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Vast bookshelves groan under the weight of books on Adolf Hitler, the Third Reich, and the Holocaust. New Hitler biographies appear as regularly as crocuses, and universities are creating entire departments devoted to Holocaust studies. But anyone who wishes to inspect specific sites associated with Hitler immediately encounters a problem.

Standard guidebooks do not include most of these sites. An American visiting Germany or Austria has difficulty locating them, because Germans and Austrians do not want to talk about Hitler at all. Even mentioning him is considered impolite. Although many guidebooks do describe the concentration camps, Germans themselves become quite annoyed if an American should inquire about Dachau, Buchenwald, or Bergen Belsen. Clerks in German book stores, even stores selling only travel books, can become downright rude when an American asks for a guide book that includes the camps, and nastier if the subject of Hitler arises.

Nevertheless, our curiosity about Hitler is eminently legitimate. The more we know about him, one hopes, the less likely such a person will ever again rise to power, at least by popular vote, as Hitler did in Germany.

There is no better way to learn about Hitler’s warped character and the origins of his murderous impulses than to see the tenements, slums, and shelters in which he was forced to seek refuge because of his unwillingness to work. Wandering the streets of Vienna in 1909, freezing, penniless, homeless, hungry, filthy, emaciated, louse-infested, Hitler learned how to hate. Winston Churchill described him as "a maniac of ferocious genius, the repository and expression of the most virulent hatreds that have ever corrupted the human breast."

How cruel was Hitler? The concentration camps with their gas chambers and crematoria are one example. Another is the execution chamber in Berlin’s Plötzensee Prison. Here Hitler had the conspirators in the July 20, 1944 plot to assassinate him slowly strangled as they hung by piano wire from hooks. The chamber has been preserved as a monument, hooks and all. Hitler ordered another resistance leader, Carl Goerdeler, a former mayor of Leipzig, beheaded at Plötzensee with a hand held ax.

How was Hitler able to do what he did? Who helped him? Travel to the little Austrian town of Leonding, a suburb of Linz. Here, in a churchyard cemetery, adjacent to one of Hitler’s boyhood homes, the grave of his parents is still lovingly tended, bedecked with flowers and candles. In European cemeteries, unlike American ones, families must pay to maintain graves. When the family dies out, the remains are disinterred and discarded. The exceptions are Ehrengräber, honored graves, the graves of famous people. Hitler’s parents’ grave falls in this category. Thus, no one should be surprised that the majority of high Nazi and SS officials came from Austria, not Germany.

Visits to sites in Vienna, Berlin, and Leonding, as well as many others described in this book, can furnish insights into Hitler and Nazi Germany that are difficult to obtain in any other manner. The visitor comes away with a more profound understanding of who and what Hitler really was.