I’ll never forget Claude Lanzmann, the director of Shoah, the nine-and-a-half-hour Holocaust documentary, shouting at me, accusatorially, in his Parisian flat: “There is even a baby picture of Hitler!” Virtually aghast at the very idea that there could be such a picture, because it would insidiously ensnare people into the evil enterprise of trying to explain why — why that innocent infant evolved into a genocidal monster.
Lanzmann rejected any such “understanding,” preferring a Hitler who sprang full-blown like a demon in our midst. Almost like Macduff, not “of woman born,” Hitler not of human formed. A hostility to the baby picture, almost disclaiming the picture’s right to exist because of its misleading potential. All of which led, after the French publication of the book, to my clash with Lanzmann, which the Parisian magazine Le Figaro called “L’Affair Rosenbaum. ”
Of course, it is true, many explanations become exculpations, but I would suggest that does not deny, prima facie, the validity of the search to know more than we do. Or entail forgiveness — on the grounds that “to understand all is to forgive all” — no matter how much we know. Maybe we will never know all, never know enough, but it won’t necessarily be because we’re dealing with a supernatural creature beyond human explanation. It may be because human nature has more profound depths than we imagined. Or it may be that we lack some crucial piece of his personal history.
But something or some things made Hitler want to do what he did. It wasn’t a concatenation of impersonal, external forces, a kind of collective determinism. It required his impassioned personal desire for extermination, even at the potential cost of defeat for Germany. It required him to choose evil. It required free will.
—“Hitler, Continued: Afterword from the Updated Edition of ‘Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil,'” by Ron Rosenbaum, Los Angeles Review of Books, July 10th, 2014.