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Diary of a Man in Despair Paperback – 3 Feb 2000
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'Stunning... It is not often that invective reaches the level of art, and rarer still that hatred assumes a tragic grandeur'-- The New York Times
Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, a Prussian aristocrat, began a secret diary in May 1936, which describes how a psychosis enveloped an entire society, enabling Hitler's rise to power, and the Nazi regime. His insider observations are set down with passion, outrage and almost unbearable sadness. This diary begins with the death of the corrupted Spengler (Decline of the West), describes personal encounters with Hitler (he considers shooting the Fuhrer) and abruptly stops when the diarist, at the depth of his despair, is arrested by the Gestapo. Reck-Malleczewen was executed by genickshuss (neck-shot) in Dachau on 16 February, 1945.
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This book is the first I've read by a German which seeks to explain - but not excuse - the way the German nation reacted to Hitler in terms of mass social-psychology, or sickness and disease as metaphors for the collective loss of what the author saw as the virtues of the German nation in more socially secure times. Hitler is referred to as a boil, a virus, an abortion; clearly, he associates Germany's mental collapse with the diminished human status of a satanic Hitler. His perspective as a Prussian aristocrat mourning for the loss of old virtues might, to some readers, diminish his capacity to comment on the willingness of a people to subject itself to tyranny. But I found that this does not get in the way at all with his assessment, progressing from 1936 right up to his arrest in 1944, of why Germany acted as it did.
His assessment of the drifting of the German nation into the hysteria and banality of "mass-man" psychoses is vitriolic and escoriating in its condemnation of all the elements of the - at that time - modern society. His scorn is reserved for the industrialists and petit bourgeousie who he felt had thrown their lot in with Hitler and, in so doing, betrayed the positive characteristics of the German nation. He uses his knowledge of German philosophy to portray how far the Nazi party deviated from the virtues of the old European cultures, to powerful effect. However, I found the most satisfying elements of this account to be his observations of how deeply scarred German society became, how divorced from its former, moral self. For instance, he talks despairingly of innocent young Bavarian farming girls becoming prostitutes to service the SS elite, and of petty criminals reaching the upper echelons of power, previously manned with honour by men of Reck-Walleczewen's social class.
Not so much a diary, more one man's attempt to recalone with Hitler, in a beer cellar, in which the author was armed and had the opportunity to shoot Hitler, but did not, is one of those classic "what if" moments from history. It is powerful stuff, and gives a fantastic insight into just how deeply the virus of nationalism and racism, and amoralism, permeated the characters of average Germans, turning bakers into mass murderers and criminals into Field Marshalls. The vitriol and hatred of the Nazis is unmistable on every page. I'd recommend this book to anyone who wants to really understand why the German nation acted as it did.
The author has a keen insight into the mind of Hitler and the Nazis and one wonders how he was an lone island of opposition among a blind nation.
There are many interesting points about the catholic south and the protestant north and how the whole tragedy began with Bismark. Dont miss this book
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