The Making of the Fuhrer
By Paul Ham
Published by William Heinemann
RRP $32.99 in hardback • ISBN 9780143786559
Despite being studied and analysed by numerous biographers, Adolf Hitler still remains an enigma to many historians.
Paul Ham has chosen to examine Hitler’s early life to try to understand what, in short, “made the Fuhrer”. Unlike many returning soldiers from the First World War, Ham says “Hitler thrilled to battle, refused to accept defeat and fell into the darkest slough of despond at the Armistice”.
If this assessment is accurate, then it is not difficult to understand why Hitler was driven to avenge what he perceived as a great injustice to the German nation and its severe treatment under the Treaty of Versailles.
Ham argues that Hitler was an opportunist who took advantage of the catastrophic conditions that had debased German society in the post war years rather than a natural born leader who was always destined to rule.
Given these conditions, the time was ripe for the emergence of a ‘saviour’ who would make Germany great again. As it turned out, Hitler possessed the necessary traits to assume this role.
Ham believes, along with the acclaimed historian Ian Kershaw, that “what happened under Hitler is unimaginable without the experience of the First World War and what followed it”.
Based on this, Ham concludes that “Hitler was an extreme example of a recurring and dangerous type of political animal, one that thrives in chaos, revolution and economic collapse”. This is a sobering conclusion.
Could we see the rise of such a dictator again given the re-emergence of far right political ideology? We can only hope not.