Butterflies of the Reich

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Although it was published nearly two-thirds of a century ago, I never read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich before. I just started reading it this weekend, and it’s a riveting read so far.

Most of us are familiar with the ‘butterfly effect” that is mentioned with chaos theory – – that is, how one tiny, inconsequential action can ultimately have huge effects. There are many examples of this in the Third Reich book because, let’s face it, had Hitler not been the leader of Germany, then the lives of tens of millions of people (actually more like hundreds of millions, or possibly even billions) would be affected.

Of course, most of us know how, as a soldier in World War I, Hitler almost died but was saved, ironically, by a member of the allied forces. And likewise, we realize that if the art academy in Vienna had accepted his application so that he could achieve his youthful dream of being a great artist, then this person name “Hitler” would simply have become a little-known Germany painter of the mid 20th-century.

I read in the book something I never knew, however, which was that his original surname was Schicklgruber, but, very late in life, his elderly father decided to amble down to the government registration office and testify to the fact that he, the elder Hitler, was in fact the boy’s father, thus they changed his name accordingly. Beforehand, the old fella didn’t really want to own up to the fact.

“So what?”, you might ask. Well, so plenty. Because a big part of the success of the Nazi party was marketing. They had an amazing logo. They had awesome uniforms, designed by Hugo Boss. And their leader had a short, memorable name with a staccato beat.

The author of Third Reich quite correctly points out that persistent shouts of “Heil Schicklgruber!” simply would not have caught on. Thus, the afterthought that old man Hitler had to make his way to a government clerk and, for no particular reason, fess up to the fact that he was the kids’ dad, very likely affected world history in a way that no one could possibly have fathomed.