Beheading Hitler

Historians would agree that in Adolf Hitler's last days, as he cowered in his bunker and the Red Army advanced, the fuhrer lost his head -- commanding movements of troops that did not exist, raging at perceived betrayal schemes, drugged out and tripping out.

On Saturday, Hitler literally lost his head when only the second customer at the new Madame Tussauds museum in Berlin tussled with security, then ripped waxy Hitler's head off.

The pouty-faced, dour, rumpled-hair likeness of Hitler was unveiled in a press tour on Thursday, stoking controversy about the appropriateness of having pre-suicide, bunker-refugee Hitler sit hunched over his desk among wax figures of politicians and sports heroes. The media caught the "before" pictures of the wax likeness; I, and many others, would have loved to see the "after" pictures of the headless Hitler.

In response to the debate over Hitler's inclusion in the display, Tussauds decided to relegate Hitler to his pathetic bunker display to try to allay concerns. Among those concerns is German law, which prohibits the display of Nazi symbols or regalia. In other words, Prince Harry the fancy-dress-party Nazi would have been in trouble had he costumed up for a Berlin bash.

Tussauds has decided to tack Hitler's head back rather than say "auf wiedersehen" to the exhibit, but the fact of the matter remains: We can in no way, shape, or form allow this monster to be glorified. Yet in no way, shape, or form can we forget what he was and what he did. Learning from this hideous past is, after all, so crucial to spotting and stopping the tyrants of our present and future.

The headless Hitler story reminded me of the controversy over the movie Downfall, which was nominated in 2005 for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The movie has an intense focus on Hitler's last days in the bunker, with Bruno Ganz delivering an astounding performance as the dictator in the depths of not just the earth, but his paranoia as well. In a particularly disturbing scene, Magda Goebbels calmly kills off the family's six children one by one rather than live in a country without National Socialism.

Yet the film was criticized in many circles for showing Hitler as too human: He was nice to his dog (until Blondi got force-fed a cyanide caplet as a test subject) and kind to his secretaries (until something set him off -- something he would invariably peg on traitors, Jews, Russians, etc.)