Becoming Hitler

by Thomas Weber, Oxford, 422pp, £20

Hitler has been dead for 72 years, which is 16 years longer than he lived. There have been excellent biographies. Everything that can be known about him is known. And yet the books keep coming. Only a small number of misfits anywhere revere him. There is no Hitler myth. In 1945, Göring prophesied that in 40 years there would be statues of the Nazi leaders all over Germany – there are no such statues. The Führer is a busted flush. Yet, as any publisher will tell you, books about Hitler sell.

Even so, to be of genuine interest an author has to offer something new, or at least a bit different. It is the first merit of Professor Weber’s book that he does just that.

Hitler pretended in Mein Kampf that he had always been Hitler. Weber shows this was another of his lies. He was not, as he pretended, formed by his experience in pre-World War I Vienna. He became Hitler only in stages, and the creation of the Führer persona was made possible by the political and social condition of Munich, Bavaria and Germany itself after 1918.

The pre-Nazi Hitler was not a soldier admired by his comrades in the trenches, for as a dispatch runner he wasn’t in the trenches. Nor was he then a rabid anti-Semite, though as a Socialist he denounced Jewish finance capitalism. For more than two years after 1918 he remained in the army and “helped to prevent others from attempting to depose Bavaria’s Jewish Socialist leader from power, thereby defending a regime that he would claim – once he became a National Socialist – always to have fought against”. At this time he wasn’t even a German citizen, and at risk of being deported to Austria.

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