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]

Freud's earliest and greatest contribution to psychiatry in particular and to an understanding of human conduct in general was his discovery of the importance of the first years of a child's life in shaping his future character. It is during these early years, when the child's acquaintanceship with the world is still meagre and his capacities are still immature, that the'chances of misinterpreting the nature of the world about him are the greatest. The mind of the child is inadequate for understanding the demands which a complex culture makes upon him or the host of confusing experiences to which he is [Page 149] exposed. In consequence, as has been shown over and over again, a child during his early years frequently misinterprets what is going on about him and builds his personality structure on false premises. Even Hitler concedes that this finding is true, for he says in MEIN KAMPF:

"There is a boy, let us say, of three. This is the age at which a child becomes conscious of his first impressions. In many intelligent people, traces of these early memories are found even in old age."

Under these circumstances, it will be well for us to inquire into the nature of Hitier's earliest environment and the impressions which he probably formed during this period. Our factual information on this phase of his life is practically nil. In MEIN KAMPF Hitler tries to create the impression that his home was rather peaceful and quiet, his "father a faithful civil servant, the mother devoting herself to the cares of the household and looking after her children with eternally the same loving care." It would seem that if this is a true representation of the home environment there would be no reason for his concealing it so scrupulously.

This is the only passage in a book of a thousand pages in which he even intimates that there were other children for his mother to take care of. No brother and no sister are mentioned in any other connection and even to his associate he has never admitted that there were other chidren besides his half-sister, Angela. Very little more is said about his mother, either in writing or [Page 150] speaking. This concealment in itself would make us suspicious about the truth of the statement quoted above. We become even more suspicious when we find that not a single patient manifesting Hitler's character traits has grown up in such a well-ordered and peaceful home environment.

If we read on in MEIN KAMPF we find that Hitler gives us a description of a child's life in a lower-class family. He says:

"Among the five children there is a boy, let us say, of three... When the parents fight almost daily, their brutality leaves nothing to the imagination; then the results of such visual education must slowly but inevitably become apparent to the little one. Those who are not familiar with such conditions can hardly imagine the results, especially when the mutual differences express themselves in the form of brutal attacks on the part of the father towards the mother or to assaults due to drunkenness. The poor little boy at the age of six, senses things which would make even a grown-up person shudder. The other things the little fellow hears at home do not tend to further his respect for his surroundings."

In view of the fact that we now know that where were five children in the Hitler home and that his father liked to spend his spare time in the village tavern where he sometimes drank so heavily that he had to be brought horn by his wife or children, we begin to suspect that in this passage Hitler is, in all probability, describing conditions in his own home as a child.

If we accept the hypothesis that Hitler is actually talking about his own home when he describes conditions in the average lower-class family, we can obtain further information [Page 151] concerning the nature of his home environment. We read:

"...things end badly indeed when the man from the very start goes his own way and the wife, for the sake of the children stands up against him. Quarreling and nagging set in, and in the same measure in which the husband becomes estranged from his wife, he becomes familiar with alcohol.....When he finally comes home... drunk and brutal, but always without a last cent or penny, then God have mercy on the scenes which follow. I witnessed all of this personally in hundreds of scenes and at the beginning with both disgust and indignation." (MK, 38)

When we remember the few friends that Hitler has made in the course of his life, and not a single intimate friend, one wonders where he had the opportunity of observing these scenes personally, hundreds of times, if it was not in his own home. And then he continues:

"The other things the little fellow hears at home do not tend to further his respect for his surroundings. Not a single good shred is left for humanity, not a single institution is left unattacked; starting with the teacher, up to the head of the State, be it religion, or morality as such, be it the State or society, no matter which, everything is pulled down in the nastiest manner into the filth of a depraved mentality." (MK, 43)

All of this agrees with information obtained from other sources whose veracity might otherwise be open to question. With this as corroborating evidence, however, it seems safe to assume that the above passages are a fairly accurate picture of the Hitler household and we may surmise that these scenes did arouse disgust and indignation in him at a very early age. [Page 152]

These feelings were aggravated by the fact that when his father was sober he tried to create an entirely different impression. At such times he stood very much on his dignity and prided himself on his position in the civil serviceo Even after he had retired from this service he always insisted on wearing his uniform when he appeared in public. He was scrupulous about his appearance and strode down the viliage street in his most dignified manner. When he spoke to his neighbors or acquaintances he did so in a very condescending manner and always demanded that they use his full title when they addressed him. If one of them happened to omit a part of it, he would call attention to their omission. He carried this to the point where, so informants tell us, he became a source of amusement to the other villagers and their children. At home, he demanded that the children address him as Herr Vater instead of using one of the intimate abbreviations or nicknames that children commonly do.

Father's lnfluence on Hitler's character.

We know from our study of many cases that the character of father is one of the major factors determining the character of the child during infancy, particularly that of a boy. In cases in which the father is a fairly well-integrated individual and presents a consistent pattern of behavior which the small boy can respect, he becomes a model which the child strives to emulate. The image the child has of his father [Page 153] becomes the cornerstone of his later character-structure and with its help he is able to integrate his own behavior along socially accepted lines. The importance of this first step in character development can scarcely be over-estimated. It is almost a prerequisite for a stable, secure and well-integrated personality in later life.

In Hitler' s case, as in almost all other neurotics of his type, this step was not feasible. Instead of presenting an image of a consistent, harmonious, socially-adjusted and admirable individual which the child can use as a guide and model, the father shows himself to be a mass of contradictions. At times he plays the role of "a faithful civil servant" who respects his position and the society he serves, and demands that all others do likewise. At such times he is the soul of dignity, propriety, sternness and justice. To the outside world he tries to appear as a pillar of society whom all should respect and obey. At home, on the other hand, particularly after he had been drinking, he appears the exact opposite. He is brutal, unjust and inconsiderate. He has no respect for anybody or anything. The world is all wrong and an unfit place in which to live. At such times he also plays the part of the bully and whips his wife and children who are unable to defend themselves. Even the dog comes in for his share of his sadistic display.

Under such circumstances the child becomes confused and is unable to identify himself with a clear-cut pattern which he can use as a guide for his own adjustment. Not only is this [Page 154] a severe handicap in itself but in addition the child is given a distorted picture of the world around him and the nature of the people in it. The home, during these years, is his world and he judges the outside world in terms of it. The result is that the whole world appears as extremely dangerous, uncertain and unjust as a place in which to live and the child's impulse is to avoid it as far as possible because he feels unable to cope with it. He feels insecure, particularly since he can never predict beforehand how his father will behave when he comes home in the evening or what to expect from him. The person who should give him love, support and a feeling of security now fills him with anxiety, uneasiness and uncertainty.

His search for a competent guide.

As a child Hitler must have felt this lack very keenly for throughout his later life we find him searching for a strong masculine figure whom he can respect and emulate. The men with whom he had contact during his childhood evidently could not fill the role of guide to his complete satisfaction. There is some evidence that he attempted to regard some of his teachers in this way but whether it was the influence of his father's ranting or shortcomings in the teachers themselves, his attempts always miscarried. Later he attempted to find great men in history who could fill this need. Caesar, Napoleon and Frederick the Great are only a few of the many to whom he became attached. Although such, historic figures serve important role of this kind in the life of almost every child, [Page 155] they are in themselves inadequate. Unless a fairly solid foundation already exists in the mind of the child these heroes never become flesh and blood people inasmuch as the relationship is one-sided and lacks reciprocation. The same is also true of the political figures with which Hitler sought to identify himself during the Vienna period. For a time Schoenerer and Lueger became his heroes and although they were instrumental in forming some of his political beliefs and channeling his feelings, they were still too far removed from him to play the role of permanent guides and models.

During his career in the army we have an excellent example of Hitler's willingness to submit to the leadership of strong males who were willing to guide him and protect him. Throughout his army life there is not a shred of evidence to show that Hitler was anything but the model soldier as far as submissivehess and obedience are concerned. From a psychological point of view his life in the army was a kind of substitute for the home life he had always wanted but could never find, and he fulfilled his duties willingly and faithfully. He liked it so well that after he was wounded, in 1916, he wrote to his commanding officer and requested that he be called back to front duty before his leave had expired.

After the close of the war he stayed in the army and continued to be docile to his officers. He was willing to do anything they asked, even to the point of spying on his own [Page 156] comrades and then condemning them to death. When his officers singled him out to do special propaganda work because they believed he had a talent for speaking, he was overjoyed. This was the beginning of his political career, and here too we can find many manifestations of his search for a leader. In the beginning he may well have thought of himself as the "drummer-boy" who was heralding the coming of the great leader. Certain it is that during the early years of his career he was very submissive to a succession of important men to whom he looked for guidance - von Kahr, Ludendorff and Hindenburg, to name only a few.

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