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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Hitler also counted on Stalin's naivete. In a sense he was right. According to all witnesses, Stalin had total confidence in Hitler. To humor Hitler's extreme anti-Semitic sensibilities, the Soviet hierarchy withdrew certain Jews, such as Maxim Litvinov, the Soviet Foreign Minister, from the international scene. Stalin's order to honor the commercial agreements between the two countries was scrupulously executed, at all levels, until the beginning of hostilities: the day of German aggression, one still saw Soviet trains stuffed with raw materials heading toward German factories.

Was Hitler shrewder than Stalin? Certainly he was more tenacious than his French and British adversaries. Winston Churchill was the only man of state who unmasked Hitler immediately and refused to let himself be duped by Hitler's repeated promises that this time he was making his "last territorial demand."

And yet. In his own "logic," Hitler was persuaded for a fairly long time that the German and British people had every reason to get along and divide up spheres of influence throughout the world. He did not understand British obstinacy in its resistance to his racial philosophy and to the practical ends it engendered.

In fact, he wanted to swallow up Russia, Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic countries to augment lebensraum: Germany's vital space. But then why did he launch his destructive war against London? Why did he declare war against the U.S.? Solely to please his Japanese ally? Why did he mandate a policy of cruelty in the Soviet territories occupied by his armies, when certain segments of the population there were ready to greet them with flowers? And finally, why did he invest so much energy in his hatred of Jews? Why did the night trains that took them to their death have priority over the military convoys that were taking badly needed troops to the front? His dark obsession with the "Jewish question" and its "Final Solution" will be long remembered, for it has evocative names that paralyze men's hearts with terror: Auschwitz, Treblinka and Belzec.

After Rommel's defeat in North Africa, after the debacle at Stalingrad and even when the landings in Normandy were imminent, Hitler and his entourage still had the mind to come up with the Final Solution. In his testament, drafted in a underground bunker just hours before his suicide in Berlin, Hitler returns again to this hatred of the Jewish people that had never left him.

But in the same testament, he settles his score with the German people. He wants them to be sacked, destroyed, reduced to misery and shame for having failed him by denying him his glory. The former corporal become commander in chief of all his armies and convinced of his strategic and political genius was not prepared to recognize his own responsibility for the defeat of his Reich.

His kingdom collapsed after 12 years in a war that remains the most atrocious, the most brutal and the deadliest in history. But which, by the same token, allowed several large figures to emerge. Their names have become legendary: Eisenhower, De Gaulle, Montgomery, Zhukov, Patton...

But when later we evoke the 20th century, among the first names that will surge to mind will be that of a fanatic with a mustache who thought to reign by selling the soul of his people to the thousand demons of hate and of death.

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