Tuesday, December 13, 2016

3. Hitler was a Loser

Hitler in crowd in Munich
when World War I was announced
By now some will have figured out that I am reading Konrad Heiden's 1944 classic, Der Fuehrer. It continues to strike me that Hitler was still alive and in possession of most of Europe when this book was published.

The first two chapters were:
1. This chapter is mostly about the background of Adolf Hitler before he came to Munich in May of 1913. By every reckoning he was an utter loser.

Up until his mother died in 1908, he was enabled to live reasonably while living a completely unproductive life. He was born in 1889 to Alois Hitler, a man whose precise parentage was a matter of some question. They were in Brannou, Austria at the time.

Alois fought his whole life to pull himself out of obscurity and ignominy. He married and remarried in a quest for legitimacy. Both first wives died of tuberculosis. He finally married his first cousin once removed, twenty-three years younger than him. Alois was a border guard of sorts, a demanding man. Alois' blood father was a wanderer.

Alois had two sons. One spent some time in jail. The other one, Hitler, seems much like his vagrant grandfather. Hitler was a wanderer who felt like the world owed him everything but who in return had nothing to offer the world.

2. Adolf did not get along well with his father, and Hitler may have been the death of his father in 1903. Alois collapsed in the streets of Linz, Austria during a morning walk. Both had lung issues. Hitler was a frail person. Heiden thinks Hitler was lying when he said he spent some time doing common labor. He was neither physically capable nor likely to be so inclined.

Hitler's relationship with his father was formative. Hitler's father continuously tried to get him to get on a course of life that would lead to a job and a life of work. But Hitler wanted to be a famous artist. He thought himself a man of ideas, of bigger truths, certainly not a worker.

Although he started well, something changed. When his father moved to Linz in 1900, Hitler had to repeat a grade. In the end he couldn't be bothered to finish high school. Probably it was beneath a self-proclaimed genius such as himself.

His father was an Austrian's Austrian. His father was committed to Catholicism. Hitler would reject both with a vengeange. "Los von Rom!" (away from Rome) and "Heim ins Reich" (home to the Prussian reich) were Hitler's sympathies. Here are the beginnings of the black, circular swastika on a red background.

3. Hitler failed twice to get into art school in Vienna. His art was mediocre. He could not draw faces. He could imitate lines and proportions. In other words, he could draw buildings and architecture.

He was painfully shy. He claimed that it was easy to get women but that it was wrong to exploit them with such easy charms. In truth he probably was far too shy even to talk to a woman. He could hardly even talk to people to sell his own paintings.

After his mother died in 1908 and his money source dried up, Heiden describes him as a "spoiled boy who learned nothing, achieved nothing, and could do nothing" (54).

4. In 1909, he is living in the equivalent of a soup kitchen in Meidling, a suburb of Vienna. It is here that he meets a man named Reinhold Hanisch. They reach an agreement that would last a year. Hitler would draw postcards and Hanisch would illegally sell them in taverns. The arrangement ended in 1910 when Hitler took Hanisch to court for not giving him his agreed cut of the meager sales.

Hanisch convinced Hitler to swallow his pride and write his half-sister for help. As a consequence, he was able to live in the only slightly better Home for Men in Linz. He would pass three more years of misery in this interim. He spent his time reading newspapers instead of seeking work. Occasionally the painfully quiet man would burst out in rage at some matter of politics.

The underlying principle: "The higher man just does not work" (61). He hated the people around him: the Czechs, the Poles, the Hungarians, the Serbs, the Croats, but most of all the Jews. He would come to see them as as "blood outrage." They were beneath him even though he was right there with them.

He despised the common worker, and deep down he surely despised himself. Many of those he was with were the petty swindlers, the peddlers, the cheaters, the users, the unreliable, and the ones to distrust--and he was right there with them. "He was always quiet and well-behaved when the other was clearly the stronger" (69). The author of the book wonders if Hitler's father had subtly taught him that the one with the might is the one with the right.

5. He came to hate the "morality of pity." This meant that he hated the communist, the ones who stood on the side of the oppressed. He hated the worker. And he associated Jews with workers, a prejudice supported by the fact that Karl Marx was Jewish.

He took lessons from the all powerful mayor of Vienna in those days, Dr. Karl Lueger of the Christian Social Party. He led an anti-Semitic movement in the early 1910s, although Lueger did not rail against Jews who converted to Christianity.

Lueger had the young people parade through the streets of Vienna with music, banners, and the beginnings of a uniform. Hitler saw the strength of this move. Lueger could put his ideas into a form "corresponding to the receptivity of the broad masses which is very small," this "great brainless working beast" (64). Heiden says that Hitler learned two lessons: 1) put your emphasis on winning over those classes of people whose existence is threatened (they will carry on the political struggle with passion) and 2) bend powerful existing institutions to your use (64).

It doesn't really matter what those institutions are because, to Hitler, the end would justify the means.

6. But all this was just in Hitler's mind. To anyone in the real world, he was a nonentity. He was a megalomaniac in his own mind. When he came to Munich in 1913, he was a quiet eccentric who occasionally went off and screamed in taverns. "He loved to prophesy and predict political development" (74). He would interrupt Social Democrat meetings with shouting interruptions.

Yet he couldn't pay his rent. When a new renter showed up because he was derelict to pay, he managed to stay on sleeping on the couch with the new renter. He tried to sell advertisements. When World War I was announced, he was delighted and enlisted in the Bavarian Army. Finally, a cause worthy of him.

1 comment:

John Mark said...

I have this book. I haven't read much of it, but enough to wonder if you were referring to the same one. Needless to say I am enjoying your review immensely. I was told about it by a family court judge at an FAS retreat a little over a year ago. Thanks for this.