I don't understand Hitler

(resists temptation to tell Michael Vick joke) Well, Hitler is also the guy who had his dog Blondi poisoned and the Nazis otherwise weren’t so great to their dogs (caution: grim reading). PSXer’s questions have been shared by a great many people, explaining the continued fascination with the Nazi regime after so many years and examples of more modern horrors - how could people who seemed normal in some ways and like other supposedly civilized Westerners commit such acts?

Satisfying answers that imply we can prevent such things from ever happening again, do not exist.

I always felt it isn’t a question of understanding Hitler. It’s understanding everyone else. Every society is going to have some crazy people. But why would sane people decide to put them in charge? That to me is the real mystery - why did Germany follow Hitler?

In the case of Nazi Germany, it appears that a lot of sane people felt they could use Hitler. They thought they could make Hitler into a tool they could control and keep within certain limits. They were wrong and Hitler slipped out of anyone’s control.

To understand Hitler and the Nazi crimes, you have to understand the times.

Eliminating whole groups in order to create an “improved society” based on pseudo-scientific theories as to the ideal society was not something invented by Hitler, nor was he in any way unique in practicing this - notions such as that were ‘in the air’ so to speak, and in fact, up to WW2 itself, Hitler was a piker at this compared with Stalin - he’s the guy who really perfected the techniques, and had already killed or enslaved millions of people in persuit of his ideal society prior to WW2 (and continued to do so during and after that conflict).

A recent book that analyses this is called Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin - it’s an interesting read, even for those who have already read much on the topic.


Other large-scale practitioners of the art of murdering large numbers of people to create the ideal society include the likes of Chairman Mao.

What makes Hitler really stand out is his use of “modern” factory techniques to kill large numbers of people, as opposed to merely the more quotidian mass starvation and shooting that other mass killers typically employed (though he of course used those as well).

What is generally missing from people’s conception of Hitler and Naziism is the large role played by WW1 in shaping their worldview. Germany was never really defeated militarily. They were stalemated by the French and English armies. Then the British Navy blockaded Germany and the German people and army were starved into submission. When Hitler came back from the war he saw the suffering of the german people and that they were still some rich people living relatively comfortably. Some of the rich people were Jews and they stood out to him because of the preexisting antisemitism which was mentioned upthread. This experience convinced him of two things.
First the stab in the back was real. The heroic german army had been betrayed by profiteers at home. These profiteers were Jewish because they cared about nothing besides money and other Jews. In order for Germany to win at war, it would have to be racially pure and Jew free.
Second that Malthus was right. There could never be enough resources to support a growing population. In order for a country and its people to survive they had to become independent of other countries economically and militarily strong enough to take resources from other people. War over resources was inevitable and whichever country was most prepared for it would win and thrive. The losers would die, either by starvation or extermination.
Thus in Hitler’s worldview in order to survive the German people had to win the next war and in order to win the war the Germany had to get rid of all Jews. At first they thought they could deport all of them, but then when they could not do that they just decided to kill them. From a Nazi point of view the Holocaust was just a down payment on the mass slaughter of entire people and depopulation of entire regions.
From the standpoint of the German people before Hitler’s rise to power they were desperate. Hyperinflation cause by war reparation destroyed the economy and what was once the most advanced country in the world was falling apart. Hitler promised to restore the economy and it got better. He promised to fight German communism and he defeated and outlawed the German communists. He promised to restore German pride and he did with the Anschluss the repudiation of the Versailles treaty. He promised quick victories in war that would enrich Germany and he delivered. The average German felt his lot was being improved and if people different than him had to suffer for it, then they probably deserved it. Most people have a huge tolerance for the sufferings of people in other tribes.
I too was very interested in WW2 and Hilter when I was younger, but did not think I really understood him until I studied the intellectual climate of the early 20th century. It seems odd that the most intellectually advanced country in the world could succumb to barbarism, but much of the barbarism had its roots in the intellectual milieu of the times.

My understanding is that the Holocaust is unique not because it was a genocide, but because it was an industrial genocide: organized, systematic, bureaucratic. It was legal. It’s reprehensible that one population, stirred by years of war, could start hacking away at another population with machetes, but it’s a whole new level of weird when you build facilities to make the killing less messy, and you keep lists of whose teeth went where.

There’s also the theory that Hitler didn’t exactly know what was happening; that it was Himmler and Goebbels doing most of it through his subtle directions.

I think that’s bullshit myself, but I can see the angle of it. I think Hitler was more generalized in his commitment to the Final Solution, like the idea man.

It was the subordinates that really took care of enacting the program. I think Hitler was more concerned with running the war and outthinking his best generals.

That’s the difference, to me at least. You have a million or so Jews killed prior to 1942, you have the millions killed systematically in the camps post Final Solution implementation which was a primarily Himmler’s baby.

Operation Reinhard is where the camps come into play; Belzec, Triblanka, Sobibor and a fourth one which I can’t remember.

Hitler hated Jews, was fine with murdering them; but I don’t think he cared how that was done and didn’t order the camps built on a whim, that was Himmler.

Remember, Hitler was killing Jews in trucks with exhaust through a hose at first, not really a productive way to commit genocide.

That certainly was the perception and helped shape Hitler and WW2.

Except that barring the most technical interpretations, it’s wrong. The Western powers were advancing quite quickly (in WW1 terms) toward German territory, and the German army itself was quite thinned out and manned by third-line recruits. And by the time the Germans surrendered, the Austrians had already surrendered, providing a second front which would probably have been available in a couple months.

The German populace were certainly ready to believe that they were not facing military defeat only because their territory remained largely or entirely uninvaded. But despite the face that the German people did not have to face military invasion and ruined cities, they would have in a couple months time at the most had they not surrendered.

Hitler’s rhetoric over the WWI loss was that Germany was stabbed in the back by the Jews. The entire population were in denial that they could have lost the war.

Telling the Allied powers that there would be “incalculable consequences” if they got involved, as Hollweg did, is a pretty tough crow to chew on.

BUT, it was the Jews that did it to them, they didn’t lose. And the French humiliated the entire population by having them sign in that cattle car.

20 years of stewing over that loss and hating the people who caused it; that’s how you have someone like Hitler running the show.

I got The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich from the library today. This is huge; I’ll report back in 6 months when I’ve finished reading it.

There are also like 2000 other books on the subject at the library, and at laest half of them are in German.

This is why I can never learn anything new; because getting started is a such a daunting task and I will never make any progress.

Holy Cromm!
That was truly better than average by a significant margin!
I have stolen this to be shared by others.

Nice job.

Watching The Downfall, I found that to be absurd. Despite Junge’s later statements, I think the filmmaker was wrong to include that “Holy crap! Hitler’s a raving ANTISEMITE???” reaction.

Knowing he is an anti-semite and hearing him brag that the Final Solution was one of his greatest accomplishments are different things

Except that’s not what he said. I forget the exact line, but it’s somethin innocuous (by Hitlerian standards) about Jews being responsible for the war, or an exhortation to continue the struggle against the “universal poisoner of all peoples, international Jewry.” The implication that Traudl Junge would be shocked by that statement is ludicrous.

yeah I watched that scene again and I was remembering wrongly

Explaining Hitler is a book that discusses the efforts of various historians to answer precisely that question. Quite interesting and readable.

Where did you hear that?

It was not a cattle car. It was a pre-war dining car that had been converted into Marshal Foch’s field headquarters. Here’s a picture and as you can see it was a normal conference room (albeit a little cramped).

And the Germans didn’t sign the treaty there anyway. That was where they signed the armistice. The Treaty of Versailles was signed in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles Palace.

You ever hear about how Mexicans are taking our jobs and knocking up our daughters and refuse to learn English and all that?


As other people have noted, Jews were an easy target and not a new one. He drew on quotes from famous people throughout history. Martin Luther was always a useful one.

Are you interested in Hitler himself or why the Jews? Do you want to know if it was intentional or just progressed that way? It sounds like you’re curious about Hitler himself. (Hate to break it to you, but there isn’t really anything interesting to report.)

Stalin and Mao didn’t kill millions for pseudo-scientific reasons. They killed millions for pseudo-economic reasons.

Official communist doctrine denies any ethnic element. Marxism says that any child, regardless of its background, will grow up to be a good communist if he or she is raised in a proper communist environment.

But the communists also believed in the concept of classes. They felt that class loyalty overrode any other loyalty.

So when Stalin or Mao or Pol Pot wanted to kill a million people, they didn’t denounce them as a ethnic race; they denounced them as a economic class.

It’s still evil but not as evil as eugenic genocide. The communists at least were willing to stop once they had destroyed the existing class. They didn’t keep hunting your children and grandchildren down and killing them.

Yeah, that’s what’s so weird to me. A very helpful book on the topic was Peter Fritzsche’s book Life and Death in the Third Reich. One factoid I wasn’t aware of was that the government would essentially hold estate sales, often before the family was transported where their neighbors would walk through their house and bid on the linens, plates, etc. (“The Jews get all the best stuff.”) And yet these neighbors were the same people who later claimed that they didn’t know about the camps (and the same people who, years before the war, were friends with their Jewish neighbors).

Anyway, the book uses letters, diaries, etc. to examine what it was like for “ordinary” Germans and German-Jews under Hitler, and how particularly people were swayed to National Socialism. I found it a fascinating read, and not a little disturbing.

Meh. Conversely, once you wipe out the evil race, you’re done killing people, at least in theory. When you wipe out an economic class, you have to keep killing them if they come back.