I Was Hitler's Baker
by Glenn Peterson

"He [Hitler] had an almost uncanny ability to compartmentalize—Chancellor, host, sexual pervert—with no apparent overlap."

Hitler is a bully with a gang. Josef, the naïve son of a baker, befriends Adolph for his own protection. They grow up and grow apart, but the two are reunited after World War I when the apolitical but ambitious Josef moves his bakery to bustling Munich. Soon, the competition cripples him. While despondently removing a German Workers’ Party poster from his bakery window, Josef reads that “A. Hitler” is speaking that night. Curious to hear what his old school friend has to say, he attends.

The brew hall is packed. Josef plots how to turn the crowd into customers and barely hears Hitler’s “Twenty-Five Points for a Greater Germany.” Again, Josef befriends Adolph for his own protection, and his bakery becomes the bustling hangout for the Nazi Party. Josef becomes the German “everyman,” concerned with survival and success, and deliberately chooses to ignore the Nazis’ dehumanization of the Jews with desensitizing euphemisms such as “resettlement, processing, protection, and relocation.” The narrative shifts midway during a weekend spent at Hitler’s Bavarian Berghof. Josef accidentally witnesses an unusual, intimate encounter between Hitler and Eva Braun. The baker’s blinders begin to loosen, though his Nazi wife’s do not.

The author of this compelling tale is no stranger to this time period. Peterson’s first novel, The Girl from Copenhagen, recounts his mother’s experience in German-occupied Denmark. With this book, he admirably achieves his stated goal: to explore how the majority of Germans remained silent while Adolph Hitler systematically eliminated Europe’s Jews. Through the disarmingly entertaining narrative of Josef, Adolph’s boyhood friend, Peterson normalizes Hitler’s behavior in a sinisterly slow fashion, starting with his childhood. By using the perspective of an average German baker, Peterson brilliantly shows how a country could turn a blind eye to the atrocities perpetrated during Hitler’s slow rise to power.

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