Tyrants of the world: Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler in 1932, on the brink of overturning the Weimar Republic and looking quite wistful it. (Source: Bundesarchiv / Hoffmann, Heinrich / CC-BY-SA.)

Everything that could possibly be said about a person has been said about Adolf Hitler. He was evil. Or he was a hero (if you happen to be a neo-Nazi.) He was the Antichrist. He was a gay alien.

We will not detail Hitler’s life because there’s no point — you already know about all of it. You also know that he caused the deaths of millions upon millions of people, not just directly in support of his Final Solution but also as a result of his warmongering.  Every death in World War II, including his own, can be directly attributed to his actions starting in the mid-30s as the Fuehrer of Germany.

So instead of talking about all that, we will discuss eight interesting and perhaps lesser known facts about the man that may shed more light upon his character (or not — you be the judge.)

  • Hitler was a vegetarian, though nobody can seem to agree upon his motives.  Some sources suggest that he was driven by a disapproval of animal cruelty, which is an interesting theory considering that Hitler gladly committed large amounts of human cruelty.
  • Hitler was a non-smoker, and this at a time when smoking wasn’t generally considered all that bad for your health.  Or at least not bad enough for you that many people were bothering to quit.  Hitler, on the other hand, actively pursued anti-smoking policies and his government even put some effort into a public anti-smoking campaign.  Not quite as much effort as they put into murdering an unthinkable number of people, but you know, you have to set your priorities.
A Nazi-era anti-smoking ad.
    • After the war ended, the Allies discovered old photos dating to 1930 of Hitler striking several of his classic poses for the camera.  These were found in the possession of Heinrich Hoffmann, the official photographer of the Third Reich and the man who took many of the headshots for the most preeminent Nazis.  According to Hoffmann (who was captured by the Allies at the end of the war and served four years in prison for war profiteering) Hitler asked him to take these photos so that he could see how he would look to his audiences while giving speeches.  Why he didn’t simply practice in front of a mirror like everyone else is a mystery, especially since Hitler also instructed Hoffmann to destroy the prints afterwards – an order that he obviously disobeyed.
Adolf Hitler posing for the camera. (Source: Bundesarchiv / Hoffmann, Heinrich / CC-BY-SA.)
  • One of Hitler’s nicknames was Teppichfresser, or “carpet-biter”, referring to the famous fits of rage he threw when he didn’t get his way.  This nickname was reportedly used by people who worked for him, but presumably not while they were within earshot of the Fuehrer or any of his more loyal followers.
  • Despite his well-documented massive ego, Hitler’s face was never stamped onto any German money.  He got some medals and plenty of postal stamps, but no coins or banknotes.  Coins from the Nazi era bore the squared-off Nazi German Eagle, or Reichsadler, carrying the wreathed swastika, and the large silver 2 and 5 Reichsmark coins were struck with the profile of Paul von Hindenburg, the conservative but decidedly non-Nazi President of Germany who appointed Hitler to the position of Chancellor in 1933 and died the following year.  And German banknotes from the period mostly depict nameless German peasants and workers.  No Hitler to be found on any of them.
  • Speaking of politics, it’s often said that Adolf Hitler came to power through legal methods, using the democratic processes of the Weimar Republic to spread his message and insert himself into the German political system.  This is more or less true.  However, it’s also important to point out that Hitler never gained a majority of German votes in a free or fair election.  The same is true for the Nazi delegates to the Reichstag.  Hitler ran for the Presidency in 1932 but only received 36.8 percent of the vote, losing to the aforementioned Paul von Hindenburg.  In the following parliamentary elections held in March 1933, the NSDAP became the largest party in the Reichstag, but the party fell well short of a majority, winning only 43.91 percent of the national vote.  After building a parliamentary coalition with other far-right parties, the Nazis passed the Enabling Act, which gave the recently appointed Chancellor Hitler the power to enact laws without the Reichstag’s approval.   The Communist delegates had already been arrested or driven into hiding, and only the Social Democrats were able to register nay votes before also being mostly arrested by the now Nazi-controlled state authorities.  And naturally, every single election after the Enabling Act was passed was of the “Hitler is the only choice, and if you vote no we know where you live” sort.
This is the actual ballot that Austrians received to vote on whether they wanted Austria joined with Germany during the Anschluss. Notice how the Nazis used a subtle hint to show you how they wanted you to vote.
  • Adolf Hitler was once a baby.  This might seem obvious, but it’s a fact worth remembering.  It’s quite easy to imagine evil, mass-murdering dictators as children because children can be evil and horribly cruel, but imagining them as babies is harder to do.  However, we have photographic evidence that Hitler was at one point a baby, prompting us to wonder: if we had a chance to kill Hitler when he was a baby, would we do it to save millions of lives?  Easy enough to do once he grew into adulthood, but it might be harder to do in 1890.
This is a good moral dilemma to pose to your college philosophy class.
  • Hitler wrote a sequel to Mein Kampf but it went unpublished due to a lack of interest.  This might seem strange, considering the fact that Mein Kampf became required reading for all Germans in the mid-1930s, but Hitler’s screed was published in 1925, back when he was still the leader of a minor fringe party among a large set of fringe parties duking it out in the democratic chaos of the Weimar Republic.  By the time he became the Fuehrer and began putting his plans into action, there probably wasn’t much of a point to publishing his second book, because he’d achieved the power he wanted.  We can now read Hitler’s second book, simply titled Second Book, thanks to one Gerhard Weinberg, a historian who uncovered a manuscript of the work in 1958.

Hitler is so infamous that you may have known all of this as well. Even so, the above is a nice reminder that he was in fact not a demon risen straight from Hell, but was rather a human being with human foibles. Perhaps that’s the most frightening thing about him — that a more or less standard human being could be capable of organizing millions of murders and the destruction of entire nations.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s