|Hitler the monster by A.L. Tarter|
For most of us, the Hitler we see in news clips seems so preposterous that it is hard to account that anyone took him seriously. And thus, we throw up our hands and don't look further at the phenomenon of Hitler. Thank goodness for historians who do take the trouble to enlighten us. A recent issue of London Review of Books has a review by Neal Ascherson of Hitler's Ascent, 1889–1939 by the German Historian Volker Ullrich. (Here is a link to the German edition.) The LRB heading, "Hitler as Human," indicates Ulrich's focus: the caricature of Hitler as having no private life "perpetuates the view that his crimes were committed by a monster –– not by a German or Austrian human being." Ullrich shows that Hitler did have a private life –– although a pretty boring one –– that he had friends, especially married couples, the wife of which would mother him and whom he would reward with displays of Austrian charm.
|Austrian charm at tea time|
"Reading this familiar 'early years' tale again, Hitler as a personality no longer seems so outlandish. What does mark him out is his conscious abandonment of conventional morality: the monstrous, shameless ease with which he lied, betrayed, and murdered. The traits of his character, on the other hand, are not remarkable in themselves. Thousands of people around us daydream about world conquest, fondle hate fantasies about what they might do to immigrants or jihadists, lap up conspiracy theories or impress their mates -- after a pint or six -- with bellowing rants about politicians or bankers. Most of them, fortunately, stay below the political radar. They lack a soil in which their urges can swell until they overshadow the earth. They lack the license of Alasdair Gray's Law of Inverse Exclusion (outlined in his novel Lanark), which 'enables a flea in a matchbook to declare itself jailer of the universe.' And they lack a weapon."
BTW, on Hitler's voice, Ascherson writes that it was an excellent one and that his harsh Lower Bavarian accent "seems to have given North Germans an impression of sincerity rather than provincial uncouthness." But, as he admits, reading or listening to the speeches today, one is left with a sense of bafflement: "How could anyone have taken seriously such stagy bellowing and preposterous ideas?" Hitler seems to have been an astute performer. His speeches were preceded by a "strong warm-up," after which he strode onto the stage or into the hall, "deliberately late." Where possible, the seating was spread out horizontally before him, which gave his performance a stronger impact.
Picture source: The Daily Mail