Adolf Hitler, the leader of Germany and the Nazi Party is a notorious person largely responsible for the killing of millions of Jews during the Holocaust. His name, known throughout the world, is taught throughout schools, studied by historians, and discussed amongst peers. Why are people so intrigued by this sickly evil man? Well, he stands out because of his brutality and hugely negative impact on history, but there is something else about him that intrigues people. Hitler, a man who Jannet Flanner explains in her profile about him in The New Yorker “becomes sick if he sees blood, yet he is unafraid of being killed or killing,” was an odd man. Not only because of the irony behind his fear of blood but also because of the many complexities and aspects driving his evil character that make anyone learning about him stop in their tracks.
My amazement upon learning about Hitler was understanding that he really was a human being. The tremendously horrible acts Hitler committed during World War II are so inhumane and terrible, that it is hard to comprehend or realize that it was still a human being doing these things. Flanner explains that Hitler, “like automobiles,” “is crazy about films,” and “has a passion for the piano.” Hitler had parents such as his mother, Klara Pölzl, “who he looks like and loved,” and he had a home of a light jade green in which he could “laugh and take his ease.” Hitler’s passions included history, painting, architecture, and music, but also power, mass murder, and destruction. Despite his love for both of these polar opposites, the subsequent was more important to him and its impact on history.
What is stunning is that these human characteristics of Hitler do not go with the incredibly inhumane and emotionless actions he took while leading the Nazis. He was a human, yet at the same time, so incredibly inhumane. Hitler lacked social connection and relationships, for he had “no gift for intimacy” (Flanner) and, according to Rudolf Hess, only one close friend. Flanner explained it perfectly, saying, “In over sixteen years’ struggle for power and its maintenance, the Führer has been loyal only to one man—Adolf Hitler.” Hitler only cared about himself and no one else. This lack of relationship meant a lack of empathy or care for the millions he murdered. Yet, this returns once again to the question of why so many are intrigued by this man who killed millions without remorse.
People are intrigued by Hitler because he shows that human beings are capable of being so evil. The things that Hitler did go against human morals, and in a sense, his actions were animalistic. But this is exactly what stands out about him. He is an example of someone born human who does such evils that he becomes far from it. In addition to this, the strange, mysterious, and manipulative character of Hitler and his “forced smile” (Flanner) make him terrifyingly intriguing. The fact that a man was able to use his humanity and human aspects to commit such horrendous and inhumane acts is unsettling, but also intriguing. Hitler was able to use his public speaking skills to sway and manipulate a whole population into not only accepting but agreeing with the mass murder and genocide of a whole group of people. As Flanner explains, “Hitler was the kind of public speaker who, when heckled, could find an explanation quick as lightning and make it sound like thunder.”
Hitler’s actions are also a terrifying example of what could happen today, and therefore, it is important to understand his actions, regardless of how terrible they were. Throughout history and today, we have a tendency to avoid topics or people that are difficult to understand or make us uncomfortable. Yet avoiding the uncomfortable, even the terrible, means that we will never learn from what happened and these things will continue to happen. Hitler was someone whose actions are unjustifiable, however, there are different explanations that can contribute to why he might’ve done these things. Hitler experienced great trauma at a young age, with his father dying when he was 13, and then his mother dying two years later. Therefore, he had a childhood full of anger and a desire for revenge, and he had no home or family to connect with and learn to love. Similarly, today, we can understand that many of the people responsible for doing terrible things, although their actions, like Hitler’s, are inexcusable, their environment growing up contributes heavily to their later actions. We should learn from these examples, and work to allow all children to grow up in loving and nurturing environments. Overall, I do not believe that we should look to excuse and justify Hitler’s actions, but rather that we should learn from understanding him. His actions teach us important lessons in avoiding similar hateful actions today.
So in remembering Hitler, it is important to recognize the terrible things he did and the horrifying person he was, but also to understand the complexities behind his actions so that we can avoid similar events today. Hitler questions the difference between humans and animals, proposing the question of whether being born human really makes someone human or if it's our actions that inherently determine that. Hitler was born as a human, but his actions during the Holocaust were so incredibly inhumane that it makes us wonder what really allows us to call someone human? Is it simply because of how they were born, or is it about one’s actions and decisions throughout the course of their life? As Ian Kershaw says, “He comes to power in a democracy. He uncovers the thin ice on which modern civilization rests, and shows us what we’re capable of as human beings.” Humans are capable of doing both terrible and amazing things, so overcoming our terrible aspects first means facing them head-on, whether it is easy or not.