- James Houser
April 30, 1945 - The Death of Adolf Hitler
Updated: Jun 11, 2021
April 30, 1945. A shaking, shriveled old man and his new bride quietly enter his personal study. One hour later, at about 3:30 pm, the newlyweds take cyanide and commit suicide with a pistol. Adolf Hitler is dead, 75 years ago today.
I’m doing something different today. Instead of focusing on the event, I’m going to discuss Hitler broadly, as well as Nazi Germany. I will also answer any questions you post in the comments section about Hitler, the Nazis, or Germany in World War II. Ask, and I shall answer.
So…let’s talk about Hitler. But before we talk about real Hitler, we need to address popular Hitler.
Hitler in 2020 is the eternal bogeyman. No matter what your political leaning or beliefs, a surefire way to say someone is “bad” is to say they are “like the Nazis or Hitler.” I’ve seen it applied to every Presidential candidate in my lifetime, video game designers, J.K. Rowling, socialists, Republicans, rock musicians, American soldiers, CNN, and schoolteachers – for a start.
Hitler is also a meme, something edgy to throw into an adult cartoon like The Simpsons, Family Guy or Rick & Morty. If you want, you can see him get his face shot off in Inglorious Basterds, or see him mocked in The Producers. He’s become such a…casual icon of evil that it seems to me like no one knows who he was, what he believed, or what he was *like* anymore.
If anything irritates me about modern portrayals of Hitler and the Nazis, it’s the sheer casualness of it, the one-off equation assumption that “bad thing” = Nazi and “bad person” = Hitler. It reeks of laziness. As a one-time edgy teenager myself, the more I learn about Hitler and Nazi Germany, the less funny I find the edgy Hitler jokes. The less convinced I am when someone says that “X” person is just like Hitler. So please stop doing this, first of all.
Hitler is commonly called “crazy” or “insane.” Despite being far beyond our ability to diagnose at a distance of 75 years and with no corpse to dissect, this is…probably not true. Hitler was sufficiently committed to his view of the world to make anyone who did not share it view him as crazy, but this did not make him mentally ill. Hitler’s beliefs, in fact, were remarkably consistent, if terrifying.
Adolf Hitler believed in a world of struggle. The defining experience of his worldview was not in some Freudian view of his upbringing, diagnoses of mental illness, or his “self-hatred.” No evidence suggests that he was part Jewish, despite the myths. The great formative event of Hitler’s belief system was the First World War. His experience as a combat infantryman in that war gave his life a sense of purpose and meaning that his previous listless existence as a failed art student lacked, and he combined that romanticization of struggle with eccentric, but previously harmless, political ideals he had held before the war.
Hitler’s generalized antisemitism was common in Europe in the 20th Century. So was his belief in nationalism, his belief in authority, and his rough working-class appeal. That alone did not make him Hitler, and did not define Nazism – those elements could have applied to a dozen different European movements, including Communism.
Hitler’s belief in struggle, however, came to define his ideal society. Liberals believed in progress as the great engine of society; capitalists, the creation of wealth; socialists, the elimination of class and inequality. Hitler believed in struggle as the essence of humanity, its core reason for existing, its defining characteristic. Not just struggle, though – racial struggle.
For Hitler, the law of the jungle was the law of human civilization, and the biological principles of natural selection and Darwinism applied to humans as much as they did animals. For hundreds of years, humans have been inventing new ways to view ourselves and our relationship with our environment and each other; man has been trying since the birth of agriculture to escape the grip of nature.
For Hitler, nature was the only truth – a brutal, cold, unyielding truth – and any attempt to build anything on top of it was an illusion. He rejected almost all religion, political theory and moral philosophy as pointless exercises in collective delusion. Nature had assigned humans into races, and these races were destined to fight for survival, however different people might try to pretty it up.
Hitler’s book Mein Kampf – My Struggle – incapsulated this idea in two words. Struggle was not a means to an end; liberals, communists, socialists, anarchists, and capitalists all sought human betterment as the ends of their beliefs, but for Hitler and the Nazis struggle was an end in and of itself. It was the point of human existence – the only point.
Hitler saw the world in terms of race. Like many philosophies, he believed in a “state of nature” where humans had been “pure” – the days before the corruption of civilization. In this “state of nature,” man was unburdened by conscience, soul, or organized religion, and had waged racial war for survival. Like Adam and Eve had fallen from Eden, however, the races of man had been tempted from their state of nature by a corrupter. This corrupter was the founder of Christianity, capitalism and communism, the three great ideas that had sought to destroy the racial struggle through, respectively, their emphasis on mercy and forgiveness, promotion of emasculating consumerism, and denial of racial truths.
To Hitler the “great corrupter,” of course, was the Jew, which he described as an anti-race, a non-race. For this reason, humanity could not return to its state of nature until the Jew and his creations had been eliminated. Hitler believed that the Jew’s constructs and eventually the Jew himself had to be destroyed, first by unifying the superior Aryan Race and then launching great struggles of extermination to rid the world of Jewry and its puppets.
Of these “puppets,” Hitler believed the weakest to be Communism, embodied by the Soviet Union. Hitler always planned to destroy the Soviet Union from the outset of his political career, so when someone says “Hitler was doing ok until he invaded Russia,” that misses the point: Hitler was ALWAYS going to invade Russia. First because Jewish Bolshevism had to be destroyed, and second because Germany needed “Raum.”
Hitler’s semi-ecological beliefs defined the necessity of the Aryan race to acquire “lebensraum” in order to establish a colonial empire. During the First World War, Germany had suffered badly from lack of food and resources in comparison to the colonial empire of the British, or the huge lands of the United States. Hitler idealized both the British Empire and the American destruction of the Indians as models to be emulated. He believed that just as America had expanded west into the “barbarian country” to gain “raum” for its white citizens, so too must Germany expand to the east. Hitler was obsessed with western movies, and was a big fan of Wild West novels, for this very reason – they all depicted strong, powerful white men taming nature and dominating the weaker races.
This is also why Hitler viewed America as the “final boss.” The United States was a rival empire that Hitler sought to model Germany on; only when Germany had conquered, subdued, and exterminated the population of European Russia would the Nazis be in a position to challenge America. America was the final enemy – an unholy blend of white supremacism and Jewish capitalism – that Hitler saw as the final inevitable collision. Either Germany or America would rule the world.
Of course, Hitler never got that far. The Soviet Union proved much tougher than he expected, and when the United States joined the war defeat was inevitable. Hitler, however, believed that superior German will would be sufficient to see Germany through to final victory. His constant emphasis on “will” and commitment to the Nazi ideal would test Germany. The Germans as a race would either triumph and achieve their destiny, or fail and be found wanting. Either way, it was the will of nature.
Hitler’s personal life was depressing, almost boring. He took little pleasure in food, abstained from alcohol, and was actually a vegetarian – he believed meat was a weakening and corrupting influence on the body. He was a voracious reader and loved the movies, especially the works of Disney – apparently he was a particular fan of Snow White. Despite much speculation, he may have been asexual; he seemed to view women as little more than ornaments or pets. There really was no “personal” Hitler, nothing much hidden behind the veil of private life; he lived and breathed politics and demonstrated an obsessive need for control.
Hitler’s rise to power throughout the 1920s and to 1933 displayed his cunning gift for political infighting and an utter lack of principles. People in 2020 find it so easy to put Hitler behind any view they hate because Hitler ultimately had no guiding political principles behind the triumph of his party. He hated democracy, viewing it as an imposition of the Treaty of Versailles, and promised during his last political campaign that as soon as he was in power he would ban elections. He came to power, and he banned elections.
What differentiates Hitler’s fascism from conservatism or even reactionary beliefs was that Nazism was at its core *revolutionary*. Hitler did not seek to preserve tradition, return to a better time, or even to “Make Germany Great Again.” Hitler wanted to destroy the structures, eradicate all inhibition, overturn tradition and structure to turn the German race into its “true” form of a conquering legion of supermen. This was a corruption of Nietzsche’s nihilistic philosophies into their darkest form.
Despite Nazi Germany’s perception as some sort of scientific superpower, Hitler was deeply antiscientific, once yelling at a German chemist that “we will have no need for further discoveries when Germany has destroyed the Jewish fictions!” He had little time for economics, mathematics, or any of the hard sciences.
He was obsessed, however, with history, art, culture, and literature, and would subject his staff to long lectures lasting deep into the night on Wagner’s operas (his favorite music), romantic authors, and architecture. Nazi views on architecture favored brutalism and realism; anything viewed as “surreal” or “modern” struck them as “Jewish.” For the same reason, Hitler hated impressionist art, experimental cinema, or jazz. All of this was a corruption of and deliberate attempt to weaken the cold reality of nature, unstructured trash that was the result of “cultural Marxism.” This view was extreme enough to cause Nazi scientists to dismiss Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity as “Jewish physics,” since it relied on theory and in their view unreality. Many German physicists had to flee to the United States, where they helped work on the atomic bomb project.
Hitler was quite happy to use Christian language and symbology in his speeches – he had to, Germany was a Christian-majority nation – but he and the Nazis were deeply hostile to Christian beliefs. Joseph Goebbels, the most radical anti-Christian in Hitler’s inner circle, was constantly pushing for harsher action on “the question of the Church” but Hitler believed this could not be carried out until the Soviet Union had been destroyed. The Nazis killed many Catholic priests, and brutally persecuted the Jehovah’s Witnesses because of their conscientious objector status.
Despite some modern conservatives’ attempts to tie homosexuality and other emergent notions of sexuality to the Nazis, Hitler loathed these as well because they were a subversion of the good breeding that would produce strong German warriors. The SA, Hitler’s paramilitary wing during his rise to power, had a large homosexual element in its ranks; its leader, Ernst Roehm, was both homosexual and a pederast. When Roehm’s power began to rival Hitler’s, he used the Nazi thug’s sexual activities as an excuse to “purge” the SA, killing Roehm and most of the rest of its leadership – who he had been happy to tolerate until they outlived their usefulness. From that point on, any letter of the LGBT was liable for death in Germany. Hitler’s attitude to Roehm betrays his attitude towards people in general, even himself: tools to be used.
The Holocaust, of course, is Hitler’s defining crime, despite there being no trail of documentation directly linking Hitler to the crime. Holocaust Deniers often use this as a point of argument, but this betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how Nazi Germany worked. There is no paper or written order from Hitler commanding the Jews of Europe to be murdered. Hitler’s subordinates, though, eagerly carried it out, and Hitler without a doubt was aware of and delighted by the action. Hitler had made clear that he wanted the Jews to be exterminated, but did not give out specifics; he let his cronies, especially Himmler, carry it out.
Nazi Germany ran on chaos; Hitler’s inner circle was constantly vying for power by earning Hitler’s favor, which encouraged competition among his subordinates and strengthened his own position as the spider in the web. Hitler rarely gave direct orders in matters not related to the military; he simply made his wishes known and his cronies tripped over themselves to carry them out. He would shower approval on those subordinates that pleased him the most. As Himmler and the SS carried out the Holocaust, his stock rose accordingly; Himmler was never more powerful than during the peak months at Auschwitz, Treblinka and Sobibor.
Hitler’s terrifying world view, his controlling and obsessive personality, and his erratic style of command all served to create the most dramatic failure of civilization of modern times. At the very end, as Soviet shells rained down on Berlin, Hitler spun into a rage that Germany had failed him, the German people had failed, and sent out orders to his military that they were to destroy every factory, every dam and bridge; burn the fields, kill the livestock, and send every German male able to walk to take up arms and fight to the death against the Jewish puppets invading Germany. That this did not happen is due to the German generals ignoring Hitler’s orders – they believed that there was something of Germany still worth saving, and so they did not carry out his last terrible orders. They would not be Samson in the temple.
As Hitler died on April 30, 1945, he believed Germany died with him. It did not, of course. But Hitler believed it deserved to. Consistent with his ideals, Germany had fought the race war and lost. Because it had lost, it deserved to die – and so did he, for leading it to its death. Hitler lived and died by racial struggle; he applied those beliefs to Germany as well. Nature had decreed that Germany lose the racial struggle; so be it. He wanted his Gotterdammerung – his “Twilight of the Gods,” the apocalypse of German mythology. His cataclysmic worldview saw no outcome but the abyss.
Hitler died, and Germany survived, but it was not Hitler’s Germany any more. The old Germany died in the flames of 1945. Hitler personified all that was terrible and destructive of the old Europe, and became its courier into Hell.