The Bookworm: The final word on Hitler? Historic context

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“The Death of Hitler: The Final Word”

  • By Jean-Christophe Brisard and Lana Parshina
  • c. 2018, Da Capo Press
  • $29, $38 Canada; 329 pages

You’re on the edge of your chair. Curiosity is almost killing you; there’s something you need to know but knowledge may be impossible. Truth may be hidden, though you follow every clue and learn what you can. You’re hanging, and you know the truth is somewhere but as you’ll see in the new book “The Death of Hitler: The Final Word” by Jean-Christophe Brisard and Lana Parshina, answers may be hard to come by.

"The Death of Hitler: The Final Word" by Jean-Christophe Brisard and Lana Parshina.

It had been a long journey to Moscow. For months, Brisard and Parshina had been gently petitioning the Russian government to allow them to see something that few others had ever seen. He, a Frenchman; she, a Russian-American, had been asking to see evidence of Adolph Hitler’s death, in the form of a piece of skull.

Born in 1889, Hitler was long dead by then: legend had it that he and his wife (some say mistress) poisoned themselves and their bodies were burned because Hitler was afraid of what the Russians would do to his corpse. Much like Elvis, however, sightings of a living Hitler were reported for years, post-WWII. Various spotters in several countries claimed to have seen the Nazi as an old man, but other document-supported eyewitness accounts led Brisard and Parshina to firmly believe that Hitler’s last days were spent more than 25 feet below-ground in a bunker with a handful of men, women, and children, slowly losing his health and his mind.

The Russians held the proof.

It was early 2016 when Brisard and Parshina were finally allowed to view the evidence and documents. Immediately, they noticed that the cranial shard, the most tantalizing bit of clue, had clearly been pierced by a bullet that had probably caused its owner’s death. The owner, however, was unknown, and previous experts claimed it was from the skull of a younger woman. Other physical evidence tied the bone to Hitler. His own officers insisted that he’d taken cyanide. Dental evidence offered more clues.

 “The mystery about Hitler’s death,” say the authors, “would remain unsolved for decades.”

But is it solved now?  Jean-Christophe Brisard and Lana Parshina seem to think so, although they point out that no witnesses are alive for interrogation.

And yet, the evidence they’ve presented is intriguing enough to feel definitive and getting there is fascinating. “The Death of Hitler: The Final Word” rivals any fictional mystery, with plenty of back-story on Hitler and those who surrounded him in his last days. Those scenarios feel ominous, even though we know the outcome; they also sometimes feel too pat, as if they’re there to move the story along. What helps is that the authors pull readers into modern-day sleuthing often enough to keep their ground.

This book is very well-sourced, and it’s perfect for historians, World War II buffs, and mystery-lovers. Parts of it do feel recreated here, but it possesses a reassurance of truth and a positive air of authority. “The Death of Hitler: The Final Word” is a very good book, though the final word may still be hanging.

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“Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation”

  • By Robert W. Fieseler
  • c. 2018, Liveright
  • $26.95, $35.95 Canada; 343 pages

You’ll never forget that one night. The drinks were cold; the weather, warm; and you were out to have fun with friends you loved and those you hadn’t yet met. You’ll never forget the table, the music, the lights, or the name of the bar – and if you did, as in the new book “Tinderbox” by Robert W. Fieseler, there was probably a reason …

"Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation" by Robert W. Fieseler.

Sunday afternoon, June 24, 1973, started like every other Sunday at the Up Stairs Lounge in New Orleans ’ French Quarter.

Bar manager Buddy Rasmussen opened the place for its weekly Beer Bash, at which patrons could drink all afternoon for a lowered price. Buddy had come with his “lover,” Adam, and as other regulars filtered in, the music started, drinks flowed, and the Up Stairs Lounge filled mostly with gay men, a few allies, and good times.

That the Up Stairs Lounge even existed is remarkable: just a few years after Stonewall, gay men were still openly persecuted, legally and otherwise. It was unlawful in many places, for instance, for a man to dance with another man; gay sex was once punishable by life in prison. But there was the Up Stairs Lounge, quietly advertising with a canopy out front and welcoming to the public, although there were rules in place.

"Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation" author Robert W. Fieseler.

It was, perhaps, the breaking of one of those rules that started the trouble: early that evening, witnesses remembered a fight over hustling (forbidden activity in the Up Stairs Lounge) and two men were kicked out. Though no one will ever know for sure, it’s believed that one of them walked down the street, purchased a container of lighter fluid, returned, and dumped the can’s contents onto the wooden steps of the hundred-year-old building.

He dropped a flame and walked away. Within seconds, says Fieseler, “no one was going into the Up Stairs Lounge … nor was anyone coming out.”

And if that doesn’t chill you, there’s a lot more about “Tinderbox” that will, starting with what immediately follows those words: page after page of stomach-twisting details of death by fire and the horror of publicly burning alive. Author Robert W. Fieseler shares the details and oh, my, they’re wretched.

That’s only part of the shock of this book. It continues with controversy within religious organizations, gay-friendly and otherwise, and birthing pains of activism that seem as painful to read as they must’ve been in life. As he’s telling the story, Fieseler continues to remind readers that officials seemed not to care about solving this crime, despite that there were survivors to mourn the thirty-two who died in the fire.

And then there were the families who turned their sons away, even in death.

Through all this, Fieseler asks – and answers - why we largely don’t know the whole of this tale. His answers are multitudinous, compassionate, important in a historical context, and emotional. He says, of this account, “with the last bodies laid to rest, the story faded from minds” but “Tinderbox” makes it one you won’t likely forget.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.