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Springtime for Hitler

In response to:

Farewell to Hitler from the April 3, 1975 issue

To the Editors:

Geoffrey Barraclough’s “Farewell to Hitler” contains a passage misrepresenting an article by me and the Hitler record in roughly equal measure.

In my article cited by Barraclough, I argued that Hitler’s mother cannot have escaped fatal poisoning from a given treatment applied to her by a Jewish doctor in her last weeks of life and that Hitler’s experience of her agony was the unconscious source of his deadly hate for the Jews. My evidence for the poisoning was the doctor’s record of the treatment together with all the voluminous literature available on the medication employed. I presented as much of this evidence as space permitted; the rest is in my files, open to every interested researcher. Barraclough dismisses this evidence without explanation as “slender beyond belief.” He also implies that I meant to explain “the extermination of six million Jews” by that one experience of Hitler’s. What in fact I claimed to explain was the psychological origin of Hitler’s extermination order, and this expressly by much more than that one experience.

Barraclough goes on from there to reject my supposed view “that the search for Lebensraum was the outcome of an ‘oral-aggressive fixation’ which Hitler acquired with his mother’s milk.” But this is a view that I myself clearly rejected. To quote my article: “The basic libidinal thrust behind Hitler’s doctrine of ‘feeding ground’ was entirely oral as far as I can see. But that oral thrust did not produce the doctrine, let alone the policy of eastward expansion that the doctrine subserved.” And for good measure: “…the fact that Hitler was stuck on his mother’s breast did not yield his designs on Soviet Russia.”

Barraclough next saddles me with the view “that Hitler’s crisis of identity was paradigmatic of the identity crisis of Germany after 1918.” I neither said nor meant anything whatever about an “identity crisis” of Hitler’s, about any other crisis of Hitler’s that was “paradigmatic,” or about an “identity crisis of Germany after 1918.” This theory is indeed unproven, as Barraclough says, but it is his Eriksonian invention.

Finally, Barraclough asks how we are to explain “the fact” that Hitler “secured so little political support in the crucial period of the ten years between 1919 and 1929” for his Lebensraum policy if, as I say, it enabled Germany to “cope with the 1918 disaster.” Actually Hitler came out with that policy only in 1925; he was prohibited from speaking in public in virtually all of Germany from 1925 until 1927 or 1928; he thereupon spoke incessantly about that very policy even as his party swelled from insignificance to a “mass party” by the time of the provincial elections of 1929 (Wolfgang Horn, Führerideologie und Parteiorganisation in der NSDAP [Düsseldorf, 1972], pp. 254, 256).

I well realize that Barraclough has difficulty with psychohistorical explanations. But had he wished to get mine straight instead of just belittling it, I was at his disposal over the year and a half since it was published. If, as Barraclough once put it, psychohistory is the bunk, why must its arguments be misstated when they are not rejected out of hand?

Rudolph Binion

Brandeis University

Waltham, Massachusetts

Geoffrey Barraclough replies:

Mr. Nicholson’s problem seems to be that I didn’t write the article he wanted me to write. Like him, I think it would be useful to know more about such things as “the cultivation of right-wing groups by the richest and most powerful industrialists and bankers,” but that was not my subject. On this occasion I was writing about Hitler, not about the “dimensions” and “roots” of “German fascism.”

If Mr. Nicholson’s purpose is to suggest that “Hitler’s enormous charisma” and other aspects of his personality “lead nowhere by themselves,” I am in full agreement. I should have thought that was the thrust of my article; it was certainly intended to be. Why else the title “Farewell to Hitler”? Why else the warning at the beginning that we cannot “explain National Socialism in terms of Hitler alone”? Why else the conclusion that “he is not worth all the attention historians have paid to him”? As for the question of Hitler’s “classlessness,” the description is evidently relative and has to be seen in terms of Germany’s social stratification at the time. Everyone knows that Hitler derived the bulk of his support, at least down to 1933, from the petty bourgeoisie. If at the same time “he was attractive to both the great capitalists and to masses of distressed workers,” I should have thought that this alone shows that his appeal transcended class (i.e., the class divisions of Germany in 1930-1933) in a way which neither the SPD nor the KPD on the left nor the DNVP or the DVP on the right, was able to do.

I agree with Mr. Nicholson that there has been too much “superstructure analysis.” For that very reason it seemed to me worthwhile—for once—to take it to pieces and to show (as I hope I succeeded in showing) how limited its contribution is. Mr. Binion’s letter, on the other hand, attacks me from the opposite standpoint, suggesting (if I understand him correctly) that I have underestimated or misunderstood the significance of the psychoanalytical superstructure. There would be little profit in replying to Mr. Binion’s arguments point by point. I do not believe that I have misinterpreted the thrust of his argument. But the relevant material is readily available, and I am only too ready to leave it to those of your readers who are interested to decide for themselves whether or how far Mr. Binion’s complaints are justified.

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