1984

George Orwell Reviews Hitler’s Mein Kampf


“Suppose that Hitler’s programme could be put into effect. What he envisages, a hundred years hence, is a continuous state if 250 million Germans with plenty of “living room” (i.e. stretching to Afhanistan or somewhere thereabouts), a horrible brainless empire in which, essentially, nothing ever happens except the training of young men for war and the endless breeding of fresh cannon-fodder. How was it that he was able to put this monstrous vision across? It is easy to say that at one stage of his career he was financed by the heavy industrialists, who saw in him the man who would smash the Socialists and Communists. They would not have backed him, however, if he had not talked a great movement into existence already. Again, the situation in Germany, with its seven million unemployed, was obviously favorable for demagogues. But Hitler could not have succeeded against his many rivals if it not been for the attraction of his own personality, which one can feel even in the clumsy writing of Mein Kampf, and which is no doubt overwhelming when one hears his speeches….The fact is that there is something deeply appealing about him. One feels it again when one sees his photograph–and I recommend especially the photograph at the beginning of the Hurst and Blackett’s edition, which shows Hitler in his early Brownshirt days. It is a pathetic, dog-like face, the face of a man suffering under intolerable wrongs. In a rather more manly way it reproduces the expression of innumerable pictures of Christ crucified, and there is little doubt that that is how Hitler sees himself. The initial, personal cause of his grievance against the universe can only be guessed at; but at any rate, the grievance is here. He is the martyr, the victim, Prometheus chained to the rock, the self-sacrificing hero who fights single-handed against impossible odds. If he were killing a mouse he would know how to make it seem like a dragon. One feels, as with Napoleon, that he is fighting against destiny, that he can’t win, and yet that he somehow deserves to. The attraction of such a pose is of course enormous; half the films that one sees turn upon some such theme.”

– George Orwell, excerpt from his review of Mein Kampf, 1940

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While Mein Kampf is a dramatic representation of Hitler’s personal history, Orwell’s review has less to do with the merit of the text and more to do with Hitler’s faulty perspectives and the disfunctionality of the National Socialist ideal. Written sometime around the declaration of war by Britain, this article is mostly reflective in nature, making for a haunting read in light of the horrors of the War and the revelations of the Halocaust.

Orwell’s insight into Hitler’s appeal to a nation in Germany’s situation is perhaps one of the most clarifying responses to a question that would echo throughout the world in the decades following the War. We all shake our head and wonder simply, “How is this possible?” Orwell’s pre-war insight is the closest thing to an answer I’ve seen, and in reality it implies a thousand factors.

Charlie Chaplin’s film “The Great Dictator” came out around the same time that Orwell wrote this piece, and it too gives insight for modern generations to realize the troubling situations that many men foresaw. Chaplin himself said that if he had known the full extent of the lengths to which Hitler was going, he never would have made the iconic anti-Nazi film. I wonder what further insights Orwell would have added to his review a decade after its publication.

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Further Reading

Wendell Berry On The Cold War

What C.S. Lewis Knew Before WWII

We Are All War Memorials

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The Hands Books Must Endure


Library books.

Library books come and library books go.

First to the New Releases shelving out front for six months or so, then on to the regular section for a few years or decades. Eventually, once a book has stopped circulating for a good while, it’s pulled to make way for more old New Releases. Depending on its luck in retaining its original shape, it might migrate to another library’s shelf or it might get donated.

Through all this, any desirable title is also constantly passing between many, many hands. Clammy, chubby hands, sun-tanning hands, and rigid, knobbly old hands with forbidding, precise nails. Chocolatey junior hands and fidgety hands with dangling bangles and too many rings.

Some of these hands, many of them, belong to various library staff. Librarians, circulation specialists, and shelving staff. Often the books overhear bits of their conversations, much like this one.

“Our school has like zero budget for theatre. We don’t even have a real stage!” said someone with soft, cucumber-lotioned hands.

“Where I went to high school, back in Indiana, they had great arts programs. The principle’s wife was into the theatre big time, so that stuff got top priority. I was only ever in one play. A version of The Producers they put on, we put on, my junior year. It was okay, I guess.” someone with thin, freshly painted nails and a Fibonacci spiral tattoo at the base of their right thumb was placing three books at once on a cart as they spoke. “I never liked the old one. The film version I mean, the original.”

“Well, you know what movie I thought was sooo boring?” asked cucumber hands, holding up a DVD example of where things were headed. “Schindler’s List! Nothing happens in the entire movie!” Cucumber hands tossed the DVD down and stacked 5 more behind it.

“Yeah, it’s so depressing and all you see throughout the entire movie is these crowds of starving, dying people. Even the ending, when Liam Neeson has been a jerk the whole movie but somehow saved this little portion out of all these people, and they’re showing the families that came from those people. Still depressing. The people still look morbid. It could have been written so much better.” This was stated as fact by the Fibonacci spiral.

“Did I ever tell you guys about Ester?” cucumber hands blurted out, dropping a book onto a cart at the realization of had a great and necessary story to share.

“So in the eighth grade my class went to the holocaust museum in DC. You know?”

“Yeah, I went once” said someone wearing a thick tungsten thumb ring.

“So I got this girl Ester, and that’s my name, and she’s the only one that survived in my entire class!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” said the Fibonacci spiral slowly.

The tungsten and Fibonacci spiral laughed together as cucumber hands hurried on.

“So when you go there they give everyone a little profile, like of someone who was actually in Auschwitz or wherever. And it tells you the name and age and about their life and stuff. Then at the end you find out if they survived the war. Well, I got a girl named Ester who was 13, and I was 13 then. So it was really weird that I got someone with my name and who was my age, right? Then we go through the whole museum and see all this crazy stuff. Just unbelievable, like horrible stuff. Everyone kept saying they wouldn’t eat lunch afterward, but I don’t think anyone actually didn’t. We went to some food court. So we get to the end of the tour and my Ester is the only person in my entire class, like thirty-something kids, who survives! Everyone else’s person died in the camps, but Ester lived! And she had my name and was my age! Isn’t that crazy?” Cucumber hands finished with a book lifted up in each hand, begging for response.

“Well, I guess. I mean, I’m sure they reuse those profiles like every day, and almost everyone who was in a camp died. But yeah, that must have been a pretty wild coincidence, huh?” the tungsten reasoned.

“It was!” Cucumber hands rested in the validation.

“I would love to go to Europe! I would want to visit one of those camps.” said Fibonacci spiral thoughtfully.

“I want to go to every single one of them! I want to go to Auschwitz and Darchow or whatever and all the rest. I don’t even want to do the tours they have. I just want to go in and be silent and just be there.” Cucumber hands’ hurried speech ended in a moment of silence.

“I went to Buchenwald, when I spent a semester in France. I went to Germany for a few days with choir friends and we did the tour there.” said the tungsten. “After the tour, we were walking up these stairs and this man and this woman were coming down toward us, and I kinda had to brush up against them. I looked at the guy and it was Josh Brolin.”

“Really?!” Cucumber hands savored and thoroughly enjoyed this twist.

“Yeah. We just kinda looked at each other for a second and I didn’t want to say like ‘Hey, you’re Josh Brolin!’ because we were in Buchenwald. But it was him. The only time I’ve ever run into someone famous, and it was halfway across the world in a concentration camp.” The tungsten had been holding on to a single title throughout the telling of this tale and, as if awoken from a daze, set back to sorting.

“Have you read this?” Fibonacci spiral held up a well-exercised paperback.

“1984? Yeah, of course! I liked it but I really love Fahrenheit!” the tungsten replied.

“Ugh, I did not like Fahrenheit 451! And you know what book I hated? Lord Of The Flies!” Cucumber hands moved hastily at their work just pondering the name.

“Whether you like it or not doesn’t matter with literature. It’s not about enjoying it, it’s about what it means.” responded the tungsten sagely.

“I thought you were going to say The Lord Of The Rings, and I was going to be like ‘we can’t be friends anymore!'” said Fibonacci spiral.

“I haven’t read that. The movies were pretty good. Way too long though and really drawn out. Anyway, I hated Lord Of The Flies because someone told me that they eat a kid in it before I read it. So then I read it, and they don’t, and I was so annoyed. I think maybe they eat someone in the movie version.” cucumber hands continued.

“No, they talk about eating someone but then a wild pig runs by and they finally catch that instead.” corrected the tungsten.

“Were they gonna eat that fat kid with the glasses? Piggy, right?” asked cucumber hands.

“Yeah, I think that’s probably right.” said the tungsten.

“So yeah, see? I kept on thinking they were gonna finally eat this kid, and they never do! Then he dies anyways, which pretty much had to happen either way. Any anyway, I definitely liked Jack better than that main kid, the one who is always trying to be nice to piggy even though he’s an idiot. Jack is a survivor, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes. That’s the point, I think. He would have killed to survive, and I respect that. Doing whatever it takes to survive. Survival is all that mattered.”

And with that thought, cucumber hands placed the last book on the last cart.