Hitler: product of Germany, Evil, or Really Really Bad?

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This book is not a biography of Hitler; it’s a biography of the biographers of Hitler, it’s a story about the Hitler scholars, an all-you-can-eat buffet of the full gamut of explanations for the murder of 6 to 17 million people (depending on how you count). And by “explanation” we usually mean “whose fault”? Who’s to blame? Germany? Hitler’s one testicle? Judaism? Christianity? God? The Jewish doctor who treated Hitler’s mother with cancer? Nobody? Everybody? The Nazi Party? Abstract Historical Forces? Hitler’s incestuous past, secret Jewish blood, failed artistic striving, political ideology, psychosis? Or do we simply blame Hitler himself? 

Take a deep breath. I had to. There is a level of absurdity to all of this. Why do some of these explanations sound ridiculous, narrow and short sighted? We have to remember historians are people too; they can be inaccurate, biased, and nasty. That’s the beauty of this book. It’s gossipy. We see the arrogant scholar, we see scholars tag-teaming and ridiculing each other, personal attacks, fame, red-faced, passionate, proud. Perhaps the competitive atmosphere of academic publishing is really to blame, where everything begins with disagreement instead of compatibility. Chapter 1: everybody is wrong. Chapter 2: I’m right and here’s why. Or, perhaps the historian was right that said there is no explanation for the Holocaust and never will be.  

  1. Where do we draw the line between explanation (“he was crazy”) and culpability (“he was responsible”)? 
  2. Did the Holocaust answer the question: is human nature more bad than good? Can there be “no more poetry” after the Holocaust?  
  3. Is the hatred of Hitler a potentiality in us?  
  4. What does this say about belief in God? Do we find God absent and uncaring or do we find God in the acts of heroism (the other half of the story)?  
  5. Is history driven by abstract historical/socio-political forces, or by individual people?  

Complex phenomena have complex explanations, but what really matters is the lessons that history gives us. The old adage “history repeats itself” is the whole point of doing history, in my opinion. Once we learn the patterns of hatred, we can predict them and stop them. How do you get people to hate? You separate them, call them “others,” you use the word “war,” as if to make them “enemies.” You call them “germs” or “cockroaches” or subhuman. You censor. You get rid of the media. Hitler pillaged the Munich Post. You dehumanize them and de-individualize them. Hitler passed a law that made all boy Jews have one name and all girls have another. You use esoteric, secretive, ambiguous language that hides your hatred as something “intellectual.” People eat it up. Hitler did that. So did Heidegger and Nietzsche in a way. You retell history in a way that fits with your hate story against the Jews. Hitler and the Nazis actually staged a fake battle to accomplish this.  

If you want to dive into the life of Hitler, try a different biography. If you want to dive into the sea of Hitler scholarship, I recommend this book


Explaining Hitler

Posted by Matt Smith at 05/21/2013 10:00:37 AM | 

This is sound interesting esp. the story is not focus to Hitler. It is good to know the reactions coming from Hitler scholars.

Norris Lofton
Posted by: Norris Lofton ( Email ) at 5/21/2013 10:01 PM

yes good point. Part of the debate is: how much attention should we pay Hitler? Does focusing on Hitler somehow give him a poshumous "victory" that he doesn't deserve? On the other side, some historians don't focus on Hitler at all, which tends to take blame off him, which is crazy. "No Hitler, No Holocaust" some say.
Posted by: Matt ( Email ) at 5/23/2013 10:08 AM

Your right Matt and I bet the debate makes more people get interested with Hitler's life.

Norris Lofton
Posted by: Norris Lofton ( Email ) at 5/30/2013 11:30 PM

Great article
enjoyed reading every piece of it.
thanks for sharing.
Posted by: Godlove ( Email ) at 3/23/2014 1:47 PM

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