I’m so nervous. It’s 1933 and I’m about to interview Adolf Hitler. I have written him a letter telling him that I work for a Dutch newspaper, how much I admire him, and that I’d love to interview him. He has replied that he’d be delighted to meet with me, and would I mind coming to his house, as he has a bad cold right now? (He has a convenient lack of security this early in his ascendancy.) So here I am, standing at his front door, armed with pen and paper, my legs like jelly and my stomach doing somersaults, the fingers of my left hand fidgeting in my pocket.
I ring the doorbell. It’s a recently polished brass pull. It connects to a wire inside that connects to a bell that can be heard echoing throughout the house. I wait a minute, and then Hitler’s housekeeper opens the door. Her face all formality, the tiniest of polite smiles is held for as short as she feels she can get away with. She beckons me to enter, and after she closes the door behind me, I follow her down a gloomy hall with thick carpet and lots of dark wood trim to Hitler’s office at the back of the house.
Hitler is seated behind his enormous desk, with an imposing portrait of himself on the wall behind him and a scarf around his neck to soothe his sore throat. This makes the real him seem smaller than life, which helps. His usually piercing eyes are slightly watery. He looks me briefly up and down as I make my way across the carpet to shake his hand over the desk. I’m all smiles—what’s a few germs among friends. I’m delighted, honored, etc. He waves my appreciations away and indicates that I should sit in the chair opposite the desk.
I sit down. My hands are shaking. I remind myself that this will not seem out of the ordinary, as so many people are in awe when they first meet Hitler. He asks if I would like some tea, and I tell him I’d love some, thank you so much. There’s a cuckoo clock on the wall between the two tall windows facing the garden. So far everything’s going smoothly. While Hitler gets up to yank the embroidered pull in the corner closest to his desk, I reach into my bag to get out my writing pad and pen. The housekeeper must have been standing right outside the door, because she enters almost immediately and Hitler orders tea for two, with Kuchen.
Once the housekeeper has closed the door behind her, I begin to interview Hitler. My questions aren’t that original, but that’s okay. Hitler loves talking about himself and his plans for Germany, and by answering the same questions over and over, he can hone his responses to perfection. I glance toward the clock and out the windows toward the high brick wall at the end of the garden at the same time as the housekeeper re-enters with the tea and Kuchen.
Everything is set out on a large wooden tray with a hand-crocheted doily under glass. I make a show of admiring the doily, the cake, and the teapot. I’m acting like a giddy schoolgirl. When the housekeeper is about to take the teapot to pour out the tea, I take the plunge and say that I’d be so honored if Herr Hitler would allow me to pour the tea. The housekeeper looks at him and he nods magnanimously, adding that she should have some tea herself, in the kitchen. So she retreats.
I look at the clock again before reaching for the teapot. Ten minutes have gone by since I walked into the office. I glance out the window as well. It’s very hard not to. And it’s such a gorgeous day.
I have just poured the tea and asked Hitler if he wants milk and sugar, and I am slowly but steadily pouring milk into his cup when there’s a loud thud against one of the window panes. My hand doesn’t waver now. I am attending to the tea. Hitler, however, jumps up, and, being paranoid by nature, immediately walks to the windows to see what caused the noise. He asks what on earth it could be, and I suggest that perhaps it was a bird that flew into the windowpane, mistaking the reflection of the sky for the real thing.
Hitler answers that I’m probably right, and he returns to his desk, just as I finish stirring his tea for him. Everything is dissolved. I hand it to him with my best smile, and I go through my notes in search of the next question, considerately giving Hitler time to drink his tea while it’s still hot. He becomes drowsy, says he doesn’t know what hit him so suddenly. I tell him it happens sometimes when you have a bad cold and you drink hot tea. It can make you feel so nice and woozy. Yes, he says, in a dreamy tone.
And then his head drops on his chest. I look at the clock again, this time keeping my eyes on it while I stash my notepad and pen back into my bag and put the strap over my shoulder. When a minute has passed, I get up, walk around the desk, and check Hitler’s heartbeat in his neck. There isn’t any. The interview is over.
I thank Hitler, empty his cup in a potted plant and put it back on the saucer. I walk over to the window, where I quietly lift the window sash and step out among the plants in the border below. I rummage through the plants until I find the gray rubber eraser; I stick it in my pocket and run across the small stretch of grass and into the flowering bushes against the brick wall. My friend is already there to give me a leg up, and within seconds we’re in the alley, and on our bikes.
We congratulate ourselves on a successful mission. I tell him that the eraser made exactly the right sound against the glass. We high-five each other and cycle at a leisurely pace back into 2011, where it’s also a beautiful day.