Hitler: Nemesis

18 Dec

-Ian Kershaw

In the previous volume, we saw how Adolf Hitler took advantage of the post-war chaos in Germany to establish himself as a leading politician, eventually managing to manoeuvre himself into a position to take supreme power. A combination of bribes, lucky judgement and the weakness of his enemies allowed him to secure his position, with the reoccupation of the Rhineland the crowning glory of his march towards the Fuhrer. Germany celebrated Hitler’s success; the young men and women fooled themselves into believing that they shared his success. They were soon to share in his nemesis.

Hitler: Nemesis covers the period between 1937, when Hitler was at the height of his power, to 1945, when Hitler killed himself to avoid capture. Like the previous book, it is both a biography of Hitler himself and a social history of Nazi Germany, focusing on the moments when the ‘Hitler Myth’ conflicted with reality. It is also a seething indictment of weakness and folly amongst Hitler’s enemies, both inside and outside the country. The internal opposition to Hitler was always weak and divided, unwilling to take the risk of assassinating the Fuhrer until it was too late; the outside opposition was equally unwilling to stand up to Hitler until it was too late. Munich, as Kershaw makes very clear, was perhaps the last chance to stop Hitler without major bloodshed. It was a chance the West allowed to slip out of their hands.

Central to this, of course, is the character of Adolf Hitler himself. He had always been a gambler – and, as a gambler, was lucky rather than good. He understood his early enemies very well, but failed to grasp that Churchill and Stalin were considerably tougher than the British and French politicians who allowed him to rape Czechoslovakia. Worse, from his point of view (but not for us), was that his early successes went to his head. When he overruled his generals, the first few times, and was proven right … he took it as a sign that he would always be right. Thankfully for humanity, he was often wrong. Germany might well have been able to hold out for much longer, perhaps even secure better peace terms, if Hitler had listened to his generals a little more.

Hitler was, in many ways, increasingly unable to focus on a single subject even before the war started slipping out of his control. He would issue vague orders, then change his mind; he would give nominal authority to some of his subordinates, but make sure they couldn’t turn their new position against him. He was, in short, more interested in securing his power base – and, later, his legend – than in preserving Germany. This had disastrous effects on the war effort. No one could have handled the vast number of offices Hitler collected under his banner effectively, not at once. Hitler was, simply put, the worst kind of micromanager, in the worst place for one to be.

The state Hitler built was, inevitably, a reflection of his haphazard approach to government and policy. His individual subordinates competed with each other to please him, rather than focusing on uniting against Germany’s growing list of enemies. This ensured that they couldn’t unite against him, which was probably what he wanted, but it also weakened Germany at the worst possible time. It also led to a demented approach to ridding the state of everyone Hitler and his followers considered undesirable, ranging from war-wounded to the Jews. It is horrible to contemplate what a more efficient Nazi Germany would have done.

Hitler himself, Kershaw makes clear, did not issue specific orders regarding the mass killings of Jews. He seemed oddly unwilling to commit himself, unlike Himmler and the really fanatical Nazis. At the same time, there is no doubt that Hitler knew what was happening and approved; there is certainly no suggestion that Hitler ever intervened to save Jews – or anyone – from his pogroms. The idea that Hitler was innocent in such matters is thoroughly absurd.

As the war worsened for Germany, Hitler withdrew more and more from his people. He grew increasingly reluctant to see anyone, even his closest followers. The love and admiration the German people had once felt for him was gone, replaced by fear of an increasingly-powerful administrative state. Hitler himself may have conceded, as early as January 1945, that the war was over and Germany had lost, but he did everything in his power to keep the Reich fighting until the bitter end. His death was an escape from the horrors he had done so much to unleash upon his people. The Germans who followed Hitler followed him into hell.

Hitler did face internal opposition, although it was weak, unfocused and more given to infighting than actual action. There were a handful of churchmen who spoke out against the regime, worrying the Reich’s administrators, but their efforts came to nothing. (The church’s refusal to speak out against Hitler will go down as a black mark on its record.) The military opposition faltered, at least partly because of a long-standing fear of what would happen after Hitler’s death (not, it should be noted, an entirely unjustified fear). Hitler himself seemed to have the luck of the devil. The handful of attempts to assassinate him that came close enough to actually work only made his position stronger.

In the end, what was Hitler? He was a monster, plain and simple. His single-minded determination to make war, in the belief that it would redeem Germany, dragged his people into the fire, while his failures as a war leader and his lunatic eugenics policies ensured that Germany would lose the war. Once he had started, he couldn’t stop. His obsession with negotiating from a position of strength, impossible after the Western Allies were solidly established on the European mainland, made certain that there would be no peace short of the destruction of Nazi Germany itself.

It is hard to be sure that Hitler was the most evil man in world history. Stalin was probably responsible, directly or indirectly, for killing more people than Hitler. Mao, Saddam, Genghis Khan … there were others who were as thoroughly unpleasant as Hitler, lacking – in many ways, the redemptive aspects of Napoleon. But it cannot be denied that Hitler is very much amongst the top ten most evil men in human history.

There are few people today who can truly be compared to Adolf Hitler. Certainly, no American President comes close to the sheer unrelenting monstrousness of the man. One can pick and choose aspects of Hitler’s personality and apply them to everyone from George Washington to Donald Trump, but none of those comparisons is remotely fair. Indeed, very little could be more flattering to Hitler and insulting to any American President. The overused claim that ‘X is Hitler’ does nothing more than weaken our resolve to stop any future Hitler-types from gaining power. How would we recognise one when we saw one?

It might be easier to draw a comparison between 1919-1933 Germany and modern-day America and Europe. Faith in everything from the government to the media is declining rapidly (not least because of the ‘X is Hitler’ comparisons); immigration is provoking ethnic and racial tensions, there’s an economic crisis, people are growing increasingly desperate … people are crying out for a saviour. But who will save them? Will it be a Reagan … or a Hitler?

In conclusion, there are few other biographies of Adolf Hitler that come close to the sweeping magnificence of Kershaw’s two volumes. I highly recommend them.

17 Responses to “Hitler: Nemesis”

  1. PhilippeO December 18, 2018 at 2:20 pm #

    How do we know ‘X is Hitler’ really overused ? The awfulness of Hitler result would mean its good to be preemptive. If somebody show similarity with Hitler in 34 shouldn’t we be wary instead of waiting until 45 happen ? Hitler is not that different from Schleicher, Luddendoff, Franco, Pinochet or Mussolini until he pull Holocaust and WWII.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard December 18, 2018 at 2:42 pm #

      people are crying out for a saviour. But who will save them? Will it be a Reagan … or a Hitler?

      Many people look for a “Man On A White Horse” to save them, their nation or the world.

      I’ve thought that to some people Obama was (to some) the “Man On A White Horse” to redeem the US after the HitlerBush.

      In some way, Bernie Sanders may have been that person.

      Yes, I suspect that some saw Trump as that person. Personally, I just saw him as the anti-Hillary. While I still don’t see him in that way, I find the nonsense spread by the News Media and the Democratic Party both sad and a reason to give Trump my support.

      • Anarchymedes December 19, 2018 at 9:58 am #

        Maybe it’ll be Don Quixote — because if somehow a real monster or a dragon had appeared in the medieval Spain, I don’t see Sancho Panza standing up against it; nor Miguel de Servantes himself, if it comes to that. Only that silly idealist who still believed in chivalry and nobility —of the spirit, not of the blood or any other bodily fluid — just might put on the makeshift armour and — give it a go.
        Because there are times when pragmatics who wisely hang ther heads and send virgins to the dragon can no longer hide from their own weakness, greed, and cowardice behind the veneer of wisdom, practicality, and the love of peace.
        Or perhaps it’ll be Conan the Barbarian — the original one, by Robert E. Howard, not the Hollywood one, by Schwarzenegger. “Anyway, I’d be a dog to leave Albiona to die because of her loyalty to me. I may be a king without a kingdom, but I’m not a man without honor.” That is civilisation, damn it! A real barbarian would’ve instead cared about his own a$$, and nothing else! So, the Game of Thrones—read, of Betrayals—won’t do the trick:

        “What do I know of cultured ways, the gilt, the craft and the lie?
        I, who was born in a naked land and bred in the open sky.
        The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
        Rush in and die, dogs—I was a man before I was a king.”

        Maybe that’s the salvation we need. 🙂

      • Mark December 28, 2018 at 4:28 pm #

        Hey Paul, just read your post. Agree with your view Trump as the Anti-hillary.

        Pretty sad when you have to pick between bad and worse

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard December 28, 2018 at 4:35 pm #

        Well, in spite of what the News Media says, I think Trump is a fair President. Only time will tell if he was a Great President.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard December 18, 2018 at 2:56 pm #

      There’s a meme going around that goes “Everybody who disagrees with me is a Nazi”.

      Was George W. Bush a Hitler? Some of the rhetoric invoked “Bush is Hitler”.

      I personally suspect that a would-be Stalin could gain support by claims that his opponent is another Hitler.

      Yep, we should worry about another Hitler and another Stalin, too often the claim that somebody is another Hitler is used just because the speaker “just disagrees with the person”.

      And to be blunt, plenty of people listen to the “so-and-so is another Hitler” and wish that so-and-so act as a Hitler against the shitheads calling him Hitler.

      So yes, the “Another Hitler” is over-used and to be blunt causes people to ignore/dislike the people making the claim.

      Of course, nobody worries about another Stalin. 😈

      • none December 31, 2018 at 1:28 am #

        I couldn’t agree more, my apology, as I overlooked the sarcasm in your comment. My sincere apology. I’m amazed by how folks act now, having witnessed JFK (economic views which are nearly todays conservatism), the 60’s, the cold war and its end where we put the Russkies into receivership…, Reagan. I remember friends with whom I differed diametrically in politics in the mid 80’s and still having a great relationship..not today!

        Conservatism generally means less government and the ability how to decide to spend your money, with laws, policies, and regulations aimed at you getting to keep your hard earned money – I overlook that so many younger folks have a world view warped by the 90’s w/Bill and Hill.

        Abortion has certainly made an indelible mark on our society. I tell Democrats..aren’t you glad your mother didn’t abort you?? 65 to 70MM Americans who were aborted, think of how that man more of us working could pay the national debt bill, as well as making a huge difference in medicare and social security. Sad that folks care more about illegals who might vote one day than potential in country citizens who were aborted through a system that uses that procedure like its birth control, and allows them at any time right up until birth (partial birth abortions). This issue makes the US into the “Great Satan” and frankly makes teh Nazi’s look like pikers.

        On Trump-> history is on his side. He is certainly the hardest working President EVER.

        The weird thing… I’m near the end of my career, but who ever thought we’d see a time when whole classes of left-leaning wing-nuts would go out and howl at the moon because of one guy . Trump Derangement Syndrome just makes me howl…with laughter.
        Peace my friend, and accept my apology; and a Happy New Year too.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard December 31, 2018 at 1:54 am #

        No problem. 😉

  2. sam57l0 December 18, 2018 at 9:37 pm #

    EVERY Republican president is called a Hitler, by the Dems.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard December 18, 2018 at 10:24 pm #

      Yep. 😦

      • none December 24, 2018 at 4:10 am #

        grow up hitler was a megalomaniac on a different scale, your trite use of hilterbush makes me think you’re a simpleton

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard December 24, 2018 at 4:14 am #


        HitlerBush describes how the rhetoric sounded that the Democrats used about George W Bush and other Republicans.

        It’s the Democrats/Liberals that need to grow up.

      • none December 24, 2018 at 11:04 pm #

        couldnt agree more..i love watchcing them howl at Trump

  3. Puffin Muffin December 20, 2018 at 2:02 am #

    Sending best wishes for your speedy recovery

    • George Phillies December 21, 2018 at 5:37 pm #

      And merry Christmas!

    • none December 24, 2018 at 4:13 am #

      exactly, Chris est wishes and and a Merry Christmas 2018, here’s hoping you have a recovery, love the writing.

  4. Hanno Frerichs December 23, 2018 at 7:22 pm #

    It’s also noteworthy who is who Some Dictators of and the past were surly more evil or personally dangerous then Hitler was. Omar Al-Bashir or Sadam for example are likely not better then Hitler was but they both have Comparably weak countries. and economies While Germany at the time of World war II had been the second largest economy in the world.with roughly 6-7% of the Global GDP and 20% of the worlds Chemical and 15% Steel production and a lot of veterans from the former first world war.

    Stalin and Mao were also not by far the worst dictators, but they lead a great power. the 30 Million dead under their rule was not so because they were the most evil dictators, but because they were the most powerful dictators.

    Xi Jinping and Putin might not be the worst dictators of our time (Omar Al-Bashir is a likely first place in that regard.) but surly the two most powerful and the only two with much influence in international politics.

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