The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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The world has come to know Adolph Hitler for his insatiable greed for 
power, his ruthlessness, cruelty and utter lack-of feeling, his contempt 
for established institutions and his lack of moral restraints. In the 
course of relatively few years he has contrived to usurp such tremendous 
power that a few veiled threats, accusations or insinuations were 
sufficient to make the world tremble. In open defiance of treaties he 
occupied huge territories and conquered millions of people without even 
firing a shot. When the world became tired of being frightened and 
concluded that it was all a bluff, he initiated the most brutal and 
devastating war in history - a war which, for a time, threatened the 
complete destruction of our civilization. Human life and human 
suffering seem to leave this individual completely untouched as he 
plunges along the course he believes he was predestined to take.

Earlier in his career the world had watched him with amusement. Many 
people refused to take him seriously on the grounds that "he could 
not possibly last." As one action after another met with amazing success 
and the measure of the man became more obvious, this amusement was 
transformed into incredulousness. To most people it seemed inconceivable 
that such things could actually happen in our modern civilization. Hitler, 
the leader of these activities, became generally regarded as a madman, 
if not inhuman. Such a conclusion, concerning the nature of our enemy, 
may be satisfactory from the point of view [00010148.GIF Page 142]
of the man in the street. It gives him a feeling of satisfaction to 
pigeon-hole an incomprehensible individual in one category or another. 
Having classified him in this way, he feels that the problem is 
completely solved.  All we need to do is to eliminate the madman from 
the scene of activities, replace him with a sane individual, and the world will again return to a normal and peaceful state of affairs.

This naive view, however, is wholly inadequate for those who are 
delegated to conduct the war against Germany or for those who will be 
delegated to deal with the situation when the war is over. They cannot 
content themselves with simply regarding Hitler as a personal devil and 
condemning him to an Eternal Hell in order that the remainder of the 
world may live in peace and quiet. They will realize that the madness of 
the part of wholly the actions of a single individual but that a 
reciprocal relationship exists between the Fuehrer and the people and 
that the madness of the one stimulates and flows into the other and vice 
versa. It was not only Hitler, the madman, who created German madness, 
but German madness which created Hitler. Having created him as its 
spokesman and leader, it has been carried along by his momentum, perhaps 
far beyond the point where it was originally prepared to go. 
Nevertheless, it continues to follow his lead in spite of the fact that 
it must be obvious to all intelligent people now that his path leads 
to inevitable destruction.

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From a scientific point of view, therefore, we are forced to consider 
Hitler, the Fuehrer, not as a personal devil, wicked as his actions and 
philosophy may be, but as the expression of a state of mind existing in 
millions of people, not only in Germany but, to a smaller degree, in all 
civilized countries. To remove Hitler may be a necessary first step, but 
it would not be the cure. It would be analogous to curing an ulcer without 
treating the underlying disease. If similar eruptions are to be prevented 
in the future, we cannot content ourselves with simply removing the overt 
manifestations of the disease. On the contratry, we must ferret out and 
seek to correct the underlying factors which produced the unwelcome 
phenomenon. We must discover the psychological streams which nourish this 
destructtve state of mind in order that we may divert them into 
channels which will permit a further evolution of our form of civilization.    

The present study is concerned wholly with Adolph Hitler and the social 
forces which impinged upon him in the course of his development and 
produced the man we know. One may question the wisdom of studying the 
psychology of a single individual if the present war represents a 
rebellion by a nation against our civilization. To understand the one 
does not tell us anything about the millions of others. In a sense this 
is perfectly true. In the process of growing up we are all faced with 
highly individual experiences and exposed to varying social influences. 
The result is that when we mature [00010150.GIF  Page 144]
no two of us are identical from a psychological point of view.  In the 
present instance, however, we are concerned not so much with distinct 
individuals as with a whole cultural group. The members of this group 
have been exposed to social influences, family patterns, methods of 
training and education, opportunities for development, etc., which are 
fairly homogeneous within a given culture or strata of a culture. 
The result is that the members of a given culture tend to act, think 
and feel more or less alike, at least in contrast to the members of a 
different cultural group. This justifies, to some extent, our speaking 
of a general cultural character. On the other hand, if a large section 
of a given culture rebells against the traditional pattern then we must 
assume that new social influences have been introducod which tend to 
produce a type of character which cannot thrive in the old cultural 

When this happens it may be extremely helpful to understand the nature 
of the social forces which influenced the development of individual 
members of the group. These may serve as clues to an understanding of 
the group as a whole inasmuch as we can then investigate the frequency 
and intensity of these same forces in the group as a whole and draw 
deductions concerning their effect upon its individual members.  If the 
individual being studied happens to be the Ieader of the group, we can 
expect to find the pertinent factors in an exaggerated form which 
would tend to make them stand out in sharper relief than would be the 
case if we studied an average member of the [00010151.GIF Page 145]
group. Under these circumstances, the action of the forces  may be 
more easily isolated and subjected to detailed study in relation to the 
personality as whole as well as to the culture in general. The problem 
of our study should be, then, not only whether Hitler is mad or not, but 
what influences in his development have made him what he is.              

If we scan the tremendous quantities of material and information which 
have been accumulated on Hitler, we find little which is helpful in 
explaining why he is what he is. One can, of course, make general 
statements as many authors have done and say, for example, that his five 
years in Vienna were so frustrating that he hated the whole social order 
and is now taking his revenge for the injustices he suffered. Such 
explanations sound very plausible at first glance but we would also 
want to know why, as a young man, he was unwilling to work when he had 
the opportunity and what happened to transform the lazy Vienna beggar 
into the energetic politician who never seemed to tire from rushing 
from one meeting to another and was able to work thousands of listeners 
into a state of frenzy. 

We would also like to know something about 
the origins of his peculiar working habits at the present time, his 
firm belief in his mission, and so on. No matter how long we study 
the available material we can find no rational explanation of his 
present conduct. The material is descriptive and tells us a  great 
deal about how he behaves under varying circumstances, what he thinks 
and feels shout various subjects, but it does [00010152.GIF Page 146]
not tell us why. To be sure, he himself sometimes offers explanations 
for his conduct but it is obvious that these are either built on flimsy 
rational foundations or else they serve to push the problem further back 
into his past. On this level we are in exactly the same position in 
which we find ourselves when a neurotic patient first comes for help.

In the case of an individual neurotic patient, however, we can ask 
for a great deal more first-hand information which gradually enables 
us to trace the development of his irrational attitudes or behavioral 
patterns to earlier experiences or influences in his life history 
and the effects of these on his later behavior. In most cases the 
patient will have forgotten these earlier experiences but nevertheless 
he still uses them as premises in his present conduct. As soon as we 
are able to understand the premises underlying his conduct, then his 
irrational behavior becomes comprehensible to us.

The same finding would probably hold in Hitler's case except that 
here we do not have the opportunity of obtaining the additional 
first-hand information which would enable us to trace the history of 
his views and behavioral patterns to their early origins in order to 
discover the premises on which he is operating. Hitler's early life, 
when his fundamental attitudes were undoubtedly formed, is a closely 
guarded secret, particularly as far as he himself is concerned. He has 
been extremely careful and has told us exceedingly little about this 
period of his life and even that is open to serious [00010153.GIF Page 147]
questioning. A few fragments have, however, been, unearthed which 
are helpful in reconstructing his past life and the experiences and 
influences which have determined his adult character. Nevertheless, 
in themselves, they would be wholly inadequate for our purposes.

Fortunately, there are other sources of information. One of them is 
Hitler himself. In every utterance a speaker or writer unknowingly 
tells us a great deal about himself of which he is entirely unaware. 
The subjects he chooses for elaboration frequently reveal unconscious 
factors which make these seem more important to him than many other 
aspects which would be just as appropriate to the occasion. Furthermore,
the method of treatment, together with the attitudes expressed towards 
certain topics, usually reflect conscious processes which are 
symbolically related to his own problems. The examples he chooses for 
purposes of illustration almost always contain elements from his own 
earlier experiences which were instrumental in cultivating the view he 
is expounding. The figures of speech he employs reflect unconscious 
conflicts and linkages and the incidence of particular types or topics 
can almost be used as a measure of his preoccupation with problems 
related to them. A number of experimental techniques have been 
worked out which bear witness to the validity of these methods of 
gathering information about the mental life, conscious and unconscious, 
of an individual in addition to the findings of psychoanalysts and 

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Then, too, we have our practical experience in studying patients 
whose difficulties were not unlike those we find in Hitler. Our 
knowledge of the origins of these difficulties may often be used to 
evaluate conflicting information, check deductions concerning what 
probably happened, or to fill in gaps where no information is available. 
It may be possible with the help of all these sources of information to 
reconstruct the outstanding events in his early life which have 
determined his present behavior and character structure. Our study must, 
however, of necessity be speculative and inconclusive. It may tell us a 
great deal about the mental processes of our subject but it cannot be as 
comprehensive or conclusive as the findings of a direct study conducted 
with the cooperatlon of the individual. Nevertheless, the situation is 
such that even an indirect study of this kind is warranted.

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