Moroccan leather, with a gold-embossed eagle, flanked by his initials, on the spine.

Ryback, who researched collections of Hitler books in the US and Europe, reveals that Hitler considered Shakespeare superior to fellow-Germans Goethe and Schiller.

'Why was it, he wondered, the German enlightenment produced Nathan and Wise, the story of the rabbi who reconciles Christians, Muslims and Jews, while it had been left to Shakespeare to give the world 'The Merchant of Venice' and Shylock?'

Hitler, who kept Shakespeare volumes in the second floor study of his Alpine retreat in southern Germany, 'appears to have imbibed his 'Hamlet'' and was especially fond of 'Julius Caeser'.

'To be or not to be' and 'It is Hecuba to me' from 'Hamlet' were favourite phrases of his.

The German leader, versed in Holy Scriptures, also owned a 'particularly handsome tome' of 'Worte Christi' (Words of Christ), American industrialist Henry Ford's anti-semitic tract, 'The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem', and a 1931 handbook on poison gas.

Ryback found the volumes among 1,200 surviving books from Hitler's library that are stored in the Rare Book Division of the Library of Congress in Washington. These volumes once graced Hitler's bookcases in his three elegantly appointed libraries at private residences in Munich, Berlin and Obersalzberg.

Ryback also found further collections in public and private archives in Europe and the US, including at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Among the 80 books in the Brown University collection, taken from Hitler's bunker in 1945, were half a dozen or so spiritual and occult volumes, including an account of supernatural occurrences, 'The Dead Are Alive!'

The author says several dozen books contain marginalia - notes written along the books' margins.

'Here I encountered a man who famously seemed never to listen to anyone, for whom conversation was a relentless tirade, a ceaseless monologue, pausing to engage with the text, to underline words and sentences, to mark entire paragraphs, to place an exclamation point beside one passage, a question mark beside another and quite frequently an emphatic series of parallel lines...'

But, Ryback notes, easily two thirds of the collection consists of books that Hitler 'never saw, let alone read'.

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