Adolf Hitler And Modern Historians
For many years after the Holocaust, it was difficult to get a good sense of who Hitler was as a person and how someone like him could have led Germany down the path to unprecedented destruction. The reason why is because the country of Germany was divided between the East German and West German states, which were highly contentious. When the Nazis were in retreat near the end of World War II, they burned and destroyed as many records as they possibly could. Plus, East German archives were often closed to historians.
For this reason, some of the facts of Adolf Hitler’s history did not come to light until fairly recently. Instead, areas of the dictator’s life remained uncertain and were even based upon the ideas that he himself propagated. At the beginning of study about Hitler’s history, many of the historians of the time were loath to even breach the subject of his life.
With time, historians and moral philosophers began to examine Hitler more closely, knowing it was important to ensure that the horrors of the Holocaust would never happen again. The Nobel Prize winner Thomas Mann, a German essayist and social critic, was one of the first people to penetrate the myths that had grown up around Hitler.
Unfortunately, early scholarship about Hitler often added to the idea that he had been a powerful and decisive leader. Slowly, however, the moral bankruptcy and emptiness of the Nazi regime has become more clear. Rather than being a genius leader, Hitler was a very disturbed man whose erratic behavior, selfishness, and cruelty was masked by a massive propaganda system.
With works such as Keegan’s “The Second World War,” the idea of Hitler as a “mover” of history has been challenged and discredited. The Holocaust was caused and led by Hitler, of that there is no doubt. However, Hitler was by no means an unstoppable force. Politicians and others throughout Europe had many opportunities to step in and challenge Hitler’s ascendancy at many different points in his reign, including when he began to work with Stalin to rearm the German state, and when he began to threaten Poland and his other neighbors.
These days, historians have taken a more clear view of Hitler and have challenged notions about him. The most important lesson we can take from modern scholarship is that tyrants must be challenged at every step, lest a Holocaust happen again.