Adolf Hitler was demonically possessed

Historical analysisHitler's power - how did the Führer cult come about?

March 23, 1933 in the German Reichstag: It's about the Enabling Act, and for the last time the political worlds collide. On the one hand the representatives of the republic, SPD leader Otto Wels, who does not know whether he will leave the hall occupied by SA troops alive. A politician with the moderate rhetoric of a Democrat.

"Freedom and life can be taken from us. Honor cannot!"

And on the other hand, Adolf Hitler - who, above all, shows with his gestures and his voice what the political hour has struck.

"I believe that you will not vote for this law because, according to your innermost mentality, you cannot understand the intention that inspires us. And now I can tell you: I do not want you to vote for it either! Germany should become free but not through you! "

This rhetorical violence was the nucleus of Hitler's power. With her he captivated his listeners: 1920 in Munich beer cellars, 1940 in the Berlin Sports Palace. Wolfram Pyta looks at the destructive force that ultimately emerged from this in his analysis of power. Hitler could not only stage himself as a speaker, but also with his writings. Above all, Pyta mentions the book "Mein Kampf". Here the National Socialist acted as the creator of a worldview and also described a way to realize it. The question arises as to what practical value this piece of work played - after all, only a minority of Germans had actually read "Mein Kampf". Most of all, Hitler's highly emotional, messianic staging as a speaker caught the general public. After a few years of dictatorship, more and more people were willing to mistake the tyrant for a genius. Pyta writes:

"By making the classical, aesthetic concept of genius politically fit, it favored the type of unyielding political decision-maker who appeared with dictatorial claims. For the politician Hitler, this meant that he could slip into the privileged position of the great executor who had the right to genius based on the degree of enforcement. "

The demonic in "genius"

And until 1940, success seemed to prove him right. Pyta examines Hitler's self-image as an artist. The historian is not thinking of the painter Hitler, but of the theatrical architect who was unable to work and the admirer of Richard Wagner. Based on the opera productions, Hitler was able to study the technical means used to generate or support emotions. In this way he gained a power with which he could overshadow any other charismatic ruler. At the same time, Pyta explains, the "artist" as a politician could have developed his ideas without any rational inhibitions: for example his genocide plans. And Pyta formulates the thesis that art made Hitler difficult to attack.

"In this respect, an aesthetically flanked charismatic rule represents a particularly explosive case of charismatic rule. A following surrenders themselves for better or for worse to this political leader. Access to the concept of genius freed the charismatic from the need to constantly present evidence of his political efficiency to the people . "

Pyta makes it clear that "genius" is not a positive term here, but that there has always been something demonic about it in the German intellectual tradition. Hitler's genius concept fully developed its destructive power during the Second World War. For the more Hitler avoided public appearances under the impression of military defeat, the more his charismatic rule suffered. But since people thought he was a genius, he could afford it. The professional military from the General Staff no longer had a chance with their rational arguments against Hitler. Not even when they warned him in 1942 against taking the armies as far as the Caucasus - and thereby overstretching the Eastern Front. The Stalingrad disaster was predictable - it was Hitler's bankruptcy. Now the danger increased that his opponents in the General Staff would gain the upper hand. He had to prevent that at all costs, because:

"As a warning, Hitler was given the unstoppable rise of Hindenburg in the First World War - who had moved from the position of Commander-in-Chief in the East to a more or less exempt position and was beyond the reach of the supreme warlord at the time And would it develop a momentum of its own if the impression solidified that the exit from a war that could not be ended victoriously was only possible without Hitler? "

Why Hitler could count on his generals to the last

As is well known, the dictator managed to keep his potential rivals small to the last. Even in the disaster, Hitler could count on many compliant generals. They now believed in a changed genius.

"Genius was no longer measured in terms of military deeds, but grew out of the will of an individual who had been transfigured into genius. The disembodiment and obscuration of the concept of genius were thus taken to extremes: the genius, draining of indomitable willpower, was unsuitable for public performances. It had no face still a voice. It could only be spread in the mode of written culture and proclaimed through prophetic figures. "

For example through Joseph Goebbels, who predicted the final victory shortly before his suicide. And the infiltration continued to have an effect on many Germans long after 1945. Wolfram Pyta's analysis of rulership makes two things clear: how a military parvenu and dilettante led the world's strongest army to its ruin. And: how devastating the Führer cult had in the minds and feelings of Germans. Pyta's account does not seem to reveal any really new facts. But in an unknown way it makes us aware of the emotional abyss behind the brown barbarism - and how deeply this barbarism was anchored in the heart of many Germans:

"Those who believe in genius devote themselves body and soul to the supposedly unreached creative power of their idol. Devotional submission to genius is not a servile act of forced submission - but the most extreme form of self-chosen incapacitation."

Wolfram Pyta: Hitler: The artist as politician and general. A dominance analysis. Siedler Verlag, Munich 2015, 848 pages, 39.99 euros.