Diary of a madman

In the aftermath of World War 2, plenty of literature emerged from the ashes of the Third Reich, much of it journals and memoirs penned by German generals and soldiers recounting their wartime experiences and/or service to Hitler. When, in 1983, a German magazine announced that it had discovered Hitler’s 62-volume personal war diary, historians were understandably excited.

Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly, the “Hitler diaries” turned out to be fakes. (Here’s a more thorough account, with some interesting details about the forger.)

Comments (3) to “Diary of a madman”

  1. This post was of particular interest to me, especially considering the title. Do you think Hitler was actually mad? An interesting German film on the last 12 days of Hitler’s life has received recent critical acclaim. I have not seen it, but my parents did and one thing that struck them is that Hitler was portrayed not as a madman, but as an amazingly willful man who knew exactly what he was doing and why he was doing it. It was undoubtedly evil, but he appreciated exactly why his actions fit into his ideological framework.

    Have you read anything that would lean more towards the idea of Hitler actually suffering some kind of clinical insanity? On a philosophical level, I’ve always thought that it’s hard for the non-Christian world to acknowledge evil. The easy answer is to say the guy was nuts. I think it’s harder to concede that he may just have been a sane person who willfully engaged in horrible wickedness.

  2. Was Hitler insane? That’s a fascinating question, Bill, and it’s one that has occured to me as well in the course of reading about WW2.

    The quick answer is that I am totally unqualified to judge whether or not somebody is clinically insane.

    The longer answer is that I believe (and again, this is just a personal opinion) that Hitler started out sane but edged closer and closer into insanity as the years (and the war) went on. In his speeches and in the writings of people who interacted with him, he comes across as a bizarre, intense, but sane person. I believe that his philosophies about German destiny and racial purity were the products of a sane but evil mind, and that they cannot be chalked up just to mental derangement. His ideas were insane in the sense that they contradicted Christian ethics and Western morality, not insane in the clinical sense.

    That said, I think you can make a pretty compelling case that Hitler was very mentally unbalanced in the last year or two of the war, and that he suffered from recognizable psychological ailments (particularly paranoia and megalomania). Whether he picked those ailments up as the war went on, or whether they were always with him and simply manifested dramatically in the end, I don’t know. Just looking at his military decisions in the last year of the war, and at his interaction with his generals and troops, it is clear that he was increasingly out of touch with reality. At that point, he may have been acting rationally within the scope of his own worldview, but he was not acting rationally in the “real world.”

    So in conclusion, I’d say that Hitler was definitely sane during most of his career, and that his evil choices and actions are made even more vile by the fact that they cannot be chalked up to simple madness. I do, however, think that as time went on he developed a variety of mental imbalances that exacerbated his already evil tendencies, to the detriment of the entire world.

    What do you think?

    (And is the film to which you refer Downfall? I’d very much like to see that.)

  3. I would also like to see Downfall. I would also like to have a browser which natively supports RSS without tieing (tying? thaiing?) up my phone line for several hours trying to dowload it so I can learn of posts immediately.

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