Saturday, September 19, 2015

Goebbels: A Biography by Peter Longerich

In the New Testament book of Revelation, there is a curious individual known as “the false prophet.” He is sometimes considered to be the mouthpiece of the Antichrist. If Adolph Hitler was the antichrist, then Josef Goebbels was the false prophet.  Peter Longerich’s new work on this mysterious individual is based upon new scholarship and recently released and translated editions of Goebbels’ personal and private diary. Goebbels brings this man to life for a generation now decades removed from the last World Conflict.

Longerich begins the story in the Berlin Bunker in April of 1945 when, after the suicide of Goebbels’ idol and Hitler’s new wife, and after all attempts at honorable surrender have been exhausted, Josef and Magda Goebbels methodically poison their children then take their own lives. Of all the loyalists who surrounded Hitler during the Third Reich, only the Goebbels choose to remain in the bunker and join der Fuhrer in suicide. 

Goebbels is the story of a rather ordinary man who longed to be something out of the ordinary. Saddled with a disability that affected the way he walked, Josef overcompensated by trying to form himself into an intellectual and scholar. By all reports, he was mediocre at best. However, he did legitimately earn a PhD in Germany and set his sights for a career in academia.

Longerich shows Goebbels as a normal man who experienced broken heartedness, familial love, and the normal passions that any person would possess. There was little clue in his early life that indicated that he would one day become the man who could speak for the Third Reich.

Two important character traits began to emerge in young Josef. The first was his narcissism. He became so completely narcissistic that cruelty to others was considered a legitimate tool if it could be effectively used to support his ego. The second was his growing anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism was not unique to Goebbels or the Nazis for that matter. Many in Germany at this time embraced it or overlooked it. In Goebbels it grew to a passion. These two character flaws were to cataclysmically converge when Goebbels met Adolph Hitler. 

Goebbels’ diary entries show a symbiotic relationship between the Fuhrer and his Propaganda Minister. Hitler relied on Goebbels narcissism and Goebbels fed into Hitler’s aggression and anti-Semitism. Sometimes during the account, it is difficult to know who was pulling whose strings. Hitler depended upon the Goebbels family as his surrogate family, and even appears to have been in love with Magda Goebbels. Josef relied upon Hitler to feed his constant need for approval. Though at times frustrated with his indecision, Goebbels looked upon Hitler as almost god-like.

Peter Longerich presents a compelling biography of one of the most notorious men of the 20th century. My version was an audiobook, which I requested from LibraryThing. At times, a hard copy would have been beneficial to recheck names, acronyms, German words, etc. Notwithstanding, this is a great book

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