The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler: Leading Millions into the Abyss bt Laurence Rees Book Review - www.impulsegamer.com -
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THE DARK CHARISMA OF ADOLF HITLER: LEADING MILLIONS INTO THE ABYSS
Laurence Rees
 
 

Review Information

Reviewer: David Robert
Review Date: Oct 2012

Book Information

Publisher: Random House
RRP: $29.95

7.5

out of 10

 

 

In a career spanning more than two decades, British historian and documentarian Laurence Rees has been responsible for some of the most illuminating studies on the Third Reich and the Holocaust, from his acclaimed BBC series The Nazis: A Warning from History (which he wrote, produced and directed) to written works like Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution, which was voted History Book of the Year at the 2006 British Book Awards. 

In more recent books such as Their Darkest Hour and his latest, The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler, Rees has chosen to focus more extensively on the cult of personality that surrounded the leadership of Adolf Hitler.  By incorporating both historical analysis and extensive first person testimonies, Rees  explores the notions of complicity and diffusion of responsibility in the Nazi reign of terror that would reach their zenith at the Nuremberg trials, and discusses the ways in which Hitler’s singular dictatorial style was used first to propagate and finally to excuse some of the most atrocious crimes in human history. 

In his introduction Rees sums up the motivation for this most recent work, in doing so revealing what has been quite literally a lifelong preoccupation: if Hitler was the Devil in human form, he thought to himself as a child, how did he get so many people to do his bidding?  It is a question that has been pondered by millions ever since, and one without an easy answer - according to Rees the answer lay in large part in Hitler’s ‘charismatic’ style of leadership, which allowed the German people to project their myriad hopes and desires for the future onto to the man who rose from beerhall orator to head one of the most powerful countries on earth. 

As was the case with The Darkest Hour, the real strength of this latest work in Rees’ incorporation of testimony from interview subjects who personally witnessed Hitler’s rise to power, and who describe what it was like to experience firsthand the nature of his ability to captivate and influence others.  Other accounts provide heartbreaking examples of ways in which Hitler’s endless pseudo-scientific propagandising about race and blood provided the impetus for the inhumanity witnessed in the War in the East: one Ukrainian man describes how as a boy he approached some German soldiers begging for food, only to be handed a bag of human excrement.  Another woman describes, in some detail, what it was like to watch her family members die of starvation after their village was ransacked by the Wehrmacht. 

Of course not all German soldiers displayed such heartlessness, even those of the dreaded SS: in one of the accounts provided a Russian tells how as a young girl she was escorted safely to her home by a Waffen-SS officer, who even made sure she had enough to eat.  The bulk of the interviews, however, testify mainly to Hitler’s monumental capacity for hate, and the manner in which he inspired, coerced and cajoled others into doing his bidding, some of whom merely decided that Hitler couldn’t possibly know of all the atrocities being committed in the East.  As one soldier who took part in the campaign against Poland recounts: ‘People would say, Good heavens, the Führer must be entirely unaware of what his people are getting up to here, otherwise he would never let this happen!’  Others merely repeated the refrain ‘What could I have done?’ perhaps safe in the knowledge that there will never be a satisfactory answer to that question. 

Dark Charisma is an easy read in every possible sense.  Rees’ no-nonsense prose is typically fluid and the largish, double-spaced type adorning the book’s 470 pages further lends a measured and uncluttered air to proceedings.  Some two dozen colour and black and white images are also included, comprising and effective and well-chosen visual counterpart to the narrative itself and providing a cursory pictorial overview of Hitler’s entire adult life, from World War I soldier to fledgling political, to statesman, warmonger, and finally, as the Bhagavad Gita might put it, the destroyer of worlds.  It isn’t as detailed or comprehensive as some of Rees’ earlier works, in particular Auschwitz, but still provides a satisfying and cohesive examination of the nature of Hitler’s charismatic rule and of the way in which he managed to so thoroughly warp the minds and hearts of the German people before his, and their, ultimate downfall.






 
 



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