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ISSUE:  Autumn 1936

Hitler, By Rudolf Olden, New York: Covici-Kricde. $3.00. Hitler, By Konrad Heiden. New York: Alfred A, Knopf. $3.00.

Rudolph olden’s “Hitler” and Konrad Hei-den’s “Hitler” are closely parallel analyses of the personality of Hitler as exemplified by the events in the Reichsfuhrer’s life. Just as for years after the Russian Revolution there appeared an unending series of books by Russian emigres who had fled from the Bolshevik regime, and just as a few years later there flowed a similar stream from the pens of the refugees from Mussolini’s realm, there now comes forth a comparable output from the typewriters of the “former people” of the Weimar Republic. The common theme of the literary product of the emigres, be they Russian, Italian, or German, is: “How could it have happened?” To the intelligentsia of Russia, Italy, and Germany their respective dictators are monsters—that is, monsters in the biological sense—genetic sports which civilization in a time of ill-omened travail has cast forth to devour both parent and hapless multitudes of normal offspring. This point of view is natural. The systems of both Lenin and Mussolini were new in the world. As for Germany, it was not merely an attitude of “It can’t happen here.” After the experiences of Russia and Italy the intelligentsia watched with anxiety for one or the other of the two patterns to repeat itself. When events did not conform uniformly to either pattern the educated folk of Germany up to the last moment told each other that whether or not it could happen in Germany, it obviously was not happening.

Consequently these two case histories by Heiden and Olden once more attempt to answer, through an examination of Hitler’s personal history, the old torments which assail the emigres: “Why did it happen? Could it have been avoided? If this individual had done that and that party had not done this, could it have been avoided ?” Heiden finds the answer in a post-war Germany gripped by a psychosis, accentuated to hysteria during the depression, which found its wish fulfillment in the leadership of an abnormal personality. Of Hitler, Heiden bitterly admits: “The workers wanted him with the whole force of their hopelessness. They were weighed down by the secret consciousness that they did not want socialism, because they did not want responsibility.” This abnormal personality which satisfied the craving of the masses of the German people is explained by Heiden primarily in terms of a kind of split personality. Thus are explained the numerous contradictory characteristics and the striking contrasts in attitude and action of Hitler at different times and in different circumstances. This split personality is the product on the one hand of a frustrated childhood and youth, of the failure to “pass” at school, of the failure to become an artist, of his awe of the officers of his battalion and his failure to be accepted into the officer caste. On the other hand his personality is a product of the demoniac urge to shake off the shroud of failure, to emerge into a world in which his importance would be so tremendous, so conceded by all, that the sub-personality might be forever submerged. Heiden denominates the sub-personality simply Hitler; the second personality, which he styles the Fiihrer personality, “lies concealed in the normal Hitler: at moments of climax it emerges and conceals him beneath its more than life-size puppet figure.”

This Fuhrer personality emerging from the sub-personality succeeded in winning the support of the declassed masses in Germany, where the Communists had failed. Heiden finds this to have happened for two reasons. The Communists appealed only to the declassed masses of the proletariat. The National Socialists under Hitler’s leadership appealed to the declassed of all classes. Further, the Communists demanded action and responsibility from the masses. Hitler demanded from the masses only power and offered them leadership.

Both Heiden and Olden give accounts of Hitler’s origin, of his life in Vienna, of the early days of the National Socialist Party in Munich, and of the thick cluster of events and intrigues which brought about his final triumph. These accounts agree in broad outline. Yet it is interesting to note how, even at this date, the accounts of what are supposed to be incontrovertible facts differ in detail. In the late fall of 1932, at a time when almost everyone in Germany hoped or feared that the National Socialist Party was in the process of disintegration, negotiations were entered into between General von Schleicher and Gregor Strasser over the support of the Strasser group in the Party for the von Schleicher cabinet. At the time these negotiations became known to the public it was generally believed that they had been carried on without the knowledge of Hitler. Olden and Heiden are now agreed that they were carried on with his consent. Thereafter the two accounts diverge. Heiden makes Strasser send an ultimatum to Hitler in which he threatens Hitler with a schism in the Party unless Strasser’s scheme for participation in the government is agreed upon. Olden tells the familiar story of Gobbels and Goring pulling Hitler out of his berth in the Munich-Berlin express to tell him that Strasser had betrayed him, and of a later meeting in which Hitler confronts Strasser with the charges of Gobbels and Goring. If the incident of the Strasser ultimatum occurred, the other incident can hardly have happened. The difference in detail is not important, yet it serves as an interesting example of the uncertainty of historical detail. In all the incredible labyrinth of intrigue which characterized this period when the Republic was being done to death, who can recreate its details with certainty?

Both books devote a chapter to the Blood Purge. Both authors find the occasion of the blood purge in the conflict between the Party and the Reichswehr. The cause of it they believe to have been the inability of Hitler to choose between the two. Consequently Hitler gave Rohm promises that the S. A. would be incorporated in the Reichswehr, while to von Blomberg the promise was made that Rohm and the S. A. were to be curbed. Olden sees Hitler, as always, taking the decision to act as the instrument of the strong against the weak and thus acting as the instrument of the Reichswehr in crushing the S. A. Heiden, however, believes that Rohm was probably contemplating a kind of “Second Revolution” at some indefinite date in the future, but that Rohm hoped to induce Hitler to agree. Both authors are sure that there was no revolt by the S. A., as claimed later by Hitler, and both authors are likewise agreed that there could have been no conspiracy agreed upon by von Schleicher and Rohm. Heiden undoubtedly furnishes a valuable clue to the heterogeneity of the death list of the Blood Purge, when he says that during this period the sovereign remedy for suspicion of disloyalty was to kill someone else on the charge of disloyalty. Both accounts suggest the question of when the next violent manifestation of the Fuhrer’s personality may be expected.


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