Ron Rosenbaum

Will They Never Learn?

The heart sinks. Seeing this item from Spiegel Online for 11/23/06: Germany’s First Nazi Comedy: Meet Hitler, the Bedwetting, Drug Addict.

The preview tells us that in Mein Fuhrer, “German cinema breaks new ground with its first comedy about Hitler. Jewish director Dani Levy is following in the footsteps of Charlie Chaplin maker of The Great Dictator… [the film] is a decidedly unsympathetic portrait of Hitler as a bedwetting drug addict who is making the world suffer for his beatings as a child.”

It’ s hard to know where to begin explicating the idiocies compressed into this single paragraph. First of all that this is somehow a brave breakthrough: “a decidedly unsympathetic portrait of Hitler.” What’s next: a courageous critique of Idi Amin?

As I tried to point out in Explaining Hitler, so called “psycho-historical” theories of Hitler have long been justly discredited, but still attract those who find some kitschy thrill in contemplating the sexual and personal perversities of Nazis.

Psycho-historical theories have been discredited both for lack of credible evidence and for flawed notions of causation. Here, for instance, it sounds like the director has blindly accepted the dubious, contradicted hearsay that Hitler’s father beat him, promoted strenuously without corroboration by psychoanalyst Alice Miller (who, again without corroboration “explains” Hitler’s anti-semitism by claiming Hitler’s father beat him because the father was upset that he, the father, might have “Jewish blood”–a concatenation of unproven, unprovable old wives tales). Even if it were true that Hitler’s father beat him this does not support the notion that therefore Hitler became a mass murderer because he resented Daddy. All too many children are beaten by their fathers, true, but only Hitler became Hitler because his exterminationist impulses had the enthusiastic support of hundreds of thousands of “ordinary” Germans and other Europeans.

Second, the focus on Hitler’s alleged personal peculiarities, de-historicizes the causes of the Holocaust; making it some kind of outgrowth of personal revenge and perversion rather the culmination of centuries of murderous anti-semitic hatred in Europe carried out by hundreds of thousands of non bed-wetting accomplices to Hitler. It de-politicizes the genocidal hatred in an utterly trivializing way. The Holocaust was not the product of one man’s personal peccadilloes, but of a powerful historical, theological and racial ideology that a juvenile comic focus on “bed-wetting” utterly obscures and in effect denies.

And speaking of trivializing, there is no more trivializing, over-rated, treatment of Hitler than Chaplin’s dimwitted, laboriously unfunny Great Dictator. Yes Chaplin made some funny movies, but when he tried his hands at politics Chaplin made a movie that did nothing but help Hitler because he made him seem like an unthreatening clown just at a time, 1940, when the world needed to take Hitler’s threat seriously.

Yet Chaplin’s film makes it seem like Hitler was nothing but a harmless fool (like Chaplin, same mustache and all). And he made it at a time, during the Nazi-Soviet pact, when the world most needed to mobilize against Hitler’s threat. And yet Chaplin, to his eternal shame ended the film not with a call to oppose fascism, and its murderous hatred, but rather–because he was following the shameful Hitler-friendly Soviet line at the time–ended his film with a call for all workers in the world to lay down their arms–in other words to refuse to join the fight against fascism and Hitler. For those who wish a further explication of just how idiotic and damaging Chaplin’s repellant film is I refer you to my essay: “Chaplin and Begnini: The Arrogance of Clowns” in The Secret Parts of Fortune.

The final ugliness of this project is that it is the product of a Jewish director, which in the minds of many will “sanitize” it, protect its trivialization of Hitler from criticism, give license for those who indulge in what might be called “Anti-Semitism Denial”: the Holocaust wasn’t the result of an entire culture’s ideology of hatred that found its expression in Hitler, and still haunts the world, but was rather the product of a single perverse individual whose absence from the world stage can comfortably allow us to forget the past.

It sounds almost as bad as last year’s German project of self-exculpation, the awful Downfall which again presented Hitler as a lone nut with a few psychopathic followers, and actually portrayed the poor German people who were somehow misled by him (out of misguided feelings of patriotism) as the real victims of Hitler, rather than “willing executioners” in Daniel Goldhagen’s phrase, collaborators in mass murder.