Adolf Hitler in private – a jolly good Fellow?

Experts are surrounded by their own aura. They know everything about a certain subject, which they have usually studied all their lives – this seems to make them unassailable. But why, then, does a popular German saying deny them a truly profound knowledge? There is often but a single step from specialism to professional blindness!

This blindness could be seen

with Germany’s greatest Hitler expert, Joachim Fest. In 1973, he managed to have the Jew Marcel Reich-Ranicki invited to a meeting with one of the greatest confidants and accomplices of Nazi crimes in the villa of his publisher Jobst Siedler. Obviously Fest saw Speer in a different light. The latter had succeeded in persuading him and parts of the German public that Hitler had hidden his crimes even from him, one of his closest confidants. This fairy tale could only be believed by an expert without psychological knowledge of human nature. A psychologically sharp-eyed layman like Sebastian Haffner would not be tempted to make such an obvious misjudgment. The less than two hundred pages of his Hitler book give a much deeper insight into the Führer’s nature than the more than thousand pages of Fest’s monograph.

Historians Heike Görtemaker and Ernst Piper,

must also be accused of psychological blindness. In a film by Michael Kloft (Zdf-info broadcast of February 23 of this year) dealing with the private circumstances of Hitler’s inner circle at the Berghof, Mrs. Görtemaker emphatically claims that Hitler was no more than a “primus inter pares” in the close circle of his confidants, that is, casually expressed, an equal friend among friends. In fact, films and photos from Eva Braun’s hand show us that manners were quite normal within this circle, which was strictly shielded from the outside world. A superficial observer of these testimonies may well get the impression that this was a cordial meeting of friends like any other (an impression Eva Braun certainly wanted to convey). Such pictures do, of course, not record that Eva Braun attempted suicide twice.

A similar psychological misinterpretation would never have occurred to a man like Sebastian Haffner, who had experienced and suffered the regime at close quarters. Nowhere, not even in the midst of the German people, Hitler had seen himself only as primus inter pares. He explicitly declared that the Germans had no right to exist if they were not up to the great historical task that he, Hitler, had assigned to them (namely, to subjugate all other peoples).

Hitler never thought of

considering any of the people around him as his peers and equals. Even his best friends had to reckon with being taken out of the way in cold blood – let us bluntly say, murdered – if they dared to claim equal status. Hitler had his long-time companion and good friend Ernst Röhm executed on the spot and under a false pretext the very moment when he recognized him as his rival. Hitler accepted nothing and no one but himself. This uneducated but fanatically ambitious man from a small provincial Austrian town managed to replace a jurisprudence that had grown over centuries, an educational tradition of splendid thinkers and poets and, in addition, the previous self-evident principles of morality with a single fixed star, namely himself. It was he alone, who managed to make a nation of seventy million people raise their arms steeply in the air at the sight of him, and to him alone, to Hitler, people had to wish salvation (heil!) whenever they met. It therefore seems truly grotesque when Mrs. Görtemaker, the supposed expert, wants to make us believe: “The real Hitler is a poor little sausage”. Attributing such false humanness to a man like Hitler is just as wrong as stylizing him as a demon supposed to have nothing in common with us, the ordinary people.

Yes, it is true that in political terms there are

two Hitlers: one who remained completely unsuccessful until towards the end of the 1920s and was derided as a political clown by almost all German intelligentsia, and the other who became a feared dictator right after seizing power. But the reason for this transformation does not lie where Mrs. Görtemaker is looking for it, namely in a presumed psychological dependence of the first Hitler on his inner circle or “entourage”. The true reason is clearly rooted in objective outward facts. Between 1925 and 29, the so-called golden twenties, the Germans were doing economically better with each passing year. That is why Hitler’s star was in rapid decline. It only rose – but then in a flash – when the masses, suddenly impoverished by the Great Depression after 1929, saw in him their savior from unbearable need. In exact correspondence to the skyrocketing unemployment they gave him their votes. Eric Hobsbawm, the highly respected British historian of Jewish origin, who certainly could have no reason to relativize, let alone gloss over, German guilt in World War II, nevertheless sees a clear connection between the Great Depression and the terrifying history that began with the demagogue Hitler and reached its terrible climax in World War II. “Without it /the world economic crisis/, there would have been no Hitler…. Would fascism have been significant to world history even without the Great Depression? Probably not. Italy was too small a platform from which to shake the world… Obviously, it was the Great Depression that helped Hitler rise from a marginal political phenomenon to a potential and eventually actual master of his country.”

The film does not go into these causes,

but they are crucial if the slogan “Never Again” is to be a serious commitment rather than a thoughtless mantra. When taking it seriously, we should ask ourselves whether in many parts of our contemporary world – even in the democratic West – the hatred that gave birth to Hitler could not arise again among those left behind by prosperity and education. Just have a look into the Internet. Enough fanaticism, delusion, and anger already exists – and not just among today’s Americans.

We may, nevertheless, give Mrs. Görtemaker the credit

for questioning the version of the unapproachable Hitler that Albert Speer had persuaded the Germans to accept. “In Hitler’s environment, there was never any difference between political and private life. There was no one in the court who had not been involved.” Indeed, there is every reason to believe that Hitler’s henchmen at the Berghof (first of all Albert Speer) were privy to Hitler’s plans down to the last detail. As Hitler’s instruments, they had to be, otherwise how could the execution of these plans be guaranteed? The only exceptions to this rule were, of course, Eva Braun and the wives of the Nazi greats, but in Hitler’s Reich women were only responsible for reproduction anyway or for beautiful society photos as to be seen in this film. 

Experts like Joachim Fest and Heike Görtemaker

have to fight against a danger against which knowledgeable laymen of the kind of Sebastian Haffner are far more resistant. Fest has written his monograph on Hitler in such a way that Hitler although a great criminal, can still be considered a great man. Haffner’s view is much more distinct, with him nothing remains of greatness. All that remains of these thirteen years of mischief is what this man did to his own people and to the world. This demonic master of fakes betrayed and desecrated the best traditions of his country, the heritage of its great thinkers and poets, the knowledge of truth and the self-confidence of future generations, and he decreed for the Jews what he intended for his own people should they not obey him to the last: extinction.

The false ambiguity of the professionally blinkered expert leads to one more danger. Almost everything that can be said about Hitler has been said in thousands and thousands of publications and commentaries. Therefore, scientists or authors are ready to come up with all sorts of new, fancy theses in order to be perceived at all. To this fancy news belongs Mrs. Görtemaker’s thesis of Adolf Hitler revealing to us his true humanness among fellow combatants on the Berghof, where allegedly he merely figured as a “Primus inter Pares”.

But does this mean that it would be completely wrong to see in Hitler not only the mass murderer and political criminal but a human being?

One of the all-time geniuses of literature,

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, gave an answer to this question that fascinates to this very day. As a convicted criminal, the Russian writer had searched with extreme passion for the spark of good in the criminals who surrounded him in the gulag. This search then determined his further life as the author of “The Idiot” or “Crime and Punishment.” With Dostoevsky in mind, we will naturally say that a Hitler also came into the world as a man. He was not born as Hitler, but only made a Hitler by external circumstances. These external circumstances are well known. A person with a big ego, who as a young man must take refuge in an asylum for the homeless and is being sneered at as an untalented postcard painter, ate hatred against authority and all those who blocked his way. Erich Fromm saw in Hitler a necrophiliac, i.e. a man addicted to everything dead, but hatred is certainly not born in a man’s cradle. Hatred slowly grows, fully developed it first appears in Hitler’s literary testimony “Mein Kampf”. It is significant that Hitler himself describes his own psychological state quite well. Words like “ice-cold” pass his lips with particular ease. Anyone reading this book with even a minimum of psychological perspicacity should have realized even then that Hitler would sacrifice not only his friends but the German people with icy ease if they failed to meet his expectations.

I believe that hatred

was the most decisive factor in Hitler’s life since his early defeats and that it explains the “ice-cold” cruelty of this man better than his supposed necrophilia. To understand this, we need only compare him with another glorifier of cruelty. In Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche too preaches a kind of cruelty that the strong-willed need not be afraid of. But Nietzsche was never a hater, he was a deeply sensitive man who tried to overcome the nihilism of his age by idealizing the man of power who, like Zarathustra, overcomes this tormenting nothingness by praising the great man who for his deeds needs no justification. Personally, Nietzsche was not only physically but above all psychologically an extremely vulnerable person – so morbidly excitable that he embraced a horse in Turin just because he saw a coachman ruthlessly beating it. This most thin-skinned, most sensitive of all thinkers wanted to put on a skin of leather with the false pathos of Zarathustra, that’s why the Nazis believed to see in him a comrade-in-arms. But Hitler was an altogether different man. He did not need a leather skin; hatred hardened him early to icy coldness.

In intellectual terms Hitler was lucid,

as lucid as distrust tends to make people humiliated at an early stage of their life. Not without reason he and his henchmen managed to launch the largest propaganda apparatus of the 20th century. They knew perfectly well that there were a great many Germans who did not believe their lies and that most of them would abhor a second world war. Likewise, Hitler was well aware that he would damage his memory if he left written testimonies of executions and mass murders that would prove his direct responsibility for these crimes. And, of course, Hitler was well aware too of the values and morals of the population – this awareness is what made his propaganda so effective. He knew and analyzed current values and morals quite exactly, but in a purely intellectual way. This knowledge did not touch him emotionally – it left him “ice cold”.

This is what distinguishes him from the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche

and from the great criminals in Dostoevsky’s works. The Russian writer puts all his skill into making us understand that even in a Rogozin or Raskolnikov the feeling for injustice is never completely extinguished. But it is different when hatred plays the dominant role in the decisive phase of a person’s life. Hatred may increase intelligence, as it creates distrust and constant vigilance, but it can completely suffocate feelings. In the end, Hitler murdered himself and Eva Braun with the same coldness as his real or imagined enemies and as he wanted to condemn the whole German people “icily” to extinction. In Hitler’s own words: “I am ice-cold here too. If the German people are no longer strong enough or unwilling to sacrifice their blood for their existence, then they shall perish and be destroyed by another, stronger power… I will not shed a tear for the German people.” This was Hitler’s attitude when, after the catastrophe of the winter of 1941/42, Germany’s fortunes in the war began to turn.