Hitler: Beyond Evil and Tyrannyby R. H. S. Stolfi
This fascinating and richly detailed new biography of Hitler reinterprets the known facts about the Nazi Fuehrer to construct a convincing, realistic portrait of the man. In place of the hollow shell others have made into an icon of evil, the author sees a complex, nuanced personality. Without in any way glorifying its subject, this unique revision of the historical Hitler brings us closer to understanding a pivotal personality of the twentieth century.
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HITLERBEYOND EVIL AND TYRANNY
By R. H. S. STOLFI
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2011 R.H. S. Stolfi
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHITLER'S ATTRIBUTES REASSESSED
Perhaps the single most important question that we can ask about Hitler in his formative years from 1889 to 1914 is: Can we identify the fundamental, enduring temperament that had stabilized by the beginning of World War I? By about age five, Hitler had probably already developed qualities, based on a complex and indecipherable mix of heredity and environment, that would underpin his development. Those earliest qualities are beyond the reach of any man today to approximate; if Hitler himself were still alive, he would be hard-pressed to define his childhood qualities, let alone describe how he came to hold them. By the time Hitler moved through his teens, however, we can begin to see a temperament comprised of talents, interests, and predilections that can be derived from historical data. Schoolmates, friends, acquaintances, teachers, neighbors of Hitler and his family have been captured by historical researchers in enough detail to begin to assemble a picture of his personality. Although the years are early and relatively few, the temperament set within them should be similar to that which Hitler would carry largely unaltered to his grave.
In his twelfth year, Hitler would respond to an adult's question of what he would make of himself in life with the following words: "a great artist." The word, artist, linked with the fine art of painting. With remarkable consistency, he would maintain this goal until the end of World War I. Hitler had discovered early on that he could draw with pencil and paper and gradually expanded that talent into watercolor and oil painting on various surfaces. The question of exactly when and why Hitler answered the call of painting is perhaps answered in his own words: "How it happened, I myself do not know, but one day it became clear to me that I would become a painter, an artist." Hitler was instinctively attracted to drawing and painting, which can be generalized as being important in his life during the period 1900–1914, along with his even stronger fascination with architecture. Similarly, in the sense of an emergent artistic temperament, Hitler would develop a strong interest in opera and classical music—particularly the heroic German tableaus of Richard Wagner, who, along with Guiseppi Verdi, was the supreme composer of opera in the talent-laden nineteenth century.
Detractors, though (and there are none other), would probably query: Can Hitler be judged to have been an artist? The question should be addressed even though it could be argued that it made no difference whether or not art critics or others judged Hitler to be one. All that is necessary is to show that he believed himself to be an artist, and historical evidence overwhelms us that Hitler thought himself to be a painter and architect. Evidence also overwhelms us that he could in fact be considered to have drawn and painted well enough to be considered one. Hitler was observed sketching as early as 1900, and by age sixteen in 1905 was continuing to comment to various listeners that his aspiration in life was to paint. Frau Pressmayer, a neighbor of the Hitlers' in Leonding, observed during the period 1905–1907 that Hitler "was busy with painting and drawing the whole day." The reason why Hitler had time for painting, architectural drawing, and the opera is that he had dropped out of further formal education at age sixteen. Here we see Hitler, according to his boyhood friend August Kubizek, engaged especially in sketching architectural scenes of Linz as part of a grand scheme for the rebuilding of that city with its considerable 1911 population of 67,800, complete with municipal opera house, grand museum, electric tram lines, and major iron bridge across the Danube River. We can generalize, therefore, that Hitler by age sixteen had become dominated by an artistic temperament. It included a self-willed aversion to formal schooling and any form of scheduled activity—a Bohemian rejection of bureaucratic regimen and bourgeois schedule.
Hitler thus embraced art as his calling in life and remarked candidly that he had no explanation for his great interest. The special intensity with which he pursued the calling, however, was so radical and divorced from the reality of his social situation that it demands interpretation. During the period 1900–1905, Hitler the previously excellent grammar school student (grades one through five), proved unwilling to cope with the Austrian junior high school system, or lower Realschule. He needed five years to complete the necessary four years (i.e., he had to repeat one entire year), and, if this were not enough, he compiled failing grades during four of the five years that had to be made up by special examinations immediately preceding his entry into the succeeding school year. Through strenuous efforts, Hitler improved his performance in the fourth and final grade of the lower Realschule but nevertheless failed geometry. Only through yet another makeup examination in September 1905 was he able to get a certificate of completion by the end of that month. Based on his poor performance, Hitler would have required a near-miracle to have made himself eligible for the Austrian high school system, or higher Realschule. Without further education, Hitler, in late 1905, had no realistic chance to become the academic painter and artistic success that he envisioned.
As the next phase of his life unfolded from his passing out of junior high in September 1905 through his mother's death in late December 1907, the unemployed Hitler lived entirely at the expense of his nobly suffering and loving mother. During this period, Hitler led a life of leisure without apparent direction or goal. This life represented a flight from reality into a fantasy world of internal visualization of the manner in which his life would work out. His closest friend of the period 1905–1908, the talented music student August Kubizek, remarked that "he gave his whole self to his imaginary building and was carried away by it." The architectural fantasizing included especially drawings based on internal visualizations inspired by attendance at Wagnerian operas—great bridges, blocks of houses, castles, villas, a monastery, and the like. One must question in retrospective wonderment how Hitler thought he would acquire the education and training to bring into being the paintings and architectural structures and cities that lay in his imagination. Here one sees Hitler lucidly visualizing his accomplishments as a great artist while apparently adrift without a notion of how to achieve anything realistic. Sometimes, however, things are not as they may seem to be.
The generalizations similar to those above embraced in the great biographies of Hitler argue that he idled away the three years after largely failing the lower Realschule in a kind of social and intellectual vacuum. Those generalizations do not stand up to observations by contemporaries and to the realities of his future pattern of activity. Hitler, for example, repeatedly claimed that during the years from 1905 to 1907 he engaged in serious "studies," and the complete lack of formal study in school does not necessarily add up to an unread man. Kubizek remarked, for example, that he remembered Adolf as always surrounded by books while commenting also that Hitler would make him study "this or that book which he had just read so that he could discuss it with me." A similar picture emerged with a later friend, Harvard University graduate Ernst Hanfstaengl of the Munich art reproduction publishing house, who got to know him well and remarked about Hitler's life in 1923 that "he was a voracious reader and positively stormed the historical library I was building up." Hitler himself would claim to have read intensively and widely in the period 1905–1914 in Linz, Vienna, and Munich, and his claims are supported by various independent sources including family friends, personal acquaintances, landlords, and the like.
The conventional wisdom has acknowledged grudgingly that Hitler read a large amount. That wisdom, however, largely cancels such acknowledgement by claiming that he read selectively to reinforce his prejudices in various fields. The conventional biographers argue that Hitler largely read the marginal (i.e., lunatic fringe) tracts and news sheets that had begun to flood Vienna by the turn of the century and suggest that such literature dominated the intellectual content of his personal "studies." With this argument, Hitler's substantial reading in Linz, which could not have been affected much by the Vienna fringe literature, his reading of respectable books in Vienna, and his continued affair with reading in Munich, tends to be ignored and slips out of his educational equation. Hitler, for example, would claim as the voracious reader that he seems to have been to have carried the works of Arthur Schopenhauer, the German pessimistic philosopher of the turn of the nineteenth century, with him into World War I in his frontline infantry regiment. Such a claim supports a view that Hitler had been inspired to master Schopenhauer's worldview and not simply confirm some prejudice.
Hitler and Schopenhauer together, under the circumstances of lengthy reading on the western front, are anathema to the conventional biographers. The following sarcastic disparagement typifies the antipathy: "[I]n the Ypres region of Flanders ... he could find time to paint pictures and read (if his own account can be believed) the works of Schopenhauer that he claimed to have carried around with him." Ernst Hanfstaengl, who had been on close terms with Hitler intermittently from early 1923 through 1937, remarked upon hearing Hitler expound on the need for a heroic worldview for Germany that "this was not Schopenhauer, who had been Hitler's philosophical god earlier in the Dietrich Eckart days of 1921–1924, but something new." Hanfstaengl's remark supports a view that Hitler not only had carried Schopenhauer's works into the dugouts and trenches, but also that he had actually read them. It must also be evident that Hitler had had much discussion with the urbane Hanfstaengl on the subject of Schopenhauer for his intellectual patron to claim so decisively that Hitler had been a knowledgeable admirer. The presented picture is also not one of Hitler as an unperson.
The above remark by Hitler's most recent great biographer typifies the style of writing on the subject. Writers take descriptive liberties in their commentaries on Hitler that would not be tolerated by critics and readers with other similarly important historical figures. In a single sentence, the biographer quoted would sarcastically belittle Hitler's interest and talent in painting, parenthetically suggest that Hitler lied about reading Schopenhauer's works, and sarcastically call into question Hitler's comment that he carried them into the war at all. The penchant of his biographers for gratuitous sarcasm, strained skepticism, and writing from preconceived heights of antipathy has left the world with a dangerously inaccurate portrait of Hitler. In the quote above, the biographer demonstrates a dry humor by characterizing Hitler's talent in art as residing at the level "to paint pictures" in his free time with his wartime regiment. Dry humor in counterpoint could well be: Winston Churchill painted pictures; Adolf Hitler painted. Biographers practicing such sarcasm obscure the reality that an artist in spirit, talent, and style would create the most dynamic political movement of the twentieth century, seize power in Germany, lead it through the constraints of Versailles into World War II, and all but win it in August 1941. One finds here no lawyer from Columbia Law School, general studies aristocrat from Harrow and Sandhurst, political scientist from the University of Paris, or professional intellectual malcontent from the great bend of the Volga River.
In late 1907, Hitler would confront nemesis—retributive justice—during his second visit to Vienna. Hitler's dedicated, organized, and loving mother, Klara, had allowed him to withdraw his patrimony from the Mortgage Bank of Austria and travel to Vienna to apply for entrance into the painting curriculum of the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. In October, he took the two-day examination for entrance into the first year curriculum and failed. It was the first of the five great blows in his life. These blows included the death of his mother two months later, the German loss of World War I in November 1918, the failure to limit the Danzig crisis to a war between Germany and Poland in September 1939, and the defeat in April 1945. Hitler requested an interview with the director of the academy, who expressed the opinion that Hitler did not have the talent at that time for painting but had a surfeit of talent for architecture. Hitler would continue to have confidence in his painting but would remark in later writings that he began to realize that he would someday instead be an architect.
Notwithstanding the presence of nemesis, this great event in Hitler's life as aspiring artist has a curious twist. One writer with a perceptive interest in Hitler would publish a collection of more than seven hundred paintings and sketches attributed to Hitler, including three of the watercolors submitted during the test. Those paintings are significantly and obviously below the quality of others attributed to Hitler during 1907 and 1908. He seems to have tightened on the examination and produced an effort that was not representative of his talent. We are left with the unsettling feeling that if the teenage Hitler had produced his usual and more representative work, he probably would have been accepted into the academy's painting curriculum. What is the significance of this fresh observation on the first great traumatic event in Hitler's life? Curiously enough, it supports a view that in spite of his apparent artistic death wish from 1900 through 1907, he had in his own mind, after October 1905, a "plan" embodying private immersion in art, at the end of which and at the earliest possible time—age eighteen—he would sweep into the art academy on the basis of the talent he would reveal in the yearly examination. The pattern was one of apparent drift, torpor, and self-indulgence and seemed to represent Hitler's basic temperament— artistic, Bohemian, procrastination unconstrained by ordinary consideration of time, during which he worked obliquely on developing projects until forced to act. Years later, in August 1923, when Hitler had become a leading actor in Bavarian politics, the National Socialist economic guru Gottfried Feder would criticize Hitler's lifestyle, specifically noting his anarchy in the allocation of time. Here we see the "granite foundation" of Hitler's temperament laid during his teen years in Linz and the year 1908 in Vienna.
When Hitler departed by train for the Austrian capital in February 1908, he vacated Linz as a badly educated eighteen-year-old of modest social antecedents but with considerable talent in the fine arts. Looking back in time through World War II, the interwar period, and World War I, we see times of cataclysmic political violence. It is easy to forget, therefore, that Hitler went to Vienna earlier in the autumn of 1907 to take the painting admissions examination for the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts and not to prepare himself to become a German nationalist and anti-Semite. He took this great step of his formative years based on his interest in painting, and it must be jarring in the face of the present consensus of Hitler as coarse unperson that such a generalization can be made. Evidence from the years 1900 through 1907, however, shows that he thought he would become a great artist and from that lofty eminence preside over a life filled also with classical music and opera.
Excerpted from HITLER by R. H. S. STOLFI Copyright © 2011 by R.H. S. Stolfi. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
R. H. S. Stolfi, professor emeritus at the US Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and retired colonel in the US Marine Corps Reserve, is the author of German Panzers on the Offensive: Russian Front, North Africa 1941–1942; Hitler’s Panzers East: World War II Reinterpreted; and NATO under Attack: Why the Western Alliance Can Fight Outnumbered and Win in Central Europe without Nuclear Weapons (with Friedrich Wilhelm von Mellenthin and E. Sobik).
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Hiltle r is a anamail so i want to say naxies suck so dose hitler
I have read many books about Hitler and WWII. This is without a doubt there worst. Claiming Hitler as a mesiah or comparing him to anyone in in history as justification for what he did is either meant to deceive or just stupid. I'm sorry I spent more than a penny on this book!
~Jordan <br> PS: Be back later, going out for a birthday dinner.
Cole looked at Ivy with curiosity. She ran her fingers down her bowstring.