Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 269
The Origins of Totalitarianism was written in 1951 by renowned political theorist Hannah Arendt. She was born to a German Jewish family and forced to flee Germany and then Europe in response to the rise of the Nazis. She was particularly concerned with issues such as totalitarianism, authoritarianism, antisemitism, and racism. As The Origins of Totalitarianism is a work of nonfiction, it does not have invented "characters" but instead discusses significant real historical figures, most importantly Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler, who are commonly acknowledged as among the most significant (and murderous) totalitarian figures of the twentieth century. She also discusses Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jew unjustly persecuted in the late nineteenth century. Arendt's choice of these characters as central figures has to do with her belief that nationalism and antisemitism were two of the contributing causes to the rise of totalitarian states in Europe.
Alfred Dreyfus (1859–1935) was a French Jewish officer who was incorrectly accused of spying and sent to a military prison. After the real spy was uncovered, the French army tried to cover up its mistake. When Dreyfus was finally pardoned and exonerated, his unfair treatment gave rise to important public conversations about antisemitism in France.
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin (1878–1953) was an autocratic leader of the Soviet Union who during a period known as "The Great Terror," was responsible for the torture, imprisonment, and murder of over a million people who were suspected of ideological or other forms of dissent.
Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) was the German leader of the Nazi party and was most notably responsible for the Holocaust, the extermination of over six million Jews in concentration camps.
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