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Of Hitler and Bird Calls
The following is an absurd perversion of historical fact. Of the long factual list of bizarre things Hitler did, from taking methamphetamine daily, to dabbling in the occult, to playing a part in the creation of the VW Bug, to my knowledge he was never an expert of birdcalls.
This story is a historical fiction along the lines of such films as Forrest Gump, Inglorious Bastards, and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
I first learned of Hitler when I was a child, sitting on the living room carpet playing with Hot Wheels or monster trucks or wrestling action figures, or whatever toy was important to me at the time. I don’t remember the toy so much as the images flashing on the television, my father sitting stoically in his recliner, watching a PBS documentary intently, not enjoying what he saw but feeling a duty to try to understand the why and how of it anyway. It was here I learned about the Hitler everybody knows, images of nude, emaciated bodies piled on top of one another burned into my retinas. The program said the bodies were those of Jews, but I didn’t know of Jews, and they just looked like people to me.
Throughout my life I have came back again and again to the topic of Hitler, and like my father, I have tried, without success, to understand. Today, as a man in my mid-thirties, I don’t really know any more than when I was eight or nine or ten, or however old I was when I first heard the term concentration camp on public broadcasting: Hitler did very bad things. This should never have happened. Ever since, all the written accounts and film footage I have seen, have been able to interpret with an adult mind, I really have been able to draw no other conclusions on the matter. But I still read about it; I still watch the documentaries, wanting to understand, feeling it is my duty to try to.
A Listless College Freshman
It was in an introductory history class in college that I first learned of Hitler and birdcalls. The idea that this genocidal monster could also take the time to learn the sounds birds made, and to imitate them, fascinated me. It seemed like something a thinking, breathing human being would do, a kindly family friend you might affectionately call Dolphie, not a soulless dictator. It is almost a comical sight in the mind’s eye: Hitler with his intense scowl and in full garb, swastika wrapped around his bicep, frightful moustache, cupping his hand to his mouth as a ridiculous noise emanates from his person, a mallard flocking to perch beside him. The history professor mentioned the birdcalls only in passing, as history teachers are so fond of doing with the interesting stuff. Then it was back to talking about the blood and guts Hitler that we know.
Like many college freshman, I was listless and without identity. Just a few months earlier I had been somebody, a high school senior who knew and understood his little world and was excited about the new world to come. Six weeks into college and I had failed to make a single friend. The girls here didn’t think I was special. I was a loner, a nobody. I was homesick, but too proud to admit it. My grades were poor, but I couldn’t seem to make myself care about it. All of this amounted to a very angry, young man, the sort of person that makes bad decisions, develops bad philosophies. It was a pivotal time in my life and a path needed to be chosen. Hitler and birdcalls: that was all I had, the only thing that motivated my imagination. I didn’t know why, and the topic seemingly profited my future in no way, but I needed to know more about it.
Finding information about Hitler is easy. There are thousands upon thousands of pages chronicling his infamy. There are thousands of films about almost every facet of his life. But go to find information about Hitler’s affinity for birdcalls, and you are going to be searching for a good, long while. The information is out there, but if one can imagine a very large library filled with books concerning everything else about Hitler, one need only imagine a thimble beside that library half-full with information about Hitler and birdcalls to get an accurate visual of the lack of material available. That being said, a prisoner is a prisoner, and I was a prisoner to this newfound obsession. For whatever reason, I needed to know, and the information would be found and would not disappoint.
Which of the following birds is most interesting to you?
Hitler the Entertainer
When asked to conjure a representation of Hitler, most of us will summon an angry man, a stupid moustache, and an ugly black and red symbol. The image is screaming and shouting angry words many of us do not understand and waving its arms fanatically. Going further, one may envision a desperate, confused crowd, fevered and riotous. But the earliest promotional materials paint a picture of a much different type of gathering. One flier reads as follows: Come see Adolf Hitler: Birdcall Master and Political Reformist.
An unaccredited newspaper review of the performance reads as follows:
“Adolph Hitler delights crowds as he mimics precisely the call of various duck species, pigeons, and even a peahen. Children and adults alike watch in wonderment as this master birdcall artist beckons various feathered creatures within mere feet of him. The sounds he makes are so lifelike the birds themselves cannot even distinguish he is not an authentic member of their species, even while he stands in plain sight.”
The article makes no mention of Hitler’s political speech.
It may seem odd to us in modern times to show up in droves for a birdcall exhibition, but one need only research the German people of the time to understand the attraction. As Wilhelm Richter, an audience member in one of the early exhibitions, relates, “We Germans love birds. Not just a delicious duck on our dinner plate, the majesty of them soaring through the air, their beautiful plumage. This was the early 1900’s. Some of us had never seen an airplane. On the stage of the sky, birds were about the only show in town. To be close to a bird, to touch one, to command it, this was magical.” He goes on to explain, “I remember Hitler’s birdcall exhibitions. Many of us back then considered ourselves competent at it. It was rare that a boy wasn’t taught more or less from birth. One could say it was in our genes. It was a skill that got you the girls. And there were lots of birdcall exhibitions back then, too. A person could say the top birdcall artists were much like the television stars of today. But Hitler, nobody could call a bird like he could. Watching him on the stage, it was as if he actually became the bird. And not just native birds either, exotics. I once saw Hitler call an ostrich right up to the stage and touch his nose to its beak. Any bird, he had the ability to just hear it squawk a few times and he could replicate it exactly.”
A Decision is Made
But Hitler’s fame as a birdcall artist seemed to work against his political aspirations. The German population liked their art and politics separate. Hans Wolf, another face in the crowd, explains, “It was strange to have this happy, festive Hitler charming us with birdcalls and then see him switch to political agendas and drone on about them angrily for hours. People would just leave after the birdcalls were finished.”
This angered Hitler’s political supporters. Advisement to get rid of the bird exhibition was delivered, but Hitler was unwilling to allow for it. A compromise was struck: Hitler would give his political speeches first and then do the bird exhibition. This also failed to work. The patrons simply came to the outings late. The decision was clear: either Hitler must pursue other financial backing and focus solely on birdcalls or keep his current supporters and become a fulltime politician. He couldn’t do both.
We can choose to love or we can choose to hate. We can choose to help or we can choose to hurt. Hitler chose the latter on both accounts. Gone was the youthful exuberance of his bird exhibitions. Here to stay was his hate speech and power lust. Among his inner-circle he would still do an occasional birdcall, but the light was all but extinguished
Lamenting the Dodo
In his last years, when defeat loomed heavy, Hitler was said to lament the dodo bird. A former servant recounts, “He’d cup his mouth and make some noise, seemingly not of him. He’d say, ‘Maybe that’s what the dodo bird sounded like.’ He’d go out on the porch and try it. When nothing came, he’d shrug his shoulders and say, ‘Gone, all gone.’ He did this a lot towards the end.”
The irony and hypocrisy of Hitler being saddened by the loss of a species cannot be overlooked when one considers the role extinction of a people played in his chosen mission. Nor can the fields of skeletal figures stripped and stacked upon one another. Hitler did very bad things, and this never should have happened. But behind all of this devastation is a decision. Much is made of Hitler’s failure as a painter. His paintings were met with little fanfare, but failure in and of itself does not a monster make. In addition, Hitler still had another creative outlet. So acclaimed was he for his birdcalls, it was often said, “Hitler could call a penguin from the equator.” But instead he chose another flock to speak to and led them to a place far hotter.
A happy Hitler delighted crowds with his birdcalls, and he could have continued doing this and died happy, old and but a historical blip. Instead, a different Hitler won out. Rightfully, this is the Hitler the world will always remember. Why did Hitler quit wowing crowds with bizarre noises? Why did such a large segment of the German population decide to quit taking pleasure in the simple things and focus on the woe and not the joy of living? Why did they target a people to unleash all their frustrations on? Why do we still do it today? I don’t know, and though we will always search for an answer, as we should, I doubt a definitive one will ever be found. I do know that as a freshman in college researching this topic for no better reason than my own peace of mind, I came to this conclusion: When faced with the choice of birdcalls or genocide, choose birdcalls. And so I did and still do.