The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Psychological Analysis & Reconstruction

[Transcription note: Bracketed [Page] links provide access to the individual images from which these transcriptions were made] [Page 140: Title Page] [Page 141]

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 [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. [Page 143]

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 [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 environment.

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 [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 [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 [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 psychiatrists. [Page 148]

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.

The original plaintext version of this file is available via ftp.

[ Previous | Index | Next ]

Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.