Hitler: The Rise of Evil. Alliance Atlantis.
Reviewed by Gerhard L. Weinberg
Published on H-German (May, 2003)
The TV special miniseries on the rise of Adolf Hitler had a few sensible and informative sections but suffered not merely from the sorts of exaggerations that really make little difference but also from serious mistakes. The presentation of the first twenty-five years of Hitler's life--that is, the years to 1914--is so filled with errors and foolishness as to be unworthy of comment. The war years are shown with some relation to reality but end with one colossal mistake. Germany sued for and received an armistice; there was no surrender. Nothing that followed--from the stab-in-the-back legend to the Allied demand for unconditional surrender in World War II--can be understood unless this is kept in mind. <p> Hitler's initiation into politics in the early postwar years, his taking over what became the Nazi Party, his drawing of many Munich beer guzzlers to his movement, and his endless references to the alleged menace to Germany of its Jewish population (less than 1 percent) are set forth in an acceptable way. The account of the coup attempt of November 1923 is unlikely to be understood by most viewers. It seems even more unlikely that any who watched the second installment will realize that Bavarian Prime Minister von Kahr, whose actitivities are central to the 1923 episode, was one of those murdered on June 30, 1934. There is no doubt that Hitler dictated the first part of his book <cite>Mein Kampf</cite> to an associate (Max Amann) into the typewriter. As for the roles of Hanfstaengl on Hitler's side and Gerlach in opposition--and of their wives--this is enormously exaggerated but perhaps necessary for effect. The result, however, is that there is no time available for the most critical elements in the ostensible subject of the whole project: Hitler's rise to power. This is the main defect of the second installment. <p> When Hitler was released from jail, he did indeed retake full control of the Nazi Party and temporarily insist on a legal effort to assume power. Missing from the film is the failure of this effort in the mid-1920s, culminating in the Party's poor showing in the 1928 election that is never mentioned. This defeat led him to write his second book--of which a reliable English translation will appear for the first time this fall--but which he never published because he was rescued from oblivion by the very right-wing politicians he excoriates in that text. It was in alliance with them that he was able to appeal to masses of Germans in and after 1929--and millions of them responded not only by cheering him and voting for his party, but also by paying to hear him speak and thereby helping finance the Nazi movement. Missing from the film is any parallel to the Munich beer hall crowds: the masses of ordinary people who flocked to hear him as he travelled all over the country. Similarly absent is the setback suffered by the Nazis in the November 1932 election; a defeat from which he was again rescued, this time by a small coterie around President von Hindenburg. <p> The filmmakers could have made something dramatic of the Nazis setting the Reichstag building on fire as the latest research shows. More difficult to overlook is the total confusion of the suspension of civil liberties by the Reichstag Fire Decree--which von Hindenburg signed--and the Enabling Act which was passed by the Reichstag. I cannot help wondering how many viewers realized that on June 30, 1934, Hitler had his predecessor as Chancellor together with his wife murdered. The beginnings of terror on a national scale and the early and well publicized establishment of concentration camps should recall to the audience that terrible things began in 1933, not with the German unleashing of another world war. Perhaps to make up for the exaggerated portrayal of Hitler and those around him, the deaths in World War II are reduced in the concluding informational trailers by ten million. As an old-fashioned though retired history professor, I would probably rate this as a C minus. <p>
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Gerhard L. Weinberg. Review of , Hitler: The Rise of Evil.
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