An apologist for Hitler

Author examines Nazi leader's character.

Adolf Hitler 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer .)
Adolf Hitler 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer .)
If you give the family tree a good shake, you may be surprised at who falls out.
In the case of Jean-Marie Loret, a Frenchman who fought in World War II in the army and the Resistance, it was Adolf Hitler who tumbled from the foliage.
According to his mother, during World War I she had a baby by a German soldier on leave in the village near Lille where she lived. The soldier was a dab hand with a sketchbook and given to long rants about Germany (though apparently not Jews), so the Fuehrer fitted the bill. (He may have footed the bill as well: after the fall of France in 1940, Loret’s mother apparently received envelopes filled with cash from Wehrmacht officers).
The story in “Le Point” magazine, reviving Loret’s tale which he published over 30 years ago, mentions other evidence, and also notes that the man’s descendants (Loret himself died in 1985) might have a claim to royalties from the sales of “Mein Kampf.” If this goes forward, it will be one of the most bizarre paternity (or copyright) suits ever. I suggest waiting this one out until we hear from Mr. DNA.
And it is the monster himself who steps forward, yet again, in this bizarre, frustrating and unpleasant book.
I prefer writing about books I want you to read, or at least have some merit in them. Time (and space in these pages) is too short to have it otherwise. Just occasionally, though, you have to say, “I read this book, so that you don’t have to.”
Stolfi, a professor emeritus at the US Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, and the author of works on German Panzer armored forces, is scarcely an ignoramus and certainly no Nazi. But it amounts to one long apology for what I suppose could be called “the Hitler that nobody knows.”
His thesis, hammered home at every conceivable opportunity, is that Hitler’s biographers have been so consumed with the need to illustrate that Hitler was evil incarnate, that they have either ignored or underrated the man’s considerable gifts.
Stolfi presents him as a passionate artist, intently serious rather than a casual, boorish dilettante, and a man with the traits of a messiah who fought the good fight against the pernicious Versailles Treaty and the Marxists lying in wait to win Germany for Communism.
The frustrating part of the book is that Stolfi has a point.
He is right to highlight the discrepancy between the buffoonish, dull-witted and dishonest demagogue of most accounts, and the magnitude of Hitler’s dark achievements.
Unlike Stalin, who inherited Lenin’s works, he was the sole begetter of the vast and inhuman structure of the Third Reich. Explanations that the Fuehrer was just an incompetent dreamer who got lucky have always been unconvincing.
Hitler himself spoke and wrote copiously about his life and beliefs but some historians have been less than willing to take him at his word. Stolfi veers much too far to the uncritical, but this approach at least promises to reconcile the apparent discrepancies between the public and the private man.
But the author overreaches.
Hitler, a ranting Jew-hater? No: he presents “a coldly reasoned, historically coherent foundation for a rational philosophy of anti-Semitism.” He is variously described as inspired, of the type of a prophet and seer, appealing to an unjustly treated Germany. Churchill, on the other hand, “must take significant responsibility for the policy of encouraging guerrilla war in the west, with its resulting sadistic and cruel barbarities.”
And “an analogy… can be made between Hitler’s words that the Jews must disappear from Europe and Churchill’s words, which could be paraphrased that the Germans must disappear from Eastern Europe.”
This sort of thing is beyond awful, and there’s more where that came from. Similarly egregious errors of interpretation, proportion, judgment and fact crowd his pages. Stolfi’s attacks on other Hitler biographers have a shrill and unpleasant tone: how dare they refuse to see the qualities of this latter day Alexander! He admits Hitler was a “dark messiah,” but I fear he does so with reluctance.
Stolfi’s problem is in the book’s subtitle. In writing about Hitler, the historian is never beyond evil, but right in the middle of it. It won’t do to claim that the Fuehrer did not consciously see himself as evil: engraved on the tomb of Christopher Wren (a better architect than Adolf) are the Latin words for “if you seek his monument, look around you.” Looking round the Europe of May 1945 that the Third Reich’s founder brought into being is enough to judge Hitler’s real nature.
How did Hitler do what he did? He may have had help of a sinister kind. He told a journalist once that in 1915, while in a trench, a voice came to him that said “move.” The voice was so compelling that he did just that, moving 20 yards away. A shell burst on the spot he had vacated.
Tall tale or truth? I fear the latter.
A pity that two years later, when possibly out walking with a young Frenchwoman, no voice called out to him, “marry her!”