Saturday, October 18, 2014
GOEBBELS: A BIOGRAPHY by PETER LONGERICH
Originally I was told this biography was to be published October 14th but now I see it won't be out until May 2015. Since the print edition will be 992 pages long and this book is dense with facts of history, I can see why it might take longer to publish. Still, it is available to pre-order now. If you are at all interested in the Third Reich, this is well worth the time to read.
Author Peter Longerich is a professor at Royal Holloway College of the University of London. He was aided by a group of psychoanalysts in Hamburg, Germany since his major source was Joseph Goebbels' own diaries written for publication. Therefore, how to tell the truth from the man's delusions of glory. I can't imagine the difficulties Longerich faced in trying to sort out other accounts and documents to get at the true story. Where he can't do that, he reminds readers that the information is based only on the diaries.
Goebbels began keeping a diary in 1923 and stayed with it until his death in 1945. There are 32 volumes of them. He was born in 1897 and by the time he began his first diary he was poor, unemployed, an unsuccessful writer, and in a failing relationship with a woman. He was lame from being born with a clubfoot and needed an orthopedic device to walk. Yet he saw himself as a bit of a Don Juan. There would be a series of affairs with women the rest of his life, even during his marriage. After he became director of propaganda for the Nazi Party and close to Hitler, he doesn't seem to have realized that a big part of his attraction to women was the power they assumed he had.
He went to college to avoid military service and his studies led to a crisis of his Roman Catholic faith. He finally discovered the Nationalist Socialist movement and writing for its publications began to build a reputation among its members. It was only in 1924 that he found Hitler, and if that sounds like "he found God," that's because it was that kind of an experience for him. He idolized Hitler for the rest of his life. Although they didn't always agree, Hitler always had the last word. Goebbels never understood Hitler's political maneuvering.
Meanwhile, his anti-Semitism had taken over his life. Such a man who fails at everything he tries but has an ego as big as all Germany must find a scapegoat to blame. In Goebbels' case it was the Jews and it became a consuming belief. Anti-Semitism wasn't uncommon in Europe at the time but few people were radically against the Jews. Goebbels took his bigotry to the height of truly believing the future of Europe depended upon ridding the continent of Jews. He even called President Franklin Delano Roosevelt a Jew and head of a Jewish conspiracy. We can see the fallacy in his thinking but he absolutely believed his own propaganda.
That is one thing I came to understand as I read this biography. Goebbels was taken in by his own lies. When Hitler came into power in Germany, one of the first things they did was take control of the press and radio. Goebbels told the newspaper editors what they could and could not publish, and then basked in the effusive reporting of his own speeches and rallies.
One other item of interest to mention since I can't possibly include everything fascinating about this man is that Hitler also fell in love with Magda, Goebbels' wife, and spent much time alone with her. The Goebbels had six children together, all given names that begin with H, and all of whom were taught to adore Hitler. Longerich seems convinced that somehow Magda was a wife to both men and I had the impression that at least some of the children might have been Hitler's. Meanwhile, Magda was a very unhappy woman who wanted to have a position in government, but was forced by both men to remain wife and mother. They told her it would be highly inappropriate for her to have any other job. She was never reconciled to this, but her poor health would probably have prevented her from fulfilling her wishes anyway. At the end, she and her husband killed all six children before taking their own lives after Hitler and Eva Braun had committed suicide. They believed life after Hitler wouldn't be worth living, even though Hitler had named Goebbels as his successor.
I wish I could go on and on with revelations from this wonderful biography. I began reading it in hopes of understanding why Goebbels became such a monster. At this point I do have more of an understanding than I did previously, but realize that there is just no way I would ever be able to fully understand the path his life took. I also learned quite a bit about Hitler despite the fact that I've been reading about him and his Nazi Party for years. This was another side of him that I hadn't seen before.
Highly recommended for history buffs
Source: Random House/Netgalley