Challenging the notion that Hitler was “merely an empty canvas that had been filled with the collective wishes of the Germans.”
German-born historian Weber (History and International Affairs/Univ. of Aberdeen; Hitler's First War: Adolf Hitler, the Men of the List Regiment, and the First World War, 2010, etc.) turns many assumptions on their heads in this incisive study of Hitler’s improbable evolution and rise from 1918 onward. Contrary to his own narrative created in Mein Kampf about his war experience, as well as assertions by later historians, Hitler returned from the Western front in World War I with “still fluctuating political ideas” that “oscillated between different collectivist left-wing and right-wing ideas” and no real stance against the left-wing revolutionary movement gripping Munich, where he then was living. Refusing to be demobilized from the army that essentially took care of him, he actually served in the new revolutionary regime of Kurt Eisner, who was assassinated in early 1919, thus accelerating the city’s radicalization and further move from democratization. Weber describes Hitler then as “a drifter and opportunist who quickly accommodated himself to the new political realities.” The office of Vertrauensmann (“soldiers’ representative”) of his company was his first-ever leadership role, giving him “a raison d'être for his existence.” After the fall of Munich’s “Soviet Republic” in April 1919, he became a “turncoat” and informant, rewriting his previous involvement with the revolutionary movement. Weber finds that the ratification of the Versailles Treaty on July 9 became “Hitler’s Damascene experience,” as he (and most other Germans) did not fully realize they had lost the war. Attending anti-Bolshevik training classes, and then becoming a propaganda lecturer himself, sparked the beginning of Hitler’s political career, during which he emphasized questions of why Germany lost the war and how the country “had to reorganize itself to be safe for all times.” Weber astutely examines how Hitler took anti-Semitism to its virulent “biologized form.”
Compelling research and original insights bring a fuller understanding to the mind and motives of the demagogue.