Friday, February 13, 2009

Joachim Fest "Hitler"

Just before we came back to Boulder at the beginning of the year I was able to finish a monumental biography of Hitler by Joachim Fest that came out in 1973 (and I presume came out in English sometime later).  The book had been on my bookshelf for years sitting there unread (1000 pages in German).  Not too long ago a movie came out in Germany called "Der Untergang", a very well done movie about Hitler's last five days in his bunker in Berlin. This was very well done, and I decided to read the book on which the movie was based ("Der Untergang" also by Fest), a much newer book than his major work mentioned above.  It was a quick and vivid read, and the film and the book were complementary and both quite good. Then not too long ago a new book by Fest came out about his childhood and how his parents had stood up to the Nazis.  I bought it, but then decided not to read it till I had read the 1000 page monster biography, and this was a good decision, as I might never have read it otherwise.  I still have yet to read this newest book of this (and it was his last book as he died not too long ago), and it is sitting on my bookshelf in Bremen to be read when we return in March.  

There were a number of things that struck me as I read Fest's biography.  First there was the vivid description of the early days of Hitler in Linz and Vienna where his antisemetic views were reinforced and sharpened and his strong view of German nationalism developed.   Second, I was just not aware that the beer hall Putsch of 1923 when Hitler was the head of the Nazi party was the beginning of a march on Berlin to take over the government (I should have known better from the word Putsch).  This failed and Hitler was put in prison for high treason for less than a year.  When he got out of prison in December of 1924 he was 35 years old, had no money, his Nazi party had been banned and all of the Nazi newspapers had been closed.  The most fascinating part of the book was his rise to power in the next 9 years becoming Chancellor in 1933.  This is very worthwhile reading to see how he manipulated all of the other German political parties and interests using anticommunism and fear of the Soviet Union as a powerful tactical tool.  The final note which surprised me, and which the author described quite vividly, was the sheer number of anti-Hitler conspiracies that evolved from the beginning of his regime, the most notable being von Stauffenberg, the subject of a current movie with Tom Cruise, and the most bizarre being one involving Heinrich Himmler somewhere in 1943 as I recall.  As we know they were all failures, and this demagogue decided when and where he would end his life (in Berlin on 30 April 1945, 10 days after celebrating his birthday and one day after he got married).  I strongly recommend this book which is a masterpiece of writing and biography.  His use of the German language is some of the best I have ever read.


  1. Ronny, The description of Hitler's use of fear and an external enemy as a tactic for political control should serve as an omen of unhappy portent for the contemporary US.

  2. I agree, but unhappily as I was reading this book I often thought of Hitler's use of innovation in the political arena (radio, many public appearances all over the country, high flying rhetoric that entranced his listeners)and it reminded me of the successful Obama campaign that was in action as I was reading. NO comparison to the politics of these completely different people.

  3. How Hitler came to power is fascinating and Fest's book is indeed well done. Interestingly enough, how Hitler gained political office (and what he did once Chancellor to consolidate power into a dictatorship) was recognized at the time. Sinclair Lewis (Nobel Prize Literature, 1930) published "It Can't Happen Here" (1935) describing how an American fascist could manipulate the American system (ala A. Hitler) become elected President and then convert the country to a dictatorship. Book is available on line at link below. See Wikipedia entry on the adaptation of the story to TV.
    David Wells

  4. Thanks. I remember reading Sinclair Lewis book a long time ago. It was well done. I also read Mein Kampf which was "required" to be on the bookshelf of German households (according to Fest), but which almost no one read.