After the first few pages of Katherine Burdekin’s Swastika Night, I wasn’t sure if I would like it or not as I’m not usually one who takes the mocking of any religion lightly. However, this book has ended up being my favorite of the class thus far. As a devout Catholic, I couldn’t help but notice striking similarities and yet vast differences in the Creed which the church of Holy Hitler sings at the beginning of Swastika Night and the Creed which I profess every Sunday. However, by page seven when the Creed compares Christian women to the lowly worm, I didn’t so much feel offended, but saddened for those fictional followers of the Holy Hitler church.
The Creed begins by professing the belief in “God the Thunderer” as creator of the physical earth and in God the Thunderer’s Heaven, and in “His Son our Holy Adolf Hitler, The Only Man. Who was begotten, not born of a woman, but Exploded!” (5) “From the Head of His Father” (6). I found the wording of this Creed interesting in comparison to the Nicene Creed said at the Catholic Church in which we as a congregation profess that we believe rather than an individual belief. The punctuation present within the Hitler Creed is interesting as well especially with the period following “The Only Man.” I had to look at it twice to make sure it wasn’t a comma as it feels like this should blend into the next sentence of “Who was begotten”. By calling “Holy Adolf Hitler, The Only Man”, the narrator is showing how important Hitler considered himself and himself alone.
In the first paragraph, I recognized in Hermann something that I face every once in a while—feeling alone in my head and getting so distracted that I’m just going through the motions at church. Unlike Hermann, I don’t usually get distracted by the young choir boy, but rather the screaming child in front of me, or the sniffly old man behind me, or the young lady wearing too much perfume, or… well, you get the picture. This disturbance of attention is something any churchgoer faces at least once—it’s that Sunday we’d rather have stayed in bed, would rather be doing anything other than sitting in the uncomfortable pews listening to a priest, whom we like most days, drone on. We pretend to pay attention, but things like the pitchy singer in the choir and the crying kid a few rows in front of us are enough to drive our attention to the cleaning that needs to be done at home, the dinner that needs prepared, the homework piling up, to anything that isn’t related to the task at hand: worshipping God. But still we stand, sit, kneel, repeat all on cue because that’s what we’re supposed to do when we go to church. It’s not that we do not feel devotion to God at that time, but just like Hermann, we get easily distracted. So we follow along repeating the prayers and the Creed we memorized eons ago not daring to ask: do I really still believe this?
Hermann had been repeating the words of the Creed since he was nine, and his devotion didn’t seem to waiver as his attention span may have. He showed his great devotion to the Holy Church of Hitler in his thoughts as a Nazi, and when those thoughts strayed, he was able to snap himself back into the herd mentality and put those errant thoughts back in order. Seemingly, Hermann would have continued to profess his faith until the end of his life had Alfred not interrupted the simplicity of Hermann’s life by allowing him to be told things (62). Had Hermann been able to view Alfred as lesser than himself, as a foreigner was according to the Creed, perhaps Hermann could have rejected Alfred’s invitation to meet with von Hess and not received the intolerable truth of his god.
Though von Hess felt that “intolerable burden” (54) as the only man left in the world to know the truth about Hitler’s origins as a man rather than from the miraculous explosion from God the Thunderer’s head, he bore that burden until he was able to pass that information to the next generation. Von Hess could have easily taken the truth to the grave in the same manner as those family members before him, burned the book as not to be branded a heretic of the Holy Church of Hitler, and received the posthumous accolades associated with being a Knight. However, he did not. Von Hess could have adopted another son, but did not feel it was right to burden a Knight’s orphan with the truth, he felt it was acceptable to burden Alfred, a lowly Englishman, with the truth. Though Alfred did not seem to think of the truth as a burden, he was still tasked with its continuity. In Alfred, von Hess discovered a kindred spirit “seeking light in darkness and harmony in confusion” (55). I found it interesting that Alfred admitted to losing his faith at sixteen, the same age von Hess was when he learned the truth through the passing down of the book. Von Hess did not have a chance to lose his faith because like Hermann, von Hess had his faith ripped from him. The two men, Alfred and von Hess, approach the concept of truth differently, but still the same appeared to have the same ideas of its worth.
Though we may have found the concept of an “Exploded!” (5) begotten Hitler as God both laughable and somewhat frightening, we have seen in our lifetimes the powerful effects of people who claim to be deities, prophets, and/or direct descendants of God. We only have to look at the crimes committed in the names of the many religions which have “become very debased and impure” (73) corrupted by imperfect men. These modern day “prophets” are often revealed to have a psychopathic complex similar to that which Hitler displayed in his lifetime. Though we cannot doubt the power these prophets and leaders have on the weak-minded herd and the weak-minded, society continues to cast doubt on all things men believe in because we don’t believe in them too. After all, “Weak men cannot bear knowledge” (65). Not all men can bear that intolerable burden of truth.