THE HITLER CONNECTION
Any effort to
discover a connection between Adolf Hitler and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche
must begin with a search of Hitler's life to identify the situation and
circumstances that may have resulted in a contact with Nietzschean
thought. By his own admission, Hitler was an ardent reader. In Mein Kampf
he writes, "At that time [early years in
For reading is no end in itself, but a means to an end. It should primarily help to fill the framework constituted by every man’s talents and abilities; in addition, it should provide the tools and building materials which the individual needs for his life’s work, regardless whether this consists in a primitive struggle for sustenance or the satisfaction of a high calling; secondly, it should transmit a general world view. . . . On the other hand, a man who possesses the art of correct reading will, in studying any book, magazine, or pamphlet, instinctively and immediately perceive everything which in his opinion is worth permanently remembering, either because it is suited to his purpose or generally worth knowing. Once the knowledge he has achieved in this fashion is correctly coordinated within the somehow existing picture of this or that subject created by the imagination, it will function either as a corrective or a complement, thus enhancing either the correctness or the clarity of the picture.2
From this description, it is apparent that Hitler retained only those ideas from his reading that supported his opinions. Because of this, many scholars consider his style of reading as shallow and self-serving. Conversely, he states that his style of reading enabled him to forge the foundations of a knowledge that continued to provide him intellectual nourishment for the rest of his life.3 "In this period," he writes, "there took shape within me a world picture and a philosophy which became the granite foundation of all my acts."4 From this testimony, any shallowness to Hitler's style of reading seems a moot point when compared to the motivation he derived from it. The question remains, when and where did Hitler first encounter Nietzsche's writings? In answer to this question, it appears likely that it occurred during the First World War. A wartime edition of Also sprach Zarathustra was specially printed, bound in durable field-gray, and sold to tens of thousands of German soldiers.5 Hitler likely had access to this book in the war. In fact, Charles Flood indicates this in his book, Hitler: The Path to Power when he writes:
“Every free minute he [Hitler] used to read,” a comrade recalled. “Even at his battle station he sat in a corner, his ammunition bag around his middle, rifle in his arms, and read. He once borrowed a book from me; it was Nietzsche, as far as I can remember.50
50 Lugauer statement, Toland Papers.6
The book by Nietzsche that Hitler borrowed was most likely a copy of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Therefore, it appears that here in the trenches of the First World War, in his middle twenties, Adolf Hitler might have met his teacher, Zarathustra. For the first time, in an environment of exhilaration and fear, the words of Zarathustra may have stirred Hitler’s soul and connected his mind to the thoughts of Friedrich Nietzsche. With this connection, Hitler could validate his "weltanschauunga, one's view of life."7 Nietzsche's philosophy could offer him an inner focus that would guide his life.
If Hitler’s soul resonated to the words of Zarathustra, it was because Hitler’s experiences in life had prepared this mind for the philosophy of Nietzsche as expressed in those words. In particular, Hitler's prominent belief in the racial supremacy of Nordic blood and the effectiveness of a strong personal 'will' created a fertile field for Zarathustra to sow his philosophical seeds.
While he makes no explicit mention of the Übermensch in his books, Hitler most certainly identified his ardent belief in racial supremacy with Nietzsche's concept of a superman. Furthermore, it makes sense that Hitler naturally accepted Nietzsche's concept of the 'will to power' as a formal statement of his own thoughts regarding the advantageousness of a strong personal will.
The genesis of Hitler’s ardent belief in the racial supremacy of individuals with strong genetic composition is discernable in his childhood experience. Out of six children born to his natural mother Klara Pölzl, only Adolf and his sister Paula survived past six years of age. In surviving his childhood, Hitler naturally would have formed a personal judgment about the importance of his own genetic composition in relation to his siblings. His friend August Kubizek reveals this when he writes, “Adolf and I rarely mentioned our deceased brothers and sisters, nevertheless we felt like the survivors of an endangered lineage which brought with it a special responsibility.”8 In Hitler’s mind, only he and his sister had been genetically strong enough to experience further growth and development. If this was true for his family, in Hitler's mind, it must also be true for a nation. This early foundation is clearly discernable in his later thoughts as expressed in his second book. Hitler explains:
But if these racial qualities are of different value to a people, then even the value of the children of one family will thus already be differentiated based on racial factors. It is in the best interest of a people that—because the firstborn is in no way required to reflect the more racially valuable side of the two parents—later life at least select through the struggle for survival, the racially more valuable out of the total number of children, is preserved for the nation, and in turn gives the nation possession of the achievements of these racially superior individual beings.9
In addition to Nietzsche's Übermensch providing Hitler a justification for his racist theory, Nietzsche’s concept of the 'will to power' justified Hitler’s faith in the efficaciousness of the power of his own will in overcoming life’s challenges.
Several factors affected the early development of Hitler’s willfullness. The first was probably a result of his mother. Possibly, by spoiling him as a young child she set him on the path to developing an exceedingly strong will. Walter C. Langer writes in his book:
In any event, every scrap of evidence indicates that there was an extremely strong attachment between herself and Adolf. As previously pointed out, this was due in part to the fact that she had lost two, or possibly three, children before Adolf was born. . . . The result was that she catered to his whims, even to the point of spoiling him, and that she was overprotective in her attitude toward him. We may assume that during the first five years of Adolf's life, he was the apple of his mother's eye and that she lavished affection on him. In view of her husband's conduct and the fact that he was twenty-three years her senior and far from having a loving disposition, we may suppose that much of the affection that normally would have gone to him also found its way to Adolf. . . .
. . . It is almost certain that Adolf had temper tantrums during this time but that these were not of a serious nature.9
Another factor was Hitler's relationship with his father. This relationship eventually would prove pivotal and substantiate, for Hitler, the power of his own will to triumph over difficult situations in life. By most accounts, his father was a stern and difficult individual to live with. While Hitler may have respected and feared his father, he could not use him as a model for his own emotional and psychological development. Waite explains in his book that:
Like many fathers of his place and time, Alois Hitler [Adolf's father] believed in corporal punishment. Bridget Hitler, the wife of Alois Jr. [Adolf's half-brother], testified that her husband had often told her about his childhood and described his father as a person with "a very violent temper." He "often beat the dog until it . . . wet on the floor. He often beat the children, and on occasion . . . would beat his wife Klara."11
In another account reported by Walter Langer in the Mind of Adolf Hitler, the son of Alois Jr. relates a similar description of Hitler's father:
He is generally described as a very domineering individual who was a veritable tyrant in his home. William Patrick Hitler says that he has heard from his father, Adolf's elder half-brother, that he used to beat the children unmercifully. On one occasion it is alleged he beat the older son in to a state of unconsciousness and on another occasion beat Adolf so severely that he left him for dead. It is also alleged that he was somewhat of a drunkard and that frequently the children would have to bring him home from the taverns. When he reached home a grand scene would take place during which he would beat wife, children, and dog rather indiscriminately.12
In his book, Langer offers some insight into the possible effects of this paternal relationship on Hitler's childhood:
In Hitler's case we would expect that the whole world would appear as extremely dangerous, uncertain, and unjust, and the child's impulse would be to avoid it as far as possible because he felt unable to cope with it. His feelings of insecurity would be enhanced inasmuch as he could never predict beforehand how his father would behave when he came home or what he could expect from him. The person who should give him love, support, and a feeling of security fills him with anxiety, uneasiness, and uncertainty.13
It was during a paternal disciplinary session, similar to the one described above that Hitler first experienced the power he could derive from his will and validated its effectiveness in overcoming those uncertain, frightening, and unpleasant aspects of his life—those situations mentioned above that hitherto had been impossible for him to cope with. In his book, Adolf Hitler, John Toland relates the story in which Hitler explains how he brought his father's disciplinary beatings to an end and thereby confirmed the efficaciousness of his own will, Toland writes:
Years later he [Hitler] told one of his secretaries that he had read in an adventure novel that it was a proof of courage to show no pain. "I then resolved never again to cry when my father whipped me. A few days later I had the opportunity of putting my will to the test. My mother, frightened took refuge in front of the door. As for me, I counted silently the blows of the stick which lashed my rear end." From that day on, so Hitler claimed, his father never touched him again.14
physical abuse of his father, by means of his own will, Hitler would never
again doubt its effectiveness. The total acceptance of its power becomes
apparent in Mein Kampf when, referring to his five years of misery in
His emphasis on the power of the 'will' predisposed Hitler to judge any theory that idealized the ‘will’ as a worthwhile system of thought. For this reason, Hitler apparently studied Arthur Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation around the same time he encountered the philosophy of Nietzsche, during the First World War. According to Charles Flood, "Hitler had several books in his military baggage, including a well-worn copy of Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Idea."16 A well-worn copy, of course, does not indicate that Hitler ever read the book; it might have been a well-used copy when he acquired it. On the other hand, Toland reports that Hitler told Hans Frank, "In the later years of the war I read Schopenhauer and reached for him again and again."17 Flood goes on to say that:
Hitler took from Schopenhauer principally the idea of will as force, which was a profound misperception of the man who wished in the last analysis a Buddhistic renunciation of worldly desires and the transformation of the planet into Nirvana, but in Schopenhauer Hitler had found a man who read as he did, noting with approval whatever confirmed his own convictions.18
The extent to which Hitler's implementation of Schopenhauer's ideas was a profound misperception of Schopenhauer's philosophy is open to some discussion. Bertrand Russell points out that Schopenhauer never appeared to incorporate any of his own philosophy into his personal life, except for giving his poodle the name of Atma (the world-soul).19 In truth, Hitler most likely had no misperceptions about Schopenhauer or about his ideas. Schopenhauer never renounced the 'will' in practice anymore than Hitler did in theory. Both men confirmed the 'will' by their own lives. Russell goes on to disparage Schopenhauer further when he writes:
Nor is the doctrine sincere, if we may judge by Schopenhauer's life. . . . It is difficult to believe that a man who was profoundly convinced of the virtue of asceticism and resignation would never have made any attempt to embody his convictions in his practice.20
Whether or not Schopenhauer’s philosophy ever guided his personal conduct, it most certainly guided the actions of Hitler and the thoughts of Nietzsche. Therefore, to understand fully any connection between Hitler and Nietzsche it is necessary to explore Schopenhauer's ideas and discover how those ideas facilitated that connection.
As mentioned previously, Hitler believed that his actions were manifestations of power—the power of his will. The effectiveness of that power encouraged him to associate it with a vital force in nature. To his mind, the following paragraphs from Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation would have corroborated this belief:
Phenomenon means representation and nothing more. All representation, be it of whatever kind it may, all object, is phenomenon. But only the will is thing-in-itself; as such it is not representation at all, but toto genere different therefrom. It is that of which all representation, all object, is the phenomenon, the visibility, the objectivity. It is the innermost essence, the kernel, of every particular thing and also of the whole It appears in every blindly acting force of nature, and also in the deliberate conduct of man, and the great difference between the two concerns only the degree of the manifestation, not the inner nature of what is manifested.
. . . But hitherto the identity of the inner essence of any striving and operating force in nature with the will has not been recognized, and therefore the many kinds of phenomena that are only different species of the same genus were not regarded as such; they are considered as being heterogeneous. . . . But the word will, which, like a magic word, is to reveal to us the innermost essence of everything in nature, by no means expresses an unknown quantity, something reached by inferences and syllogisms, but something known absolutely and immediately, and that so well that we know and understand what will is better than anything else, be it what it may. Hitherto, the concept of will has been subsumed under the concept of force; I, on the other hand, do exactly the reverse, and intend every force in nature to be conceived as will.21
Nietzsche derived much of his thought from Schopenhauer. The genesis of Nietzsche's Will to Power, Eternal Recurrence, and the Übermensch is clearly apparent in the following paragraph from Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation:
Therefore, a philosophical knowledge of the nature of the world which had reached the point we are now considering, but went no farther, could, even at this point of view, overcome the terrors of death according as reflection had power over direct feeling in the given individual. A man who had assimilated firmly into his way of thinking the truths so far advanced, but at the same time had not come to know, through his own experience or through a deeper insight, that constant suffering is essential to all life; who found satisfaction in life and took perfect delight in it; who desired, in spite of calm deliberation, that the course of his life as he had hitherto experienced it should be of endless duration or of constant recurrence; and whose courage to face life was so great that, in return for life's pleasures, he would willingly and gladly put up with all the hardships and miseries to which it is subject; such a man would stand "with firm, strong bones on the well-grounded, enduring earth,"10 and would have nothing to fear. Armed with the knowledge we confer on him, he would look with indifference at death hastening towards him on the wings of time. He would consider it as a false illusion, an impotent spectre, frightening to the weak but having no power over him who knows that he himself is that will of which the whole world is the objectification or copy, to which therefore life and also the present always remain certain and sure. The present is the only real form of the phenomenon of the will. Therefore no endless past or future in which he will not exist can frighten him, for he regards these as an empty mirage and the web of Maya. Thus he would no more have to fear death than the sun would the night.
10From Goethe’s Gränzen der Menschheit. [Tr.]22
In addition to reinforcing Hitler's convictions pertaining the 'will' and its power, Schopenhauer describes a peculiar process by which the 'will' derives a solution to a problem and only afterwards presents that decision to the intellect as something to be consciously known. Schopenhauer conceptually places the 'will' beyond space and time, as an unsubstantiated and unknowable 'thing in itself' whiles the intellect and all other phenomena are thought to exist in space and time. He writes, ". . . This phenomenon itself as it manifests itself in the mode of action according to time, and in the physical structure according to space.”23
According to Schopenhauer the intellect gains knowledge of the decision only empirically and therefore always after the fact. This sequential or chronological relationship, in which the intellect must await the will's decision, creates a conscious impression of making decisions freely. In truth, Schopenhauer argues, every decision made by the 'will' is not free, but instead a necessary decision solely based on the will's character and given motives. He explains:
Apart from the fact that the will, as the true thing-in-itself, is something actually original and independent, and that in self-consciousness the feeling of originality and arbitrariness must accompany its acts, though these are already determined; apart from this, there arises the semblance of an empirical freedom of the will (instead of the transcendental freedom which alone is to be attributed to it). Thus there arises the appearance of a freedom of the individual acts from the attitude of the intellect towards the will. . . . The intellect gets to know the conclusions of the will only a posteriori and empirically. Accordingly, where a choice is presented to it, it has no datum as to how the will is going to decide. For the intelligible character, by virtue of which with the given motives only one decision is possible, which is accordingly a necessary decision, the intelligible character, I say, does not come into the knowledge of the intellect; the empirical character only is successively known to it through its individual acts. Therefore it seems to the knowing consciousness (intellect) that two opposite decisions are equally possible to the will in a given case. . . . Accordingly, the decision of one's own will is undetermined only for its spectator, one's own intellect, and therefore only relatively and subjectively, namely for the subject of knowing. In itself and objectively, on the other hand, the decision is at once determined and necessary in the case of every choice presented to it. But this determination enters consciousness only through the ensuing decision. We even have an empirical proof of this when some difficult and important choice lies before us, yet only under a condition that has not yet appeared but is merely awaited, so that for the time being we can do nothing, but must maintain a passive attitude. We then reflect on how we shall decide when the circumstances that allow us freedom of activity and decision have made their appearance. . . . Till then, we are eagerly concerned to place the motives of the two sides in the clearest light by coolly meditating on the pro et contra, so that each motive can influence the will with all its force when the moment arrives, and so that some mistake on the part of the intellect will not mislead the will into deciding otherwise than it would do if everything exerted an equal influence. This distinct unfolding of the motives on both sides is all that the intellect can do in connexion with the choice. It awaits the real decision just as passively and with the same excited curiosity as it would that of a foreign will. Therefore, from its point of view, both decisions must seem to it equally possible. Now it is just this that is the semblance of the will's empirical freedom. Of course, the decision enters the sphere of the intellect quite empirically as the final conclusion of the matter. Yet this decision proceeded from the inner nature, the intelligible character, of the individual will in its conflict with given motives, and hence came about with complete necessity. The intellect can do nothing more here than clearly examine the nature of the motives from every point of view. It is unable to determine the will itself, for the will is wholly inaccessible to it, and, as we have seen, is for it inscrutable and impenetrable (emphasis mine).24
The decision-making process, emphasized above, bears a striking resemblance to the method used by Adolf Hitler throughout his public life. In The Mind of Adolf Hitler, Langer describes Hitler's approach to decision making:
This is a very fundamental trait in Hitler's character structure. He does not think things out in a logical and consistent fashion, gathering all available information pertinent to the problem, mapping out alternative courses of action, and then weighing the evidence pro and con for each of them before reaching a decision. His mental processes operate in reverse. Instead of studying the problem, as an intellectual would do, he avoids it and occupies himself with other things until unconscious processes furnish him a solution. Having the solution he then begins to look for facts that will prove that it is correct. In this procedure he is very clever, and by the time he presents it to his associates, it has the appearance of a rational judgment. Nevertheless, his thought processes proceed from the emotional to the factual instead of starting with the facts as an intellectual normally does.25
Langer further highlights Hitler's state of mind and explains how Hitler awaited his "inner voice" to guide him in his decisions.26 This inner voice appears equivalent to the inner nature, referenced above by Schopenhauer, from which any decision proceeds. Langer goes on to relate an occasion during which Hitler explained his decision-making process to an associate:
To Rauschning he [Hitler] said:
Unless I have the incorruptible conviction: This is the solution, I do nothing. Not even if the whole party tried to drive me to action. I will not act; I will wait, no matter what happens. But if the voice speaks, then I know the time has come to act.22
22Rauschning, The Voice of Destruction, p. 181.27
While Hitler's manner of solving problems or deciding on a course of action must have appeared strange to many people it was consistent with Schopenhauer's philosophy. Whether Hitler intended to apply Schopenhauer's philosophy in his approach to making decisions remains open to question, but it must be considered a likely possibility when attempting to discover any connection between Hitler and Nietzsche.
Ultimately, Hitler would only accept those tenets of Schopenhauer's philosophy that he found emotionally satisfying and totally ignore those he did not. In fact, as the emotional satisfaction of a given tenet changed with different circumstances and at different times he would accept the same principle that previously he had ignored. For example, since Schopenhauer's philosophy denied any reality to the concept of an individual's personal 'will' Hitler could never accept it entirely. To Schopenhauer's mind, an individual's 'will' only existed as a mere phenomenon that reflected the overarching 'will of the world'. To him the only real essence in nature was not the individuals', but instead the world's 'will'. Schopenhauer further explains his thoughts in the following paragraph:
As the will is the thing-in-itself, the inner content, the essence of the world, but life, the visible world, the phenomenon, is only the mirror of the will, this world will accompany the will as inseparably as a body is accompanied by its shadow; and if will exists, then life, the world, will exist. . . . The form of this phenomenon is time, space, and causality, and through these individuation, which requires that the individual must come into being and pass away. But this no more disturbs the will-to- live—the individual being only a particular example or specimen, so to speak, of the phenomenon of this will—than does the death of an individual injure the whole of nature. For it is not the individual that nature cares for, but only the species; and in all seriousness she urges the preservation of the species, since she provides for this so lavishly through the immense surplus of the seed and the great strength of the fructifying impulse. The individual, on the contrary has no value for nature, and can have none, for infinite time, infinite space and the infinite number of possible individuals therein are her kingdom. Therefore nature is always ready to let the individual fall, and the individual is accordingly not only exposed to destruction in a thousand ways from the most insignificant accidents, but is even destined for this and is led towards it by nature herself, from the moment that individual has served the maintenance of the species. In this way, nature quite openly expresses the great truth that only the Ideas, not individuals, have reality proper, in other words are a complete objectivity of the will.28
This de-emphasis of the individual 'will', the idea that the individual has no value to nature, could never satisfy Hitler in all circumstances. Especially when he considered his own 'will', it then would have been entirely unsatisfactory. Other individuals might not matter as much, but when Hitler has himself in mind, when it is his 'will' being appraised then the subsumption of the individual will into the 'will of the world' is no longer emotionally satisfying to him. In this case and in total contrast to Schopenhauer, he then identifies the individual as the sole source of the salvation for the human race. Hitler goes on to write in Mein Kampf:
It is not the mass that invents and not the majority that organizes or thinks, but in all things only and always the individual man, the person.
A human community appears well organized only if it facilitates the labors of these creative forces in the most helpful way and applies them in a manner beneficial to all. . . .
. . . In this it must proceed from the principle that the salvation of mankind has never lain in the masses, but in its creative minds, which must therefore really be regarded as benefactors of the human race.29
While concerning this perspective, it would have been self-contradictory for Hitler to deny the existence and distinctive value of his own individual 'will', in different emotional circumstances he has no difficulty displaying a predilection for Schopenhauer's diminution of the individual. In Mein Kampf, he writes:
But, since true idealism is nothing but the subordination of the interests and life of the individual to the community, and this in turn is the precondition for the creation of organizational forms of all kinds, it corresponds in its innermost depths to the ultimate will of Nature. It alone leads men to voluntary recognition of the privilege of force and strength, and thus makes them into a dust particle of that order which shapes and forms the whole universe.30
However, when taken in its proper context, even this statement appears to invest the individual 'will' with some degree of value. He states just prior to the above exposé on true idealism that:
In giving one's own life for the existence of the community lies the crown of all sense of sacrifice. It is this alone that prevents what human hands have built from being overthrown by human hands or destroyed by Nature. . . .
The basic attitude from which such activity arises, we call—to distinguish it from egoism and selfishness—idealism. By this we understand only the individual's [emphasis mine] capacity to make sacrifices for the community, for his fellow men.31
It appears that in Hitler's interpretation, the individual still has a value based on his or her freedom willingly to sacrifice their lives or to act egoistically and selfishly as cowards to avoid sacrifice. This interpretation diverges from Schopenhauer's since he would claim that the individual has no freedom of choice in this regard. Only out of the necessity that results from the individual will's conflict with given motives, Schopenhauer maintains, can a certain individual act bravely and 'will' their own sacrifice or act cowardly and shun the forfeiture. There is no choice involved; only the inscrutable predisposition of the 'will' determines the individual's decision. Hitler on the other hand seems to believe that an individual can willingly accept the selfless roll of a "dust particle" and thereby contribute to the universe as a whole. Hitler identifies this individual 'will's' willingness to choose between sacrifice and self-preservation as the essential and unique value of that individual.
It is not only this example of implicit divergence with Schopenhauer that is identifiable within Hitler's thoughts, but also the explicit rejection of some other transcendental aspects of his philosophy as well. This becomes apparent when in May1923, in reference to Dietrich Eckart's incessant talk about Schopenhauer's philosophy, Hitler tells Ernst Hanfstaengl:
Where would I get if I listened to all his transcendental talk? A nice ultimate wisdom that! To reduce oneself to a minimum of desire and will. Once will is gone, all is gone. This life is war.32
Clearly, Hitler profoundly disagreed with some aspects of Schopenhauer's thoughts, particularly those that diminished the power of an individual's 'will'. Any impetus, therefore, for additional philosophical development and personal action in Hitler's life would have to come from someone else. Only a dynamic character like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, an Übermensch imbued with an individual will to power, could inspire Adolf Hitler to further systematize his philosophy and justify his actions with it. In Zarathustra's call to overcome, we find the first links in the chain of thought that connects Hitler to Nietzsche. The fear and excitement, surrounding Hitler's participation in the First World War, served as a catalyst for the amalgamation of Schopenhauer's and Nietzsche's ideas with Hitler's own philosophy. Hitler synthesized the thoughts and perspectives of both philosophers into a far more compelling personal philosophy than would have existed otherwise. Instead of embracing Schopenhauer completely, Hitler used Schopenhauer's ideas as a foundation on which to build his own thoughts much as Nietzsche had done. The synthesis of these three elements results in the central theme of this chapter, the Hitler Connection.
Prior to the start of the First World War Hitler had always been searching for some completely satisfying group experience. Poverty and loneliness had always dogged his life. From the time of his mother's death in 1907, throughout the trials and disappointments in Vienna and finally during the more comfortable period just before the First World War in Munich, he tried to find a group that shared his values and his fervent German nationalism. However, his continuing effort availed him nothing; he never found any such group. Possibly, for this reason or because of pure frustration he intensified his focus on other groups, those groups manifesting contrary ideas to his own, to denigrate and challenge them. To Hitler, no group was more dangerous to his idealized world than Marxists and Jews. In his mind Marxism and Jewish were inseparable, two sides of the same coin. Almost synonyms for each other, they represented both a physical threat to the nation and a spiritual threat to its people. Concerning the physical threat posed by this combination, Hitler writes in Mein Kampf:
The Jewish doctrine of Marxism rejects the aristocratic principle of Nature and replaces the eternal privilege of power and strength by the mass of numbers and their dead weight. Thus it denies the value of personality in man, contests the significance of nationality and race, and thereby withdraws from humanity the premise of its existence and its culture. As a foundation of the universe, this doctrine would bring about the end of any order intellectually conceivable to man. . .
Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.33
While the international aspect of Marxism posed a threat to German nationalism, it was the Marxists' emphasis on the ‘will’ of the ordinary and undifferentiated masses that endangered Hitler's concept of aristocratic individualism. A more mysterious aspect of Hitler's belief was that he supposed Jewish ethos to pose a spiritual threat to his ideal. It was a threat he identified only in Jewish thought and not in Christian. Nietzsche's philosophy offers an insight into this mystery. In Hitler's mind, it was the fact that Jewish belief appeared to focus only on this world and not on the next that most significantly threatened his idealism. He perceived the Jewish outlook as wholly materialistic and non-heroic, concentrating exclusively on this world—the physical world and thereby undermining the heroic ideal of Aryan spiritualism that was associated with his new world order. For this reason, he sees the Jew as the mightiest counterpart to the Aryan race and explains why:
The mightiest counterpart to the Aryan is represented by the Jew. In hardly any people in the world is the instinct for self-preservation developed more strongly than in the so-called 'chosen.' Of this, the mere fact of the survival of this race may be considered the best proof. Where is the people which in the last two thousand years has been exposed to so slight changes of inner disposition, character, etc., as the Jewish people? What people, finally, has gone through greater upheavals than this one—and nevertheless issued from the mightiest catastrophes of mankind unchanged? What an infinitely tough will to live and preserve the species speaks from these facts? . . .
. . . Due to his own original special nature, the Jew cannot possess a religious institution, if for no other reason because he lacks idealism in any form, and thence belief in a hereafter is absolutely foreign to him. And a religion in the Aryan sense cannot be imagined which lacks the conviction of survival after death in some form. Indeed, the Talmud is not a book to prepare a man for the hereafter, but only for a practical and profitable life in this world. . . .
. . . His life is only of this world, and his spirit is inwardly as alien to true Christianity as his nature two thousand years previous was to the great founder of this new doctrine.34
Christianity, as practiced in Europe by the early twentieth century, was no threat to the Aryan ideal. By moving justice, equality, and hope out of this world into the next Christianity cleared the way for the Aryan reality of which Aryan Idealism was a mere ghostly reflection. Whether Hitler was conscious of this implicit fact or not, he nonetheless was interested in changing this world and not the next. Therefore, it served his purpose to have ethical and humane considerations given an ethereal existence at the expense of an earthly one. This thought process moved those considerations out of this world and therefore out of his way: enabling him to institute his new order on this earth.
Nietzsche fully understood the implication of this Christian tendency when he has Zarathustra explain:
It was the sick and decaying who despised body and earth and invented the heavenly realm and the redemptive drops of blood: but they took even these sweet and gloomy poisons from the body and earth. They wanted to escape their own misery, and the stars were too far for them. So they sighed: "Would that there were heavenly ways to sneak into another state of being and happiness!" Thus they invented their sneaky ruses and bloody potions. Ungrateful, these people deemed themselves transported from their bodies and this earth. But to whom did they owe the convulsions and raptures of their transport? To their bodies and this earth.35
In establishing his new order, in his call to action Hitler easily could have identified with Zarathustra. Especially when Nietzsche has Zarathustra boldly announce, "A new pride my ego taught me, and this I teach men: no longer to bury one's head in the sand of heavenly things, but to bear it freely, an earthly head, which creates a meaning for the earth.” 36
While Hitler desires a physical reality to his new order, he also completely understands the relationship that exists between physical and spiritual realities. He appreciates that by a law of necessity all human endeavor has both a physical and spiritual dimension, but not one at the exclusion of the other. The two components are inseparable and the new world order requires both aspects to come into existence together. As a corollary to this, however, it also becomes necessary to eradicate both aspects of the old order for the new one to take root. In considering the question of how to accomplish this, he asks, "Can spiritual ideas be exterminated by the sword?” 37 By the start of the twentieth century, European Christianity had disconnected itself from its Jewish roots and in doing so disconnected itself spiritually from the real world. Only a primitive form of Jewish spiritualism, a form devoid of Hellenistic influences, remained connected to the earthly affairs of this world to be juxtaposed with the physical dimension of human life on this earth. Hitler understood this to be the real obstacle to his plans and recognized the method required to exterminate it: He writes in Mein Kampf:
Conceptions and ideas, as well as movements with a definite spiritual foundation, regardless whether the latter is false or true, can after a certain point in their development, only be broken with technical instruments of power if these physical weapons are at the same time the support of a new kindling thought, idea, or philosophy.
The application of force alone, without the impetus of a basic spiritual idea as a starting point, can never lead to the destruction of an idea and its dissemination, except in the form of a complete extermination of even the very last exponent of the idea and the destruction of the last tradition.38
This statement, in conjunction with his previous comments concerning the tenacity of the Jewish people to endure almost continuous challenges to their existence, and his complete acceptance of all earthly endeavors having both a spiritual and physical dimension; goes a long way to explain Hitler's motivation for the Final Solution to the Jewish question, for the resultant Holocaust.
In 1914, this resolution of the Jewish question was still in the future and as the First World War approached, Hitler was just beginning his personal journey to power. He most likely had not yet encountered Nietzsche's philosophy nor experienced any of the events that would ultimately convince him of the truth in Zarathustra's teachings. Therefore, to understand completely how Zarathustra might have come to guide Hitler, on his road to power, we need to examine the physical and mental landscapes as they might have appeared to Hitler prior to the First World War.
By 1914, an ever-increasing identity crisis plagued many individuals within a certain economic stratum within European society. The social upheavals that had resulted from three hundred years of industrial, political, and religious revolutions had created an environment in which an isolated individual, an individual who had neither the financial nor the familial support to aid him or her in developing their personal identity would experience further isolation and loneliness. This was probably the case with Adolf Hitler during this period of his life. Interestingly however, Hitler claims this time in Munich to be his most contented and writes, "In any case, this period before the War was the happiest and by far the most contented of my life. Even if my earnings were still extremely meager, I did not live to be able to paint, but painted only to be able to secure my livelihood or rather to enable myself to go on studying.”39 Hitler appears to have used this period of isolation to hone his view of the world. Toland reports that while Hitler lived in Munich, "Often he would remain at home for days. 'He just camped in his room like a hermit with his nose stuck in those thick heavy books and worked and studied from morning to night.' Whenever the concerned landlady insisted he spend an evening in their kitchen he always made an excuse. Once she asked him what all the reading had to do with painting. This brought a smile to his dour face. He took her arm and said, 'Dear Frau Popp, does anyone know what is and what isn't likely to be of use to him in life?’” 40 This comment reveals an outlook that appears to characterize Hitler during this period and possibly earlier in his life. There was a definite expectation in his mind that something else, something far greater than his present situation awaited him in the future.
Throughout the remainder of 1913 and into the spring of 1914 Hitler continued to eke out a living designing posters and selling pictures.41 His life still appeared to be going nowhere. This situation changed dramatically, however, in June 1914 when a Serbian terrorist assassinated the heir apparent to the Austrian throne. Events following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand drastically altered Adolf Hitler's life and thereby, changed the world forever. Hitler's path to power and glory as well as his road to destruction are clearly discernible beginning in June 1914. By the summer of that year, many people in Europe were no longer interested in avoiding war. Instead, a strange spirit possessed many and made them desirous to embrace it. According to John Toland:
War fever swept the country. It was generated by emotion rather than logic; with the people in a state close to hysteria, they were eager to seek justice no matter what the cost. War was envisaged as some kind of magical release. . . . War would be a liberation from social and cultural abuses.42
The fact that Hitler, writing almost ten years later and in light of Germany’s humiliating defeat, could still offer the following passionate assessment of the time between the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 and the outbreak of the First World War speaks to the potency of that eagerness for war. Hitler explains:
The time which now followed lay on the chests of men like a heavy nightmare, sultry as feverish tropic heat, so that due to constant anxiety the sense of approaching catastrophe turned at last to longing: let Heaven at last give free rein to the fate which could no longer be thwarted. And then the first mighty lightning flash struck the earth; the storm was unleashed and with the thunder of Heaven there mingled the roar of the World War batteries.43
This assessment illustrates what probably was a common mindset among many young European men in 1914. The following passage from Mein Kampf further reflects this:
As a boy and young man I had so often felt the desire to prove at least once by deeds that for me national enthusiasm was no empty whim. It often seemed to me almost a sin to shout hurrah perhaps without having the inner right to do so; for who had the right to use this word without having proved it in the place where all playing is at an end and the inexorable hand of the Goddess of Destiny begins to weigh peoples and men according to the truth and steadfastness of their convictions? Thus my heart, like that of a million others, overflowed with proud joy that at last I would be able to redeem myself from this paralyzing feeling.44
As the war finally erupted in August 1914, one can detect no fear or apprehension in Hitler’s mind. Quit to the contrary he writes:
To me those hours seemed like a release from the painful feelings of my youth. Even today I am not ashamed to say that, overpowered by stormy enthusiasm, I fell down on my knees and thanked Heaven from an overflowing heart for granting me the good fortune of being permitted to live at this time.45
It was in this state of mind that Adolf Hitler marched off to war with the First Bavarian Infantry Regiment. After years of personal study, armed with his rifle and his expectations of a grand mission he raced into the danger and the exhilaration of the First World War. On the night of October 20, 1914, he boarded a train and "was at last on his way to do battle for the Fatherland.”46 He wrote that “for me, as for every German, there now began the greatest and most unforgettable time of my earthly existence. Compared to the events of this gigantic struggle, everything past receded to shallow nothingness.”47
Hitler came to war probably more philosophically prepared than most young men did. No doubt, many young soldiers shared his desire to test themselves, but Hitler also was searching for something else. He was looking to become historically significant. This is evident when he writes in regard to the German Army to which he now belonged:
Thousands of years may pass, but never will it be possible to speak of heroism without mentioning the German army and the World War. Then from the veil of the past the iron front of the gray steel helmet will emerge, unwavering and unflinching, an immortal monument. As long as there are Germans alive, they will remember that these men were sons of their nation.48
Prepared philosophically, Hitler was able to interpret the First World War and the life threatening events surrounding him daily as a system of ideas contributing to his personal development. Ludwig Wittgenstein writes, “When we first begin to believe anything, what we believe is not a simple proposition, it is a whole system of propositions."49 "It is not single axioms that strike me as obvious; it is a system in which consequences and premises give one another mutual support."50 "We do not learn the practice of making empirical judgments by learning rules: we are taught judgments and their connexion with other judgments. A totality of judgments is made plausible to us."51 This analysis describes Hitler's perspective during and after the war. For an example, a few years later, concerning the incorporation of the 'folkish' idea into the ideology of the National Socialist German Workers' Party he writes:
For what previously existed under this concept was not suited to influence the destiny of our people even in the slightest, since all these ideas lacked a clear and coherent formulation. For the most part there were single, disconnected ideas of greater or lesser soundness, not seldom standing in mutual contradiction, in no case having any inner tie between them. And even had such a tie been present, in its weakness it would never have sufficed to orientate and build a movement on.52
Hitler's theory of national leadership also has its foundation in his wartime experiences. Over the next decade, his continuous interpretation of those experiences as a system of ideas that had contributed to his personal development would result in a more complete theory of national leadership. A theory of leadership based on the value and importance of an inner development and education of a nation's people. He explains this aspect of his theory in his unpublished sequel to Mein Kampf:
Therefore, the task of all truly great legislators and statesmen of this earth was never the limited preparation for a war but rather the unlimited inner development and education of a people, so that its future, according to all human reasoning, appears secured almost by law. Then wars also lose their character of individual more-or-less violent surprises and arrange themselves into a natural—even self-evident—system within the thorough, well-founded, long-lasting development of a people.53
twenty-ninth day of October in 1914, only nine days after boarding the train at
Camp Lechfeld Hitler experienced combat for the first
time in the war. His baptism of fire occurred "at seven o'clock in the
morning . . . through thick fog toward the line held by the British . . . five
miles east of Ypres.”54 At this battle near Ypres, Hitler
encountered the first of several wartime experiences that would eventually lead
him to ascribe a special significance to his own life—a significance so special
"Now the first shrapnel hisses over us and explodes at the edge of the forest, splintering trees as if they were straws,” he wrote an acquaintance in Munich, Assistant Judge Ernst Hepp. "We watch with curiosity. We have no idea as yet of the danger. None of us is afraid. Everyone is waiting impatiently for the command, 'Forward!' . . . We crawl on our stomachs to the edge of the forest. Above us are howls and hisses, splintered branches and trees surround us. Then again shells explode at the edge of the forest and hurl clouds of stones, earth and sand into the air, tear the heaviest trees out by their roots, and choke everything in a yellow-green, terribly stinking steam. We cannot lie here forever, and if we have to fall in battle, it's better to be killed outside." Finally it was the Germans' turn to attack. "Four times we advance and have to go back; from my whole batch only one remains, beside me, finally he also falls. A shot tears off my right coat sleeve, but like a miracle I remain safe and alive. At 2 o'clock we finally go forward for the fifth time, and this time we occupy the edge of the forest and the farms."55
Apparently, Hitler considered his unharmed escape from the first combat engagement miraculous. As an isolated incident, he might have considered it only a random event, but another miracle occurring within a month’s time may have given him reason to reconsider the randomness of that coincidence. Toland reports that another miraculous encounter did indeed occur during the following month:
By mid November the 16th Regiment, according to Hitler, had but thirty officers and less than seven hundred men. Only one in five recruits remained but still came orders to attack. The new commander, Lieutenant Colonel Engelhardt, accompanied by Hitler and another man, ventured far into the front to observe the enemy lines. They were detected and the area was sprayed with machine-gun fire. The two enlisted men leaped in front of their commander, pushed him into a ditch. Without comment Engelhardt shook hands with the two recruits. He intended recommending them both for the Iron Cross but the next afternoon while he was discussing the citations an English shell smashed into the regimental headquarters tent, killing three men and seriously wounding Engelhardt and the other occupants. Moments earlier Hitler and the three other enlisted men had been forced to leave the tent to make way for four company commanders.56
Given Hitler’s predilection for fantastic ideas, two near-death encounters within the first month and a half of combat, especially given the enormous causalities associated with this battle, could easily have lead Hitler to conclude that he was under some form of supernatural protection. The exact nature of that protection, however, remained a mystery.
Two months of further combat failed to produce a victor in the battle. In the end, the Germans were unable to break through the British line and occupy Ypres. This resulted in a stalemate and allowed Hitler some free time. According to Toland:
The unsuccessful attempts to take Ypres ended the German offensive and the battle degenerated into static trench warfare. This meant a relatively quiet existence for those attached to the regimental headquarters, now located in a rest area near the village of Messines. At last Hitler found time to paint.57
During this lull in the fighting Hitler probably spent considerable time reading as well as painting. It might have been during this period that he first encountered Nietzsche's Zarathustra. If this is the case, then the combination of fear, excitement, and miraculous survival may have predisposed Hitler to consider seriously the tenets of Nietzsche's philosophy. In particular, the ideas of the Übermensch and the Eternal Return may have taken on a more literal meaning for Hitler than they would have otherwise. As days went on and others continued to perish while he survived, Hitler predictably could become more convinced of his special nature. As his feeling of uniqueness intensified, he might naturally have turned to reading in hope of discovering a philosophical principle behind his burgeoning belief in providential protection.
As is expected to have occurred, in reading Schopenhauer's book Hitler would have discovered significant support for an unconventional interpretation of life and death. An interpretation in which death is merely an illusion to the Übermensch:
What we fear in death is in fact the extinction and end of the individual, which it openly proclaims itself to be, and as the individual is the will-to-live itself in a particular objectification, its whole nature struggles against death. . . . Armed with the knowledge we confer on him, he would look with indifference at death hastening towards him on the wings of time. He would consider it as a false illusion, an impotent spectre, frightening to the weak but having no power over him who knows that he himself is that will of which the whole world is the objectification or copy, to which therefore life and also the present always remain certain and sure. The present is the only real form of the phenomenon of the will. Therefore no endless past or future in which he will not exist can frighten him, for he regards these as an empty mirage and the web of Maya. Thus he would no more have to fear death than the sun would the night.58
As Toland writes, "This philosopher's recurrent
affirmation of the strength of blind will, the triumph of that will, must have
struck a responsive chord."59 Hitler
however, as mentioned before would not completely embrace Schopenhauer's
thoughts concerning the survival of individuals and especially in this present
case. His individual protection was the issue here and Schopenhauer's
admonishment that "the individual, on the contrary has no value for
nature. . . . Therefore nature is always ready to let
the individual fall"60would not have agreed with Hitler's
In reading Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Hitler would have discovered that Nietzsche supposed the 'will to power' to be a greater truth than Schopenhauer's 'will to live' (see pp.19 above). In Nietzsche's philosophy, an Übermensch possesses the 'will to power' and in so doing, achieves immortality by fervently anticipating and eagerly accepting an eternal reoccurrence of his or her present life. It appears that Hitler incorporated these principles into his understanding of his miraculous survival. In applying these principles, Hitler could believe his survival was actually a result of his own 'will to power' working in harmony the necessity of destiny. Hitler likely derived great satisfaction from this belief since it enabled him to smile even in the face of immeasurable carnage and death. A fact clearly denoted by the following account reported by Charles Flood:
Hans Mend once said to him, after Hitler reappeared through the smoke of a battlefield where thousands were dying, "For you there is no bullet!” Mend remembered that Hitler did not reply: “A grin was his answer.” 64
64 Mend translation, Toland Papers, citing p.37.61
This belief appears to define an overall pattern in his life, a pattern that presupposes future significance to his present situation. By willing himself always to focus on the expected results of his present life, the spiritual and emotional structures in his life were always more discernible to Hitler than present reality. In time, he would come to share this perspective with others and ultimately with the majority of Germany's population.
After a certain point in the development of these thoughts, any additional miraculous encounters would only serve to intensify his beliefs. This is exactly what happened during the next year. Throughout 1915, Hitler continued to have the same type of close encounters with death. Moreover, for the first time Hitler describes listening to his inner voice for guidance and protection. John Toland explains:
In the past months he had narrowly escaped death an inordinate number of times. It was as if he led a charmed life. "I was eating my dinner in a trench with several comrades," he [Hitler] told an English correspondent, Ward Price, years later. "Suddenly a voice seemed to be saying to me, 'Get up and go over there.' It was so clear and insistent that I obeyed mechanically, as if it had been a military order. I rose at once to my feet and walked twenty yards along the trench, carrying my dinner in its tin-can with me. Then I sat down to go on eating, my mind being once more at rest. Hardly had I done so when a flash and deafening report came from the part of the trench I had just left. A stray shell had burst over the group in which I had been sitting, and every member of it was killed."62
Hitler's narcissistic concept of a unique life with potential for a grand purpose appears to have fully developed by the end of 1915. If at that time, Hitler did not completely understand his grand mission, he was surely convinced that it was only a matter of time before it would reveal itself to him and the world. To illustrate this fact, Flood points out:
Shortly before Christmas of 1915, Hans Mend noted, "he said that we would hear much about him. We should just wait until his time had arrived.” 57
57 Mend translation, Toland Papers, citing p.172.63
By 1916, the romance of war had faded and the enthusiasm that had so characterized the early engagements was no longer a daily motivator for many soldiers. Instead, the omnipresent fear of death was starting to possess many of the men. In Mein Kampf, Hitler explains that he too had to deal with this demoralizing environment and the constant fear of death. As expected, he reflects on it far more philosophically than many did and thus
Thus it went on year after year; but the romance of battle had been replaced by horror. The enthusiasm gradually cooled and the exuberant joy was stifled by mortal fear. The time came when every man had to struggle between the instinct of self- preservation and the admonitions of duty. I, too, was not spared by this struggle. Always when Death was on the hunt, a vague something tried to revolt, strove to represent itself to the weak body as reason, yet it was only cowardice, which in such disguises tried to ensnare the individual. A grave tugging and warning set in, and often it was only the last remnant of conscience which decided the issue. Yet the more this voice admonished one to caution, the louder and more insistent its lures, the sharper resistance grew until at last, after a long inner struggle, consciousness of duty emerged victorious. By the winter of 1915-16, this struggle had for me been decided. At last my will was undisputed master. If in the first days I went over the top with rejoicing and laughter, I was now calm and determined. And this was enduring. Now Fate could bring on the ultimate tests without my nerves shattering or my reason failing.64
By this point in the war, Hitler appears to have totally embraced the power of his 'will'. Moreover, believing in destiny's power to protect him he appeared fearless to others:
By the end of the summer of 1915 Hitler had become indispensable to regimental headquarters. The telephone lines to battalion and company command posts were often knocked out by artillery and only runners could deliver messages. "We found out very soon," recalled Lieutenant Wiedemann, "which messengers we could rely on most." He was admired by fellow runners as much for his craftiness . . . as his exceptional courage. Yet there was something in Hitler that disturbed some of the men. He was too different, his sense of duty excessive. . . . He was unnaturally eager to get up front and would often, without being asked, deliver messages for the other runners.65
The ability to rationalize death, almost as an experience to grow by, seems to be a distinctive trait of Hitler's personality at this time in his life. Although he accepts the possibility of his own death, he appears to incorporate that possibility into the overall development of his life and mission. As long as he lives, his 'will' enables him to continue to survive while others perish. Indeed, it was only while he slept, while his 'will' was inactive that he was wounded for the first time in combat. It occurred in the autumn of 1916, "on the night of October 7 his luck ended as he slept with other messengers in sitting position in a narrow tunnel leading to regimental headquarters. A shell exploded near the narrow entrance, knocking the messengers into a heap. Hitler was hit in the thigh but tried to argue Wiedemann into keeping him at the front."66
Although Hitler had envisioned the goal of his life's mission several years before the war, how he was to achieve that goal remained a mystery to him. For two years following this incident in 1916, the means of accomplishing that goal remained hidden until a fateful night in October 1918. From that moment on, events cascading from that night would ultimately provide him the method for realizing his goal. On that night—the night of 13 October, the English commenced a chemical attack against the German positions near Ypres. The attack continued throughout the night and into the next morning. Many soldiers loss consciousness and a few also perished forever in the gas attack, according to Hitler.67 He goes on to write in Mein Kampf:
Toward morning I, too was seized with pain which grew worse with every quarter hour, and at seven in the morning I stumbled and tottered back with burning eyes; taking with me my last report of the War.
A few hours later, my eyes had turned into glowing coals; it had grown dark around me.
Thus I came to the hospital at Pasewalk in Pomerania, and there I was fated to experience—the greatest villainy of the century1
1 ‘greatest villainy of the century' changed to 'revolution' in second edition.68
It was while he was still recovering in the hospital that Hitler first learned of Germany's surrender. For three weeks, he continued to experience the effects and aftermath of the gas attack. Unable to regain his sight he began to fear his sight would be lost forever. Blind, he surely could not accomplish his mission and so as his sight eventually started to return his hopes also began to rise:
In the last few days I had been getting along better. The piercing pain in my eye sockets was diminishing; slowly I succeeded in distinguishing the broad outlines of the things about me. I was given grounds for hoping that I should recover my eyesight at least well enough to be able to pursue some profession later. To be sure, I could no longer hope that I would ever be able to draw again. In any case, I was on the road to improvement when the monstrous thing happened.69
It was at this point in his recovery that Hitler suddenly suffered a total relapse into blindness and psychological despair over the apparent defeat of Germany. In Mein Kampf, he describes this desperate experience and his reaction to it:
On November 10, the pastor came to the hospital for a short address: now we learned everything.
In extreme agitation, I, too, was present at the short speech. The dignified old gentleman seemed all a-tremble as he informed us that the House of Hollenzollern should no longer bear the German imperial crown; that the fatherland had become a 'republic'; that we must pray to the Almighty not to refuse His blessing to this change and not to abandon our people in the times to come. . . . But when the old gentleman tried to go on, and began to tell us that we must now end the long War, yes, that now that it was lost and we were throwing ourselves upon the mercy of the victors, our fatherland would for the future be exposed to dire oppression, that the armistice should be accepted with confidence in the magnanimity of our previous enemies — I could stand it no longer. It became impossible for me to "sit still one minute more. Again everything went black before my eyes; I tottered and groped my way back to the dormitory, threw myself on my bunk, and dug my burning head into my blanket and pillow.
Since the day when I had stood at my mother's grave, I had not wept. When in my youth Fate seized me with merciless hardness, my defiance mounted. When in the long war years Death snatched so many a dear comrade and friend from our ranks, it would have seemed to me almost a sin to complain — after all, were they not dying for Germany? And when at length the creeping gas — in the last days of the dreadful struggle — attacked me, too, and began to gnaw at my eyes, and beneath the fear of going blind forever, I nearly lost heart for a moment, the voice of my conscience thundered at me: Miserable wretch, are you going to cry when thousands are a hundred times worse off than you! And so I bore my lot in dull silence. But now I could not help it. Only now did I see how all personal suffering vanishes in comparison with the misfortune of the fatherland.70
With a realistic expectation of nothing but humiliation and abuse to come from the allies, Hitler rightly envisioned a disastrous future for the German people. He explains how he "knew that all was lost. Only fools, liars, and criminals could hope in the mercy of the enemy."71 With this ruinous future ahead of them, Hitler realized, the German people would look for a strong leader, an Übermensch to lead them in desperate times, a messiah to save them from humiliation and subservience. He was that man and he now knew the method by which his life's mission would reach its goal:
In the days that followed, my own fate became known to me.
I could not help but laugh at the thought of my own future which only a short time before had given me such bitter concern. Was it not ridiculous to expect to build houses on such ground? At last it became clear to me that what had happened was what I had so often feared but had never been able to believe with my emotions.
Kaiser William II was the first German Emperor to hold out a conciliatory hand to the leaders of Marxism, without suspecting that scoundrels have no honor. While they still held the imperial hand in theirs, their other hand was reaching for the dagger.
There is no making pacts with Jews; there can only be the hard: either—or.
I, for my part, decided to go into politics.72
After this point in his life, Hitler never doubted the fated link between his
own future and that of the German people. Congealing out of a murky cloud of
poisonous gas, the hitherto mysterious means by which he would achieve his
destiny became discernible with time. Within only a few years, Hitler would no
longer be alone in discerning his mission. Others would share his expectation
of achieving his goal, of accomplishing a great mission for the German people.
On 30 September 1923, after meeting Hitler during his visit with Cosima Wagner the widow of the great composer at her home
In years following the war, Hitler never appeared to change his outlook on the possibility of his own death nor had he come to envision that possibility as a real obstacle to the successful completion of his mission. He continued to expect destiny to protect him as it had throughout the war: to protect him from a premature death and thereby grant him sufficient time to complete his preordained mission. Ten years after the war, while dictating the text for his unpublished sequel to Mein Kampf, Hitler reveals his thoughts about death and its consequence for the Übermensch. Most likely, Hitler first considered these ideas seriously and then embraced them wholeheartedly during the challenging years of combat in the First World War:
The average person has the most fear of death and in reality thinks most rarely about it. The prominent one occupies himself with it most persistently but nevertheless fears it the least. The one lives blindly from day to day, sinning away, only to sink down before the grim reaper. The other carefully observes his approach but then looks him in the eye, calm and composed.76
This explanation, while it acknowledges his constant preoccupation with death, reveals no anticipation of any immediate encounter with it. Hitler still expects to complete his mission and the possibility of insufficient time to do so appears irrelevant as of 1928.
This all changes however with the onset of midlife and the ensuing crisis. By 1932, Hitler begins to wonder if he will indeed have enough time to complete his mission. While external forces might not prevail against the combination of destiny and his 'will to power', the failure of his personal heath might indeed prevent a successful completion of his mission. His mother’s death from cancer, in her late forties, may have triggered this concern in Hitler’s mind as he approached that same age. He expresses his concerns almost incidentally at first, but as time and success continue, Hitler becomes more preoccupied with the concept of having only a finite amount of time to complete his mission. By 1932, Hitler reveals a human side to Albert Krebs, during a breakfast, when he expresses this fear of inadequate time to accomplish his mission. According to Toland:
Only rarely in the rigorous campaign did Hitler's spirits noticeably flag. One of these moments was witnessed by Albert Krebs, Gauleiter of Hamburg. . . . By the time Krebs was admitted to the Führer's presence the breakfast soup had arrived. Hitler hunched over it, looking tired and melancholy. He glanced up at Krebs and "in a tone of undisguised alarm" asked what he thought about vegetarian diets, then, without waiting for an answer, began a long impassioned lecture which revealed "hypochondriacal fears for his health."
It was the first time Hitler had ever revealed himself as a human being to Krebs—his name in German meant cancer—and the Gauleiter was shaken to hear him explain in detail the reasons for his reformed living habits; outbreaks of perspiration, states of extreme excitement, trembling of limbs and stomach cramps. The last, Hitler insisted, were the forerunner of cancer and this gave him only a few years to finish his work. "I do not have the time to wait," he announced over his plate of soup. "If I had time I wouldn't have become a candidate. The Old Gentleman [Hindenburg] won't last much longer. But I cannot lose even a year. I must come to power quickly in order to solve the gigantic problems in the little time remaining to me. I must! I must!" All at once Hitler ended the discussion. "One can say," commented Krebs, "that he pulled himself together and it was immediately noticeable in his physical bearing, facial expression and voice. The depression was over; the human being Hitler once more became the Fuhrer."77
As his dream of a
grand mission became more of an awakening reality, his concern for being unable
to complete it became more acute. After becoming Chancellor of Germany in 1933,
concerns with his strength and health continued to haunt him. During an
interview in the summer of 1936, only a few months after he had successfully
Surprisingly, as his power increased, Hitler became evermore concerned about his personal vulnerability. Moreover, by the start of the Second World War in 1939, Hitler appears no longer to possess any expectation of protection by Providence. He now seems to accept that a common criminal could easily end his life and thwart the successful completion of his life’s mission:
In a major speech to the commanders of his armed forces on 22 August 1939, he spoke of the need for war and the reasons why it should not be delayed: "Essentially all depends on me, on my existence, because of my political talents. . . . My existence is therefore a factor of great value. But I can be eliminated at any time by a criminal or a lunatic. No one knows how much longer I shall live.79
However, this apostasy did not last forever. Within nine months before his death, Hitler regained his faith in destiny's protection. As had occurred numerous times before, surviving a life-threatening event restored his faith. His continued survival when others had perished convinced him once again of Fate's blessing upon his mission and his unique roll in it: Waite writes:
His convictions were reinforced by miraculous escapes from assassination. After the failure of the bomb plot of 20 July 1944 he told a naval aide, "Now the Almighty has stayed their [assassins'] hands once more. Don't you agree that I should consider it as a nod of Fate that it intends to preserve me for my assigned task." His valet remembers that Hitler was very calm, saying, "That is new proof that I have been selected from among other men by Providence to lead greater Germany to victory." And again, "Because I have been saved while others had to die it is clearer than ever that the fate of Germany lies in my hands."75
75Heinz Assmann, "Some Personal
Recollections of Adolf Hitler," United States Naval Institute
Proceedings 79 (July 1953): 1290; Linge, Revue,
24 March 1956; Robert M. W. Kempner, Das dritte
Reich im Kreuzverhör (
By the time of his death, nine months later Hitler had apparently reconciled himself with a different destiny. If Fate no longer protected him then it would just as surely destroy him. In his mind the mission had failed, not because of his shortcomings, but because the German people had never been worthy of him. They were not yet hard enough to embrace his mission. It was not Destiny's chosen time. "'National Socialism is dead and will never rise again!' Perhaps in a hundred years a similar idea would rise with the power of a religion and spread throughout the world. 'But Germany is lost. It actually was not quite ready or quite strong enough for the mission I set for the nation.'"81 For the present however, Fate had sanctioned his death, it had blessed the ending of his mission. "One must have the courage to face the consequences—I am ending it all here! I know that by tomorrow millions of people will curse me—Fate wanted it that way."82
On the afternoon of 30 April 1945, it all ended for Adolf Hitler and his mission. In the bunker beneath the chancellery in Berlin, Hitler chose to “die in order to escape the shame of overthrow and capitulation.”83 Together he and his wife committed suicide in the hope that “Death will compensate us for what we were both deprived of by my labors in the service of my people.”84
The goal of this chapter has been to discover a connection between Nietzsche’s philosophy and the life of Adolf Hitler. Especially a connection between Hitler’s actions and any of the three fundamental concepts expressed by Nietzsche in Thus Spoke Zarathustra: that is the ideas of the Übermensch, the Will to Power, and the Eternal Recurrence. Furthermore, it most likely is not a conscious connection, but a sub-conscious one that links Hitler to Nietzsche. Unlike the case with his decision-making process and the influence of Schopenhauer’s philosophy, this connection does not reflect a conscious attempt by Hitler to model his actions on Nietzsche's thought. Instead, Nietzsche’s philosophy may explain Hitler’s effectiveness as a model of messianic leadership for the German people.
His personality, a cumulative result of the emotional, psychological, and physical factors that had affected him throughout his life, predisposed Hitler oftentimes to act in a manner aligned with principles of Nietzsche's philosophy. As explained previously, his childhood experiences made him aware of the effectiveness of his own 'will' and opened his mind to the concept of an Übermensch. Furthermore, as he faced death bravely with other German soldiers during the First World War, Hitler continued to define his concept of the Übermensch. While these two fundamental concepts of Nietzsche's philosophy, the Übermensch and the 'Will to Power', are identifiable in Hitler's personal philosophy; the idea of the Eternal Recurrence never is. Nevertheless, Hitler does surely display a definite predilection for recurrence in certain aspects of his life as the following account testifies:
Intimates all agreed that Hitler's daily routine was followed to the smallest detail. As chancellor, when taking his dog for a walk. Hitler went through the same field every time, and each time he threw a piece of wood from exactly the same spot in exactly the same direction. Any attempt to persuade him to deviate from the pattern would result in considerable agitation and anger on his part. A boyhood friend from Linz remembers similar behavior. Adolf had a habit of returning always to the same lonely spot outside town where "every bush and tree was familiar to him.". . .
. . . His press chief of a decade described the paralyzing repetition: "He remained perpetually in the same company, among the same faces, in the same atmosphere and, I may also say, in the same state of monotony and boredom, producing eternally the same speeches and declarations."85
However, it might only have been during the last few days of his life, during the horribly dark time of impending defeat and doom that Hitler remembered this last and most perplexing concept of Nietzsche's philosophy. “The basic conception” of his story of Zarathustra, “the idea of eternal recurrence”86 is Nietzsche's most mystifying and profound concept. It might also be the most significant concept for explaining Hitler’s power over the German people.
Had Hitler died a few years earlier, his entire legacy would have been vastly different. As John Toland writes, “If Hitler had died in 1937 on the fourth anniversary of his coming to power . . . he would undoubtedly have gone down as one of the greatest figures in German history.”87 However, in only eight years destiny had delivered Hitler to a contemptible end. Now imprisoned by Fate, all his options had been reduced to a single hope—that “after I die, my body shall be burned and so remain undiscovered forever.”88
Robert Waite’s account of an event that supposedly occurred in the final days of Hitler’s life may provide some insight into Hitler’s despairing thoughts about fate’s despicable imprisonment:
And at the end, with his Reich crashing down upon him, when an aide suggested that perhaps some things might possibly have been done differently, Adolf Hitler cried out in baffled anguish, "But don't you see, I can not change!"31
31Otto Dietrich, Hitler, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (
From inside his cage of fated destiny, his anguished cry may have signified an inner focus that recognized the tragic irony of his life's journey. It had been a paradoxical journey, a journey not unlike that of Rienzi, the central figure in the Wagnerian opera by the same name. As the end drew near and the abysmal darkness deepened around him, Hitler's thoughts naturally would have focused on an earlier time—a time long ago, on a time almost forty years earlier when he had first conceived of his destiny. He told the story to Winifred Wagner, the composer's daughter-in-law, while he was visiting Bayreuth six years before:
One day in 1939 the Führer of the Third Reich made one of his many pilgrimages to the shrine of Wagner at Bayreuth; On that occasion he told Frau Wagner that his political career had been miraculously laid open before him one night in Linz when, as a boy, he attended a performance of Wagner's Rienzi. "That was the hour it all began," he said.90
The story of Rienzi
is critical to understanding the central theme of this chapter, the Hitler
Connection. During his final hours, the similarities between his life and
Rienzi's would not have escaped Hitler's notice. Wagner's opera Rienzi,
according to Flood was, "based on the life of the Roman commoner who
became a dictator and sought to restore the ancient greatness of
After freeing the people of Rome from the constant abuse and tyranny of the warring noble families of the Colonna and Orsini, the people hail Rienzi as their savior. In time, however, the same people turn against him and attempt to destroy him. The opera ends with Rienzi and his sister Irene clasped in each other's arms, surrounded by flames on the balcony of the burning Capitol. The people cry out, "Fetch stones! Bring firebrands! He is cursed, excommunicated! Destruction and death to him! Come on, stone him!"
As the people continue their attack and the fire spreads Rienzi admonishes them, "Remember, who made you great and free? Have you already forgotten the rejoicing with which you greeted me then, when I gave you freedom and peace? For your own sakes. I implore you, remember your oath as Romans!"
At last, in final acceptance of his fated destiny Rienzi cries out, "Fearful mockery! What? Is this Rome? Wretches, do you think to destroy me? Hear then, my final words: as long as the Seven Hills of Rome are standing, as long as the Eternal City does not perish, you will see Rienzi return! [emphasis mine]"92
It is impossible to miss the similarity between this final scene of the opera and Hitler's own final scene in the bunker. There alone, he and his wife Eva Braun faced death by their own hands together. A death destined to occur. A death willed by the German people. In Hitler's mind, a death brought about by their failure to embrace his mission completely. He had seen it all before though. He had seen it many years ago. At a happier time, on a cold night in November, he had seen it in the story of Rienzi.
o'clock in the afternoon of 30 April 1945, as they sat together on a couch in
their suite, Hitler's mind must have returned at least for a moment to that
cold night in November, so long ago, when he had identified with Rienzi for the
first time. His ardent pining for that rapturous moment, the only remedy for
his present despair, he raised the 7.65 caliber Walther pistol to his right
temple and prepared to pull the trigger.93 In
a moment, he was there again. Upon that hill near
On that cold night in November 1906, at the age of seventeen, Hitler and his friend August Kubizek attended a performance of Richard Wagner's Rienz. By the time they had departed the theater, the wheels of history had turned, the tumblers of destiny had fallen; the stage had been set for Hitler to dream his euphoric dream. After the performance ended, well past midnight, the two adolescents ascended the Freinberg in Linz. It was there; in an event, strangely reminiscent of the biblical account of Jesus’ transfiguration upon a mountain, that Hitler came to see himself as the Messiah of his people.
In his book, Robert Waite gives the following account of this event:
The opera was not over until well past midnight. Together the two friends went out into the dark and windy night. . . . Instead of heading home, the two friends took the road west leading up the Freinberg. When they reached the top, the mist broke and stars spangled the sky. After gazing moodily at the distant heavens, Adolf suddenly wheeled around, grabbed his friend by both hands, and looked him searchingly in the eye, his own eyes burning with passion. "He had never made such a gesture before," his friend tells us. . . . After gazing intensely at his friend for a full minute, he began to speak. "Never before and never again have I heard Adolf Hitler speak as he did in that hour as we stood there alone under the stars as though we were the only creatures in the world." Kubizek thought there was something strange about Hitler that night. "It was as if another being spoke out of his body, and moved him as much as it did me. It wasn't at all a case of a speaker being carried away by his own words. On the contrary; I rather felt as though he himself listened with astonishment and emotion to what burst forth from him with elementary force. I will not attempt to interpret this phenomenon, but it was a state of complete ecstasy and rapture." What Hitler said that night has been lost, but one thing was burned into Kubizek's memory. Adolf did not speak of becoming an artist or an architect. Now he saw himself, like Rienzi, as the Messiah of his people. He spoke of a "mandate which, one day, he would receive from the people to lead them out of servitude to the heights of freedom . . . He spoke of a special mission which one day would be entrusted to him."
In silence Adolf and Gusti descended to the town. A neighborhood clock struck three as the two friends shook hands in front of Kubizek's house. Adolf started again in the direction of the mountain and in answer to an anxious question about his destination replied, "I want to be alone."130
130Kubizek, Young Hitler, 99-101.95
The central theme of this chapter, the Hitler Connection finds its nexus in the possibility that Hitler actually experienced an occasion of recurrence on that cold night in November. In their common experience, Hitler and Nietzsche had uncovered the cosmic connection between human mortality and eternal consciousness. This remarkable discovery indelibly linked these two men together in the history of western civilization. Unnoticed even by Hitler, this extraordinary event might have been the ultimate source of his messianic power over the German people.
economic, demographical, and historical problems that plagued
Only once before, two thousand years earlier had a man experienced the Eternal Recurrence and thereby changed the world. Jesus the Nazarene is the last connection and central theme of the next chapter. Although a mystery until now, his resurrection most likely is another example of the spiritual power of Nietzsche's Eternal Recurrence.
1. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, trans. Ralph Manheim (
Company, 1971), 22
2. Ibid., 35-6
3. Ibid., 22
5. Robert G. L. Waite, The Psychopathic God: Adolf Hitler (New York: Basic Books, 1977), 338.
6. Charles Bracelen Flood, Hitler: The Path to Power (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1989), 20.
7. Ibid., 20.
8. August Kubizek, The Young Hitler I Knew, with an introduction
by Ian Kershaw, trans. Geoffrey Brooks (
9. Adolf Hitler, Hitler's
Second Book: The Unpublished Sequel to Mein Kampf, ed. Gerhard L. Weinberg,
trans. Krista Smith (
10. Walter C. Langer, The Mind of Adolf Hitler (New York: Basic Books, 1972), 155.
11. Waite, 160.
12. Langer, 110.
13. Ibid., 151-2.
14. John Toland, Adolf Hitler (New York: Anchor Books, 1992), 12-3.
15. Hitler, Mein Kampf, 21.
16. Flood, 20.
17. Toland, 68.
18. Flood, 20.
19. Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1945), 754.
20. Ibid., 758.
21. Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, trans. E. F. J. Payne
(New York: Dover Publications, 1969), 1:110-1.
22. Ibid., 283-4.
23. Ibid., 289.
24. Schopenhauer, 290-1.
25. Langer, 82.
26. Ibid., 81.
28. Schopenhauer, 275-6.
29. Hitler, Mein Kampf, 446.
30. Ibid., 299.
31. Ibid., 298.
32. Toland, 143.
33. Hitler, Mein Kampf, 65.
34. Ibid., 300-7.
35. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 32-3.
37. Hitler, Mein Kampf, 170.
39. Hitler, Mein Kampf, 126.
40. Toland, 54.
41. Toland, 56.
42. Ibid., 57.
43. Hitler, Mein Kampf, 158.
44. Ibid., 163.
45. Hitler, Mein Kampf, 161.
46. Toland, 59.
47. Hitler, Mein Kampf, 163-4.
48. Ibid., 166.
49. Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty, ed. G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright, trans. Denis Paul and G. E. M. Anscombe (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1969), 21e.
52. Hitler, Mein Kampf, 461.
53. Hitler, Second Book, 37.
54. Flood, 13.
55. Toland, 60.
57. Ibid., 60-1.
58. Schopenhauer, 283-4.
59. Toland, 63.
60. Schopenhauer, 276.
61. Flood, 25-6.
62 Toland, 64.
63. Flood, 22.
64. Hitler, Mein Kampf, 165.
65. Toland, 63.
66. Toland, 65.
67. Hitler, Mein Kampf, 201-2.
68. Ibid. 202.
69. Ibid. 203.
70. Ibid. 203-4.
71. Ibid. 206.
73. Toland, 147.
74. Ibid, 145.
75. Ibid, 187.
76. Hitler, Second Book, 39.
77. Toland, 264-5.
78. Ibid, 394.
79. Waite, 21.
80. Ibid, 31- 2.
81. Toland, 870.
83. Toland, 883.
85. Waite, 15 - 6.
86. Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, 69.
87. Toland, 409.
88. Ibid., 886.
89. Waite, l6.
90. Ibid., 213.
91. Flood, 8.
92. Richard Wagner, Rienzi, libretto by Richard Wagner English version by John Kehoe (London: EMI Records, 1976), 107 - 8.
93. Toland, 888.
94. For further clarification of this phenomenon, see David Deutsch note 10, chapter 1 above.
95. Waite, 213-4.