Is it still possible in today’s Germany to escape the realization that without the mistreatment of children, without a form of child-rearing based on violence to inculcate blind obedience, there would not have been a Hitler and his followers? And thus not millions of murdered victims either? Probably every thinking person in the post-war period has wondered at some time or other how it could have happened that a human being devised a gigantic machinery of death and found millions of helpers to set it in motion.
Yet the monster Adolf Hitler, murderer of millions, master of destruction and organized insanity, did not come into the world as a monster. He was not sent to earth by the devil, as some people think, nor was he sent by heaven to “bring order” to Germany, to give the country the autobahn and rescue it from its economic crisis, as many others still believe. Neither was he born with “destructive drives”, because there are no such things. Our biological mission is to preserve life, not to destroy It. Human destructiveness Is never inborn, and inherited traits are neither good nor evil. How they develop depends on one’s character, which is formed In the course of one’s life, and the nature of which depends, in turn, on the experiences one has, above all, in childhood and adolescence, and on the decisions one makes as an adult.
Like every other child, Hitler was born innocent, only to be raised, as were many children at the time, in a destructive fashion by his parents and later to make himself into a monster. He was the survivor of a machinery of annihilation that in turn-of-the-century Germany was called “child-rearing” and that I call “the concealed concentration camp of childhood,” which is never allowed to be recognized for what it is.
I have described in detail how he made this concealed horror manifest in his Third Reich in my book For Your Own Good: Hidden cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1983) and In my other books, for example, Banished Knowledge and The Untouched Key (both published by Doubleday). There the reader will also find a detailed line of reasoning to support everything which, for reasons of space, I can only allude to here in a very abridged way.
In order not to die, all mistreated children must totally repress the mistreatment, deprivation, and bewilderment they have undergone because otherwise the child’s organism wouldn’t be able to cope with the magnitude of the pain suffered. Only as adults do they have other possibilities for dealing with their feelings. If they don’t make use of these possibilities, then what was once the life-saving function of repression can be transformed Into a dangerous destructive, and self-destructive force. In the careers of despots such as Hitler and Stalin, their suppressed fantasies of revenge can lead to indescribable atrocities. This phenomenon doesn’t exist anywhere in the entire animal kingdom, for no animal is trained by its parents to deny its nature completely in order to become a “well-behaved” animal – only human beings act In such a destructive way. According to the reports of Nazi criminals (and also of soldiers who volunteered to fight in Vietnam), their unconscious programming to be violent began in every case with a brutal upbringing that demanded absolute obedience and expressed total contempt for the child. I know of no example of this which is so well-documented and which demonstrates so clearly the consequences of the psychological murder of children – bringing along with it a form of collective blindness – than the fateful success of Adolf Hitler.
The Führer once told his secretary that during one of the regular beatings given him by his father he was able to stop crying, to feel nothing, and even to count the thirty-two blows he received.
In this way, by totally denying his pain, his feelings of powerlessness, and his despair- in other words, by denying the truth – Hitler made himself into a master of violence and of contempt for human beings. The result was a very primitive person, incapable of any empathy for other people. He was mercilessly and constantly driven to new destructive acts by his latent feelings of hatred and revenge. After millions had been forced to die for this reason, those feelings still haunted him in his sleep. Hermann Rauschning reports nocturnal paroxysms of screaming on the Führer’s part, along with “inexplicable counting”, which I trace back to the counting he did during the beatings of his childhood. Hitler did not invent fascism; he found it, like so many of his contemporaries) prefigured in the totalitarian regime of his family. The National Socialist version of fascism, however, does bear unmistakable traces of Hitler’s childhood. But his early experience was by no means an exception. Thus, neither Gerhart Hauptmann nor Martin Heidegger nor many other celebrated intellects of the day were able to see through Hitler’s madness. To do so, they would have had to be able to see through the madness of their own upbringing.
Hitler could make Europe and the world into the battlefield of his childhood because in the Germany of that time there were millions of people who had experienced the same kind of upbringing he had. Although not necessarily conscious of the fact, they took the following principles to be self-evident:
1. Not life but order and obedience are the highest values.
2. Only by means of violence can order be created and preserved.
3. Creativity (embodied in the child) represents a danger for the adult and must be destroyed.
4. Obeying one’s father absolutely is the highest law.
5. Disobedience and criticism are unthinkable because they are punished with beatings or the threat of death.
6. The living, vital child must be turned as early as possible into an obedient robot, a slave.
7. Undesirable feelings and real needs must therefore be suppressed as vigorously as possible.
8. Mothers must never protect their children from punishment by the father but after each incidence of torture must preach to them to honor and love their parents.
Fortunately, there were persons now and again with whom a child could find refuge from this totalitarian regime, and perhaps even experience love, respect, and protection. On the basis of these good experiences, even simply on the basis of the comparison they provided, a child could at least pass inward judgment on the cruelty endured and not want to inflict it in turn later on. But when there were no witnesses to come to the rescue, the child had no choice in this bizarre scenario but to stifle every natural reflex such as anger or even laughter, and to practice absolute obedience daily in order to keep the father’s menacing behavior within bearable limits. It was this kind of early character training that Hitler was later able to exploit. […]