Monday, 25 November 2013

Book Review - The Hitler virus by Peter Wyden

The Hitler virus : the insidious legacy of Adolf Hitler by Peter Wyden

New York : Arcade Publishing, 2012                             ISBN 9781611453225

Peter Wyden was a journalist and author, and this book has been released posthumously by Wyden's friend and fellow publisher, Richard Seaver.

Wyden sent this book to Seaver knowing that it was in need of a good editor, and his death surely has had an impact on the book we see. This is a good book, with a lot to say, but suffers from being too episodic, and lacks a structure to hold it together.

Wyden's personal history appears in the book from time-to-time: forced to flee Germany in 1937 because he was Jewish, he returned in 1945 with the US Army as part of a propaganda unit charged with trying to eradicate the Nazi cancer from the surviving population. Wyden has insights not only into the Nazi thuggery before the war, but also  into the reactions of Germans to their defeat.

The Hitler virus is about more than the shock and denial of the German population immediately after the War: it chronicles how Nazism has never been completely crushed, and how, hydra-like, the insidious legacy of the title keeps appearing, sometimes in the strangest places.

Wyden chronicles the way that soon after the war the US rehabilitated many Nazis to help run post-war Germany, and how the "Nazi dust vanished under the rug". The accommodation of the occupying powers with some of the former administration led to a "don't ask, don't tell" policy, where the US assumed people were not Nazis, and no German would admit to past dealings with the Party.

He goes on to discuss "The Hitler wave" of the 1970s, when Germany started to talk, write, and make film about Hitler. What Wyden finds troubling about this era is how much of this outpouring minimised Hitler's madness and evil and emphasised his "achievements". His discussion of the television series Heimat is very interesting, showing how, by a change of emphasis, and of what is and isn't shown, a different interpretation of the Nazi era can and has taken hold in a great part of Germany.

The "out and proud" Nazis also get a mention in the book, along with those that profit from the fascination with the Nazi period - there is quite a good short expose on the Hitler diaries fiasco, noting the involvement of several former members of the Nazi hierarchy. The Hitler tourist and memorabilia industry also gets coverage.

The Hitler historians come in for criticism as well - mostly the Germans, such as Fest, Nolte and to a lesser extent Haffner, but David Irving gets his fair share as well. Better material has been written elsewhere on  how history can be distorted by charlatans like Irving , but Wyden gives a good journalistic coverage here. Where Wyden does well is to show the subtlety with which many of these characters belittle the crimes of Hitler and the Nazi regime - insidious indeed.

The final section of the book is "brighter" - some sections on some brave souls who fight for the truth to be exposed, no matter how painful it might be. Wyden briefly discusses the psychological effect of Nazism on Germany and Germans, and how denial is to some extent a natural reaction to such horrors, as indeed is embracing the crimes, which a small minority have done.

There are in reality several books within this title, which is probably why, good as it is, it left me feeling unfulfilled. Many of the chapters are very short, and left me wanting more information. Because Wyden covers so much territory, he skims the surface in many areas, which is a shame.

The one thing that does come out of this book is the re-iteration that we must never never forget.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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