The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler

Giblin, James Cross. 2002. The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler.

You might be wondering why anyone would spend time reading a book about the world's most notorious evil villain, Hitler. I remember when I first read it a friend told me a story about how she felt more comfortable removing the dust cover so no one would see her reading a book about Hitler and think she was 'weird.' (We were in college, so it's normal to read in public.) For someone who is well-read in Holocaust literature, the choice seemed an easy one. I devour almost anything World War II related. Throw in the fact that this one's an award winner, and just happened to be required reading at the time, and well, there you have it. This one was one of my favorites of the semester though. It was well-written. It was interesting. It was fascinating even. It was detailed. And there were just so many pictures and other visual aids. I remember how shocked the teacher was to see how yellow-tabbied (aka postied) my copy was. Almost every chapter bore witness to some little detail, some little fact, that I wanted to remember and make note of. Anyway, I took some teasing from my classmates that I was too "into" the assignment. But I didn't mind.

So when it came time to choose books for this list, I wanted to reread it. It had been four years since I had read it. I certainly wasn't blogging at that time in my life. And I wanted the chance to blog about it and share my thoughts.

The book is difficult to read in some places because the content is just too intense--and the revulsion of the subject is just too much to take in at some places. But it's a good read. Beginning with his childhood, Giblin traces the life of Hitler. In his childhood, he almost came across as normal. There were no indications that he was an evil genius in the making. He was an abused child. His father was horrid. But he had a good, solid relationship with his mother. And things might have been a lot different except a few circumstances turned a moody teen into a hate-filled monster. What were some of these events? Well, he wanted to be an artist--desperately wanted to be an artist--and he was turned down by the Art school twice. He lost his mother to cancer. He was living in poverty. For a while he was renting a room to sleep in, but soon he couldn't even afford the shabbiest of he was homeless for a bit. But the thing that really turned him inside out and upside down was World War I. As a soldier, he was fed and sheltered. He was within a structure. He was surrounded by peers. And he liked the soldier part. It was the losing part...and the lack of morale of his countrymen that made him turn. When the Germans lost the war, on the very day peace was signed upon or agreed upon, the seeds of World War II were planted.

What the book shows is how Nazism took hold and took root. If the conditions hadn't been just right--if there hadn't been an entire nation in social unrest, if the whole country hadn't been angry and bitter--then Hitler would never have come to power. In fact, the book shows that if it hadn't been for Communism, he would never have risen to power. It was people's fear of Communism that led to their acceptance and promotion of Nazism. It took people--individuals--to give him that power. To give him that control.

Several things struck me as I was reading this book.

*Why wasn't anyone surprised or suspicious that a political party not only had an army but a large army?
*Why were people so willing to give up their civil liberties without a fight, without a protest? They lost their freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, privacy of their mail and telephone, they lost the sanctity of their home (I'm assuming meaning that means search and seizure as well as the government or army could take your home and dislocate you), the freedom to assemble, and they lost their right to form organizations.
*Why did librarians and teachers join in on the book burning? Why didn't they recognize this as the act of a crazy man?
*Why did the Pope support Hitler and Nazism?
*Why did the rest of the world stand by and do nothing? Why did they watch him conquer surrounding countries and not speak up? Why was peace at all costs more important than anything? Why did they let Hitler feel invincible to begin with?

On a slightly odd note, why is it science fiction seems to draw so much from Hitler and Nazism? Star Wars is a mock Nazi nation almost with its storm troopers and with its evilness in general...and it's voting of no confidence of the chancellor so the villain masquerading as the good guy can be appointed. And Star Trek...well the original series has at least two shows where there are direct references to Hitler. One is when they enter an alternate universe where Hitler won the war because a pretty woman was saved by Dr. they have to go back in time and watch her die. And the second is when they see Nazi Germany recreated on another planet. Both great shows by the way. And Hitler's policy on never retreating from battle and always holding your ground...that it is better to die in his service...than appear weak and retreat...and his stand on never surrendering...well that sounds like a goa'uld to me.