Today he is perceived as the personification of evil, a mass murderer and architect of the Holocaust. Despite the destruction of his Nazi dream of world supremacy, important questions remain unanswered.
How did a lowly First World War veteran with no real education or wealth become the most powerful tyrant in Europe in just 15 years? What transformed a dull, second-rate artist into a ruthless despot capable of such despicable cruelty? Who was Adolf Hitler and what gave him the power to command others to obey his perverted desires?
Much has been written about his rapid rise to power, the creation of the Third Reich and his conduct during the Second World War but little was known about his early life, until now. Claus Hant is a German author who has spent 15 years researching Hitler’s younger days and he believes the events of one day in the Nazi leader’s life changed the course of history.
He was said to have no exceptional traits or talents. However, all that was to change one day in October 1918. Hitler had joined a Bavarian regiment of the German Army in 1914 and fought at the front throughout the conflict. On October 14, 1918, at Werwicq in Belgium, Lance Corporal Hitler and his comrades fell victim to a gas attack.
This led to Hitler being transported 600 miles to a small hospital in Pasewalk, a remote, rural town on the German border with Poland. Hant explains: “This incident is one of the key points I make in my book Young Hitler. It is, I believe, the most significant event in Hitler’s early life and goes a long way towards explaining what drove him to become the man he was.”
“Hitler remained at the hospital for a month and may have been treated with hypnosis, which was the usual treatment at that time for war neurotics, although it seems unlikely that hypnosis could provoke such a profound and permanent change in a person’s being as was the case with Hitler. Equally, he may have undergone electric shock therapy.”
“His racism, his anti-Semitism, his opposition to democracy and his exaggerated love for Germany had all been present before Pasewalk, as had his violent temper, vindictiveness, delusion of genius and the certainty that divine Providence was on his side, ” says Hant.
“After Pasewalk Hitler was the same average person he had been before. However, there was one crucial difference. What had previously been an assumption had now become absolute certainty to him.
Previously he had ‘believed’ himself to be a genius, now he knew it to be true. His political convictions had also now become ‘absolute truths’.”
So, before the war in Vienna, friends of Hitler maintain he was not in the least anti-Semitic and they complained of his long-winded monologues. He was no orator. Yet within little more than a year after leaving hospital Hitler held a crowd of 2,000 spellbound with the sheer power of his discourse.
This belief in the allegedly divine nature of his life stayed with him until his suicide more than 20 years later. After his stay at Pasewalk he frequently identified himself with Jesus Christ. At a Christmas celebration in 1926, he said: “The work that Christ had begun but had been unable to finish [Hitler] would complete.”
In another speech he said he should be crucified if he did not fulfil his obligations. The more successful he became the more he was convinced that he was an instrument of destiny. “People of Germany, ” he proclaimed in 1936, “I have taught you faith, now put your faith in me.”
A rapidly increasing number of people came to believe in Hitler’s self-image, assisted by Nazi propaganda. It was insinuated that the Führer had overcome all things “ignoble”. He had no weaknesses.
In public, Hitler was never seen wearing glasses and, as he did not drink alcohol, smoke or eat meat, he appeared above all human cravings, and the Führer’s girlfriend, Eva Braun, was not known to the German public until after their deaths.
Hitler ensured that the people saw his utterly unshakeable self-belief and regarded him as “the helper, the rescuer, the saviour in the hour of their greatest need. In the eyes of the faithful Hitler was not simply another politician, he was a being sent from God. Hitler exploited this messianic dimension in his rally and meetings.
The rallies held in Nuremburg, in particular, came to resemble grand religious celebrations rather than the usual political assemblies.
The more fanatically the masses believed in Hitler, the more they reinforced his belief in himself no matter what.
Hant adds: “His interval in this hospital and the reason he was there became one of Hitler’s closest secrets. He was even prepared to kill to keep the truth from coming out.”
News that Hitler had spent time in a psychiatric hospital would have destroyed his fledgling political career. In the Twenties one of his opponents, General Kurt von Schleicher, discovered that Hitler had spent time at the Pasewalk hospital and made a series of attempts to get his hands on Hitler’s medical records but failed.
In 1932 he recruited a close friend, Ferdinand von Bredow, a secret service officer, who was asked to confiscate the file. A few months after the file was seized Hitler became Reich Chancellor and in June 1934 General von Schleicher and Colonel von Bredow were shot by the SS.
The file disappeared but one man still knew the truth of what happened at the hospital and a secret police investigation was launched against the psychiatrist Dr Forster, who had admitted Hitler at Pasewalk.
On September 1, 1933, Dr Forster was suspended from the clinic where he worked and on September 11, after an interrogation by the Gestapo, his wife found him dead in his bathroom.
He had apparently shot himself although his wife told the police her husband didn’t own the gun that killed him.
The irrational belief that sustained Hitler and enabled him to seduce the German people was born in the trenches and took form in his mind during a secret stay in a remote psychiatric hospital. Had these events not coincided the course of history is likely to have changed and millions of innocent lives would have been spared.