Sunday, September 11, 2016
Hitler: The Ascent (1889-1939) by Volker Ullrich, review: 'chilling and superb'
"Education is irrelevant,” gushed Martin Heidegger in 1933, when the philosopher Karl Jaspers asked him whether a man as uneducated as Hitler could rule Germany. “Just look at those lovely hands!”
It is Volker Ullrich’s eye for quotation that makes his biography of Hitler – only the third, astonishingly, to have been published since the Führer’s death – so readable and compelling. Heidegger sounds as foolishly bewitched as Unity Mitford. In this first of two planned volumes, ending in March 1939 with the taking of Prague, we learn that Hitler’s hands were actually not “lovely”, but eerily languid. Contrast the pale fingers that privileged folk were allowed to clasp with Hitler’s rigid, uniformed arm (a daily chest-expanding regime enabled the dictator to maintain his toy-soldier salute for four hours at a stint) and we get a hint of the dual personality that Ullrich will uncloak.
“I am the greatest actor in Europe,” Hitler once bragged. We’ve become familiar with the actor’s masks. What – if anything – lay behind them? What did Hitler care about, beyond power? Was he capable of love? What were the origins of his irrational and unappeasable hatreds? For how much of the atrocity was he personally responsible? Such questions are crucial. Ullrich titles one chapter, entirely in earnest, “Hitler as a Human Being”.
dolf Hitler was born in an Austrian inn on Easter Monday, 1889. In 1907, aged 18 and still living in Austria, he experienced two devastations: first, he was rejected as a student by Vienna’s Fine Arts Academy; second, his mother died of cancer, aged 47. He kept Clara Hitler’s portrait over his bed for the rest of his life. In 1938, he awarded unique Gestapo protection to her former doctor, a Jew.