What makes “The Hitler Myth” fascinating to me is that it finally begins to shed light on how Hitler rose to power. I remember being surprised to learn that he acquired his power legally and democratically when I read about World War II in my history classes at school. Democratically! As in, people voted him in. Indeed, the National Socialist party claimed just shy of 40% of the vote in the 1932 elections. Didn’t they know what they were getting into? No, actually. And that’s because they believed Hitler, at least initially, was their saving grace in light of the failing Weimar Republic and overall sense of crisis that enveloped the nation at the time. Hitler became someone German people could look up to, after all, “the broad mass needs an idol” in the words of the man himself.
What came with his rise to power was a myth surrounding him, claiming that he was the answer to all of Germany’s problems, the cure to the German people’s plight. This myth is appropriately dubbed the “Hitler Myth” by Ian Kershaw. In Kershaw’s essay, “The ‘Hitler Myth,’” Kershaw outlines the different components of the myth that essentially built Hitler’s public image at the time. The most prominent components of the myth were the belief that Hitler was almost god-like, as well being thought of as an “upholder and a fanatical defender of Germany’s just rights” (Kershaw, 199). The myth went hand in hand with Hitler’s promise to keep Germans safe from both external and internal threats, as well as the conviction he held of Germany’s greatness.
The myth, fueled by Nazi propaganda, helped Hitler seduce audiences of all social and economic classes. Crawling out of the chaos ridden years of the Weimar Republic, German people wanted change. Hitler, according to myth, could offer that change. After all, he was “accepted as the single-handed architect of Germany’s ‘economic miracle’” (Kershaw, 198). And in fact, at least towards the beginning, progress lined up nicely with his rise to power, so it’s easy to see why he was able to appeal to such a large scope of people. And even for those who weren’t necessarily “ideologically complicit” (Fritzsche, 7) I can easily see how the promise of change could be enticing enough to coerce some people to get behind the movement. Furthermore, he was thought of by the elites as someone they could “trust and work with” and was able to garner their support by “providing the mass base of legitimation for the presumed reassertion of their own spheres of domination” (Kershaw, 206).
As Kershaw is quick to point out, “the contrast between image and reality is stark.” The Hitler painted in the myth was very different from real life Hitler. And one of the things that did him in was his conviction and “ faith in his own infallibility” (Kershaw, 208), something perpetuated by the “Hitler Myth.” I think that although the myth was just that: a myth, it helps explain real historical trends, like why people legitimately supported Hitler, and how he was able to expand his power. Back in the early 1930’s people truly believed that Hitler was their saviour and that he would bring about the change that they so desperately needed. And it’s interesting how these sentiments regarding Hitler have carried on well after the end of World War II, as “Hitler is still today regarded [in some places] in ‘heroic’ terms” (Kershaw, 211). So even though a lot of the things thought of about Hitler was just a myth, those thoughts have had a lasting influence that can still be felt to this day and continues to affect history.