adolf hitler

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The last picture of Hitler alive.

U.S. Intelligence renderings from 1944 of how Hitler may have looked in disguise.

Adolf Hitler committed suicide by gun 72 years ago, but evil never really dies. In fact, it often returns in a variation on an old theme, with new villains picking up the torch—even if it’s made from tiki the next time around.

I quipped in the aftermath of last November’s Presidential election that America was trying to retroactively lose World War II and the Cold War, so taken was Trump and much of the right with neo-Nazis and Putin’s poisoners. The winner of those revived battles still remains in doubt a year later.

Hitler left such a jagged wound on the globe by the end of WWII that some among the Allies couldn’t wrap their heads around the demise of such an outsize heinous figure. Did he escape to Japan on a submarine? Was he spirited away to Sweden? Could some other machinations have helped him avoid ignominious death in the Führerbunke?

From the September 9, 1945 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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Karl May, left, in 1904.

Karl May, left, in 1904.

Making complete sense of the perfect storm of hatred and insanity that enabled Nazi Germany is impossible, but still we try. Are there any clues in the elaborate personal library that madman Adolf Hitler assembled? Probably not, but for curiosity’s sake, he was particularly enamored with the work of Karl May, a writer of Westerns who never visited America. (In all fairness to May, Albert Einstein was also a fan.) During the heat of WWII, an article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle looked at the titles on Hitler’s shelves, trying to make some sense of it all.

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A couple months ago, I posted some exchanges from a Reddit Ask Me Anything conducted by a nonagenarian from Stuttgart who came of age during the rise of Naziism and even briefly met Adolf Hitler. What struck me about her attitude is that she didn’t seem to embrace her own culpability as a worker for the Nazi cause, something I’ve noticed over the years with other German citizens who grew up on the wrong side of World War II. It’s like they never fully processed the horrors that occurred–they were completely brainwashed but only partially deprogrammed–and some even seem to still harbor a degree of admiration for Hitler. It’s just stunning.

An Associated Press piece by Frank Jordans reports on a new study that gives credence to the worst fears about Germans of that generation, revealing that those indoctrinated into Nazism during their wonder years retained feelings of anti-Semitism. The effect was most pronounced in areas where anti-Semitism had been exhibited before the Nazis solidified power.

The opening:

BERLIN (AP) — Anti-Semitic propaganda had a life-long effect on German children schooled during the Nazi period, leaving them far more likely to harbor negative views of Jews than those born earlier and later, according to a study published Monday.

The findings indicate that attempts to influence public attitudes are most effective when they target young people, particularly if the message confirms existing beliefs, the authors said.

Researchers from the United States and Switzerland examined surveys conducted in 1996 and 2006 that asked respondents about a range of issues, including their opinions of Jews. The polls, known as the German General Social Survey, reflected the views of 5,300 people from 264 towns and cities across Germany, allowing the researchers to examine differences according to age, gender and location.

By focusing on those respondents who expressed consistently negative views of Jews in a number of questions, the researchers found that those born in the 1930s held the most extreme anti-Semitic opinions – even fifty years after the end of Nazi rule.

“It’s not just that Nazi schooling worked, that if you subject people to a totalitarian regime during their formative years it will influence the way their mind works,” said Hans-Joachim Voth of the University of Zurich, one of the study’s authors. “The striking thing is that it doesn’t go away afterward.”•

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While I’m sure Adolf Hitler’s personal yacht, the Aviso Grille, had some historical value, it probably shouldn’t have been employed as a floating tourist trap, even if the proceeds went to charity. But that’s what happened during the end of the 1940s, soon before the craft was smashed up and sold for scrap. Judging by an article from the June 16, 1949 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, which uses some strangely admiring adjectives to describe one of history’s very worst villains, the Führer was unsurprisingly not a fun cruise director, at least according to his former staff, some of whom sailed with the vessel when it made its voyage to New York. Postscript: When the boat was sold in pieces, Hitler’s shitter wound up in a New Jersey gas-station bathroom.

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In a new Afterword (published at the Los Angeles Review of Booksto the updated version of 1998’s Explaining Hitler, Ron Rosenbaum looks at the architect of Nazism in light of 9/11, arguing that Hitler was not a failed dictator but a successful terrorist. An excerpt:

“For Hitler, it was not a matter of making the trains run on time so much as making the trains never stop running to Auschwitz and Treblinka. One relatively new aspect of Holocaust study is a focus on what happened when the trains finally did stop running, because the Russians were about to overrun the mainly Polish-based camps. The full story, much of which was new to me, can be found in Daniel Blatman’s 2011 work, The Death Marches: The Final Phase of Nazi Genocide.

When the camps were disbanded, the large SS and native Polish and Ukrainian guard troops feeding the gas chambers were not redeployed to stave off the Russians. Instead they were ordered to take all the living and half-dead captives on the road in what became the final phase of the Final Solution: the Death Marches. Hundreds of thousands of closely-guarded prisoners were mercilessly beaten or shot when they couldn’t keep up, starved to death while being harried along icy roads to . . . where? There was no sanctuary left safe for killing, but the killing had to continue at all costs, a horror at least as unfathomable as the camps themselves. The Death March commanders didn’t have to ‘follow orders.’ They had incorporated Hitlerism so deeply, they wanted to follow orders. As Evans argues, killing Jews was more important than military objectives. These commanders risked their own lives to continue the murder.

What’s worse, Blatman reports, is that it was not just military men but civilians along the way who gleefully took part in murdering the half-dead Jews. For those, like me, who thought it impossible to be further shocked by Hitler’s willing accomplices, reading about the Death Marches introduced a new level of horror.

It is a testament to how deeply dyed the souls of the killers were. Hitler was possessed, some might say, but he was also the cause of possession in others. …

Hitler didn’t lose the war. Not the war Evans argues was most important to him: the racial war. Hitler won that war. Six million to one. Yes, he committed suicide at the end. (And yes, 50 million others lost their lives so he could win the part of the war he cared about most. Collateral damage.)

Thinking about that suicide now, in the light of 9/11 and the subsequent exaltations of suicide bombing on messianic, theological grounds, does in fact offer a radical new way of characterizing Hitler. In retrospect at least, it’s tempting to argue that Hitler was, if not the first, then by far history’s greatest single suicide bomber. He blew up Europe to kill the Jews in it, even if it meant killing himself and tens of millions of others in the end.”

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