Thursday, February 11, 2010

On being knocked off kilter... by Hitler

Be informed that comment moderation is in place on this blog and I will not allow this post to be the springboard for the expression of anti-semetism, neo-nazism or holocaust denialism. Any such comments will not be published.

This post has been very hard to write. This has been an uncomfortable learning experience for me, and I am assailed with uncertainty as to the reactions it will garner. I implore you not to misinterpret it.

Last night I watched a documentary called Hitler's Private World (see part 1 here). It made me horribly uncomfortable. Not because it revealed what a monster he was. I already knew that bit, and was enormously comfortable with it. I was happy to think of Adolf Hitler as a terse, inconsiderate man. If I thought about his personal relationships at all, it was to assume that he was cold and distant. Unfeeling. A psychopath, even.

I was not prepared to see him as warm and affectionate. I was not prepared to see him as someone who adored children. I was not prepared to see him as someone who cared about the environment. Someone who saw the potential for user-generated content.

I was happy only to know that he was responsible for the mass slaughter of umpteen million so-called undesirables (Jews, Soviet PoWs, Gypsies/Romanies, Poles, left wing political prisoners, homosexuals, the disabled, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholic clergy, eastern European intellectuals, etc.) and then to welsh out of facing up to the consequences of his appalling actions by taking his own life.

Don't get me wrong... the documentary was not a pro-Hitler rant, and I am not about to join the ranks of those who think he was 'just misunderstood'.

The documentary was made using home movie material overdubbed with dialogue as ascertained by automated lipreading technology. It showed Hitler flirting with Eva Braun, gossipping about the likes of Goering and Himmler, playing happily with children, affectionately commending young soldiers.

It forced me to see additional dimensions to a man I prefer to think of in only one dimension... and it made me very squirm because, as the narrator pointed out, if this man had the capacity to care about the things I care about, to interact with people as I do, then perhaps he is not as different from me as I would prefer to think. On some subconscious level, I think I had ascribed him to a different species, but material such as was shown last night forces me to acknowledge that this is not the case.

Here was a man who grieved to see trees being chopped down. A man who wanted every German family to have a cine camera to record history from their own perspective. A man who could not bring himself to eat the flesh of a living creature. A man who adored children... something which showed plainly on his face as he interacted with them. A man who patted the young members of the Hitler youth with what seemed to be genuine affection as he inspected their ranks. A man frustrated by the effects of Parkinson's disease.

In some of the footage, perhaps with the help of the suggestive voice of the narrator, it was possible to see him psyching himself up, putting on the role of the orator at the hands of a (Jewish, as irony would have it) spin doctor.

Where was the monster?

Of course, his monstrous legacy remains and speaks for itself, but in his private life, he was disturbingly ordinary. I am struggling to find space in my mind for this new information.

I encourage you to watch the footage yourself. I'd be interested to hear how you respond to it.

2 comments:

christytucker said...

I had a similar experience digging into the history myself. One of my German professors was adamant in proving to us that Hitler wasn't a psychopath, but a very shrewd politician. She's a German Jew who was living in Russia before seeking asylum in the US. It was of great personal importance to her that we not see Hitler as a one-dimensional caricature. If we see him as a flat character, just a psychopath, it's too easy to say something like that will never happen again because we're not purely evil like him.

But evil isn't just committed by people who are psychopaths or monsters. It's an uncomfortable truth, I agree.

Karyn Romeis said...

@Christy Thanks for understanding... and what a gracious woman your professor must have been! There were times during the documentary when I was so caught up in the material, I caught myself going "Aw-ww" before pulling myself up short.

Of course, on a conscious level, I would have agreed with what you say. My one-dimensional perspective of Hitler was purely subconscious and univestigated or challenged by the part of my mind that should know better. I think I've caught up with myself now... at least in respect of Hitler. No doubt there are other bastions yet to fall!