book review, history

PhD Student Meets Hitler

I’ve been reading Travelers in the Third Reich by Julia Boyd, which compiles the journals and letters and other observations of people who visited Germany starting in the 1920s and the Weimar Republic and into the Hitler regime. I find this a totally fascinating topic because so many people vacationed or conducted business in Germany in the 30s and had no idea how dark it was and would continue to be. Many of these visitors exposed their own prejudices and racist attitudes towards Jews and felt sympathetic towards the Nazis. And sometimes, despite any misgivings they had about the Nazis, they got swept up in the pageantry and cult behavior of the Nazi party. I may blog again about this book as I keep reading it because there’s a lot of interesting stuff in here.

One of the stories that popped out to me was that of Milton S. J. Wright, who at the time of the rise of the Nazi party was a PhD student of economics at Heidelberg University, and was lucky enough to have an audience with Adolf Hitler himself… and what made this all the more eye-opening is that Milton Wright was black.

A clip from the Pittsburgh Courier in 1942 that interviewed Wright on his conversation with Hitler a decade before.

Wright gave an account of his experience with Hitler a few months after Pearl Harbor in the Pittsburgh Courier, a black weekly newspaper, and offered up some amazing insights into Hitler:

The time with Hitler was spent almost entirely by his asking me questions about the Negroes in the United States. Of course I had little opportunity to answer any of his questions because he would no sooner ask a question than he would immediately proceed to give his own answer. When I would attempt to correct some of his versions of life in America, he would almost invariably break in with another question or comment. With that exception he was most courteous to me. He spoke loudly, long, and with an air or authority.

I’m actually not that surprised that Hitler, a master orator and dictator, would answer his own questions. Sounds quite boorish. Hitler expressed some unsurprising views on race:

He expressed the opinion that Negroes could not have much backbone, because of the fact that they consistently allowed the whites to lynch them, beat them, segregate them, without rising up against their oppressors. “They must be definitely third-class people,” he said. “Minority groups always get the worst of it in conflicts like race-riots.” “Don’t you think your people are destined perpetually to be slaves of one kind or another?” he asked. Hitler’s answer was an enthusiastic “yes”! Your people are a hopeless lot. I don’t hate them. I pity the poor devils.”

And let’s watch Hitler him give a backhanded compliment:

He paid me a compliment by saying that I spoke better German than any white American or Englishman he had ever heard. He hastened to say, however, that he had heard that Negroes were natural-born imitators. Perhaps that accounted for my good pronounciation [sic] and enunciation of “the master language.” (Hitler spoke no word of English and his German had a decided Austrian accent.)

Wright’s dissertation from his time in Heidelberg was entitled “The Economic Development and Native Policy of the Former German Colonies, 1884-1918” that the Nazis later circulated as part of their campaign to regain Germany’s lost colonies. An interesting footnote for an accomplished academic hailed in the above newspaper clipping as “one of the most intellectually brilliant of young Americans.”

I’ve been trying the past couple of days to track down a copy of his feature on this particular episode of his life that ran in Ebony magazine in 1950, but that appears to be one issue that was not digitized for Google, and I’ve run into a few speed bumps getting it through other sources. But I would definitely love to read that perspective as well! (Interesting enough, Hans Massaquoi was a later editor Ebony magazine – he was a biracial man who was raised in Nazi Germany and wrote a memoir on the experience called Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany.)

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