When Adolf Hitler volunteered for the German army at the outbreak of war in August 1914, he had long been under antisemitic influence. His comrades-in-arms would afterwards relate that he was a somewhat strange person who would regularly give vent to his feelings against the Jews, but since the research done by Brigitte Hamann has demonstrated that he had not become an open anti-Semite when he left Vienna in 1913, the trustworthiness of those sources may be questioned. It is at any rate a remarkable paradox that his superior officer, the man who recommended him for the coveted Iron Cross 1st Class was – a Jew.
Hitler had early shown his courage – and his valour had been appreciated. After only two months of front duty, he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class, and several other distinctions were to follow. On the other hand, it was quite unusual that he as a Lance-Corporal was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class, as this order was almost always reserved for the commissioned officers. He was presented with the Iron Cross 1st Class on August 4, 1918, near Soissons, on recommendation from artillery lieutenant of the reserve Hugo Gutmann.
Hugo Gutmann was Hitler’s immediate superior officer from January 29 to August 31, 1918. His military papers have been preserved, and they tell that he was born on November 19, 1880 in Nuremberg as the son of the shop-keeper Salomon Gutmann and his wife Emma. He himself stated his religion as Jewish.
In 1902 he volunteered for the army and was appointed non-commissioned officer before he was transferred to the reserve in 1904. At the outbreak of war in 1914, Hugo Gutmann was called up, and soon after he was transferred to Regiment List. On April 15, 1915, he was promoted to Lieutenant, and after that he acted as adjutant for the regiment’s artillery battalion. On the same day that Hitler received his Iron Cross, the regimental commander, Freiherr von Tubeuf, wrote a recommendation on Gutmann which shows his energy as a front officer.
Gutmann was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class on December 2, 1914 – incidentally the same day as Hitler – and the Iron Cross 1st Class on December 4, 1915. After that he had repeatedly shown personal courage, and he had been able to serve as the link between the regimental commander and the battalions “in a tactful and successful way.”
While Gutmann’s recommendation refers to concrete events in late May, 1918, where he had undertaken “actions far exceeding his duty”, the arguments for Hitler’s Iron Cross were extremely meagre. The recommendation speaks generally about bravery and “personal merit,” but it mentions no concrete occasion which would really justify the honour.
Hugo Gutmann later gave his version of the course that led to the awarding of the Iron Cross to Hitler: an important message was to be sent from the regimental staff the the front lines. The telephone was out of order, so Gutmann promised Hitler and another orderly the Iron Cross 1st Class if they could deliver the message safely.
It took Gutmann two months to redeem his promise, as that sort of dangerous assignments was really an everyday occurrence, and therefore was normally not considered a basis for this extraordinary distinction. That Gutmann succeeded may be due to the fact that the regimental commander was absent between July 26 and August 4.
In his absence the regiment was commanded by Freiherr von Godin who was a stranger to the regiment and thus hardly able to appraise the justice of awarding Lance-Corporal Adolf Hitler the honour.
Later on, Hitler himself was remarkably silent concerning the events that led to the award of the Iron Cross. It would have been an obvious move to exploit this conspicuous evidence of bravery and courage as political propaganda right from the beginning. But Adolf Hitler only started to wear his Iron Cross in 1927 – and he wore it from then on and until his death at every conceivable opportunity. It was evidently a symbol which had a particular meaning to him.
But was his silence due to the fact that his Iron Cross had not been awarded for any conspicuous achievement – with reality standing in stark contrast to the myths that later circulated in The Third Reich of his having singlehandedly taken a group of French soldiers prisoner? Or did he see it as a totem of the decision to become a politician that he had taken on November 10, 1918 – and in that case why?
Perhaps we can track this to his specific attack on the very man who had procured it for him:
I did not wear the Iron Cross 1st class during the World War [1914-18] because I saw how it was awarded. We had a Jew in the regiment, Gutmann, an unparallelled cowardly person. He wore the Iron Cross 1st Class. It was revolting and a disgrace.
Was this exasperation only due to the fact that two months had elapsed from the time when Gutmann had promised him the Iron Cross and the time that he got it? And was it really sheer coincidence that this spiteful attack on Gutmann took place precisely on November 10, 1941, the anniversary of his decision to become a politician?
The Führer had exactly at that time repeated his prophecy of Final Judgment on Jewry in his traditional speech to old companions in Munich on November 8, and thereby he had speeded up the preparations for the systematic extermination programme. One of the consequences of this speech was Reinhard Heydrich’s invitation to a conference at Berlin-Wannsee, to coordinate the Final Solution of the Jewish Question, flanked by Goebbels’ notorius article in “Das Reich” entitled “The Jews are to blame.”
Hugo Gutmann was still unmarried when, at the age of 38, he was demobilized on February 8, 1919. He married the year after and his wife later bore two children. Late in 1933 he asked the Bavarian War Archives for a copy of his military papers – probably in order to take advantage of President Hindenburg’s stubborn defence of the civil rights of the Jewish war veterans. Hugo Gutmann at that time owned an office-furniture shop in Vordere Steingasse 3 in Nuremberg. Together with his family he escaped in 1939 to Belgium, and in 1940 he came to the United States, where he changed his name to Henry G. Grant. According to the historian Werner Maser, he received – by Hitler’s intervention – a pension from the Third Reich down to the end of the war.
If this is correct, Adolf Hitler must certainly have been unclarified and self-contradictory in his relations with Hugo Gutmann. But if Gutmann really was the Jew who was responsible for the radicality of Hitler’s antisemitism, why didn’t Hitler just put him out of the way?
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