This fascinating study gives a whole new slant to what happened in Germany between 1933 and 1945. The Germans, angry and hurt after the defeat of the Great War, bothered by unemployment, dissatisfied with party politics, fearful of Bolshevism and seeking a strong leader who would be above politics and who would restore Germany's rightful greatness, found him in the apparently unlikely person of an embittered, Jew- and Communist-hating, Austrian ex-corporal incapable of normal human warmth. The creation of the mythical Hitler to fulfil expectations, often standing the facts of Hitler's actual person on their head, was a masterpiece of Goebbels's propaganda (Goebbels personally regarded the creation of the Fuehrer Myth as his greatest achievement). As a result, Hitler's personal popularity was almost universal, even among sections of the population who detested Nazism itself. He was given the benefit of the doubt every time. "If only the Fuehrer knew," people would say, after the latest bout of Nazi excesses.
However, the Hitler Myth carried within it the seeds of its own destruction. For one thing, Hitler came to believe it himself, and as a result became ever more divorced from ever more uncomfortable reality. Moreover, its prolongation required a continual stream of triumphs and successes, and when they faltered in the early 1940s (beginning with the Stalingrad catastrophe), so did it. However, it maintained a considerable hold right to the very end, even in the face of impending disaster. Professor Kershaw teases out the details of a complex story in a scholarly yet highly readable and informative way, and ends with an excellent concluding review chapter. The book was written in 1987, before the fall of the Wall, the subsequent reunification of Germany and the upsurge of extremist right-wing sentiment as a result of high unemployment, poor economic performance and dissatisfaction with the current government - now, where have we heard this before? It would be hard to improve on Professor Kershaw's masterly final paragraph as a commentary on modern-day affairs - and not only those of Germany:
"Old myths are however replaced by new as the combination of modern technology and advanced marketing techniques produce ever more elaborate and sophisticated examples of political image building around minority personality cults, even in western democracies, aimed at obfuscating reality among the ignorant and gullible. The price for abdicating democratic responsibilities and placing uncritical trust in the 'firm leadership' of seemingly well-intentioned political authority was paid dearly by Germans between 1933 and 1945. Even if a collapse into new forms of fascism is inherently unlikely in any western democracy, the massive extension of the power of the modern State over its citizens is in itself more than sufficient cause to develop the highest level possible of educated cynicism and critical awareness as the only protection against the marketed images of present-day and future claimants to political 'leadership'".