FIRST-HAND I was Hitler's Jewish neighbour

A small boy watched the Fhrer as he rose to power. Edgar Feuchtwanger remembers
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AS A child of nine I used to see Hitler when I went out for walks with my nanny near our home in Munich. We lived just opposite his second- floor apartment at Prinzregentenplatz 16.

It was during his early days as chancellor. At that time he travelled with just one or two cars, and I remember him getting into one, wearing a mackintosh and trilby hat, which he lifted to the few bystanders watching.

But by the middle 1930s, he was always accompanied by a motorcade of four or five long black Mercedes. His SS bodyguards, who by now occupied the flats below his, would take their seats and the engines would start revving. Hitler would emerge, now always dressed in military uniform, take his place by the driver of the leading car, and the motorcade would roar away. I felt even then that this was a man who could shake the world to its foundations.

It was ironical that my Jewish family and I could go on living so close to the centre of the new dictatorship for as long as we did, because our name - Feuchtwanger - was hated by the Nazis. My uncle Lion was one of the well-known literary figures of the Weimar period. His novel Success, published in 1930, aroused Nazi fury with a satirical picture of Hitler as Rupert Kutzner, leader of the Truly Germans. Goebbels said in 1930 that Lion would be one of the first to be smoked out when the Nazis came to power.

Yet, such was the confusion and anarchy of the early years of the Third Reich that my father, who ran a prestigious academic publishing house, thought he could survive there.

I led a normal life. On my walk to school I used to admire the gleaming silver Mercedes coup coming and going from the underground garage at the villa of Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler's photographer - and employer of Hitler's mistress, Eva Braun. The parents of a schoolfriend of mine lived next door to Hoffmann, and I remember, probably after the beginning of the Third Reich, Hitler sitting quietly in a deckchair in the next garden.

But there was a sense of menace in the air, which even as a child I could feel. In the days before 30 June 1934, later dubbed the Night of the Long Knives, the atmosphere was particularly oppressive. At about six o'clock in the morning of that Saturday, I became an unwitting witness to preparations for what was to become the worst political massacre in Europe since St Bartholomew's Night in 16th-century Paris.

I was woken up by the slamming of car doors, boots clattering on the pavement, and raised voices. I craned out of the window, which I was just tall enough to do. A long line of cars was parked outside Hitler's apartment block, and men were rushing in and out of the door. As a historian, I now know that Hitler had been laying plans to crush the million-strong SA (Sturmabteilungen), the brown-shirted storm troopers whose ability to terrorise political opponents had helped him seize power. Their leader, Ernst Roehm, a thick-set, brutish-looking man whom I once remember seeing leaving our local polling station with his mother on his arm, wanted a bigger share of the spoils of office. Hitler feared an SA confrontation with the army generals, whose support he needed.

In the early hours of that Saturday morning, Hitler had torn off the insignia of rank from arrested leaders of the Munich SA and handed them over for execution. Then he left for Bad Wiessee, 30 miles south of Munich, where he had summoned a meeting of Roehm and the other SA leaders. As I saw, he stopped by his flat, which was en route, and most accounts put his arrival in Bad Wiessee before eight o'clock.

There he arrested Roehm and the other leaders, some of whom were shot on the spot, others later. Similar murders of SA leaders were taking place all over Germany, and the killings went beyond the SA, as Hitler and others took the opportunity to remove potential enemies and settle old scores. Despite these menacing events, my family tried to live as normal. That summer we went to our usual holiday resort on Lake Starnberg, close to Munich. In our village I remember there were two children, about eight or nine years old, whom everyone knew had been orphaned by the murders of the Night of the Long Knives - but no one dared to look at them or say anything to them. I cannot for certain remember who they were, but I think they were the children of General von Bredow, assistant to Hitler's predecessor as chancellor, and General von Schleicher, who was also murdered, along with his wife.

One day my mother took me to a small village shop to buy some sweets and we found these two children there, with a woman who was probably their governess. When they had left the shop, the woman behind the counter said: "Poor children" - nothing else.

Hoping this evil and crazy regime would end, we stayed in Munich for another four years. In March 1938, when I was 13, I saw Hitler leave his flat with a large retinue in six-wheeled, open-topped grey Mercedes reviewing vehicles, to follow his troops into Austria for the Anschluss.

A few days later he returned to Munich in triumph. It was the only time I saw him riding through cheering crowds, standing up in his car, left hand on the windscreen, right arm giving the Nazi salute.

In September, at the time of the Munich Conference, I watched from the street as another motorcade arrived and a uniformed man I recognised from newspaper photographs as Mussolini emerged with his followers.

The day after I read that the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, had come to the flat too. There he signed the notorious declaration which he waved on his return to London, claiming to have achieved "peace with honour".

In November, following the Kristallnacht pogrom, my father spent six weeks in Dachau concentration camp, which was at that time not a death camp but used simply as a deterrent to political opponents. I remember seeing him in bed after his release, his shaven head covered with bruises and the marks of frostbite.

It was terrifying. We could no longer hope to stay in Germany. My uncle obtained an entry visa to Britain for us and my father put me on a train for England in February 1939 - he and my mother followed later. I grasped as I left that my world, like Europe itself, had changed beyond recognition.

n The paperback edition of 'From Weimar to Hitler: Germany 1918-33' by Edgar J Feuchtwanger, is published by Macmillan, price £14.99.

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