Reviewed by Neil Wilson, Ph.D. New Jersey Institute for Training in Psychoanalysis for the Journal of Psychohistory, 26#3 (Winter 1999), 749-50
I read Victor's powerful book in lovely Umbria. It is in two parts, the first deals with Hitler's early development while the second examines his rise to power and the war years. Victor sensibly asserts that there has been a tendency among scholars not to try and understand Hitler's early life as it could lead to a sympathetic reading. Not so, for me. Umbria's rustic atmosphere was not enough to counteract a very personal reaction of disgust and revulsion when considering Hitler's upbringing. To preserve my equilibrium, I interspersed with Victor, reading some chapters from the touching book, Tuesdays with Morrie.
Hitler was an abused child. His father, Alois, beat his son brutally and often, for reasons never really clear. Indiscriminate violence was an important organizing factor in Hitler's emotional development, and definitely played a role in his later political expressions. There can be no sympathy for Hitler in this context because the reader knows what is to follow. In contrast to his father , Hitler was very close to his mother Klara, reportedly being her favorite. One might think Hitler capable of some degree of compassion, Victor notes only one incident. Klara had breast cancer and was treated well by a Jewish doctor named Bloch. In appreciation, when Hitler order the annihilation of all Jewish doctors he spared Dr. Bloch. So much for mother love.
The idea that Hitler was so consumed with wanting to purify the German blood, it actually took precedence of trying to win the war is a key thesis developed by Victor. He made many battle decisions which only prolonged the war. Victor holds that Hitler needed the war to pursue his major aim - the Holocaust. He often chose battles of destruction rather than considering peaceful solutions. Hitler was filled with self hatred, resulting, in part, from his father's many beating. He also thought, rightly or wrongly, that his paternal grandfather had Jewish blood which was experienced as impure and defiling. Such beliefs certainly contributed to his paranoid delusions regarding the creation of a master race. Later, Hitler attempted to erase all records of his past and create his own "family romance." Not only Hitler, but Eichmann, Goebbols, Himmler and other high ranking Nazis all thought as children that they had Jewish ancestry. This was an expression of inferiority/self-hatred and lent support to their involvement in the Holocaust. The Aryan was tall, blond and Nordic whereas many of the Nazi leaders, including Hitler, were short and dark, like stereotypical Jews.
Victor documents the struggles of Hitler in late adolescence. At one point he was homeless, a beggar, a reject from art school, a lost soul. It is not hard to think "what if." My friend George Chajet, a last minute escapee of the Nazis, mentioned that he sometimes fantasized that Hitler was a better artist and therefore accepted by the Vienna Academy of Arts. What if!
The author might have done more with Hitler's reported recurrent nightmare "in which a Jew menaced a women and Adolph failed to intervene, feeling humiliated." Victor describes the dream in the context of young Hitler seeing his father beat his mother and feeling unable to help her. This makes good sense but surely there are further dynamics involved. In the dream the woman is hurt. Hitler's idealization of his mother and several other women in later years, might mask an underlying hatred and desire to hurt and humiliate them. Victor offers numerous examples of laws enacted that debased and humiliated Germany's young, single, non-Jewish females. I suspect that Hitler's identifications are within this recurrent dream, he is simultaneously the impotent boy, the masochistic mother, and the brute father.
Victor employs a psychoanalytic approach to the understanding of Hitler's life and its consequences for so much of the world. The book is well written and well documented. It is a truly worthwhile psychohistorical document. Just do not read it on your next vacation.