By Stephen H. Roberts
THE RIDDLE OF HITLER, by Stephen H. Roberts, in Harper's Magazine, February, 1938, pp. 253, 254.
Life in the new Germany has been described as “mythology brought to life.” Stephen H. Roberts's “The Riddle to Hitler” is an attempt to get inside the godhead of this mythology. Dr. Roberts is an Australian, professor of Modern History at Sydney University, and is regarded as an authority on international affairs. Some time ago he determined to investigate the Nazi régime as thoroughly as possible. He went to Germany and was able to secure unusual privileges from the Foreign Office and the Ribbentrop Bureau. Using these privileges to the full, he spent sixteen months combing the country and amassing material. From this material Dr. Roberts has compiled a book soon to be published under the title The House that Hitler Built, and in that book this short sketch will appear.
A strange man, this Adolf Hitler. He is infinitely polite and courteous in his interviews, pausing perceptibly after every statement in case there is something his questioner wishes to add. He is punctilious to the point of quixotism in acknowledging the salutes of his men and in himself saluting the standards. The odd feature is that he never seems at ease in formal gatherings or when being spoken to. He seems a hunted being and is always ready to find refuge in making a miniature speech, even when one asks him a question that could be answered by a single word. In making a speech he is at least on firm ground. There he does not have to think, for he has said it all thousands of times and will keep on saying it until he dies.
One fundamental fact is that Hitler never has any real personal contacts. The charming pictures one sees, in which he is taking bouquets from tiny tots or grasping the horny hands of picturesque old peasants, are all arranged. They are triumphs of the photographic skill of his old friend Hoffmann: Hoffmann blots out the surrounding guards and we see the result. The Führer is never alone.The giant Bruckner is always with him, and his “suicide-brigade” of special guards surround him everywhere. He goes out in his enormous Mercedès car (specially constructed so that he can stand up in front and receive support so that he is not wearied), and it is always preceded and followed by motor cyclists and a whole fleet of cars with S. S. men. He lives in an unnatural detachment that makes his disease of being a godhead batten on itself: the most balanced of human beings could not stand this kind of life without losing a sense of realities, and nobody would call Hitler emotionally balanced at the best of times. Most commentators make a great fuss about his diet or his celibacy; what seems to me far more important is his lack of ordinary human contacts. Abnormal himself, the constant adulation makes him pathological. He receives only the thrice-distilled views of the fanatics, intriguers, and genuine patriots round him. Nobody can tell him anything or speak frankly, still less criticize his policy or himself. He lives in a mental world of his own, more aloof than any Sun-King, and he has only the narrow mental equipment and experience of an agitator to guide him. Unless one accepts the prevalent German view that he gets his inspiration direct from God (one of the most powerful Nazis once said he had a private line to heaven! ), one must conclude that the future of Germany and the peace of the world rest on the tangled working of the mind of one man whom not even his friends would call normal. It is the most extraordinary comment on human evolution that, in this age of scicnce and progress, the fate of mankind rests on the whimsy of an abnormal mind, infinitely more so than in the days of the old despots whom we criticize so much.
But the final enigma remains. Granting that Hitler is a dreamer, a creature of emotion, a man of ordinary mental caliber, a gripping orator, a simple-living Führer with an almost divine sense of his mission—how did such a man rise to power and consolidate the nation in his first four years of rule? Many reasons seem to offer partial explanations of this. He was the most popular orator during a time of political chaos and national depression; his general philosophy about Deutschland erwache! fitted in with the psychology of the nation, so that his movement became a national narcotic; he had marvelous subordinates and, with them, built up the best Party organization; his simplest mentality enabled him to carry through a complex revolution before which a mind more clearly analytical of the consequences would have quailed; and finally he became the Mythus of the German people. The man was merged in the myth, and it became his task to think and act in terms of that myth, so much so that any power in the land which might supplant his Party would probably have to keep him as nominal Führer. The Hitler myth is the dominating fact in German life to-day. Indeed, he sees himself no longer as a person but as the Crusader who has captured the Holy City—the embodiment of a nation—the living and inspired voice of Germania—Der Führer in the most mystical sense of that word—and must one ultimately add:Der Führer-Gott?