A rally for the Alternative für Deutschland party in Berlin. Photo: Getty Images

The only really meaningful issue in post-war Europe has been what to make of Adolf Hitler and the Germany he left behind. Granted the character of the people, the day would surely come when Germany was certain to be once again more powerful than all the neighbors put together. That could not happen in the days of the Cold War and the Berlin Wall, when the country consisted of two politically incompatible halves. François Mauriac became famous not for his novels but for saying that he so loved Germany that he was glad there were two of it. Sustained attempts have been made to atone and serve justice to all those who have to answer for crimes committed in the war. A court has just sentenced to prison a former S.S. concentration camp warder although he is in his nineties.

Germans have been the first to agree that they should be constrained for fear that history repeats itself—put another way, they have not been willing to trust themselves. The law in Germany controls what may be said and published about Hitler. The generation that had lived through the Hitler years could not explain the moral collapse. Although these Germans had voted for him and fought his wars on the grounds that his ambitions were also theirs, they spoke of him casting a spell, drawing them into a magnetic field of un-reason. Concealing until the end of his life that he too had been in the S.S., Günter Grass became the country’s representative author when he hit upon an imaginative literary formulation for this magnetic field of unreason and spells.

Germans have not been willing to trust themselves.

At the political level, nationalism was considered the root cause of the last war, and likely to cause the next. Abolish the nation-state, it followed, create a homogeneous continent under one flag and one law, and distinctions between Germany and its neighbors would evaporate. Hitler had seen it differently. Nations might indeed fight nations, but for him history was a permanent Darwinian struggle between races. Jews were not a nation; they were a race which he accused of debasing the pure German race. For him, the German nation was merely a weapon, the means to achieve desired ends, namely the supremacy of his supposed pure German race. Defeat on the battlefield was proof that the Germans were an inferior race, and he gave orders to Josef Goebbels and Albert Speer, his two most faithful ministers, to destroy everything the nation would need for survival. His Germans had let him down, and the race deserved nothing but annihilation. By definition, people of a different nationality could not possibly identify with German nationalism; it is as a racialist that Hitler has entered the European blood stream.

For Hitler, the German nation was merely a weapon.

Mein Kampf (My Struggle) is Hitler’s racialist manifesto. He wrote it in 1923 when he was in prison after mounting a putsch that failed. When he became Führer, the book was a best-seller from which he and his publisher made fortunes. Had things turned out otherwise, the book would have been at best a historical curiosity. An autodidact evidently deprived of systematic education, Hitler rants with the monotonous intensity of a soapbox orator. His bile, his animus against Jews, in fact all his points of view, pass on provincial prejudices common to the masses in the Habsburg and Hohenzollern twilight. In such circles, ruthless diplomacy and the use of force were natural means of obtaining what they wanted.

The Institut für Zeitgeschichte in Munich is the foremost center of research into Hitler and the years of Nazism. The Institut took the view that there is a wide demand for Mein Kampf and decided to republish it. This critical edition is in two outsize volumes totalling together almost two thousand pages, far too heavy and unwieldy to read without some kind of lectern in support. Right-hand pages have Hitler’s text in bold type, with a marginal column in smaller type containing all the various changes, mostly stylistic, that Hitler made to successive editions, all duly examined, compared, and dated. Left-hand pages consist of the notes, commentaries, and criticisms of the four editors. Specialists in the field, they do not wear their learning lightly. To give a sample chosen at random, one among many footnotes about anti-Semitism refers to separate but similarly deranged pamphlets that Hitler will have drawn on, published in 1919 by an unknown Bavarian folk-poet called Franz Schrönghamer-Heimdal and an equally unknown Paul Bang, with references, quotations, and cross-quotations from other publications.

On the crucial issue of racialism, Hitler could not be more clear, writing, “Was nicht Rasse ist auf dieser Welt ist Spreu” (race is what counts in this world and everything else is chaff). The editors reveal a lot about themselves by describing this sentence as “senseless,” redrafted by Hitler and anyhow derived from half a dozen sources ranging from Disraeli to modern historians.

If Germany were a person, he or she would by now be in hospital in intensive care. A poll recently carried out at Leipzig University found that 12 percent of those questioned thought Germans were by nature superior to other people, 8 percent thought Nazism had its good side, and 6 percent held that Hitler would have gone down in history as a great statesman were it not for the genocide of the Jews. The German Ugo Voigt sits in the European Union parliament as the sole member of the National Democratic Party (npd in the German acronym for stormtrooper-types who are neither national nor democratic). Other members of that parliament seemingly do not object to his proclaiming in a newspaper interview that Hitler was “a great statesman.” Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD) has a specifically anti-Islamic platform, and in the two years of its existence has already become the third largest political party. pegida, short for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, is a mass-movement that takes to the streets. This state of mind is no respecter of borders. Anders Breivik, the Norwegian who shot and killed seventy-seven people, opened court proceedings by giving the Hitlergruss, or straight-arm Nazi salute, going on to claim that reading Hitler’s Mein Kampf is the only thing keeping him alive. Hitler himself observed that Jews had no intention of building a state in Palestine, “but they only want a central organization of their international world cheating.” Arab and Muslim countries, Iran in the lead, treat Hitler’s book as though it were an exposé of truth otherwise hard to obtain, and constantly refer to it as authority for their own racialism. At demonstrations in European cities, Muslims and their sympathizers hold up placards that proclaim “Jews to the ovens” or “Hitler was right.”

If Germany were a person, he or she would by now be in hospital in intensive care.

Germany has a Muslim population of nearly six million, including the million migrants from the Middle East whom Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted on her own responsibility in 2015; another million are due in 2016, at an overall cost to date estimated by the Finance Ministry at $105 billion. According to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the country’s domestic intelligence agency, 950 members of Hezbollah and 300 members of Hamas are at clandestine action stations in the West, and there are four terror alerts on average every day. A quotation from Imre Kertész, an Auschwitz survivor, is more immediate than the novels that earned him his Nobel Prize: “Europe has produced Hitler, and after Hitler the continent stands there with no arguments: the doors are wide open for Islam.”

Only specialists will be reading these two volumes, but at a moment when this century looks as uncertain as the previous, there the volumes stand, monumental, exhaustive, and cautionary.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 35 Number 1, on page 103
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