Saturday, October 12, 2013
No Hitler, No Holocaust (again)
Yet another Hitler biography has just hit the market, written by the German journalist Volker Ullrich. Apparently, it focuses on Hitler "the person." It remains to be seen what kinds of counterfactual hypotheses are included in the narrative, but if the following excerpt from an interview with Der Spiegel is any indication, Ullrich shares the prevailing view, "no Hitler, no Holocaust."
The "what if?" exchange takes place at the end of the interview:
SPIEGEL: "Without Hitler there would have been no National Socialism, but without the energies that propelled him upward there would have been no Hitler. Where would these destructive forces have discharged if this pivotal figure had not existed?"
Ullrich: "There were very many Germans who supported that extreme, but Hitler was the one directing it." They would have found a different outlet. One possibility would have been an authoritarian government largely directed by the military. People such as Chancellors Schleicher and Papen had shown what they were capable of following the 1932 coup in Prussia, dismissing republic-minded civil servants and purging the government. Anti-Jewish laws presumably would have been implemented without Hitler as well. But the Holocaust -- this last, radical extreme of the political utopian vision of a racially homogeneous society -- never would have happened. It is unimaginable without Hitler."
In making this claim, Ullrich is in good company. Ever since Milton Himmelfarb's famous Commentary Magazine article, "No Hitler, No Holocaust" (1984), countless scholars have made the same point. My forthcoming book, Hi Hitler!, includes a discussion of this "what if?" scenario in a chapter devoted to counterfactualism and the Holocaust. Stay tuned....