Fuhrer pioneered a populist approach
narrative and his own image long before Dick Morris, James Carville or Karl Rove were born. Before 1939 he also had a strategist’s sense of which battles were worth fighting (getting rid of the troublesome Ernst Rohm in 1934, for example) and which — like that against the churches — should be delayed. He was helped by his very loud and flexible voice (pretty important in those early unamplified beer hall days), an actor’s capacity for playing the right role for the right people, and considerable charm.
However, it seems all the stuff about Hitler being mesmerising and about his hypnotic eyes that surfaced after the war is self-exculpatory guff from those wishing to explain their adherence to the author of World War II and the Holocaust. Hitler’s power lay in saying what people wanted to hear or allowing them to believe in fantasies that made them feel better.
The dictator, for example, did not create that mad Germanic anti-Semitism that took hold after World War I but was nevertheless very strong before it. In 1916, in response to nationalist demands, the German army high command carried out an entirely superfluous audit of what the Jews in its army were actually doing.
In fact Hitler’s own anti-Semitism, according to Ullrich, developed contrary to his own experience of Jews. But like thousands of other Germans, Hitler had welcomed the onset of the Great War, writing that “overcome by a tempestuous enthusiasm I sank to my knees and thanked heaven … that I was fortunate enough to live in these times”. Yet of the period four years later, after being told that Germany had surrendered, Hitler wrote: “In the nights that followed my hatred grew, my hatred for those responsible for this deed.”
He, of course, was himself responsible for the deed. He and the war enthusiasts of 1914. But rather than hate himself, he hated the Jews.
He soon voiced an expulsive fantasy — “Chuck the Jews out and then we can purify ourselves,” as he put it in a speech in 1920. The problem was race-mixing, just as the problem with modern art was “spattering”, just as the problem with the Austro-Hungarian Empire was its polyglot mixture, or with mature women and their complicated emotional demands. Hitler liked to keep things simple.
I am obliged to Ullrich for (despite his own reticence) leaving me convinced that when it came to amatory matters, Adolf was a chip off his old father’s goatish block, and much preferred having relationships with teenagers than with women his own age.
I don’t think there’s much doubt that the future chancellor slept with his 17-year-old niece, Geli Raubal, and that his manipulative jealousy was partly responsible for her suicide in their shared apartment in 1931. Pretty soon after Raubal’s death Hitler took up with the teenage Eva Braun and maintained her as his unmarried consort until their joint suicide in the bunker in 1945.
Though Ullrich repeats the point about this arrangement permitting Hitler to maintain the image of being married to Deutschland, he doesn’t mention that it also absolved the Fuhrer of any responsibility for bringing a complicating little Adolf or Adolfa into the world. That, for Hitler, would have been too much like hard work.
Adolf Hitler took up with Eva Braun, left, after the suicide of his niece, with whom it’s believed he had a relationship