(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 15)

Thirty-five years after his death, Adolf Hitler does not cease to want for biographers. The latest contributor to the now voluminous literature on the life of the Nazi dictator is Norman Stone, lecturer in Modern European History at Cambridge University and a Fellow of Trinity College. In his short biography, Stone offers little that is not already known about Hitler. Rather, he provides a balanced synthesis of the more detailed accounts by such postwar writers as Alan Bullock, Joachim Fest, Werner Maser, and other specialists. What emerges from Stone’s treatment is a useful introduction to the character of Hitler, the conditions in Germany which helped bring him to power, and his role as leader and warlord.

Stone, in discussing Hitler’s road to power, offers some interesting insights on his personality. Above all else, Hitler was a very lonely man who lived for power. His private life was very prosaic and empty. He had no interest in friendships, intellectual development, family life, or love affairs. Hitler’s relationship with the totally nondescript Eva Braun after 1934 was so devoid of sexual content that Stone believes he probably had homosexual tendencies. In sum, Hitler reserved his life for public, not private, matters. He transferred all of his deep emotions to architecture, in which he thought of himself as an authority, and to public and military affairs.

The author, relying heavily on other authorities, analyzes Hitler’s upbringing and his aimless years in prewar Vienna as the basis for his personality development. His father, the illegitimate son of a housemaid, Anna Schicklgruber, was a senior customs official of the Habsburg Monarchy and reasonably well-off financially. He was fifty-two years old and into his third marriage when Hitler was born on April 20, 1889, at Braunau, an Upper Austrian village on the German border. Transferred shortly thereafter to Linz, the senior Hitler was a remote, stern father who spent time with several mistresses. Stone notes that his pattern was a familiar one among several Nazi leaders in the 1930’s: the aloof, frequently absent, uniformed father who completely dominated the mother and children when he was present.

In 1907, the year of his mother’s death, Hitler journeyed to Vienna, hoping to gain entrance to the Academy of Fine Arts to study architecture. Despite his failure to gain admission in 1907 and again in 1908, Hitler remained in Vienna until 1913. The modest inheritance that he received from his mother enabled him to live a fairly comfortable, carefree “artist’s life.” Contrary to the legend that he later propagated in his political testament, Mein Kampf, his Vienna years were not ones of abject poverty, although he was socially and professionally insecure. His lack of friends combined with his rejection by the Academy of Fine Arts produced in him a sense of bitterness and aimlessness. In his search for a purpose in life, Hitler embraced the cause of German nationalism which had found a ready audience in the Austrian capital. His heroes became Frederick the Great and Otto von Bismarck; his enemies became the Jews, the prime object of hatred of all German nationalists at this time.

Hitler’s opportunity to identify completely with German nationalism came in 1914 with the outbreak of World War I. He served with distinction in the German Army and received two Iron Crosses. Toward the end of the war, he was badly hit in a gas attack and evacuated to a hospital in Pomerania where he heard the shattering news that the German Empire had lost the war and had been overthrown by a Red revolution.

After the war, a demoralized Hitler remained in the army, again searching for a purpose in life. His superiors assigned him to observe the activities of small political groups in the Munich area. In September, 1919, he attended and was immediately attracted to the proceedings of the German Workers’ Party. He soon joined the party, greatly increased the nationalist content of its largely socialist program, and, in 1921, formally became the head of a renamed National Socialist (Nazi) German Workers’ Party. Hitler had found the reason for his existence.

Stone describes in some detail how Hitler, as head of the Nazi Party, set out to overthrow the German Republic which had been formally proclaimed at Weimar in 1919. Hitler’s two major attempts to come to power correspond with the two periods of turmoil in the Weimar Republic, that is, the early 1920’s and the early 1930’s. Much of Hitler’s popular appeal rested with his superb oratorical ability. A Hitler speech, as Stone observes, became something of an attraction. People whose lives were monotonous and beset with problems established a close bond with a leader who denounced the sources of their ills, including the French, the...

(The entire section is 1970 words.)