“Though the Third Reich was going up in flames and explosions, Hitler could not bear to die without naming his successor and dictating the exact composition of the government which that successor must appoint.”
I’ve been thinking about powerful men deluded into thinking that their lost cause isn’t lost.
That led me to my copy of William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. The last chapters chronicle the last days in the Nazi bunker in Berlin. If you don’t know that story, or the entire history of the Third Reich, there is no better place to start than this book. (Note: Maybe read the 1,250 pages in chapters and bits.)
Hitler’s conduct in the bunker, as the Russians overtook Berlin, is by now famous. Up to the end he was appointing a successor and was dictating plans for the future of the movement. And up to the end, he was blaming his disloyal and incompetent generals, but mostly still and forever blaming the Jews.
Powerful men past their power and deluded in thinking otherwise is a classic theme, and in some creative hands (e.g., Shakespeare), the story can elicit pathos. The story of Hitler’s inglorious defeat—a Thousand Year Reich gone in twelve—is pathetic. So pathetic and so incalculably tragic.
If you happen to see an old man stewing away deluded in his bunker, planning for his return to power, it is pathetic. Please be mindful that the tragic damage he and his kind can yet do remains immense.
From The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
HITLER’S LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT
[dictated in the bunker]
These two documents survive, as Hitler meant them to, and like others of his papers they are significant to this narrative. They confirm that the man who had ruled over Germany with an iron hand for more than twelve years, and over most of Europe for four, had learned nothing from his experience; not even his reverses and shattering final failure had taught him anything. Indeed, in the last hours of his life he reverted to the young man he had been in the gutter days in Vienna and in the early rowdy beer hall period in Munich, cursing the Jews for all the ills of the world, spinning his half-baked theories about the universe, and whining that fate once more had cheated Germany of victory and conquest. In this valedictory to the German nation and to the world which was also meant to be a last, conclusive appeal to history, Adolf Hitler dredged up all the empty claptrap of Mein Kampf and added his final falsehoods. It was a fitting epitaph of a power-drunk tyrant whom absolute power had corrupted absolutely and destroyed.
The “Political Testament,” as he called it, was divided into two parts, the first consisting of his appeal to posterity, the second of his specific directions for the future.
More than thirty years have passed since I made my modest contribution as a volunteer in the First World War, which was forced upon the Reich.
In these three decades, love and loyalty to my people alone have guided me in all my thoughts, actions and life. They gave me power to make the most difficult decisions which have ever confronted mortal man…
Next he placed “sole responsibility” not only for the millions of deaths suffered on the battlefields and in the bombed cities but for his own massacre of the Jews—on the Jews. Then he turned to the reasons for his decision to remain in Berlin to the last.
After six years of war, which in spite of all setbacks will one day go down in history as the most glorious and heroic manifestation of the struggle for existence of a nation, I cannot forsake the city that is the capital of this state… I wish to share my fate with that which millions of others have also taken upon themselves by staying in this town. Further, I shall not fall in the hands of the enemy, who requires a new spectacle, presented by the Jews, to divert their hysterical masses.
I have therefore decided to remain in Berlin and there to choose death voluntarily at that moment when I believe that the position of the Fuehrer and the Chancellery itself can no longer be maintained. I die with a joyful heart in my knowledge of the immeasurable deeds and achievements of our peasants and workers and of a contribution unique in history of our youth which bears my name.
There followed an exhortation to all Germans “not to give up the struggle.”
the seed has been sown that will grow one day… to the glorious rebirth of the National Socialist movement of a truly united nation.