The Dark Charisma Of Adolf Hitler

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Adolf Hitler was an unlikely leader but he still formed a connection with millions of German people, generating a level of charismatic attraction that was almost without parallel. It is a stark warning for the modern day, says historian Laurence Rees.

At the heart of the story of Adolf Hitler is one gigantic, mysterious question: how was it possible that a character as strange and personally inadequate as Hitler ever gained power in a sophisticated country at the heart of Europe, and was then loved by millions of people?

The answer to this vital question is to be found not just in the historical circumstances of the time – in particular the defeat of Germany in World War Iand the depression of the early 1930s – but in the nature of Hitler’s leadership.

It’s this aspect of the story that makes this history particularly relevant to our lives today.

About Adolf Hitler

Hitler at a Nazi rally
  • Hitler was born 20 April 1889 in Braunau-am-Inn
  • Left school at 16 with no qualifications and struggled to make a living as a painter in Vienna
  • Enlisted in the German army during WWI, where he was wounded and decorated
  • Joined the fascist German Workers’ Party in 1919
  • By 1921 was the leader of what was now the Nazi Party
  • In the 1932 elections the Nazis became the largest party in the German parliament
  • Invasion of Poland in September 1939 beganWWII
  • Committed suicide in Berlin on 30 April 1945

Hitler was the archetypal “charismatic leader”. He was not a “normal” politician – someone who promises policies like lower taxes and better health care – but a quasi-religious leader who offered almost spiritual goals of redemption and salvation. He was driven forward by a sense of personal destiny he called “providence”.

Before WWI he was a nobody, an oddball who could not form intimate relationships, was unable to debate intellectually and was filled with hatred and prejudice.

But when Hitler spoke in the Munich beer halls in the aftermath of Germany’s defeat in WWI, suddenly his weaknesses were perceived as strengths.

His hatred chimed with the feelings of thousands of Germans who felt humiliated by the terms of the Versailles treaty and sought a scapegoat for the loss of the war. His inability to debate was taken as strength of character and his refusal to make small talk was considered the mark of a “great man” who lived apart from the crowd.

More than anything, it was the fact that Hitler found that he could make a connection with his audience that was the basis of all his future success. And many called this connection “charisma”.

“The man gave off such a charisma that people believed whatever he said,” says Emil Klein, who heard Hitler speak in the 1920s.

But Hitler did not “hypnotise” his audience. Not everyone felt this charismatic connection, you had to be predisposed to believe what Hitler was saying to experience it. Many people who heard Hitler speak at this time thought he was an idiot.

“I immediately disliked him because of his scratchy voice,” says Herbert Richter, a German veteran of WWI who encountered Hitler in Munich in the early 1920s.

Hitler inspecting his troops

“He shouted out really, really simple political ideas. I thought he wasn’t quite normal.”

In the good economic times, during the mid-to-late twenties in Germany, Hitler was thought charismatic by only a bunch of fanatics. So much so that in the 1928 election the Nazis polled only 2.6% of the vote.

Yet less than five years later Hitler was chancellor of Germany and leader of the most popular political party in the country.

Hitler

What changed was the economic situation. In the wake of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 there was mass unemployment in Germany and banks crashed.

“The people were really hungry,” says Jutta Ruediger, who started to support the Nazis around this time. “It was very, very hard. And in that context, Hitler with his statements seemed to be the bringer of salvation.”

She looked at Hitler and suddenly felt a connection with him.

“I myself had the feeling that here was a man who did not think about himself and his own advantage, but solely about the good of the German people.”

Hitler told millions of Germans that they were Aryans and therefore “special” and racially “better” people than everyone else, something that helped cement the charismatic connection between leader and led.

Hitler walking through a guard of honour

He did not hide his hatred, his contempt for democracy or his belief in the use of violence to further political ends from the electorate. But, crucially, he spoke out only against carefully defined enemies like Communists and Jews.

Since the majority of ordinary Germans were not in these groups, as long as they embraced the new world of Nazism, they were relatively free from persecution – at least until the war started to go badly for the Germans.

Continue reading the main story

“Start Quote

Anti-government graffiti in Greece

Unemployment was 30% in Germany when Hitler took power, it is 25.1% and rising in Greece”

Paul MasonEconomics editor, Newsnigh

This history matters to us today. Not because history offers “lessons” – how can it since the past can never repeat itself exactly? But because history can contain warnings.

In an economic crisis millions of people suddenly decided to turn to an unconventional leader they thought had “charisma” because he connected with their fears, hopes and latent desire to blame others for their predicament. And the end result was disastrous for tens of millions of people.

It’s bleakly ironic that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was greeted in Athens recently with swastika banners carried by angry Greeks protesting at what they see as German interference in their country.

Ironic because it is in Greece itself – amid terrible economic crisis – that we see the sudden rise of a political movement like the Golden Dawn that glories in its intolerance and desire to persecute minorities.

And it is led by a man who has claimed there were no gas chambers in Auschwitz. Can there be a bigger warning than that?

Laurence Rees is a former creative director of history programmes for the BBC and the author of six books on World War II.

Source: BBC History

Comments Closed

26 Responses to The Dark Charisma Of Adolf Hitler

  1. I’ve the same problem sometimes, but I usually just force myself via it and revise later. Great luck!

  2. Ask M’membe, he knows this! But will M’membe talk without weighing the risk upon his life?

    Heni - November 13, 2012
    12:06

  3. Like Hitler, Sata utterly believes that he is the ‘chosen’ one fulfilling God’s purposes. That is why his firstmost duty is unquestionable loyalty to the ‘church’ and the priests. He is far aware of how much more reliable the ‘church’s’ intelligence report is.

    There is nothing to him as binding as the oath he gave when the firm promise was given to him that he would be Zambia’s next president.

    Heni - November 13, 2012
    12:02

  4. Hitler was a racist, Sata is a Tribalist.
    Hitler was old and sick but tried to fool people that he was healthy just like our Sata is dying of prostate cancer.
    Hitler was insecure no wonder he saw ghosts and attacked other Nations just like our Sata sees Ghosts of people trying to Assassinate him.
    sata is our own version of Hitler.

    concernedcitizen - November 13, 2012
    10:49

  5. The Hitler model has been employed over so many centuries in a diverse way cutting across institution, nation, empire or even race, with often fatal consequence. Sata is not the first nor the last of them. Sata’s power lies outside himself and the sooner that he confirms this fact the better for him.

    Heni - November 13, 2012
    10:43

  6. I find it funny that some expect remorse on the part of Sata’s handlers when they see what is transpiring regards the raping and disregard of democratic tenets and the rule of law by Zambia’s current regime.

    They might as well expect lucifer to repent.

    Where we are and where we are going is exactly within their objectives, in ‘their scheme of things’.

    Heni - November 13, 2012
    10:30

  7. It is ominous that Hitler’s story be repeated today. Similarities are scary: no education, charisma(?), the kaponyas, alleged mistresses, above the law. What is Sata’s birthday? You asked for it…

    Le Sage - November 13, 2012
    10:28

  8. This is very significant beyond the confinement of Zambia’s internal politics!

    Hitler’s character perfectly suited the objectives of his handlers. No doubt, Hitler was intellectually inept, in fact, he was a numbskull and a perfect idiot, with a funny outward look. He had a low self esteem with an incredible inability to coordinate a simple consistency in thought and word. This sort of dementia on Hitler’s part natually translated into long confounding speeches which mesmerised the German masses stroking their nationalistic ego.

    All in all, without his handlers, Hitler would never have risen from the dustbin of obscurity than he natually belonged. But being the perfect hollow and noisy vessel that he was, he became the perfect tool of the ‘beast’.

    Hitler was a perfect tool – so is Sata.

    Heni - November 13, 2012
    10:21

  9. Saw the programme last night and was amazed at how much of it resonated with Ukwa’s style especially the bit about telling the audience what they want to hear and deliberately being vague about your policies – remember how many of us wondered how exactly, there would be more jobs in 90 days but were met with barrages of insults from the chosen people of Zambia, the Bembas?

    Lyelela Lyambai - November 13, 2012
    09:07

  10. Unbelievable,… You write about Hitler and you don’t mention “JEWS”

    Chitulika Villager - November 13, 2012
    08:59

    • what about the Jews, i guess you didn’t read the story too long for your small brain to recall the whole lot. in case you have failed to make the connection the message behind this Hitler story is the similarity between Hitler and our sata. sata only came into power because of MMD misdeeds.conned westerners with BA 64,conned the poor with more money, conned the unemployed youth with jobs,conned the Western world with fight against corruption. sata preyed on people’s weakness like Hitler.

      concernedcitizen - November 13, 2012
      10:36

  11. Definitely Ukwa. We are in for it.

    Wasted5Years - November 13, 2012
    08:47

  12. HE WAS AN ALTERBOY

    MOSSAD - November 13, 2012
    08:42

    • Very significant

      Heni - November 13, 2012
      11:40

  13. Who is ukwa?

    caught in the act - November 13, 2012
    08:36

  14. No words at all but laughter all the way.

    Honest - November 13, 2012
    08:02

  15. Hitler thought he was not answerable to anyone, does that click something?

    More than 1 year in office no press conference, it has never happened not even in Zambia

    No Name - November 13, 2012
    07:02

  16. I hate him he was a fool

    KroNOroGY - November 13, 2012
    06:30

  17. This piece is good. It gives an accurate potrayal of Hitlers life that a person can closely relate to Ukwa. One of the questions I have always wondered is how a man like Ukwa with such warped views such as Hitler could convince 43% of voters in Zambia to get behind him. They are surely many theories underpinning Ukwa’s coming into power. However, the real issue is on the future of Zambia with such an incompetent and illiterate dictator.

    Lukwena - November 13, 2012
    05:39

  18. Lwale…. You are so intelligent, you have decoded the staff too well.

    Mweemba - November 12, 2012
    21:53

  19. Read this article on bbcnews.com and immediately saw the similarities. This confirms am not paranoid. History mighty not be a perfect teacher, but it sure is full of warnings. DANGER

    Teddy Bear Sweetness - November 12, 2012
    21:49

  20. Good article a lesson to many Zambians who think UKWA(SATA) is a man of action when actually he just like Hitler in all aspects I.E. illiteracy,no logical speeches but disjontled sentences connected with vernacular at every pause, hate for other tribes and thinks everything is about MUCHINGA and BEMBAS. Watch out Zambia.

    SEPISO - November 12, 2012
    21:45

  21. This sounds like Ukwa

    Gugulethu - November 12, 2012
    21:35

  22. Somethings are predestined and no one can stop them.

    Royal Joe cibwa ca mazakala - November 12, 2012
    21:35

  23. 1. Love of violence to advance political ideas
    2. Making one tribe feel special at the expense of all others
    3. Lack of formal education
    4. People thinking he is an idiot (Ukwa)
    5. Small group of people believing everything he says (Office of ‘first lady’ budget)

    Lwalwa - November 12, 2012
    21:10

    • Mmmmm.

      Jay - November 13, 2012
      07:26