German History as a Greek Tragedy


Hitler: Nemesis / Hubris

It took me a couple of months to finish Ian Kershaw’s monumental work on the-worse-political-persona-ever. During that time I got overly excited about this book, which led to elderly neighbors nodding their heads at the crazy masochistic youngsters of today, and to my wife almost divorcing me – after she woke up one morning to find Adolf Hitler in her bed (on the cover of the book). I was henceforth forbidden to read the book in the bedroom, and honorably sent to throw the garbage.

The book is a two volume, spanning more that 1000 pages (in the Hebrew). A vast read, but the book is surprisingly well written. There are many such tomes of knowledge which might be well worth the effort of reading them, but an effort it is nonetheless. (One such is Overy’s The Dictatorsa book I might have recommended had it not been such a tough read). It is also much more professional than the overly-subjective books usually written about such dictators.

Take Edvard Radzinsky’s recent tome about Joseph Stalin for example. Radzinsky can’t help himself but insert his own fascination with Stalin. Every few pages he drops to quote conspiracy theories (did Stalin ordered Kirov’s murder? We have no proof he did, and he seems to have had no motive to do so, says Radzinsky… which is a good evidence he did… ahemm ahemm… right…). OK, Radzinsky is a good historian. His book is supposed to be read by the general unprofessional public, and he himself is professional enough to explicate just where the line goes between his own feelings, rumors, gossip, wild speculation, etc. and hard historical data (shall I dare to use the word fact? Well, yes I would:) fact.

And yet the comparison is overwhelming. Ian Kershaw doesn’t try to flatter the reader, doesn’t hide behind his feelings, doesn’t indulge in mere gossip or in conspiracy theories – and his book makes such a better read.

Which makes the story itself seem all the more inconceivable (I just love this word).  This is the sort of stories you meet in extremely bad fantasy novels. This sort of story, if you would have read it in a book, would make you nod and say “this writer sucks. Now he’s really exaggerated. This could never have happened. Not in real life”.

But this is the nature of real stories from real life. They are often too much to believe. If you’ve ever been to a writer’s workshop, you would recognize the scene: people hand out their stories, and one of them gets bashed because his story is too “far fetched”, too bizarre, too far out. A literary exaggeration. And it’s always the one story which is based on reality.

Such is the story of the rise to power of the world’s most jejune and bizarre politician of all times. There are, of course, many layers to Hitler’s story. I’ll concentrate here on just one aspect of it: how a true nonentity, a complete and utter nobody, rises to hold power supreme – a story whose hilariously improbable nature was just what made it possible.

For there were many stations in Hitler’s ascendancy, and many powers which took part in that story, all of them aiding in his ascent – by acting (like the political right) or by lack of action (like the military – and, surprisingly enough, the political left). And not a single one of them would have done so had it not expected Hitler to fail. I’ll repeat that in human tongue: every time Hitler finds himself in trouble, there comes a new political power (A) to his rescue. This power rescues Hitler and hails him out of mere disdain. Hitler is expected to fail, miserably. Which he almost does – only… a second before he succumbs, there comes a new power (B) to his rescue, using Hitler to topple the previous power (A), and planning to get rid of Hitler easily, once Hitler’s incompetence becomes a nuisance.

Of course, the next power (C) is just waiting behind the corner…

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