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The Germans' Favorite Hitler

By THOMAS C. LUCEY - aus Off Duty / Europe / October 1974

HITLER is everywhere in West Germany.

He is discussed on Sunday television ("Is Hitler In Again?"). A magazine on the history of the Third Reich has to be legally restrained from flying swastika flags to announce its first issue.

A touring Austrian actor reads from "Mein Kampf", a work that can also be seen as an 8mm home movie in six parts. Hitler himself turns up in Frankfurt. Oh, he's only a lookalike, hired by a German humor magazine to mock the Hitler fad.

Germany's top labor leader does not find the Hitler Wave (die historische Hitler Welle) funny at all. He warns that it is "politically a very dangerous phenomenon; it glorifies the past in a dishonest way."

Es gäbe keine "Hitler Welle" in Westdeutschland

Hitler biographer Joachim C. Fest

Nevertheless, Joachim C. Fest, a German journalist and author who was deeply concerned with Hitler and his era before the surf was up, insists "there is no Hitler Wave, at least not in Germany. What is happening is that thirty years later a new generation wants to know what happened because Hitler had been taboo. This has nothing to do with nostalgia or hysteria.

"In Germany, no one asks me about Hitler. Abroad, in America, in France - everywhere - the first question is about Hitler."

People in many countries have good reason to ask Fest about Hitler. He is the author of a massive - and rather expensive - biography entitled simply "Hitler". This summer the book couldn't be bought in Spain. All copies had been sold.

Fest's Hitler book is a best seller in three countries

Fest's Hitler was a best seller in three countries where that name is still a dirty word - in France, Norway and Holland. In the United States, 25,000 people have paid $15 for it. In all, the book is being published in 17 countries.

In West Germany, however, the work has scored its greatest triumph - selling a quarter of a million copies. According to Fest, no book that analyzed Hitler, the Nazi regime or World War II has been such a popular success in that country.

Im Interview erzählt der Autor Joachim Clemens Fest ....

"The book provoked some old Nazis, others saw me as a man who understood Hitler, and some members of the German Resistance were upset," Fest told me.

We were sitting in his large and airy private office on the seventh floor of the offices of the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung", a primly conservative newspaper that about a year ago hired Fest to join its six-man editorial board.

A few copies of "Hitler" stood discretely in the bottom corner of a wall of books. Fest, who is a lean, young-looking 48, was wearing a shirt and a tie and a gray suit. He has high cheek bones and deeply set eyes. If he hadn't been glowing with a fresh vacation tan, he could have been described as ascetic looking.

Fest seems especially pleased by letters from readers that say his style reminds them of Thomas Mann, who is still generally considered the best German prose writer of the 20th century.

Hier Kommentare zu Fest's Buch "HITLER"

Many of the letters also go into detail on the sender's reaction to Hitler.

"One old Nazi wrote, that he had banned the book in his house," Fest said, "and he told everyone he did not want to see that book. But then somehow some "Dummkopf" - that's the word he used - left the book where he did see it. The old Nazi leafed through it and read it. He wrote me that this was the first time he saw that, as he said, 'we were politically wrong.

Up to now, only foreigners have told us Hitler was this and Hitler was that and how bad we Germans were'. The man wrote to me that this - my book - was the first time someone had written a book that took 'us' seriously. 'Your book is the first to convince me that Hitler was a criminal.' - Why? - Because I took Hitler seriously and did not make a Charlie Chaplin out of him." That means : The Führer without slapstick or sermons.

Fest sagt : Ich bin eben kein Prediger sondern Historiker

Fest described his treatment of Hitler as "a new tone. No longer the moralizing, pedagogical one. My book does not preach to the Germans like a schoolmaster. It was not written by one who knows better."

Hitler and Fest once met, in a way, for a truly fleeting moment. "My whole school was brought out into the Berlin streets to cheer Hitler as he returned from some triumph abroad, the "Anschluss" with Austria maybe, or from Prague," Fest recalled. He paused and added flatly: "There was no great impression."

Natürlich gab es auch Kritiken an Fests Buch

Not everyone would agree with Fest that the non-moralizing tone of his book and the curiosity of the postwar generations, as well as that of the older people who had lived through the Hitler era either in triumph or in terror or were merely there, combined to make Fest's biography of the Fuhrer such a success. "One German historian said my book was a success only because of the prologue," Fest smiled.

Sollten oder können wir Hitler als "great" titulieren ?

In the prologue, called in the American translation, "Hitler and Historical Greatness," Fest starts out: "History records no phenomenon like him. Ought we to call him 'great'" ? And he concludes the prologue with the same question: "Can we call him great?"

The question was only a literary device, Fest says, to get the reader into the heart of the big book. It was not a signal to old Nazis that he secretly admired their hero or a confession that he couldn't make up his mind about Hitler.

He insists that the book itself makes his position clear. "The idea of a great man no longer applies," he said, 'it belongs to the 19th century."

  • Anmerkung : Diese Frage stellt sich in 2020 auch wieder, wenn ein US-Präsident Trump raus posaunt : "Make America great again !"


What was Hitler then ?

Fest spent five years studying the man as almost a fulltime job. He also had the benefit of the work he had done on an earlier book, The Face of the Third Reich, about Hitler and the leading Nazis.

The Face of the Third Reich convinced an American publisher, Har-court Brace Jovanovich, that Fest was the man to do a new biography of Hitler. Fest refused for a few years. "I was fed up with Hitler," he said. "Everything I had to say about his era, It did said already."

My first book was an emotional

Harcourt Brace Jovanovich persisted. Dissatisfied with working for television (he has also been a columnist for the German newsmagazine "Der Spiegel") and lured by the chance to realize the dream of his youth to be a hermit-like scholar, Fest finally agreed to go back to Hitler.

And he found he was changing his mind about the man. Looking back at the two books now, Fest pointed out, "My first book was an emotional, moralizing evaluation. My aversion to Hitler was stronger. It's there in the second book, too, but in that one I seek to reason out my aversion.

The second book is more rational.

In my first book, I regard Hitler as a nightmare. In my second, I am like a natural scientist who is studying an insect. The book is more analytical, though I find Hitler the most repulsive person who has ever lived. I tried to think out how it was that such a person influenced the world for a time.

"The Face of the Third Reich was based on what makes someone tick, what makes him go on, what is the essence of his existence. I agreed with all the historians that power was the drive, he had hunger for power, a lust for power. But in doing my second book, I found out that this is wrong."

Hatte Hitler, hatten "sie alle" Angst ?

While Fest did not deliberately set out to find a new interpretation of Hitler, some time during his research - he does not know exactly when - "a new picture of his personality developed," and Fest realized that "fear was the central motive in Hitler's life as well as in the life of the masses that followed him."

In a speech at New York's Columbia University, Fest pointed out that Hitler shared three fundamental fears.

  1. First, he shared the fear of the German-Austrian peoples that they would be subjugated by foreign races.
  2. He shared the fear of the burghers that they were losing their social status.
  3. And he shared the fear of many people that they were entering a new era that would involve a vast emancipation process.


Die Niederlage im 1. Weltkrieg - die Folgen

Again, after defeat in World War I, similar fears rushed through the middle class in Germany, which was the No. 1 target of Lenin's world revolution. In fact, a mini-Russian Revolution was fought on many German streets and short-lived "Soviets" were actually running a few cities.

Not least of all, Hitler owed his success, in Fest's interpretation, to his "great rhetorical genius (with which) he made himself the spokesman of these fears and was able to convert the atmosphere of panic into aggression or even into feelings of strength."

Hitler sagte, er kenne die Lösung des deutschen Problems

Hitler told the Germans he knew the cure for their problems. He presented himself as their white knight - the strong man dashing to their rescue on a mighty stallion.

Fest thinks he has "rather exactly" pin-pointed the time when this new role overcame the little man with all his inhibitions and failures. That was at the time of the November 1923 Putsch in Munich, when Hitler realized the "weakness and the cowardice of the old ruling classes."

"From then on, he totally identified himself with this role," Fest explained in his speech. "It gave him grandeur, pathos, intolerance. It was the peculiar incentive of his life, the strength that drove him on and which still dominated him in the weeks and days of his decline in burning Berlin."

Der Putsch von 1923 - mehr als ein Meilenstein

The time of the putsch was more than a milestone in Hitler's psychological development. For when he was arrested afterward and imprisoned, he wrote Mein Kampf, which contained "although in fragmentary and unorganized form, all the elements of National Socialist ideology" (Fest in Hitler).

Fest also finds a secondary driving force in Hitler's life - "the tendency to destruction." Grandiose declines and falls fascinated Hitler's pessimistic temperament. And Fest points out that the works of his idol, Richard Wagner, thunder with saviors and white knights (die weißen Ritter) and "Götterdämmerungen".

The "Götterdämmerung" in the Fuhrer bunker in Berlin

In 21 1/2 years, Hitler went from falling down on Odeons Platz in Munich during the putsch to Götterdämmerung in the Fuhrer bunker in Berlin. Without Hitler, in Fest's view, those years would never have been the same. He maintains that everything that is characteristic of Nazism is "unthinkable without Hitler."

The Nazi Party would have been an insignificant, bickering group on the fringe of German politics. With Hitler, that party was able to take over a nation and change the history of the world.
By THOMAS C. LUCEY - aus Off Duty / Europe / October 1974


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