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Sacks, M.H. (1999). Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of his Evil By Ron Rosenbaum: New York: Random House, 1998, 448 pp., $30.00. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 47(1):277-281.

(1999). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47(1):277-281

Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of his Evil By Ron Rosenbaum: New York: Random House, 1998, 448 pp., $30.00

Review by:
Michael H. Sacks

Ron Rosenbaum's aim in this book is to explain Adolf Hitler's anti-Semitism and responsibility for the Holocaust. Is Hitler personally responsible, to the point that without him it would not have occurred? Or is the Holocaust the final product of “faceless abstractions, inexorable forces, or irresistible compulsions that gave him no choice or made his choice irrelevant” (p. 395)? In addition, there is the nature of Hitler's evil: is it a singularity, to be found nowhere else on the spectrum of human behavior, or is it a capacity of human nature that we all have? Recent public outrage at the collaboration of Swiss bankers with the Nazis, controversy regarding the return of looted art treasures, and the best-seller success of Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust all speak to the intensity of interest in these questions despite the passage of more than half a century since the defeat of Germany and the suicide of Hitler.

Hitler's roles as charismatic leader, politician, statesman, and military strategist are not specifically addressed. Given this narrow focus, Rosenbaum's method is to survey a range of Hitler and holocaust “explainers,” both popular and academic. The “popular” view seeks a transforming psychological event that influenced a frustrated young artist and World War I veteran to become a racist intent on the elimination of Jews. (The fifteen-year-old daughter of friends, overhearing a discussion of this book, offered the theory that it was because of his failure as an artist!) Traumas proposed as explanatory include Hitler's alleged one-quarter Jewishness, rumors of sexual problems and his missing one testicle, the brutality of his father and/or mother, and a displaced anger at the Jewish physician who attended his mother's fatal breast cancer.

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