Following last week's Overland Park, Kansas, shootings at the town's Jewish Community Center and also at a Jewish assisted living site, where two Methodists and one Catholic were senselessly killed (any killing of any innocent person of any faith, or no faith, is senseless, heartbreaking and revolting), I was reminded of the time I met and interviewed one of Hitler's closest confidants, but, dichotomously, a man who also didn't like Hitler and who had nothing to do with the beliefs of The Third Reich, to wit: In late 1974, as part of a television interview series taped after I moved from the Twin Cities to Washington, D.C., my D.C. producer booked a man named Stefan Lorant to be an interviewee. Mr. Lorant was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1901 but moved to Germany in 1919, immediately following completion of his high school education. In 1974, Mr. Lorant's 16th book was published, entitled, "SIEG HEIL: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF GERMANY FROM BISMARCK TO HITLER", about which I'd interview him. He kindly gave me a copy of the book, which I still treasure. The book contains unique photos of every facet of German life from the time of the book's first photo, i.e., a picture of the October 18, 1861, coronation of Kaiser Wilhelm I, in Konigsberg, as Prussian King, to the book's final photo of a bomb-decimated silhouette of one Hitler's most beloved buildings, with the accompanying quote, "THE END OF THE THOUSAND-YEAR REICH: It lasted twelve years, four months and eight days. Inside the bombed-out building, a naked lightbulb sheds its flickering light; a wisp of smoke trails Heavenward from the chimney. Life begins anew."
I asked Mr. Lorant how he acquired the plum assignment to photo-chronicle Hitler from his days in prison in the 1920s to the end of his life. This is what he told me, verbatim: "Because I was a well-known journalist and photographer, Hitler asked me to join the Nazi party as one of its six original members. I did so, but after two meetings within a week, I knew Hitler was crazy. I also knew this man would meet a violent demise, but I also knew if I quit the party so soon after its formation, he might have me killed. After thinking for a day or two, I approached him at the next party meeting and told him I was not a politician and would like to respectfully quit the party, but would still like to choronicle all that he would achieve. For some odd reason, he agreed to allowing me to quit and also agreed to letting me be his personal photojournalist "biographer". I was relieved, because I knew, from a mercenary point of view, all the exclusive photos and liners that accompanied them, would someday be worth a lot. I was correct".
Mr. Lorant was given exclusive access to every facet of Hitler's and Eva Braun's lives. The book and the photos are more than historic. Mr. Lorant's written chronicle, accompanying the over 1,000 photos, is also insightfully-deep, reinforcing his original thought that Hitler was "crazy".
Even though Hitler's atrocities are more than well-documented, I think it's too bad people like the Overland, Kansas, Jewish Community Center and assisted-living facility shooter, and all of his deeply-troubled ilk, either never read nor knew of Mr. Lorant's incredible book which, from one who knew Hitler best, lays bare and amplifies the treachery and insanity of the person who would arguably become the ultimate historic exemplar for those who are deranged and evil to the extreme. After reading SIEG HEIL, perhaps maybe some of them might have not held such a lofty opinion of their hero. Mr. Lorant died at Rochester's Mayo Clinic, November 14, 1997 at age 96.
Thanks for taking time to read these memories and to the Star Tribune for allowing me the privilege to share them. Next time: Irv Benson, the man who introduced me, socially, to Elvis and Priscilla Presley, as well as Johnny Carson. Some will remember Irv fondly from 1940s and 50s national television. He's still alive at age 100.