Saturday, 31 October 2015

Mein Kampf by Adolf Hilter

"Today I consider it my good fortune that Fate designated Braunau on the Inn as the place of my birth."

Written in 1925, Hitler crafted his biography while serving time in a German prison for his political crimes during his Putsch, or coup attempt of the Nazi party, in November 1923. Apparently he wanted to title his work Viereinhalb Jahre (des Kampes) gegen Lüge, Dummheit und Feigheit, or Four and a Half Years (of Struggle) Against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice.  His publisher wisely got him to shorten the title to Mein Kampf (My Struggle).

Hitler first covers the period of his childhood, and then moves to his years in Vienna, where he initially aspired to be an artist, but after a number of discouragements, began to focus more on the political sphere of the city.  As early as chapter 3, we see that certain aspects of his ideology are already strongly rooted:

Chapter 3
  • No man should take an active part in politics before 30
  • Leaders who change their mind or admit their previously held views to be wrong, give up their leadership qualities and become political "bedbugs" who hang onto their positions only for personal gain, seeing every new movement or every man greater than themselves as a threat.
  • The German-Austrian is the only person who has benefited Austria in various social and political settings --- he also disparages Negros in this diatribe
  • Social Democracy contributed to the de-Germanization of the State of Austria
  • the Austrian parliament is undignified because all the political members do not speak German, "a gesticulating mass, speaking in all keys."
  • Democracy of the West forsters Marxism and is a universal plague
  • Regrets that with the parliamentary system, that no one is held responsible for any decisions

The Alter Hof in Munich (1914)
Adolf Hitler
source Wikipedia
After Chapter 3, I gave up my note taking.  Hitler is, if nothing else, repetitive, and his increasing virulent hatred towards anyone or anything Jewish, was hard to stomach.  It was educational to learn that his anti-Semitism was shared by others at the time, and he was influenced by anti-Semitic organizations.  Much of his book is a thesis against them, with Hitler providing supporting evidence for the Jews being dirty, liars, sneaky, dishonest, culturally bankrupt, dangerous, avaricious, etc.  They were, in effect, social parasites and, in Hitler's eyes, entirely expendable.  In fact, he felt the superior races duty-bound to rid the world of their inferior presence.

As for political ideologies, Hitler eschewed both Marxism, which he saw as a tool of the Jews, and Socialism.  For him, the democracy of the West was actually the forerunner of Marxism.  Yet Hitler invented his own style of Democracy.  The "true German democracy" consists of one leader who "take(s) over fully all responsibility for what he does or does not do.  There will be no voting by a majority on single questions, but only the decision of the individual who backs it with his life and all he has."  Rather scary, don't you think?  One perfect individual, perhaps? Who would judge this individual?  Who would hold him accountable?  A recipe for disaster, I'd say.

Learning from other statesmen, whom he admired, Hitler strove to give Germany an ideology that the common people would ascribe to and be willing to defend to the death.  Hitler himself said, "Every attempt at fighting a view of life by means of force will finally fail, unless the fight against it represents the form of an attack for the sake of a new spiritual direction.  Only in the struggle of two views of life with each other can the weapon of brute force, used continuously and ruthlessly, bring about the decision in favor of the side it supports."

Hitler as a soldier during WWI
source Wikipedia
Of Hitler's participation in World War I, my book's notes have the following to say:  "Concerning his military record, the following facts are known; that he served as a messenger between regimental headquarters and the the front; that he was a good soldier who refused to the very end to join in criticism of the way things were being run; that his temperament made his commanding officer doubt the wisdom of promoting him to any sort of non-commissioned rank above that of corporal; and that he occupies a modest but honorable place in the history of the Regiment List, to which he belonged.  The particular exploit for which he received the Iron Cross is shrouded in secrecy, but most biogrpahers agree that there was no reason why it should have been awarded."

There is a interesting chapter on war propaganda ..... how it has been used effectively and ineffectively and Hitler's proposed fine-tuning of it.  He felt that during WWI, the German methods were simply too sophisticated and failed to concentrate on appealing to popular emotion.  Hitler believed that the most important tactic was to ascertain what would invoke the support of the masses.

On Nation and Race, Hitler observed that no other animal in nature cross mates; finches mate with finches, foxes with foxes, etc. so therefore why should humans?  Cross mating simply weakens the race.  Once he sorted out the races, he turned to Darwin's "survival of the fittest" ideology, in that the stronger weed out the weaker (ie. kill them), until the strongest is on top.  It's quite bizarre logic, because Germany lost WWI and therefore should have been considered the weaker race, but Hitler has a myriad of excuses for their loss.

Munich Marienplatz during the Beer Hall Putsch
source Wikipedia

The book also gives a chilling account of how ordinary people can get caught up in evil.  Of Hitler's putsch of 1923 (his attempt to seize power in Munich), my book's notes say, "The Hitler putsch of 1923 made the (Nazi) Party more popular in the city than it had been before.  When the Nazis drove dissenters --- or imaginary dissenters ---- from their meetings with cudgels, their audiences grew larger.  Few people in Germany were at the bottom anti-Semitic, but the joy large number felt in promises of blood curdling treatment to be meted out to the helpless minority made them responsive to the suggestion.  Smashing windows and street fighting were relied upon to win the crowd.  The propagandists encouraged them all.  'We shall reach our goal,' declared Goebbels, 'when we have the courage to laugh as we destroy, as we smash, whatever was sacred to us as tradition, as education, as friendship and as human affection.'  In the Vienna of March, 1938, ordinary citizens who had hitherto gone about peacefully, confessed to a strange delight in the sufferings visited upon the Jewish group."  This description was one of the most chilling parts of the book for me.  I cannot imagine human beings, not only wanting to enact such suffering on others, but enjoying it as well.

I started this read this biography, with great anticipation, hoping to gain some insight into the mind of one of the most villainous characters in modern history. Yet, as I read, I soon realized that it was going to be difficult to understand someone who was mad, if you are not mad yourself.  The narrative became a strange compilation of rather astute and insightful commentary, often hidden and mixed in amongst his mad ravings and bizarre ideas.  Hitler makes mostly nonsense, but with a sprinkling of rather astute sense, the combination making some of his accounts strangely compelling.  It's rather alarming.  Yet his rambling diatribes and racist invective soon began to become wearing and while I didn't fall asleep like Ruth, I quickly developed a distaste for much of what he had to say.  As an historical document, it was moderately interesting, but as for my attempt for a personal connection with Hitler, that was a complete fail.  And I must say, that it was a very pleasant fail.  Personally, I was very glad to say goodbye to Adolf Hitler.

With regard to the translation of my edition, it is an annotated and unexpurgated edition sponsored by a number of people including Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Published in 1939, after the First World War, yet just at the beginning of the second one, the perspective it offers with regard to the annotations is indeed a unique one, and very valuable to understanding the mindset of the times.  I cannot see an official translator noted, but it is published by Houghton Mifflin, in case anyone wants to search it out.


  1. I've wanted to read this ever since a friend of mine told me she had but I don't think I could put up with the repetitions for long, though it would be interesting to see for myself what Hitler says.
    So awful that violence helped increase their following. I wonder what is the allure there. Was it that people were afraid or were they really into it?

    1. I almost never advocate skimming, especially with classic literature, but in this case, I would recommend it, if it helps you to get through the book. His biography is definitely worth reading, but perhaps not worth torturing yourself with his repetitions. You also need some sort of background, whether it's some study of the history of that time, or good annotations in your edition. Otherwise, it's really hard to understand the mindset of that time.

      As for the violence, I think there were some German people who were dissatisfied with losing WWI and perhaps that was a way to act out. I'm sure the "pack-mentality" played into it as well. If one doesn't learn to think for oneself, one is rather easily led.

      In any case, I hope that you do read it one day, Zezee!

  2. Commendations to you for getting through the reading and review of this book. Thank you for suffering through it with me.

    It is not amazing how crazy men gain power? And sadly many reacted in fear and followed - either because they believed the diatribe or they were afraid for their own lives if they did not obey.

    I read that it was decided that Germany would no longer publish Mein Kampf beginning next year. They believe that today it still affects anti-Semitic opinions and forces. After reading it, I can see how Hitler may still have the power to influence the hearts of some people looking for a scapegoat today.

    BTW, I am glad you are reading Gandhi, too. It is really good. And, my goodness! Unlike MK, it will be a fun review.

    1. Yes, it was interesting in a rather unusual and strenuous sort of way.

      I just have to look at the political elections nowadays, and really it shouldn't surprise me that someone like Hitler gained power.

      The copyright on Mein Kampf expires this year, so while Germany did indeed ban it, they are re-thinking this decision. Bavaria has already decided to publish annotated editions set to be released January 1, 2016. I think the focus is on defusing any negative impact the book could have in Germany. There are still ultra-right wing factions that would perhaps endorse at least some of Hitler's ideas. Here's an interesting article on it:

      At least it was more enjoyable trudging through this together. And there are no more biographies coming up that I'm dreading, although a few I may yawn over (I have no idea who Stein, Rodriguez, Conway & Sarton are). I can't wait to finish!

    2. I really liked that article. Love the opening sentence. Personally, the annotated editions aren't necessary, but I understand their arguments for one. I didn't think Hitler was a complicated man to comprehend, but others may find his ideology, philosophy, and theories overwhelming.

    3. I think it depends of the focus of the annotations. My edition provided a background for his thoughts (history) which I found extremely helpful. You're right in that his ideas are certainly not cloaked, but if you understand where they come from and the basis for why he might have made them, it gives you a deeper understanding.

      Overwhelming, is right! As I said, I'm very happy to move on!

  3. Wow. I admire you for reading this book but I would hat to have to put myself through it. He is so evil. I believe he must have been demon possessed. Why else would he hate Jews so much?
    And then there are the ordinary citizens who delighted, as you wrote, in the suffering of the Jews. How can people do that?
    Makes you wonder if Germans have ever completely left their barbaric roots.
    Of course, who am I to judge. We all, as sinners, have barbaric roots. Great review!

    1. Hitler's father was a stern, unyielding man, and the supposition is that he beat Hitler. I wouldn't have been surprised if his brain was damaged from the beatings. People have said that they noticed that he was not alright in his teens, so his mental issues began when he was quite young.

      In spite of our society pushing "tolerance", Anti-Semitism does not ever seem to go away. Historically, you can note it all over the place. What surprised me is that it wasn't Hitler influencing other people which started it, it was already there, ripe and growing, and these groups had a strong hand in influencing Hitler.

      My experience is that the Germans still have a "complex" over WWII. I visited Passau, where Hitler had lived and had a headquarters and where there were concentration camps. It has historical significance, but you would never know that anything happened there. We knew people who lived there and they showed us the headquarters but there was nothing to mention anything about Hitler or WWII. They want to forget it and can you blame them? It's a touchy subject and people still remain closed and more quietly private, a manner that, our friends tell us, is left over from WWII, when if you said anything outside your home, you could be reported and have problems come your way. It was interesting to learn all this but all so out of my scope of true understanding as a North American.

  4. I admire your reading of this modern classic and appreciate the thorough commentary. I'm not sure if I will ever read this, but you have provided enticement through your review.

    1. Thanks, James & welcome to my blog! It certainly isn't a necessary read, and more a study in psychology than a history. Even though I'm glad that I read it, in hindsight, I'd be more interested in reading books about Hitler than his nutty ramblings. I've never said that about an author before, but I guess there's a first time for everything! :-)

  5. Excellent post, and it's a book one ought to read because, as everyone says, it helps stop history repeating itself. I remember Hitler being very influenced by Herbert Spencer and social Darwinism - it's very disturbing and I think you did well to get through it. I may read it one day (I have read parts) but I don't think I'd get to it any time soon. It's the sort of book I wouldn't even want in the house, despite knowing as I've just said people really ought to read it.

    1. A confession ..... I still have the second volume: The National Socialist Movement to read. I have it out to read slowly, but honestly my eyes glaze over just reading the title.

      There was so much talk of stronger races and euthanasia during this time and I think we don't realize how prevalent it was.

      Sadly I really believe that in this case history can repeat itself. We have so many people nowadays acting as if they know what's best for everyone, without the ability to self-examine. I wish we had a (rather large) sprinkling of some of the Greek philosophers' humbleness ...... like Socrates who professed the more he learned the less he knew (which is saying the more information he gleaned, the more he realized how little he really did know.) Although I don't think his contemporaries would have described him as humble .... that appellation might be a problem .... ;-) Ha, ha!

  6. Thank you Cleo for your summary because I doubt I am going to ever undertake to read it myself. The mixture of mad ravings and astute logic sounds like what I understand Hitler to be. I too am very scared when the crowd brain takes over. That is one of the root reasons I think it's important to read literature from different times.

    1. You're welcome! :-) Even though I probably would have preferred to read a book about Hitler, honestly I wonder how anyone could paint this character accurately? How could they begin to understand him? So I'm happy that I read this autobiography, but I have no plans for a re-read. Now I can move on to books about him and have a basis to go from.

      I'm reading The Canterbury Tales at the moment and some of the tales from the religious characters, people would call very moralistic or boring. But it's curious how these characters seem to peg human failures and sin, and it makes me wonder if we've lessened the value of such sermons. We can always say, "oh, I'd never act like that", but it's good to be reminded to be on your guard, and that evil is possible within anyone.