Posts Tagged ‘Hitler’

WW2 Relevance

|   4 March 2014

Hitler and Putin

Are there any parallels between Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Putin?

History never repeats itself precisely. There can never be another individual exactly like Adolf Hitler. The same circumstances that caused WW2 can never occur again.

And yet….

Vladimir Putin’s ‘justifications’ for the invasion of the Crimea – and for his right to invade the rest of Ukraine any time he wants – are eerily reminiscent of the same ludicrous ‘justifications’ Adolf Hitler uttered in the run up to WW2.

In March 1938 Hitler said an invasion of Austria might be necessary because of the way Austrian Nazis were being ‘oppressed’. A few days later he said that the Nazis had been ‘invited’ into the country. In September 1938 he told the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain that he could no longer stand by whilst Germans  were similarly ‘oppressed’ in the Sudetenland. A few days later the Nazis marched in to ‘save’ them. In March 1939 he orchestrated the break up of Czechoslovakia by leaning on the Slovakians to declare independence from the rest of the Czech lands. He then announced that he was invading the remaining Czech lands as a result of being ‘invited’ in by the President of Czechoslovakia, who he had ordered to Berlin and so intimidated that the poor old man collapsed. The Nazis even said that their invasion of Poland in September 1939 was necessary to protect ethnic Germans living in Poland, and that the Poles had fired the first shots in the war.

It was all lies, of course. They were all inventions or Nazi provocations.

My point is this: don’t Putin’s words about his desire to prevent the ‘oppression’ of Russian speakers in Ukraine sound much the same as Hitler’s about the ‘oppression’ of Germans in the countries he was targeting?

Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying Putin wants the kind of Empire that Hitler wanted to obtain by force, or even wants war of any kind. I’m certainly not saying Putin is ‘another Hitler’. All I am pointing out is the similarity of the rhetoric. But that, it seems to me, is dangerous enough, because the rhetoric in both cases was based in large part on falsehoods. What’s even more scary is that dictators (and Putin is almost as much a dictator as Hitler was) are so shielded by ‘yes’ men from reality that it’s even possible they might believe the kind of nonsense that they often speak.

However, it was another of Putin’s statements at his press conference today that made me think of the attitude of Adolf Hitler most of all. Putin was asked about a rumour that the former President of Ukraine – that crook and mass murderer Viktor Yanukovych – was dead. Dismissing the suggestion, Putin said: ‘He’s alive, and still able to catch a cold yet – at the funerals of those who spread that information.’

They were the kind of cynical words – dripping with barely hidden threat – that Hitler himself could have uttered. News

|   9 April 2013

Pre-publication press

Pre-publication press from the USA for ‘Hitler’s Charisma’ (Pantheon Books)

“Rees moves easily from the broad themes of German politics and economics to the individual voices of those who supported and opposed Hitler. Incorporating most of the latest scholarship on Hitler, Rees provides valuable insights here into a topic that is not new.” –Library Journal

“Rees’s spotlight on charisma forces us to think hard about what it means to persuade, to argue, to reason—or simply to assert one’s will.” –The Chronicle of Higher Education

“So how did Hitler convince his generals to invade Russia and his subjects to ignore the genocide around them? This readable, fascinating book, a worthy addition to the vast literature surrounding Hitler, has plausible answers.” –Kirkus News

|   30 October 2012

Transmission date for Hitler series

Lots of people have been asking me when my new TV series will transmit. And I at last I have news. ‘The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler’ will start transmitting  on BBC2 at 9.00 pm on Monday 12 November. Episode 2 transmits on 19 November and Episode 3 on 26 November. Meantime the book I wrote, on which the series is based, is already on sale. You can get it here.

I recently gave the Tans memorial lecture at Maastricht University on the subject of the charismatic leadership of Hitler, and you can watch the lecture here

Enjoy! News

|   12 September 2012

Following Hitler

My new book, The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler, is now available in bookshops and online – though the BBC TV series I’ve made based on the book won’t transmit until later in the autumn, with the exact date soon be confirmed.

And I mark the occasion with a couple of thoughts about this famous picture of serried ranks of Germans standing like robots at the Nuremberg rally. It’s an image that is convenient for many today – it seems to show the followers of Hitler as automatons. But the truth is that the system of government Hitler created was more chaotic than ordered. Far from showing the Germans as robots, he demonstrated the immense initiative and invention that existed in them. So much so that Hitler’s charismatic leadership released feelings of enormous excitement and opportunity in large numbers of Germans.  Unfortunately for the world, those qualities were often directed at murder and destruction rather than artistic creation or humane invention.

But the substantive point remains. Hitler offered those who followed him release from the moral restraint of conventional civilization. He freed the beast that lurks within…

WW2 Anniversary

|   11 December 2011

Declaring war on America

Seventy years ago today Germany declared war on America.

Many people are mystified by Hitler’s decision to take on the most powerful economic power in the world – especially since the German army was mired in a conflict with the Soviet Union at the time, and Hitler had no real way of ever conquering America. What were the Germans going to do, invade Manhattan? They hadn’t even been able to cross the English Channel to land on the beaches of the south coast, so what chance did they have of ever crossing the vast Atlantic?

But Hitler’s thinking was not so crazy, and this decision is easy to explain. In essence, Hitler believed that the Germans were effectively already at war with America. The German declaration of war of 11 December 1941 accused Roosevelt of ‘virtually’ bringing America into the war three months before, as result of his decision to allow US ships in pursuit of their convoy protection duties to attack German warships in the Atlantic .

The head of the German navy, Grand Admiral Raeder, had told Hitler in the autumn of 1941 that it was all but impossible for the German navy to prevent American convoys reaching Britain. How could German submarines know which convoy protection ships were American – and avoid them – and which were British – and attack them?

Moreover, Hitler was concerned that in the wake of the Pearl Harbour attack and the entry of America into the war against Germany’s ally, Japan, it was likely that Roosevelt would shortly declare war on Germany himself. Hitler, for reasons of prestige and no doubt still smarting from the British and French decision to declare war on Germany on 3 September 1939, thought that great nations declared war on other nations, they didn’t wait for others to decide to fight them.

It didn’t even matter to Hitler that Todt, his armaments minister, told him that with the resources of America behind them, the British were all but unbeatable. Hitler still believed that Germany’s future would be decided on the Eastern front. If the Soviet Union could be defeated then American involvement in the war would be an irrelevance.

Those were the thoughts that were in Adolf Hitler’s mind 70 years ago today.

WW2 People

|   21 May 2011

Sympathy for the Devil

Is it legitimate to express ‘sympathy’ for Adolf Hitler?

This week the Danish film director Lars von Trier was banned from the Cannes film festival for confessing – tongue in cheek, one suspects – that he was a ‘Nazi’ and that he had ‘sympathy’ for Adolf Hitler.

Von Trier craves attention and loves to shock – that much is obvious not just from his previous history at Cannes, but also from earlier remarks at the same press conference at which he announced he was a Nazi, when he said that various attractive actresses had asked him to make a ‘Hot sex’ film as his next project. He is clearly a silly man.

But it is the reaction to his remarks about Hitler that is really intriguing. Suppose he had said that he was a ‘Communist’ and had ‘sympathy’ for Stalin  – would he have been chucked out of the Cannes film festival? I suspect not.


WW2 Relevance

|   6 May 2011

Bin Laden, Hitler and Munich

The site for the new document centre, next to the building that housed Hitler’s office in Munich.

Hitler and Bin Laden, both mass murderers whilst alive, now have something in common whilst dead – nobody knows precisely where their bodies are. Bin Laden’s remains were  chucked by the Americans into the ocean and Hitler’s charred bones were taken from Berlin by the Soviets and have remained hidden from view ever since. His skull was supposed to be in a Moscow secret museum, but even that is in doubt today.

Both the Americans and the Soviets clearly thought it vital to deny each of them a grave. As far as Hitler is concerned, as long as the Nazis ruled Germany, he most certainly wanted his grave to become a sacred place. As I told a BBC journalist this week, whilst Hitler did not believe in an afterlife in the sense of a heaven or hell, he did believe that he would live on here on earth, with pilgrims visiting his sarcophagus. As a result it was claimed by many in Munich after the war that any Hitler memorial – even museum – might become a ‘shrine’ – so none was ever built. As a result no proper place existed in the city for the public to visit in order to understand why and how Hitler and the Nazis came to call Munich home.


WW2 Relevance

|   19 March 2011

Gaddafi and the Nazis

Hitler in the Reichstag

I’m normally extremely suspicious of any direct comparisons between events today and events in history. Rhetoric, at the time of the Iraq war, like ‘Saddam Hussein is another Hitler’ always made me irritated. No one is ‘another’ Hitler. Historical events and personalities exist only in the past and cannot be replicated today.

So I’ve been surprised that so many of Colonel Gaddafi’s words and actions have reminded me of the Nazis. For example, Gaddafi’s belief that straightforward lies about his own actions can work in propaganda terms certainly matches Hitler’s own belief. The Nazis pretended that they entered Poland on 1st September 1939 in response to Polish ‘aggression’, just as Gaddafi’s representatives today said that they are attacking Benghazi only in response to ‘aggression’ from rebels.


WW2 Relevance

|   26 February 2011

Why did the Germans fight to the end?

Much of Germany was in ruins by the time the Nazis gave up.

Recent events in Egypt, Tunisia and now Libya have shown us how quickly dictatorships can be challenged and (in the case of the first two countries) overthrown.

Which leaves us once again with one of the enduring mysteries of WW2 – why did the Nazi regime hold out until the spring of 1945 when Red Army soldiers were just yards from Hitler’s bunker in Berlin? After all, Mussolini had been ousted in the autumn of 1943, as soon as the Italians realized which way the war was going. So why couldn’t the Germans have got rid of Hitler at the same time?

The answer to that question tells us a great deal about the way revolutions can happen – or not happen – and how dictators can fall. Ultimately there were two crucial reasons why Hitler was not brought down by the popular discontent for the war which no doubt existed in Germany after the defeat at Stalingrad in early 1943. The first reason is practical, the second is institutional.


WW2 People

|   19 January 2011

Hitler and aging

Our journey

It was my birthday this week – which is not a cause for wild jubilation once you are over forty five in my experience, and, unfortunately, I am most certainly over forty five.

But it got me thinking about how our understanding changes as we age. And that in turn made me think about the research I am doing on Hitler at the minute. Hitler was terrified that he might die before his ambitions could be accomplished. And that fear increased exponentially as he aged. Indeed, one of the reasons why he rushed into war was a fear that he might not be fit enough in years to come to lead Germany. He was also a terrible hypochondriac, constantly thinking that an upset stomach was the first sign of cancer. Because he thought he was sent by ‘providence’ to rule Germany, he no doubt was furious that ‘providence’ had not made him immortal.