Adolf Hitler

The avatar of fascism posed the century's greatest threat to democracy and redefined the meaning of evil forever

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Not being a professional historian, I take on this essay with fear and trembling. That's because, although defeated, although dead, this man is frightening.

What was the secret of his power over his listeners? His demagogic appeal to immoderation, to excess and to simplifying hate? They spoke of his intuitive powers and his "luck" (he escaped several attempts on his life).

Adolf Hitler or the incarnation of absolute evil; this is how future generations will remember the all-powerful Fuhrer of the criminal Third Reich. Compared with him, his peers Mussolini and Franco were novices. Under his hypnotic gaze, humanity crossed a threshold from which one could see the abyss.

At the same time that he terrorized his adversaries, he knew how to please, impress and charm the very interlocutors from whom he wanted support. Diplomats and journalists insist as much on his charm as they do on his temper tantrums. The savior admired by his own as he dragged them into his madness, the Satan and exterminating angel feared and hated by all others, Hitler led his people to a shameful defeat without precedent. That his political and strategic ambitions have created a dividing line in the history of this turbulent and tormented century is undeniable: there is a before and an after. By the breadth of his crimes, which have attained a quasi-ontological dimension, he surpasses all his predecessors: as a result of Hitler, man is defined by what makes him inhuman. With Hitler at the head of a gigantic laboratory, life itself seems to have changed.

How did this Austrian without title or position manage to get himself elected head of a German nation renowned for its civilizing mission? How to explain the success of his cheap demagogy in the heart of a people so proud of having inherited the genius of a Wolfgang von Goethe and an Immanuel Kant?

Was there no resistance to his disastrous projects? There was. But it was too feeble, too weak and too late to succeed. German society had rallied behind him: the judicial, the educational, the industrial and the economic establishments gave him their support.

Few politicians of this century have aroused, in their lifetime, such love and so much hate; few have inspired so much historical and psychological research after their death. Even today, works on his enigmatic personality and his cursed career are best sellers everywhere. Some are good, others are less good, but all seem to respond to an authentic curiosity on the part of a public haunted by memory and the desire to understand.

We think we know everything about the nefarious forces that shaped his destiny: his unhappy childhood, his frustrated adolescence; his artistic disappointments; his wound received on the front during World War I; his taste for spectacle, his constant disdain for social and military aristocracies; his relationship with Eva Braun, who adored him; the cult of the very death he feared; his lack of scruples with regard to his former comrades of the SA, whom he had assassinated in 1934; his endless hatred of Jews, whose survival enraged him--each and every phase of his official and private life has found its chroniclers, its biographers.

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