Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

War IndexGlossaryEducational ResourcesAbout the Show
The Great War
Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Timeline Maps & Battles The Shaping of the 21st Century Historians
Historians OverviewRobert Wohl

Adolf Hitler - The Happiest Period of his Life
Robert Wohl
"Hitler served on the Western Front as a corporal.

"He was a runner; that is, he carried messages back and forth between headquarters, and between different groups of soldiers. This was an extremely dangerous job to have in the army because it involved subjecting yourself to artillery fire and to machine gun fire.

"Hitler knew what it was like… to see people killed, to be wounded, and from every account that we have… this was the happiest period in his life.

"It was the happiest period in his life because he had finally found a group to which he belonged – which was the army – a group that he admired. The army in turn, being the expression of a national community which he elevated into an ideal.

"Now nobody in Europe was as successful at articulating this concept, this connection between the war and the post-war world, and the possibility of change in the post-war world as Hitler was. He was particularly adept at communicating to people who would share his experience, because his speeches tended not so much to include ideas, as to articulate experiences that he had had.

"He knew what it meant to live in the mud and the slime of the Western Front.

"He knew what it meant to risk his life. He knew what it meant to be surrounded by dead soldiers. He knew what sacrifice meant. And this was very important in the Nazi program, because the Nazi program could not possibly be realized unless the German people were willing to sacrifice themselves in order to achieve it. He was extraordinarily successful in articulating this before the German public.

"The values Hitler succeeded in tapping, and that he articulated as no one else did in Europe, were values of sacrifice; of comradeship; the transcendence of class divisions; the achievement of a true (as opposed to a false) national community in which everyone would be equal in their sacrifice, and, if necessary, the sacrifice of their lives.

"Hitler was able to exploit the same sort of anti-capitalist, anti-bourgeois attitude that the socialists and the communists tried… because he did not come from the higher reaches of society.

"He was a little man himself, who had arisen from the masses. He was mass man incarnate, and he therefore was able to call for a mass state; a state in which individualism would no longer be possible, because everybody would need to dedicate themselves to the goals of the community rather than to their own selfish interests. So that here you have a man who was able to appeal to certain utopian feelings that had been developed in Europe before 1914, had been consolidated during the war, and the experience of the war, and he was able to tap into those feelings in a particularly effective way because he really believed in them."

Back to Top     

Home Prologue Explosion/Stalemate Total War/Slaughter Mutiny/Collapse Hatred & Hunger/War Without End

Timeline Maps & Battles Shaping of the 21st Century Historians War Index Resources About the Show
Copyright © 1996 - 2004 Community Television of Southern California. All rights reserved.