Friday, July 6, 2018
HITLER'S CHARISMA Leading Millions into the Abyss by Laurence Rees (Pantheon)
A searching study that addresses the question, not why so many Germans and Austrians accommodated Adolf Hitler, but why they so ardently embraced him.
Fresh from the news that the Nazi labor- and death-camp system was much more widespread and widely known than hitherto thought, British historian Rees (World War II Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis and the West, 2009, etc.) examines Hitler’s career through a Max Weber–ian perspective of charisma, noting that Hitler promised not just decent wages and orderly streets, but “broader, almost spiritual, goals of redemption and salvation.” In the end—and Rees is rightly emphatic about this—Hitler was, like any politician, willing to compromise on almost any front except his central program: the extermination of the Jews. Apologists explain away German and Austrian acquiescence to this program, but Hitler made no effort to disguise his intentions; it was his ability to sell it with impassioned speeches and to cow his opponents with popularly supported terror that won the day for him, at least for a while. Rees looks into several questions and punctures a few myths along the way: Hitler was no slouch in battle, no mere “paper-hanger,” but was a brave and selfless soldier on the World War I front (and commended with an Iron Cross by his Jewish commander), if given to “haranguing those around him about any subject that took his fancy.” He was able to gather followers among religious Germans by professing Christianity, much as he despised it. He rose to power at a time when Germans were begging for an authoritarian figure to solve their economic woes, and though he had a propaganda chief, he himself was one of the best propagandists in history.
So how did Hitler convince his generals to invade Russia and his subjects to ignore the genocide around them? This readable, fascinating book, a worthy addition to the vast literature surrounding Hitler, has plausible answers.