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]

Children first become aware of death as a phenomenon very early in life and in view of these unusual circumstances it may have dawned on Hitler even earlier than with most children. The thought of death, in itself, is inconceivable to a small child and they usually are able to form only the vaguest conception of what it means or implies before they push it out of their minds, for later consideration. In Hitler's case, however, it was a living issue and the fears of the mother were in all likelihood communicated to [Page 172] him. As he pondered the problem in his immature way, he probably wondered why the others died while he continued to live. The natural conclusion for a child to draw would be that he was favored in some way or that he was chosen to live for some particular purpose. The belief that he was the "chosen one" would have been reinforced by the fact that as far as his mother was concerned he was very much the chosen one in comparison with her two step-children who were also living in the home at that time.

This belief must have been strengthened considerably when, at the age of five, his baby brother was born. This baby brother has undoubtedly played a much more important role in Adolph's life than has been acknowledged by his biographers. The pertinent fact at the moment, however, is that this brother too died before he was six years old. It was Adolph's first real experience with death and it must have brought up the problem of death again in a much more vivid form. Again, we can surmise, he asked himself why they died while he continues to be saved. The only plausible answer to a child at that age would be that he must be under divine protection. This may seem far-fetched and yet, as an adult, Hitler tells us that he felt exactly this way when he was at the front during the war, even before he had the vision.

Then, too, he speculated on why it is that comrades all around him are killed while he is saved and again he comes to the [Page 173] conclusion that Providence must be protecting him. Perhaps the exemplary courage he displayed in carrying messages at the front was due to the feeling that some kindly Fate was watching over him. Throughout MEIN KAMPF we find this type of thinking. It was Fate that had him born so close to the German border; it was Fate that sent him to Vienna to suffer with the masses; it was Fate that caused him to do many things. The experience he reports at the front, when a voice told him to pick up his plate and move to another section of the trench just in time to escape a shell which killed all his comrades, must certainly have strengthened this belief to a marked degree and paved the way for his vision later on.

The Messiah. complex.

Another influence may have helped to solidify this system of belief. Among patients we very frequently find that children who are spoiled at an early age and establish a strong bond with their mother tend to question their paternity. Eldest children in particular are prone to such doubts and it is most marked in cases where the father is much older than the mother. In Hitler's case the father was twenty-three years older, or almost twice the age of the mother. Just why this should be is not clear, from a psychological point of view, but in such cases there is a strong tendency to believe that their father is not their real father and to ascribe their birth to some kind of supernatural conception. Usually such [Page 174] beliefs are dropped as the child grows older. It can be observed in young children, however, and can often be recovered in adults under suitable conditions. Due to the unsympathetic and brutal nature of his father we may suppose that there was an added incentive in rejecting him as his real father and postulating some other origin to himself.

The problem is not important in itself at the moment except insofar as it may help to throw some light on the origins of Hitler's conviction in his mission and his belief that he is guided by some extra-natural power which communicates to him what he should and should not do under varying circumstances. This hypothesis is tenable in view of the fact that during his stay in Vienna, when still in his early twenties, he grew a beard and again directly after the war when he again grew a Christ-like beard. Then, too, when he was a student at the Benedictine school his ambition was to join the Church and become an abbot or priest. All of these give some indication of a Messiah complex long before he had started on his meteoric career and become an open competitor of Christ for the affections of the German people.

Fear of death and desire for immortality.

Although beliefs of this kind are common during childhood they are usually dropped or are modified as the individual becomes older and more experienced. In Hitler's case, however, the reverse has taken place. The conviction [Page 175] became stronger as he grew older until, at the present time, it is the core of his thinking. Under these circumstances, we must suppose that some powerful psychological stream continued to nourish these infantile modes of thought. This psychological stream is probably, as it is in many other cases, a fear of death. It seems logical to suppose that in the course of his early deliberations on the deaths of his brothers his first conclusion was probably that all the others die and that consequently he too would die. His fear would not be allayed by his mother's constant concern over his well-being, which he may have interpreted as an indication that the danger was imminent. Such a conclusion would certainly be a valid one for a child to make under the circumstances.

The thought of his own death, however, is almost unbearable to a small child. Nothing is quite so demoralizing as the constant dread of self-annihilation. It gnaws away day and night and prevents him from enjoying the good things that life affords.

To rid himself of this devastating fear becomes his major objective. This is not easily accomplished, especially when all available evidence seems to corroborate the validity of the fear. In order to offset its potency he is almost driven to deny its reality by adopting the belief that he is of divine origin and that Providence is protecting him from all harm. Only by use of such a technique is the child able to convince himself that, he will not die. We must also [Page 176] remember that in Hitler's case there was not only the unusual succession of deaths of siblings, but there was also the constant menace of his father's brutality which helped make the fear more intense than in most children. This danger could easily be exaggerated in Hitler's mind due to a sense of guilt concerning his feelings towards his respective parents and what his father might do to him if he discovered his secret. These feelings would tend to increase his fear of death at the same time that they caused him to reject his father. Both tendencies would serve to nourish the belief that he was of divine origin and was under its protection.

It is my belief that this basic fear of death is still present and active in Hitler's character at the present time. As time goes on and he approaches the age when he might reasonably expect to die, this infantile fear asserts itself more strongly. As a mature, intelligent man he knows that the law of nature is such that his physical self is destined to die. He is still not able, however, to accept the fact that he as an individual, his psyche, will also die. It is this element in his psychological structure which demands that he become immortal. Most people are able to take the sting out of this fear of death through religious beliefs in life after death, or through the feeling that a part of them, at least, will continue to go on living in their children. In Hitler's, case, both of these normal channels have been closed and he [Page 177] has been forced to seek immortality in a more direct form. He must arrange to go on living in the German people for at least a thousand years to come. In order to do this, he must oust Christ as a competitor and usurp his place in the lives of the German people.

In addition to evidence drawn from experience with patients which would make this hypothesis tenable, we have the evidence afforded by Hitler's own fears and attitudes. We have discussed these in detail in Section IV. Fear of assassination, fear of poisoning, fear of premature death, etc., all deal with the problem of death in an uncamouflaged form. One can, of course, maintain that in view or his position all these fears are more or less justified. There is certainly some truth in this contention but we also notice that as time goes on these fears have increased considerably until now they have reached the point where the precautions for his own safety far exceed those of any of his predecessors. As long as he could hold a plebescite every now and then and reassure himself that the German people loved him and wanted him, he felt better. Now that this is no longer possible, he has no easy way of curbing the fear and his uncertainty in the future becomes greater. There can be little doubt concerning his faith in the results of the plebescites. He was firmly convinced that the 98% vote, approving his actions, really represented the true feelings of the German people. He believed this because [Page 178] he needed such reassurance from time to time in order to carry on with a fairly easy mind and maintain his delusions.

When we turn to his fear of cancer we find no justification whatever for his belief, especially in view of the fact that several outstanding specialists in this disease have assured him that it is without foundation. Nevertheless, it is one of his oldest fears and he continues to adhere to it in spite of all the expert testimony to the contrary. This fear becomes intelligible when we remember that his mother died following an operation for cancer of the breast. In connection with his fear of death we must not forget his terrifying nightmares from which he awakes in a cold sweat and acts as though he were being suffocated. If our hypothesis is correct, namely, that a fear of death is one of the powerful unconscious streams which drive Hitler on in his mad career, then we can expect that as the war progresses and as he becomes older the fear will continue to increase. With the progress of events along their present course, it will be more and more difficult for him to feel that his mission is fulfilled and that he has successfully cheated death and achieved immortality in the German people. Nevertheless, we can expect him to keep on trying to the best of his ability as long as a ray of hope remains. The great danger is that if he feels that he cannot achieve immortality as the Great Redeemer he may seek it as the Great Destroyer who will live on in the minds of the German people for a [Page 179] thousand years to come. He intimated this in a conversation with Rauschning when he said:

"We shall not capitulate -- no, never. We may be destroyed, but if we are, we shall drag a world with us--a world in flames."

With him, as with many others of his type, it may well be a case of immortality of any kind at any price.

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