HomeGER-383Module 2: Hitler

Module 2: Hitler

Hitler’s LIfe

This reading is from the Encyclopedia Britannica. It’s written by some important biographers of Hitler, among them Alan Bulock and John Lukacs. It provides a good overview of the main aspects of Hitler’s life and especially his political and social influence.

Adolf Hitler from Encyclopedia Britannica. 

Your task: at the end of the article, John Lukacs argues that Hitler continues to have admirers for one of two reasons: (1) some people are attracted to evil; (2) some are attracted to his achievements, no matter how brutal or brief. Do you agree with this assessment? Did anything in the article sway your opinion on this matter?

Hitler the Artist

Hitler became a politician by chance, a result of the dislocation of society that occurred after the First World War. His original goal as a young man before the war was to become an artist, and he moved to Vienna in pursuit of this dream. But it was never meant to be.

In this interview with Der Spiegel, a German weekly newsmagazine, Birgit Schwarz, an art historian in Vienna, discusses some of the reasons it’s important to understand Hitler’s relationship to art in order to better understand the man.

 Spiegel-Interview with Birgit Schwarz

See some pictures of Hitler’s artwork

Your task: what point is Birgit Schwarz trying to make about Hitler?

Our Hitler

One of the distinguishing features of the Third Reich was the Hitlerkult – the cult of Hitler. The Hitler greeting (Heil Hitler = Hail Hitler) became the standard greeting in the country. Hitler’s face appeared on posters and in magazines. He was the Führer (leader) of the Nazi party, and when the President Paul Hindenburg died in 1934, Hitler combined his office as chancellor (= prime minister) with that of the president to become Führer of the country as well.

Take a look at this famous poster from the period:

Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer = one people, one empire, one Führer! The core ideology of Nazism is contained in this slogan: racist privileging of the German “race,” unity of all Germans under one powerful leader. So Hitler wasn’t just a politician like others, he was the incorporation of Nazi ideology.  

Joseph Goebbels, who was one of Hitler’s most loyal and unquestioning followers, was also the Minister of Propaganda in the Third Reich. He was an early party member who adored Hitler, one of the “true believers.” Read this speech he gave on the occasion of Hitler’s birthday in 1935:

Our Hitler by Joseph Goebbels

Your task: how would you describe Goebbels’ strategy in this piece? What is he trying to do in his portrayal of Hitler?

Ian Kershaw: Hitler’s Place in History

Ian Kershaw is one of the best known biographers of Adolf Hitler. This link takes you to a recording of a talk he gave on Hitler (and there’s also a transcript if you’d rather just read it).

Hitler’s Place in History by Ian Kershaw

Here’s an important excerpt from the talk in which Kershaw argues that Hitler was the source of Nazism’s monstrous barbarism:

Goebbels described Hitler as the Final Solution’s ‘unswerving champion and spokesman’. . . . This was because Hitler’s own boundless fantasy about the future German Reich breached all the moral and legal constraints that had shaped European civilisation, and opened the floodgates to murderous initiatives of every conceivable kind. Using the phrase of a Nazi functionary in 1934, I called the preemptive initiatives ‘working towards the Führer’, and made the concept the interpretative cornerstone of my biography of Hitler.

The more you look at Hitler, the more the point strikes home. He alone was capable of such a monstrous vision. He alone was prepared at all stages to think the unthinkable, unhesitatingly to take the most radical options, to burn all bridges behind him. But in presiding over such breathtakingly terrible inhumanity, all he need to do for much of the time was provide ‘guidelines for action’, and authorise the initiatives of others. His fantasies could only be converted into reality because of the type of power he held. We can best call it, following the great German sociologist, Max Weber, ‘charismatic authority’.That is, Hitler’s power rested in the first instance on personal loyalty, not governmental function – on a belief in his historic mission, his heroic qualities, his incomparable achievements. There was a quasi-religious strand to this belief. It was most fervently held in the inner circle of Hitler’s devotees. But in various forms, if diluted, it stretched into wide sections of the German population. Strong reserves of it still remained long after the war had turned sour for Germany. Before that, at his zenith, Hitler embodied distant, visionary goals that by their very utopian nature had the capacity to touch upon the more limited interests of most Germans. That’s why so many were prepared, often for non-ideological reasons, to do all they could to ‘work towards the Führer’.

Your task: do you think that Hitler “alone was capable of such a monstrous vision”?

Ron Rosenbaum: Explaining Hitler

Ron Rosenbaum is a journalist who examined the various explanations as to what made Hitler who he was:

Explaining Hitler by Ron Rosenbaum

Rosenbaum presents two main ways of explaining Hitler. One was put forward by Hugh Trevor-Roper, who saw Hitler as a “possessed, demonic, true believer,” and the other by Alan Bullock, who proposed a “cynical, scheming, opportunist Hitler” (p. 52). Trevor-Roper’s 1947 book The Last Days of Hitler has been criticized as a spell-binding attempt to explain Hitler in which the author fell under Hitler’s spell. Bullock’s book from 1952, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, tries to explain Hitler less as a charismatic (if false) prophet and more as a manipulative politician whose political skills, not his charisma, got him into power and kept him there. The interesting point of divide between these two views is summed by Trevor-Roper’s response to Rosenbaum’s question about whether Hitler knew his actions were evil: “Oh, no. He was convinced of his own rectitude” (p. 61). In Trevor-Roper’s view, Hitler was convinced what he was doing was right because he was convinced that the Jews really were a threat to Germany. If Bullock were to have been asked the question, he might have replied that Hitler would want to convince you that he believed what he was doing was right, that he was acting the part of Hitler the true believer, but that deep down he was aware of what was really going on. There has been some synthesis of these two views, that Hitler was an actor who came to believe in his own act.

Your task: which of these explanations do you think is better?

Specific Instructions for this Review: Hitler

Watch this ProfMoment, if you haven’t already:

As I hope you’ve gathered from the readings, Hitler is a fascinating historical figure. But the readings should also have shown you that Hitler can interpreted in many ways. For this module review, identify an idea from one of the readings that you think captures one very important aspect about Hitler, and explain why this point is so important.

Feel free to make use of the content items in the module and the postings of your classmates when composing your answer. (For example, perhaps someone else mentioned the point you’re making in a posting – you can cite that and expand on it.)

550-650 words

General Instructions for the Module Reviews

Please keep the following in mind:

  • your answer should be uploaded as a PDF document.
  • your answer should be double-spaced.
  • no title page, but there should be a title, your name should appear at the top, and there should be page numbers.
  • answers should be within the specified word range.
  • good essays have the following: grammatically-correct sentences; coherent paragraphs; no spelling mistakes; a clear argument or point.
  • if you refer to a reading in this unit, you don’t have to give full bibliographical information, but when you first mention it, give the full title and author’s name. If you refer to material not read in class, provide a full bibliographical citation at the end of your essay (it will not count as part of the word count).

Please note: the question may ask you to make use of the discussions that occurred in the module. There are two modes for viewing the discussion forums, GRID VIEW and READING VIEW. (You can change which you view by clicking on the settings – the gear icon – in the upper right-hand corner of your screen when you’re in the Discussions area of the course.) Play around with the two views to find the setting that works best for you. For example, when I’m reading your discussions during the week and commenting on some of them, I use the READING VIEW, but if I have to read and grade a lot of postings I use the GRID VIEW.