What would the world have been like if Adolf Hitler had never seen a rise to power? We may have come really close to finding out in September 1918, at least according to the dictator.
If you believe Hitler's story, it was on September 28 that, as a young Lance Corporal (top row, second from the right in the picture above), he found himself in the path of Private Henry Tandey, who would go on to become the most decorated British soldier of the war. Hitler was injured and unable to fight, and it was because of that, he said, that Tandey spared him.
"That man came so near to killing me that I thought I should never see Germany again," the dictator allegedly said. "Providence saved me from such devilish accurate fire as those English boys were aiming at us.”
Hitler claimed to have discovered the identity of the man who saved him when he spotted Tandey depicted in a famous painting by Italian artist Fortunino Matania. But experts are doubtful that this encounter ever occurred, in part because there are records showing that his military unit was 50 miles south of Tandey's on September 28. Additionally, Hitler had been on military leave for the two days prior—September 28 would have been his first day back.
Dr. David Johnson, who wrote a biography of Pvt. Henry Tandey, believes the dictator invented the story to further perpetuate his own mythos: "With his god-like self-perception, the story added to his own myth—that he had been spared for something greater, that he was somehow 'chosen.'"
For his part, Tandey usually chose his words carefully when he discussed the event. Though he acknowledged that he had spared enemy lives on that date, he didn’t remember Hitler at all (though he would have looked much different). But after his hometown of Coventry, England, was bombed in 1940, Tandey was quoted as saying, “If only I had known what he would turn out to be. When I saw all of the women and children he had killed and wounded, I was sorry to God I let him go.”
If he had been killed, though, would it have made a difference? Hans Frank, Hitler’s personal lawyer, thought it would have. Before he was hanged at Nuremburg for his crimes, Frank said, “The Führer was a man who was possible in Germany only at that very moment. Had he come, let us say, 10 years later, when the republic was firmly established, it would have been impossible for him. And if he had come 10 years previously, or at any time when there was still the monarchy, he would have gotten nowhere. He came at exactly this terrible transitory period when the monarchy had gone and the republic was not yet secure.”
Historian Henry Ashby Turner Jr., author of Thirty Days to Power, speculates that without Hitler, Germany would have fallen under a military government. That government would have likely turned its attention to domination of the Polish Corridor. This would have resulted in a conflict between Germany and Poland, but not the entire world—and World War II would have been avoided entirely.
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