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Columns

October 21, 2011

When Prime Minister King met Hitler

I've been in the grip of Philip Kerr's "Berlin Noir" trilogy for the past few weeks. For those not familiar with his Bernie Gunther crime novels, they're set in pre- and post-war Germany, kind of like siccing Mike Hammer among the Nazis.

This prompted me to read a slim volume I picked it up at a book sale some months back. It's called "King's War," by journalist Brian Nolan, and the opening chapter chronicles the adventures of Mackenzie King, Canada's longest-serving prime minister, in the same Nazi Germany.

While King certainly doesn't stand as tall as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill nor Josef Stalin among leaders of the era, he could boast one thing they could not. King actually met Adolf Hitler face to face, and for more than just a quick grip and greet.

King's tête-à-tête with the Fuhrer is well-known to Canadian history buffs, but it's perhaps a revelation, perhaps a shocking one, to those who are not. King's meeting with Hitler, and his entire approach to politics, especially politics in a world sliding toward war, gets a fresh and deep look in a book out just this month by historian Allan Levine titled "William Lyon Mackenzie King: A Life Guided by the Hand of Destiny."

As the title suggests, King felt he was the instrument of otherworldly forces, in keeping with his extraordinarily bizarre private life. As one reviewer of Levine's book noted: "Canadians knew King was a little odd, but had no idea of the true flakiness of their prime minister's life. No one today who hasn't delved into King's massive diaries, which he kept for 57 years, can really appreciate how unutterably peculiar he was.

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