Explaining Hitler (Magill Book Reviews)
Links between Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) and the Holocaust explain why, as Ron Rosenbaum says, “an enormous amount has been written” about him “but little has been settled.” What made Hitler Hitler? Thus far, EXPLAINING HITLER: THE SEARCH FOR THE ORIGINS OF HIS EVIL is the most comprehensive and provocative account of the dominant scholarly attempts to answer that question.
Rosenbaum reports the findings of the most important Hitler scholars—Alan Bullock and Hugh Trevor-Roper, Yehuda Bauer and George Steiner, Claude Lanzmann and Daniel Goldhagen, to name only a few—but how he does so makes his book much more than a summary of other people’s views. While learning much about Hitler, the reader becomes a partner in Rosenbaum’s inquiry, which entails coming to see that “explaining” Hitler may be impossible.
The author agrees with historian Yehuda Bauer. Holding that in principle Hitler can be explained, Bauer does not think it follows that Hitler has been or ever will be explained. Nevertheless, ongoing effort to explain him remains important. To stop trying would mean that, in principle, Hitler is beyond explanation, an outcome that takes him out of history and thereby promotes problematic mystification.
Rosenbaum thinks that Hitler was certainly human but not ordinary, for ordinary people do not do what Hitler did. Hitler was human, but he was also exceptional in the sense that he can rightly be called an evil man,...
(The entire section is 363 words.)
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Explaining Hitler (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
A writer named Milton Himmelfarb plays an important cameo role in Ron Rosenbaum’s remarkable book Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil. In March, 1984, Himmelfarb published “No Hitler, No Holocaust,” an essay in which he contended that the decision to annihilate European Jewry was Adolf Hitler’s alone, a view that has not been shared by every Holocaust scholar. Far from being impelled by historical, political, or cultural forces to murder the European Jews, Himmelfarb continued, Hitler wanted and chose to annihilate them.
More than anything else, links between Hitler (1889-1945) and the Holocaust explain why, as Rosenbaum says, “an enormous amount has been written” about him “but little has been settled.” Persuaded by much of Himmelfarb’s position, Rosenbaum keeps returning to it but also understands that, while Himmelfarb’s position may explain a good deal about the Holocaust, it does not explain Hitler—at least not completely. How badly did Hitler want to destroy the Jews? When did he decide to do so? Even more basically, what made Hitler? Scholars have answered such questions differently, which makes the real Hitler elusive and the puzzles about him persistent.
Those questions and the diverse, even contradictory, responses to them persist partly because a photograph of Hitler was taken when he was probably less than two years old. Years later it was included in a Nazi book called...
(The entire section is 2092 words.)