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The Tristan Chord

By Glenn Skwerer

Based on the true story of Adolf Hitler’s best friend of adolescence and his roommate in Vienna

Fiction | History
101% funded
40 supporters
Published

Publication date: August 2018

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In June 1945, Eugen Reczek, a middle-aged Austrian desk clerk, is interned by the American occupiers. The reason: he is der Hitlerjugendfreund – “The Friend of the Fuhrer’s Youth”. An upholstery apprentice by day and fledgling violist by night, he meets the 15-year-old Hitler at the local opera in Linz in 1905, and for the next four years they see each other almost daily. Eugen – thoughtful, observant, and desperately lonely – is captivated but also troubled by Hitler: his refusal to work; his strange hours and feverish routines; his almost complete isolation; his canine appetite for sweets; his preoccupation with his dead father; his unusual and profound attachment to his mother; and his obsession with a young woman to whom he has never said a word. In 1908, they share a room in Vienna, where Hitler has gone to study art and Eugen to attend the Conservatory. As Hitler’s money runs low, he becomes intensely irritable and increasingly drawn to the racist gutter press of Vienna; he has become a hater of women, of sex, of all things sensual. When he discovers Eugen's close relationship with the mother of one of his Jewish piano students – a member of the Conservatory’s board – their suppressed conflict ignites.

On the eve of the Anschluss in 1938, the two are reunited in Linz, and that summer Eugen accompanies Hitler to the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth, where he becomes a minor celebrity – der Hitlerjungendfreund. Now, with the Third Reich in ashes, he sits in a barren room writing this memoir as part of his “denazification”. In a voice by turns intelligent, penetrating, pained, somber, nostalgic, humorously skeptical, amazed, and appalled, he tries to come to terms with the course of his own life and with the astonishing criminality of his boyhood friend – his Hitler. The Tristan Chord is inspired by August Kubizek’s 1953 memoir, The Young Hitler I Knew, a book today largely unknown to the general reader.

The Tristan Chord was awarded the 2013 Hackney Literary Prize - the only literary contest in the United States which accepts entire unpublished manuscripts of novels.

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  • Glenn Skwerer avatar

    Glenn Skwerer

    Glenn Skwerer is a psychiatrist who lives and practices in the Boston area, and who has a long interest in modern European history. As an undergraduate at Yale, he took a seminar on the rise of National Socialism with a professor who told him, “You should read August Kubizek’s memoir The Young Hitler I Knew. No one except academics and history buffs is aware of this book any longer, but it contains the only glimpse we have of Hitler’s personality before he became the shrieking stereotype of the newsreels, and the position Kubizek found himself in, as Hitler’s friend, is also fascinating. You say want to be a psychiatrist and have an interest in the psychology of character – well, this is the place to go.”
    It took Dr Skwerer decades to get around to reading Kubizek’s book, but The Tristan Chord is the result. He decided to replace Kubizek with a more self-aware narrator and to deepen the story of the friendship and the depiction of the adolescent Hitler, to look more closely at the time the two spent together as roommates in Vienna, and to extend the story to include the time spent by the Kubizek character as he was being interviewed by American intelligence after the war.

  • Adolf had been a demanding friend and with his leaving I had more time to fill than I expected.

    It was not hard to keep busy. My father was receiving more commissions from those who could afford to redecorate entire houses, and there was a steady flow of sofas and chairs to be reupholstered. I went to the opera. I had become more proficient at the viola – a beautiful, melancholy instrument and somehow trickier to play the better one got – and I joined an amateur chamber group at the Music Society in Linz which practiced two evenings a week. As Adolf had asked me, I kept tabs on the construction of the new mortgage bank on the Hauptplatz, and once a week I took up my post on the bridge from Urfahr to make sure Adolf's beloved Stefanie was still taking her evening constitutional with her mother (and an occasional officer, usually a real “peacock”).

    After a few weeks, I noticed something. Life had become flat, stale, routine, without depth, without purpose. Music could relieve this sensation of drab everydayness, but only for short periods of time. At first, I thought this had to do with my being busier, going from one thing to the next to the next. But it did not. It had to do with Adolf’s absence. And it was not just that I missed being whisked from the shop at the end of the day, followed by an impassioned account of whatever he had dreamed up since our last meeting, the new sketches, new resentments, attacks on the Empire. It had to do with the way my friend saw the world. He saw the world as fallen, disgraced, filled with oppressors and fools, cracking under the strain and spinning towards some cataclysm out of which it would emerge redeemed and renewed, or perhaps utterly destroyed. This view had cast its dramatic shadow over my inner life for three years, perhaps longer. It had created suspense – literally a world suspended over an abyss – and it had rescued me from the tyranny of the mundane.

    This is one reason, despite the absence of a father and with the indulgence of his mother, that Adolf did not work. Work, any job, would have buried him in the details of the everyday and would have become a prison, like the “iron cage’’ of the civil service of which his father had been so overbearingly proud and against which Adolf never tired of railing. It would have depressed him terribly.

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