Title

Discussing Hitler: The Rhetoric of Historians and its Implications for our Understanding of the Holocaust

Authors

Robert Nelson

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2007

Abstract

Adolf Hitler is one of the most significant figures of the 20th century. Countless biographies have been written about him and will continue to be written about him. These biographies provide both a look into his life and times, but also a look at how historians have responded to and dealt with the Holocaust. The Holocaust remains a unique event in history, not for the event itself, but for the responses the event has generated. This summer I read several of the earliest Hitler biographies and found that many of the authors were, whether consciously or unconsciously, exceptionalizing Hitler with their language and explanations. They portray Hitler as some inexplicable ?other?.They attempt to dehumanize him and distance him from us. With this done, explanations of the Holocaust are virtually ignored and unnecessary. If we accept Hitler as clinically insane, an anti-Semite, and evil it is much easier to ?understand? the Holocaust. Unfortunately, this only demonstrates our difficulty in dealing with an event like the Holocaust. By exceptionalizing Hitler we demonstrate our unwillingness to acknowledge the terrible possibility in human nature that the Holocaust represents.

Advisor

Joshua Goode

Department

history

Support

Ford Research Endowment

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