A Psychological Analysis of Adolph Hitler His Life and Legend
As the German People Know Him
When we try to formulate a conception of Adolph Hitler as the German people know him we must not forget that their knowledge of him is limited by a controlled press. Many thousands of Germans have seen him in person, particularly in the past, and can use this experience as a basis for their individual conception of him.
Hitler, from a physical point of view, is not, however, a very imposing figure - certainly not the Platonic idea of a great, fighting Leader or the Deliverer of Germany and the creator of a New Reich. In height he is a little below average. His hips are wide and his shoulders relatively narrow. His muscles are flabby; his legs short, thin and spindly, the latter being hidden in the past by heavy boots and more recently by long trousers. He has a large torso and is hollow-chested to the point where it is said that he has his uniforms padded. From a physical point of view he could not pass the requirements to his own elite guard.
His dress, in the early days, was no more attractive. He frequently wore the Bavarian mountain costume of leather shorts with white shirt and suspenders. These were not always too clean and with his mouth full of brown, rotten teeth and his long dirty fingernails he presented rather a grotesque picture. (F. Wagner) At this time he also had a pointed beard, and his dark brown hair was parted in the middle and pasted down flat against his head with oil. Nor was his gait that of a soldier. "It was a very ladylike walk. Dainty little steps. Every few steps he cocked his right shoulder nervously, his left leg snapping up as he did so." (279)
He also had a tic in his face which caused the corner of his lips to curl upward. (485) When speaking he always dressed in a common-looking blue suit which robbed him of all distinctiveness. At the trial following the unsuccessful Beerhall Putsch, Edgar Mowrer, who saw him for the first time, asked himself:
Nor did he make a much better impression later on. Dorothy Thompson, upon her first meeting, described him in the following terms:
Smith (289) also found him "the apotheosis of the little man", funny looking, self-conscious and unsure of himself.
It may be supposed that this is only the judgment of American journalists who have a different standard of masculine beauty. However, while testifying as a witness in the-law court in 1923, Professor Max von Gruber of the University of Munich, and the most eminent eugenist in Germany, stated:
A great deal has been written about his eyes which have been described in terms of almost every color of the rainbow. As a matter of fact, they seem to be rather a bright blue - bordering on the violet. But it is not the color which has attracted people, but rather their depth and a glint which makes them appear to have a hypnotic quality. One finds stories like the following recurring over and over again in the literature. A policeman who is noted for his antipathy to the Nazi movement is sent to a Hitler meeting to maintain order. While standing at his post Hitler enters:
These stories are not all from the Nazi propaganda agencies. Very reliable people, now in this country, have reported similar incidents among their own personal acquaintances. Even outstanding diplomats have commented on the nature of his eyes and the way in which he uses them when meeting people, often with disatrous effects.
Then there are the others, like Rauschning, who find his look staring and dead - lacking in brilliance and the sparkle of genuine animation. (257) We need not dwell on his eyes and their peculiar quality, however, since relatively few Germans have come in such close contact with him that they could be seriously affected by them.
Whatever effect Hitler's personal appearance may have had on the German people in the past, it is safe to assume that this has been greatly tempered by millions of posters, pasted in every conceivable place, which show the Fuehrer as a fairly good-looking individual with a very determined attitude. In addition, the press, news-reels, etc., are continually flooded with carefully prepared photographs showing Hitler at his very best. These have undoubtedly, in the course of time, blotted out any unfavorable impressions he may have created as a real person in the past. The physical Hitler most Germans know now is a fairly presentable individual.
The only other real contact the overwhelming majority of people have had with Hitler is through his voice. He was a tireless speaker and before he came to power would sometimes give as many as three or four speeches on the same day, often in different cities. Even his greatest opponents concede that he is the greatest orator that Germany has ever known. This is a great concession in view of the fact that the qualities of his voice are far from pleasant - many, in fact, find it distinctly unpleasant. It has a rasping-quality which often breaks into a shrill falsetto when he becomes aroused. Nor is it his diction which makes him a great orator. In the early days this was particularly bad. It was a conglomeration of high German with an Austrian dialect which Tschuppik (517) describes as a "knoedlige Sprache". Nor was it the structure of his speeches which made him a great orator. On the whole, his speeches were sinfully long, badly structured and very repetitious. Some of them are positively painful to read but nevertheless, when he delivered them they had an extraordinary effect upon his audiences.
His power and fascination in speaking lay almost wholly in his ability to sense what a given audience wanted to hear and then to manipulate his theme in such a way that he would arouse the emotions of the crowd. Strasser says of this talent:
Before coming to power almost all of his speeches centered around the following three themes: (1) the treason of the November criminals; (2) the rule of the Marxists must be broken; and (3) the world domination of the Jews. No matter what topic was advertised for a given speech he almost invariably would wind up on one or more of these three themes. And yet people liked it and would attend one meeting after another to hear him speak. It was not, therefore, so much what he said that appealed to his audiences as how he said it.
Even in the early days Hitler was a showman with a great sense of the dramatic. Not only did he schedule his speeches late in the evening when his audience would be tired and their resistance lowered through natural causes, but he would always send an assistant ahead of time to make a short speech and warm the audience up. Storm-troopers always played an important role at these meetings and would line the aisle through which he would pass. At the psychological moment, Hitler would appear in the door in the back of the hall. Then with a small group behind him, he would march through the rows of S.A. men to reach the speaker's table. He never glanced to the right or to the left as he came down the aisle and became greatly annoyed if anyone tried to accost him or hampered his progress. Whenever possible he would have a band present and they would strike up a lively military march as he came down the aisle.
When he began to speak he usually manifested signs of nervousness. Usually he was unable to say anything of consequence until he had gotten the feel of his audience. On one occasion, Heiden (499) reports, he was so nervous that he could think of nothing to say. In order to do something he picked up the table and moved it around on the platform. Then suddenly he got the "feel" and was able to go on. Price (241) describes his speaking in the following way:
All of our informants report the slow start, waiting for the feel of the audience. As soon as he has found it, the tempo increases in smooth rhythm and volume until he is shouting at the climax. Through all this, the listener seems to identify himself with Hitler' s voice which becomes the voice of Germany.
This is all in keeping with Hitler's own conception of mass psychology as given in MEIN KAMPF where he says:
And Hitler let them have it. NEWSWEEK (572) reported:
Flanner (558) says:
Yeates-Brown (592) :
This fiery oratory was something new to the Germans and particulary to the slow-tongued, lower-class Bavarians. In Munich his shouting and gesturing was a spectacle men paid to see (216). It was not only his fiery oratory, however, that won the crowds to his cause. This was certainly something new, but far more important was the seriousness with which his words were spoken.
"Leaning from the tribune, as if he were trying to impel his inner self into the consciousness of all these thousands, he was holding the masses and me with them under a hypnotic spell... It was clear that Hitler was feeling the exaltation of the emotional response now surging up toward him... His voice rising to passionate climaxes... his words were like a scourge. When he stopped speaking his chest was still heaving with emotion." (Ludecke, 164)
Many writers have commented upon his ability to hypnotize his audiences. Stanley High (455) reports:
Unquestionably, as a speaker, he has had a powerful influence on the common run of German people. His meetings were always crowded and by the time he got through speaking he had completely numbed the critical faculties of his listeners to the point where they were willing to believe almost anything he said. He flattered them and cajoled them. He hurled accusations at them one moment and amused them the next by building up straw men which he promptly knocked down. His tongue was like a lash which whipped up the emotions of his audience. And somehow he always managed to say what the majority of the audience were already secretly thinking but could not verbalize. When the audience began to respond, it affected him in return. Before long, due to this reciprocal relationship, he and his audience became intoxicated with the emotional appeal of his oratory. (Strasser, 295)
It was this Hitler that the German people knew at first hand. Hitler, the fiery orator, who tirelessly rushed from one meeting to another, working himself to the point of exhaustion in their behalf. Hitler, whose heart and soul were in the Cause and who struggled endlessly against overwhelming odds and obstacles to open their eyes to the true state of affairs. Hitler, who could arouse their emotions and channelize them towards goals of national aggrandizement. Hitler the courageous, who dared to speak the truth and defy the national authorities as well as the international oppressors. It was a sincere Hitler that they knew, whose words burned into the most secret recesses of their minds and rebuked them for their own shortcomings. It was the Hitler who would lead them back to self-respect because he had faith in them.
This fundamental conception of Hitler made a beautiful foundation for a propaganda build-up. He was so convincing on the speaker's platform and appeared to be so sincere in what he said that the majority of his listeners were ready to believe almost anything good about him because they wanted to believe it. The Nazi propaganda agencies were not slow in making the most of their opportunities.
Hitler, himself, had provided an excellent background for a propaganda build-up. From the earliest days of his political career he had steadfastly refused to divulge anything about his personal life, past or present. To his most immediate associates he was, in reality, a man of mystery. There was no clearing away of unpleasant incidents to be done before the building-up process could begin. In fact, the more secrecy he maintained about his personal life the more curious his followers became. This was, indeed, fertile ground on which to build a myth or legend.
The Nazi propaganda machine devoted all its efforts to the task of portraying Hitler as something extra-human. Everything he did was written up in such a way that it portrayed his superlative character. If he does not eat meat, drink alcoholic beverages, or smoke, it is not due to the fact that he has some kind of inhibition or does it because he believes it will improve his health. Such things are not worthy of the Fuehrer. He abstains from these because he is following the example of the great German, Richard Wagner, or because he has discovered that it increases his energy and endurance to such a degree that he can give much more of himself to the creation of the new German Reich.
Such abstinence also indicates, according to the propaganda, that the Fuehrer is a person with tremendous will-power and self-discipline. Hitler himself fosters this conception, according to Hanfstangl, who, when someone asked him how he managed to give up these things, replied: "It is a matter of will. Once I make up my mind not to do a thing, I just don't do it. And once that decision is made, it is taken for always. Is that so wonderful?"
The same is true in the field of sex. As far as the German people know he has no sex life and this too is clothed, not as an abnormality, but as a great virtue. The Fuehrer is above human weaknesses of this sort and von Wiegand (494) tells us that he "has a profound contempt for the weakness in men for sex and the fools that it makes of them." Hanfstangl reports that Hitler frequently makes the statement that he will never marry a woman since Germany is his only bride. However, Hitler with his deep insight into human nature, appreciates these weaknesses in others and is tolerant of them. He does not even condemn them or forbid them among his closest associates.
He is also portrayed in the propaganda as the soul of kindliness and generosity. Endless stories that illustrate these virtues are found over and over again in the literature. Price (236) cites a typical example: an attractive young peasant girl tries to approach him but is prevented from doing so by the guards. She bursts into tears and Hitler, seeing her distress, inquires into the cause. She tells him that her fiance had been expelled from Austria for his Nazi principles and that he cannot find work and consequently they cannot get married. Hitler is deeply touched. He promises to find the young man a job and, in addition, completely furnishes a flat for them to live in, even down to a baby's cot. Every attempt is made to present him as extremely human, with a deep feeling for the problems of ordinary people.
A great many writers, both Nazi and anti-Nazi, have written extensively about his great love for children and the Nazi press is certainly full of pictures showing Hitler in the company of little tots. It is alleged that when he is at Berchtesgaden he always has the children from the neighborhood visit him in the afternoon and that he serves them candy, ice cream, cake, etc. Phayre (225) says, "Never was there a middle-aged batchelor who so delighted in the company of children." Princess Olga reported that when she visited Hitler in Berlin and the topic of children came up during the conversation, Hitler's eyes filled with tears.
The Nazi press had made extremely good use of this and endless stories accompany the pictures. Likewise, a great deal is written about his fondness for animals, particularly dogs. Here again, there are numberless pictures to prove it is so. As far as dogs are concerned, the propaganda is probably fairly near the truth but it goes far beyond that point in other respects. One writer even went so far as to attribute his vegetarianism to his inability to tolerate the thought of animals being slaughtered for human consumption (405). Hitler is pictured as an "affable lord of the manor", full of gentleness, kindliness and helpfulness, or, as Oechsner puts it, he is the Great Comforter - father, husband, brother or son to every German who lacks or has lost such a relative (668).
Another trait which has received a great deal of comment in the propaganda build-up is Hitler's modesty and simplicity. His successes have never gone to his head. At bottom he is still the simple soul he was when he founded the Party and his greatest Joy is to be considered as "one of the boys".
As proof. of this they point to the fact that he has never sought a crown, that he never appears in gaudy uniforms or does a great deal of entertaining. Even after he came to power he continued to wear his old trench coat and slouch hat for a time and when he donned a umiform it was always that of a simple storm-trooper. Much was written about his fondness for visits from early acquaintances and how he loved to sit down in the midst of his busy day in order to talk over old times. There was really nothing he liked better than to frequent his old haunts and meet old friends while he was in Munich, or to take part in their festivities. At heart he was still a worker and his interests were always with the working classes with whom he felt thoroughly at home.
Hitler is also a man of incredible energy and endurance. His day consists of sixteen and eighteen hours of uninterrupted work. He is absolutely tireless when it comes to working for Germany and its future welfare and no personal pleasures are permitted to interfere with the carrying out of his mission. The ordinary man in the street cannot imagine a human being in Hitler's position not taking advantage of his opportunity. He can only imagine himself in the same position revelling in luxuries and yet here is Hitler who scorns them all. His only conclusion is that Hitler is not an ordinary mortal.
Phillips (868) reports the case of a young Nazi who once confided to him: "I would die for Hitler, but I would not change places with Hitler. At least when I wake every morning I can say, "Hail Hitler!", but this man, he has no fun in life. No smoking, no drinking, no women! - only work, until he falls asleep at night!"
A great deal is made of Hitler's determination. It is pointed out over and over again that he never gives up once he has made up his mind to attain a particular goal. No matter how rough the road, he plods along in unswerving determination. Even though he receives serious set-backs and the situation appears to be hopeless, he never loses faith and always gets what he goes after. He refuses to be coerced into compromises of any sort and is always ready to assume the full responsibility for his actions. The great trials and tribulations through which the Party had to pass on its way to power are cited over and over again and all the credit is given to Hitler and his fanatical faith in the future.
Even his refusal to permit ordinary scruples to get in his way is given as a sign of his greatness. The fact that he did not communicate with his family for over ten years becomes a great virtue since it meant a severe deprivation to the young man who was determined to make something of himself before he returned home!
A great deal of publicity has also been given to his breath of vision, ability to penetrate the future and his ability to organize both the Party and the country in preparation for obstacles they will have to overcome. According to the propagandists, Hitler is the soul of efficiency and has an extraordinary power of resolving conflicts and simplifying problems which have stumped all experts in the past. In fact, his infallibility and incorruptibility throughout are not only implied but openly stated in no uncertain terms.
He is also a person of great patience who would never spill a drop of human blood if it could possibly be avoided. Over and over again one hears of his great patience with the democracies, with Czechoslovakia and with Poland. But here, as in his private life, he never loses control of his emotions. Fundamentally, he is a man of peace who desires nothing quite so much as to be left alone to work out the destiny of Germany in a quiet and constructive manner. For he is a builder at heart and an artist, and these prove that the creative and constructive elements in his nature are predominant.
This does not mean, however, that he is a coward. On the contrary, he is a person of outstanding courage. His way of life is proof of this, as well as his enviable record during the last war. A great many stories about his decorations for bravery have been circulated and particularly for his outstanding heroism when he was awarded the Iron Cross first-class. The fact that the stories of his performance vary from one time to another does not seem to disturb the people in the least.
Fundamentally, according to the Nazi press, Hitler is a man of steel. He is well aware of his mission and no amount of persuasion, coercion, sacrifices or unpleasant duties can persuade him to alter his course. In the face of all sorts of disasters and disagreeable happenings and necessary measures, he never loses his nerve for a moment. But he not hard in human qualities. He places loyalty and justice as the two of the greatest virtues and observes them with scrupulous care.
Loyalty means so much to him that the inscription over his door at Berchtesgaden reads, "Meine Ehre heisst Treue". He is the acme of German honor and purity; the Resurrector of the German family and home. He is the greatest architect of all time; the greatest military genius in all history. He has an inexhaustible fount of knowledge. He is a man of action and the creator of new social values. He is indeed, according to the Nazi propaganda bureau, a paramount of all virtues. A few typical examples may illustrate the extent to which they are carried in their praise of him.
Hitler not only knows about all these writings but since he has always been the gutiding spirit in all German propaganda and usually plans the broad lines that are to be followed, it is safe to assume that he himself is responsible for the instigation and development of this mythical personality. When we look back over the development of this build-up we can see clearly that Hitler, from the very beginning, planned on making himself a mythological figure. He opens MEIN KAMPF with the following passage:
This is the classic way of beginning a fairy tale rather than a serious autobiography or a political treatise. In the very first sentence of the book he implies that Fate was already smiling on him at the time of his birth, for it reads:
As soon as Hitler came to power new weapons for self-aggrandizement were put into the hands of the propagandists and they made good use of them. Unemployment dropped off rapidly, new and imposing buildings were erected with astounding rapidity.
The face of Germany was being lifted at an incredible speed. Hitler was keeping his promises; he was accomplishing the impossible. Every success in diplomacy, every social reform was heralded as world-shaking in its importance. And for each success, Hitler modestly accepted all the credit. It was always Hitler that did this, and Hitler who did that, provided these acts were spectacular and met with the approval of the public. If they happened to meet with disapproval, it was always one of his assistants who was to blame. Every effort was/made to cultivate the attitude that Hitler was infallible and was carrying through his mission of saving Germany.
It was not long before the German people were prepared to take the short step of seeing Hitler, not as a man, but as a Messiah of Germany. Public meetings and particularly the Nurnburg took on a religious atmosphere. All the stagings were designed to create a supernatural and religious attitude and Hitler's entry was more befitting a god than a man. In Berlin one of the large art shops on Unter dean Linden exhibited a large portrait of Hitler in the center of its display window. Hitler's portrait was entirely surrounded as though by a halo, with various copies of a painting of Christ (High, 453). Notes appeared in the press to the effect that, "Als er sprach, hoerte man den Mantel Gottes durch den Saal rauschen!" Ziemar reports that on the side of a hill in Odenwald, conspicuous as a waterfall, painted on white canvas were the black words:
Teeling (585) writes that at the Nurnburg Nazi Party Rally in September, 1937, there was a huge photograph of Hitler underneath which was the inscription, "In the beginning was the Word . . .". He also says that the Mayor of Hamburg assured him, "We need no priest or parsons. We communicate direct with God through Adolph Hitler. He has many Christ-like qualities." Soon these sentiments were introduced by official circles. Rauschning (552) reports that the Party has adopted this creed:
A Rhenish group of German "Christians" in April, 1957, passed this resolution:
And Reichsminister for Church Affairs, Hans Kerrl, says:
This is the way Hitler hopes to pave his path to immortality. It has been carefully planned and consistently executed in a step by step fashion. The Hitler the German people know is fundamentally the fiery orator who fascinated them and this has gradually been embroidered by the propaganda until he lie now presented to them as a full-fledged deity. Everything else is carefully concealed from them as a whole. How many Germans believe it we do not know. Some, certainly, believe it wholeheartedly. Dorothy Thompson writes of such a case:
Extreme cases of this kind are probably not very numerous but it would be amazing if a small degree of the same type of thinking had not seeped into the picture of Hitler which many Germans hold.
Source: The Nizkor Project