09 June 2009

An interest best hidden away

The short e-mail from a friend of mine came with a cryptic title. “Thought you’d be interested” was a short message including only the phrase “Thank God for Life, eh?” The entire sentence was hyper-linked. As I ran my pointer over it and I saw the word “Hitler” at the end of the link, I sighed. I knew what this was. I knew, because earlier that morning I’d spend time looking at three recently released galleries of color photographs of Adolf Hitler.
To many people who know me, I’m that one friend of theirs who is interested, some would say obsessed, with Nazi Germany. I can’t even answer as to why, exactly. I saw say a documentary about the Third Reich as a small child, and the interested festered from there. I say, “festered,” because it’s not the sort of polite thing you talk about at parties. Not many people want to associate with someone who has read probably more than he should of about one of the least-loved (and very deservedly so) political regimes in recent memory. People don’t want to hear about how many errors I found in the uniforms on the DVD cover of “The Pianist.” They also do not want to hear about how I spent most of my time at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre’s production of “The Producers” dissecting each of the uniforms to find the sum of their parts (answer: mostly Swedish).
Over the years, I’ve had many people ask me why I am intrigued, some would say obsessed, with Hitler and Nazi Germany. It’s certainly not because I agree with any of what it stands for, because I don’t. In fact, I can’t name any tenet of National Socialism apart from “Blame the Jews for everything.” I think a response to this friend of mine outlines the reasons for the intellectual malady pretty well.
“Simply put, the more I know, the less I know. Do you remember the book "The Phantom Tollbooth?" Well, as a historical figure, Hitler is like "Subtraction soup." The more you eat, the hungrier you are. The interesting thing about Hitler was that there were so many other ways he could have gone. He was an intelligent, creative and dynamic personality who ended up doing unspeakable things. It's just a naturally fascinating story. The guy tries to be an artist, fails, finds clarity in war, comes back and within 20 years goes from being homeless, literally homeless on the streets, to being one of the most powerful men in the world strictly through the force of his own will and personality.
It's hard not to write about it without sounding like I'm admiring him - and that's the double-edged sword of the whole thing. He's a conflicted, inordinately complex man who loved children (was often a complete fool around them) and couldn't stand harming animals but at the same time was capable of orchestrating mass murder on a scale previously unseen. You don't get much more complex than that.”
Ultimately, I know I’m not alone in this. I think this enigmatic quality about a mass murderer/failed painter exists in many people. I think the Life photos prove this. If they had put up photos of Mussolini, would anyone have cared? Or how about Stalin? Either would have been a complete waste of time on Life’s part – because Mussolini wasn’t as evil as Hitler, and Stalin was, well, just a jerk. That’s about as simple as I can put it. Hitler still fascinates and revolts us because, nearly 60 years later, there still isn’t any definitive answer to the question “Why?”

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