The Devil Has a Human Face

 

“If Hitler is dehumanized and shown only as a devil, any future Hitler may not be recognized, simply because he is a human being.”

Thus state the opening credits of the 1973 film Swastika, newly released onto DVD this week. The film consists of a montage of home videos of Hitler and his friends at his Bavarian mountain retreat shot predominantly by Eva Braun in 16mm color. Nazi propaganda films and violent newsreel footage of the Nazi rise to power are interspersed throughout the film to highlight the gross irony of the substance of the home videos. For example, “one notably noxious moment in which a fawning Hitler sits an adorable little girl on his lap is juxtaposed with a Nazi soldier kicking a pregnant woman,” writes the Wall Street Journal‘s Joe Morgenstern in his review of the film.

When Swastika, produced by David Puttnam (of Chariots of Fire, Midnight Express, and Killing Fields renown) and directed by Philippe Mora, premiered at the 1973 Cannes film festival, “all hell broke loose” according to Mora. Fights erupted, and one audience member even threw a chair at the screen. The portrayal of Hitler and his cronies as human beings was found extremely offensive and intolerable. Subsequently, the film was banned in Germany for 37 years.

Joe Morgenstern explains the heart of the controversy:

That appearance of humanity—not just on the part of the Führer, but of Goebbels, Martin Bormann, Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler and lesser monsters appearing briefly—is at the root of the controversy. And it’s a fascinating question. Is our understanding of history served well or ill by the spectacle of Hitler playing with dogs, making nice with bright-faced children, chatting up his secretaries, posing stiffly in various uniforms, deploring Göring’s shooting of a boar (“What kind of courage is that? He should go into the forest with a spear”), admiring a visitor’s Bolex movie camera (“Ah, color film,” he says, “the future belongs to color film”), or talking amiably with guests about “Gone With the Wind”?

It seems as though Hollywood’s fascination with Hitler and Nazi Germany is here for the long haul, and so long as it is, the world is not in peril of forgetting Hitler’s legacy of evil. But as time goes on, are we not increasingly in danger of forgetting that Adolf Hitler and all of history’s wicked men were human beings with human faces and their own unique set of human charms? The question that remains for me, I think, is whether this amnesia would necessarily be such a bad thing.

(h/t Emily Esfahani Smith at Acculturated)

There are 42 comments.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  1. Inactive

    How do we square that with Hollywood’s apparent sympathy and support of the enemies of Israel and the Jewish people ?

    There were decorative ornaments with Mao’s face on them hung on a Christmas tree recently. Che’s visage adorns endless tchotchkes.

    It’s all up to the media, whether we will know them by their works or their publicity.

    • #1
    • January 7, 2012 at 3:54 am
    • Like
  2. Member

    I’m with Baudelaire:

    “The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world that he did not exist.”

    • #2
    • January 7, 2012 at 4:05 am
    • Like
  3. Contributor
    Diane Ellis Post author
    flownover: How do we square that with Hollywood’s apparent sympathy and support of the enemies of Israel and the Jewish people ?

    That’s a very interesting question. How do we square Hollywood’s perpetual hatred of Hitler with its sympathy of Jihadists? Maybe the distinguishing factor is political correctness?

    Then again, there aren’t really that many mainstream movies that portray modern Israel and the Jewish people negatively and their enemies positively, are there? The only one I can think of is Paradise Now, and it didn’t come out of Hollywood, but out of Palestine.

    • #3
    • January 7, 2012 at 4:06 am
    • Like
  4. Member
    Diane Ellis, Ed.
    flownover: How do we square that with Hollywood’s apparent sympathy and support of the enemies of Israel and the Jewish people ?
    That’s a very interesting question. How do we square Hollywood’s perpetual hatred of Hitler with its sympathy of Jihadists? Maybe the distinguishing factor is political correctness?

    An alternative explanation: it’s what sells.

    People are fascinated by evil. We are absolutely disgusted by the actions of the Nazis, but we still want to know more. One of my first memories as a child were the constant TV ads for the Time-Life books on the Third Reich: 20 volumes of Nazi history porn in gory detail. Hollywood, and the media as a whole, caters to our wishes.

    • #4
    • January 7, 2012 at 4:15 am
    • Like
  5. Inactive

    Yes, Hitler was a human being. But he didn’t see himself as merely human. He saw himself as God, “new and improved.” Every time God, the real one, is locked out, something evil fills the vacuum. The culture of death rushes in to fill the space.

    • #5
    • January 7, 2012 at 4:16 am
    • Like
  6. Inactive

    As my friend Willy said: Mark you this, [Ms. Ellis], the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. An evil soul producing holy witness is like a villain with a smiling cheek, a goodly apple rotten at the heart: Oh, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!

    Politics, anyone?

    • #6
    • January 7, 2012 at 4:22 am
    • Like
  7. Member
    flownover: How do we square that with Hollywood’s apparent sympathy and support of the enemies of Israel and the Jewish people ?

    There were decorative ornaments with Mao’s face on them hung on a Christmas tree recently. Che’s visage adorns endless tchotchkes.

    It’s all up to the media, whether we will know them by their works or their publicity. · Jan 6 at 2:54pm

    You answer your own question.

    Israel went from being a heroic underdog state to being a respected power in 1967 — but by that time, the Arab world was well within the Soviet orbit. Thus the first mark against Israel was that it (using Western arms) humiliated the Soviet-equipped forces of the Arab world, punching a hole in Soviet claims of superior strength.

    Then, in the 1970s, Israel shifted to a conservative Likud government. That government steered Israel off the path of state socialism and onto the path of market-based capitalism. That was the the final insult to world Socialism, and the Left became strong supporters of the Marxist Palestinian terror organizations (remember Vanessa Redgrave dancing with the PFLP, Kalashnikov in hand?).

    • #7
    • January 7, 2012 at 4:36 am
    • Like
  8. Member
    “If Hitler is dehumanized and shown only as a devil, any future Hitler may not be recognized, simply because he is a human being.”

    Agreed. It’s very common for people to say an evil person is “crazy” because they can’t or don’t want to understand. It’s also very common for histories to pretend massacres can be chalked up to evil leaders.

    It’s unfortunate that actions like murder and rape have become the minimum standard for acknowledging evil in anyone. If you can’t face it, you can’t fight it.

    Evil is corruption. Like a shadow, it cannot exist without the light. And it begins much more innocently than it ends.

    • #8
    • January 7, 2012 at 4:37 am
    • Like
  9. Member
    Diane Ellis, Ed.

    How do we square Hollywood’s perpetual hatred of Hitler with its sympathy of Jihadists?

    It’s easier to face bad memories than living threats.

    Also, it’s harder to face a problem when there’s no clear solution. Sure, we can stop people from trying to kill us. But how do we stop people from wanting to kill us?

    And, of course, there are a lot of fragile egos that can’t withstand being accused of racism or bigotry, no matter how groundless the claims.

    • #9
    • January 7, 2012 at 4:43 am
    • Like
  10. Inactive

    Diane, I ,and probably you, have been subjected to those Hollywood comments about Israel. But before I go searching for examples of their bias , where is the PC factory located ? Is it academia or media ? Of course its both.

    • #10
    • January 7, 2012 at 4:50 am
    • Like
  11. Member
    Diane Ellis, Ed.

    It seems as though Hollywood’s fascination with Hitler and Nazi Germany is here for the long haul, and so long as it is, the world is not in peril of forgetting Hitler’s legacy of evil. But as time goes on, are we not increasingly in danger of forgetting that Adolf Hitler and all of history’s wicked men were human beings with human faces and their own unique set of human charms? The question that remains for me, I think, is whether this amnesia would necessarily be such a bad thing.

    How could that amnesia be in any way a good thing?

    The next Hitler (like the panoply of current lesser and greater Hitler wanna-bes) will be a human being with a human face and his own unique set of human charms. If we forget that, we can fall prey to the fallacy the filmmakers warned about: we may dismiss the possibility that some person could be a monster because he seems like an ordinary human being, maybe even a nice one. See Bashar al-Assad for a stark example.

    • #11
    • January 7, 2012 at 4:51 am
    • Like
  12. Member

    The problem is that Hitler, but not Mao or Stalin, was a human being, although a thoroughly corrupted and unprincipled one. He could and did display personal loyalty on more than one occasion, something that, in my reading of their lives, seems utterly foreign to either of the Russian or Chinese tyrants.

    I have pondered this difference for some time and have come to the tentative conclusion that it has to do with his experience in having to deal with the German people as a solicitor of their votes. I am relying upon the estimable history by Richard J Evans (http://www.amazon.com/Coming-Third-Reich-Richard-Evans/dp/0143034693/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1325893436&sr=1-4) as my chief source. Neither of the other two, so far as I can ascertain, ever had to appeal to the people in general for power. And, until after he had come to power, Hitler never was able to inspire or force the acceptance of himself or his program upon the German people.

    Moreover, as Evans points out, the shocking antisemitism of the German people and state was evident and promoted from the 1880’s.

    • #12
    • January 7, 2012 at 4:52 am
    • Like
  13. Member
    Diane Ellis, Ed.

    Then again, there aren’t really that many mainstream movies that portray modern Israel and the Jewish people negatively and their enemies positively, are there? The only one I can think of is Paradise Now, and it didn’t come out of Hollywood, but out of Palestine.

    Not even Paradise Now. In it (spoiler alert), the dedicated suicide bomber changes his mind as he sees hope for the future, whereas his aimless friend who was initially only along for the ride becomes the dedicated suicide bomber because he decides this act will give meaning to his meaningless existence. It isn’t really a paean to the suicide bomber, but rather portrays him as a pawn of evil men.

    I understand The Valley of Wolves, made in Turkey, is a real example of anti-Jewish hate propaganda.

    • #13
    • January 7, 2012 at 4:56 am
    • Like
  14. Moderator
    Diane Ellis, Ed.
    flownover: How do we square that with Hollywood’s apparent sympathy and support of the enemies of Israel and the Jewish people ?
    That’s a very interesting question. How do we square Hollywood’s perpetual hatred of Hitler with its sympathy of Jihadists? Maybe the distinguishing factor is political correctness?

    Then again, there aren’t really that many mainstream movies that portray modern Israel and the Jewish people negatively and their enemies positively, are there? The only one I can think of is Paradise Now, and it didn’t come out of Hollywood, but out of Palestine. · Jan 6 at 3:06pm

    How do we square Hollywood siding with communists then and now? Then, and now, radical leftists held sway over much of the relevant society and provided the important labels (in this case, “right wing” to describe the moderate wing of hard leftism).

    • #14
    • January 7, 2012 at 4:57 am
    • Like
  15. Contributor
    Diane Ellis Post author
    Stuart Creque

    Diane Ellis, Ed.

    It seems as though Hollywood’s fascination with Hitler and Nazi Germany is here for the long haul, and so long as it is, the world is not in peril of forgetting Hitler’s legacy of evil. But as time goes on, are we not increasingly in danger of forgetting that Adolf Hitler and all of history’s wicked men were human beings with human faces and their own unique set of human charms? The question that remains for me, I think, is whether this amnesia would necessarily be such a bad thing.

    How could that amnesia be in any way a good thing?

    I think that the impulse behind the ban of a film like Swastika in Germany for 37 years stemmed from the fear that it would provide fuel for the revisionists who would swoop in to defend the man as a poor, misunderstood soul who was driven to do the things he did by society.

    And I think that yet may happen, perhaps a few decades or a century hence, when there’s nobody on this earth left with any personal connection to the holocaust.

    • #15
    • January 7, 2012 at 4:58 am
    • Like
  16. Member

    Here is an example of evil with a benign face: Why Anti-Semitism Is Moving Toward The Mainstream.

    For the first time since the end of World War II, classic anti-Semitic tropes – “the Jews” control the world and are to blame for everything that goes wrong, including the financial crisis; “The Jews killed Christian children in order to use the blood to bake matza; the Holocaust never happened – are becoming acceptable and legitimate subjects for academic and political discussion.To understand why these absurd and reprehensible views, once reserved for the racist fringes of academia and politics, are moving closer to the mainstream, consider the attitudes of two men, one an academic, the other a politician, toward those who express or endorse such bigotry. The academic is Prof. Brian Leiter. The politician is Ron Paul.
    • #16
    • January 7, 2012 at 4:58 am
    • Like
  17. Contributor
    Diane Ellis Post author
    James Of England

    Diane Ellis, Ed.

    flownover: How do we square that with Hollywood’s apparent sympathy and support of the enemies of Israel and the Jewish people ?
    That’s a very interesting question. How do we square Hollywood’s perpetual hatred of Hitler with its sympathy of Jihadists? Maybe the distinguishing factor is political correctness?

    Then again, there aren’t really that many mainstream movies that portray modern Israel and the Jewish people negatively and their enemies positively, are there? The only one I can think of is Paradise Now, and it didn’t come out of Hollywood, but out of Palestine. · Jan 6 at 3:06pm

    How do we square Hollywood siding with communists then and now? Then, and now, radical leftists held sway over much of the relevant society and provided the important labels (in this case, “right wing” to describe the moderate wing of hard leftism). · Jan 6 at 3:57pm

    That’s an easier one for me to square. If you ignore all the facts, it’s easy to see the poetry and beauty in the Communist struggle.

    • #17
    • January 7, 2012 at 5:02 am
    • Like
  18. Member
    Diane Ellis, Ed.

    I think that the impulse behind the ban of a film like Swastika in Germany for 37 years stemmed from the fear that it would provide fuel for the revisionists who would swoop in to defend the man as a poor, misunderstood soul who was driven to do the things he did by society.

    And I think that yet may happen, perhaps a few decades or a century hence, when there’s nobody on this earth left with any personal connection to the holocaust. · Jan 6 at 3:58pm

    Exactly my point. If we forget that ordinary human beings are capable of great, almost inconceivable evil, we can be taken in by the argument that “he can’t have been a monster, because he was kind to children and animals.”

    Let us then take our cue from Wednesday Addams (in the movie version) who, when asked what she was supposed to be for Halloween while wearing her habitual outfit, replied, “A serial killer: they look like everybody else.”

    • #18
    • January 7, 2012 at 5:02 am
    • Like
  19. Inactive

    What’s horrifying is not that some of the Nazis who committed terrible atrocities were sociopaths, but that the rest of the people who committed and abetted atrocities were “normal” people who were, in various ways, co-0pted and brought along.

    Ponder what would you do in similar circumstances? If you’re honest with yourself the answer will be at least disquieting.

    I admit it is for me because I don’t really know, I can only hope I would do the right things. But if my family were held hostage …

    • #19
    • January 7, 2012 at 5:03 am
    • Like
  20. Member
    Diane Ellis, Ed.

    James Of England

    Diane Ellis, Ed.

    flownover: How do we square that with Hollywood’s apparent sympathy and support of the enemies of Israel and the Jewish people ?
    That’s a very interesting question. How do we square Hollywood’s perpetual hatred of Hitler with its sympathy of Jihadists? Maybe the distinguishing factor is political correctness?
    How do we square Hollywood siding with communists then and now? Then, and now, radical leftists held sway over much of the relevant society and provided the important labels (in this case, “right wing” to describe the moderate wing of hard leftism).
    That’s an easier one for me to square. If you ignore all the facts, it’s easy to see the poetry and beauty in the Communist struggle.

    Indeed. In theory, Communism is fairness and equality. (But in practice…)

    • #20
    • January 7, 2012 at 5:05 am
    • Like
  21. Member

    There is a very high overlap between the set of people who despise Israel and the set of people who spell America with a “K.”

    Basically, Israel is similar enough to the U.S. and other Western societies for those who dislike Western Civ to include Israel in that dislike.

    Also, “progressives” have long tended to be attracted to the primitive and the “unspoiled.”

    • #21
    • January 7, 2012 at 5:08 am
    • Like
  22. Member
    M1919A4:I have pondered this difference for some time and have come to the tentative conclusion that it has to do with his experience in having to deal with the German people as a solicitor of their votes.

    Moreover, as Evans points out, the shocking antisemitism of the German people and state was evident and promoted from the 1880’s.

    It is important to understand that the morality of German culture in the century leading up to the Third Reich had certain components which would seem ghastly to us (or modern Germans) today.

    Above and beyond their antisemitism, there was a deep-set belief in the inferiority of certain races and types of people among many Germans. This belief was not so much diabolic, but rather a product of the collective wisdom handed down from one generation to the next.

    To exaggerate somewhat, no one would label a human “evil” because they feel no remorse at the slaughtering of farm animals. If you have been raised with the notion that certain races are the biological equivalent of farm animals, there is no conflict between loving members of your own race and feeling no remorse at the extinguishing of other races.

    • #22
    • January 7, 2012 at 5:16 am
    • Like
  23. Member

    Can anyone here state that they have viewed what one might call Hilters Hollwood style propoganda films ? One of the most distrubing is The Eternal Jew (Der Ewige Jude).

    The film is truly not for everyone and requires a stronger stomach to complete viewing.

    It is an excellent propoganda tool and the model has been used in various forms including today.

    The MSM and Hollywood of today basically engage in the same tactics.

    • #23
    • January 7, 2012 at 5:18 am
    • Like
  24. Inactive

    The opening credits are correct. We have to understand that any tyrant is a human being who loves his/her children. That doesn’t prevent them from being evil. We need to accept the human capacity for evil, and to constantly strive against it. If we don’t…if we allow leaders to seize power just because we agree with them and our opponents disagree with them…we pave the path of our own destruction.

    The principles matter more than the politicians who espouse them. And all the principles matter. We cannot say to ourselves, “who cares that x is expanding government, x wants to ensure student’s rights to pray in schools.” We cannot say, “but he’s just appointing someone we like, it’s not like y is doing it.”

    These are the excuses that any tyrant requires.

    • #24
    • January 7, 2012 at 5:23 am
    • Like
  25. Member

    On general compliance:

    “All mass movements rank obedience with the highest of virtues and put it on a level with faith: union of minds requires not only a perfect accord in the one Faith, but complete submission and obedience of will to the Church and the Roman Pontiff as to God Himself’. [Leo XIII, Sepientiae Christianae. According to Luther, “Disobedience is a greater sin than murder, unchastity, theft and dishonest..” Quoted by Jerome Frank, Fate and Freedom (New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1945), p. 281] Obedience is not only the first law of God, but also the first tenet of a revolutionary party and of fervent nationalism.”

    • #25
    • January 7, 2012 at 5:24 am
    • Like
  26. Member

    I think its important to humanize evil, because then it becomes apparent that we can do evil.

    • #26
    • January 7, 2012 at 5:29 am
    • Like
  27. Member

    I’m not clear why some find that Hitler and henchmen had some human qualities to be so troubling. [Being a German in the post WWII era carries a unique set of psychological burdens with it]. But even the best among us has faults–and it’s likely that the most evil among us have some minor features that seem normal or even good.

    That Hitler liked dogs and could act like a politician with little children (it’s not clear to me that he really liked children) only heightens the overwhelming nature of his evil.

    Perhaps it’s a good lesson that all of us have some seeds of evil inside us, and that the pursuit of absolute power (in any aspect of our lives, including our family lives) opens the door to allow those seeds to grow.

    • #27
    • January 7, 2012 at 5:49 am
    • Like
  28. Contributor
    Diane Ellis Post author
    Guruforhire: I think its important to humanize evil, because then it becomes apparent that we can do evil. · Jan 6 at 4:29pm

    This is a pretty key point. It’s one thing to accept that evil men were not unique to a few historical moments in time and can crop up at any time and place, and quite another to accept that we ourselves have a great capacity for evil save for the grace of God.

    • #28
    • January 7, 2012 at 5:49 am
    • Like
  29. Member

    The best writers about the Nazis, or, at least, about Nuremburg and the trials and the unfathomable implications, were, I’ve always thought, the women: Martha Gelhorn; Janet Flanner; Rebecca West and later, in the time of Eichmann, 1963, Hanna Arendt who would, in attempting to fathom how a country that gave us Beethoven and Goethe could also give us Himmler and Ernst Kaltenbrunner and Hans Frank (Hitler and Goebbels are, in their horrific way, easier to understand) coined the phrase “The banality of evil”.

    Years ago I came across a sentence that I felt held large truth, and I thought it was attributable to Arendt, but I tried to find it in her work and can’t, so maybe I heard it somewhere else or maybe it occurred to me when I read her banality of evil essay, but it is this, and I still think it may be the closest we can come:

    “There is nothing so dangerous as a small minded person with a little bit of power.”

    • #29
    • January 7, 2012 at 5:58 am
    • Like
  30. Thatcher

    Totalitarians rarely impose total control from the outset. Rather, they first consolidate total political power, then they begin the systematic undermining of all social institutions – all the while arguing that they are the reasonable ones, others are extremists and enemies, and the leader is the father-like figure that protects the whole and deserves unflinching loyalty. (The Kjhmer Rouge is a notable exception to this pattern.)

    We should not reduce Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Che, Pol Pot, Hussein, the Ayatollahs, etc., to mere boogey men with silly mustaches. We should be on guard with awareness of their nature and their methods.

    Further, we should remember that these are not the monsters of fairy tales but men, who were in a position to (and supported by others capable of) ethical and rational decisions. Yet there was comprehensive failure across entire societies. Totalitarianism is not the result of caprice or an act of nature; it is the product of the moral failure of entire societies of men and women to have courage and to oppose evil. The seed of this evil rests not in monsters but in human nature, and so it is necessary to recall the humanity of tyrants.

    • #30
    • January 7, 2012 at 6:00 am
    • Like
  1. 1
  2. 2