The Early Years
Adolf Hitler had a very troubled childhood growing up in Austria. He was born in 1889 and had an unhappy upbringing – his father was very strict and often beat him. Hitler had difficulty making friends and was often an outcast even at school. In 1906, at 17, he moved to Vienna in the hopes of becoming an artist, but was rejected by the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna.
He eventually moved to Munich, Germany in 1913, enlisting in the Bavarian army two years later. It was during his time in the Bavarian army that one of the most famous stories of Hitler’s life is set: his near-drowning at the Yser Canal in Flanders.
On October 13th, 1918, Hitler was on watch duty at the Yser Canal, where a regiment of 120 men, including Hitler, were positioned to help repel the advancing forces. During the night, heavy rain caused an eruption in the canal and the regiment had to flee for safety. Hitler attempted to make his way to a nearby shed, but was swept away by the fast-flowing flood waters.
He was later found unconscious and was revived. Speculation has surrounded the incident ever since, with some claiming that it was the last remaining ally soldiers who saved Hitler from the canal and not vice versa.
Investigating the Incident
The incident has been subject to a great deal of investigation, with experts trying to piece together the truth of what happened that night at the Yser Canal. One primary source that has helped to further complicate the story of Hitler’s nighttime ordeal is an article written by Leon Gauer and published in the Paris Newspaper in 1928, written ten years after the incident.
Gauer wrote that soldiers from the 11th Company of the 2nd Infantry Regiment had seen Hitler “treading water and about to go out of his depth”. The article claims that the soldiers went to his aid and threw Hitler a blanket before carrying him to safety. Gauer’s personal involvement in the actual incident is seen by many experts as further proof that the rescue actually occurred.
Perspective from Experts
Many academics have weighed in on the matter, debating the likelihood of Hitler being saved from drowning. Ulf Jahnke, chief historical advisor for the Bavarian Army History Museum in Ingolstadt, believes that although Hitler was undoubtedly nearly drowned at the Yser Canal, it was possible that he may have found a way out of the canal on his own, although he concedes the possibility of a rescue.
Harald Welzer, a social psychologist and author of the book “Hitler’s War of Extermination: 1941 – 1945” is more certain of the event, stating in an interview with the Algemeine Zeitung that “Hitler was rescued by a group of soldiers who saw him in difficulty and threw him a blanket”, echoing the previous notion of Gauer’s article in 1928.
Analysis of the Incident
From our investigation, it appears that there is a possibility that Adolf Hitler was rescued from the Yser Canal in 1918, although it is difficult to establish the facts definitively. It appears that the story was either embellished or hidden from the public in order to further the myth of Hitler’s invincibility.
What can be deduced from the evidence is that it is likely that Hitler was saved, albeit possibly by himself. But the incident does serve to suggest that he was not invincible as his myth suggests and that he was, in fact, just a man.
Dealing with Injury
After the incident, Hitler reported to a Munich military hospital, where he was found to have several injuries that had caused him significant pain and discomfort. This included several burst eardrums, a shrapnel wound to the arm, temporary paralysis caused by gas, a dislocated shoulder and a temporary blindness.
The medical attention Hitler received in the hospital helped him to make a full recovery. Historians agree that it was because of the medical attention he got while in the hospital that helped Hitler to resume his life and even propel him to power.
The Impact of the Incident
The events of October 13th, 1918 have become an important part of the discussion of the life of Hitler and the story has become heavily mythologized. Whilst it cannot be known for certain whether or not Hitler was actually saved, or managed to get out of danger’s way himself, it does appear that the incident had a profound effect on him and his subsequent career as a full recovery enabled him to go on to become one of history’s most notorious figures.
The incident resonates strongly in popular culture and is often used to further the myth of Hitler’s invincibility – an important topic to consider in an attempt to explain how his reign of terror was able to come to fruition.
The Mythology of Invincibility
The Hitler myth of invincibility was central to his success as it brings with it a sense of fear and respect that can lead to a stronger following. In the mind of the public, Adolf Hitler was a powerful figure who was completely in control – a feeling which was obviously reinforced by the story of his near-drowning.
It could be argued that this mythology has enabled some people to be more forgiving of his actions, while others might suggest that the myth has helped to also enable his victims to more effectively express how they felt his actions affected them.
Religious and Philosophical Significance
Religious and philosophical interpretations of the incidence of Adolf Hitler’s near-drowning often suggest that his escape was a sign of divine intervention. Many supporters believe that Hitler was ‘chosen’ by a God-like force and was saved from the Yser Canal as a sign of this. It could be argued that this story of divine destiny has helped some to make sense of his reign of terror.
Others, however, have argued that the incident serves to show that mankind is capable of overcoming personal tragedy, no matter how difficult the situation might seem. This message of hope and resilience is one that has been repeated in literature and films for generations, since the incident at Yser Canal.
The Legacy of the Incident
The legacy of the incident has served to further complicate the understanding of Hitler, in that the incident has enabled some people to humanize his legacy in an attempt to explain his rise to power. Though it may not be possible to know the exact details of what happened on the night of October 13th, 1918, it is clear that the event has taken on a life of its own and has become embedded in the collective knowledge of history.
The continued speculation as to the extent of which Hitler was rescued has become a part of the story and in many ways has become a part of his legacy. It is only through constant examination of the facts surrounding the incident that a better understanding of what actually happened can be attained.