Hitler: the Soap Opera

512px-Hitler_as_young_manAolf Hitler died in a Berlin bunker on April 30th 1945, taking his own life in the face of inevitable defeat. A long time has passed since, but as the anniversary comes around once more, it perhaps warrants consideration of how much literature has been written about him in the intervening years. because it is an awful lot.

Millions of words have been written about this monster of a man. They fall into two categories; serious works of scholarship, beginning with Alan Bullock’s “Life of Hitler”, written soon after the war itself, Michael Burley’s “The third Reich”, Ian Kershaw’s two volume study, “Hubris” and “Nemesis”. The second category are books which purport to give accounts of his private and personal life, and in the main, most of these are worthless. What we think we know of Hitler’s private life has been written by cronies and underlings in the vein of “I was Hitler’s…”

hitler had no friends in the normally accepted sense, neither in the doss-house where he lived as a youth in Vienna, nor in the trenches or when he rose to power. The people who thought they knew him invariably either owed him something or were manipulated and controlled by him. Friendship was impossible, because he never listened to anyone, never sought out the opinions of others, and talked in a constant monologue, pontificating on themes such as his own “world views” and various other beliefs–including grandiose schemes for the building of “Germania” after the final victory. He tolerated only the chronically dependant, with his most infamous officers all deeply flawed, weak characters, despite their reputations. So why the publishing and media fascination?

Interest in the extreme conduct and power of despotic rulers is a common characteristic of human nature – particularly when, as in the case of Hitler, hubris ois followed by catastrophic nemisis – God was triumphant over Satan, but the devil has the best tunes, as it were.

There is also the vicarious nature of the thrill – the ogre is dead, we can poke the rotting corpse from the comfort of our armchairs – without fear of reprisal. We like to read about Hitler, as previous generations liked to study Ghengis Khan, Vlad the Impaler and Caligula. Violence and brutality always sell well at the publishers or the box office. but this does not explain why we are not equally obsessed with Mussolini or Stalin. Perhaps the explanation is that they never seriously threatened our way of life in the same way Hitler did – and for all his flaws, nearly succeeded.