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It called on the soldiers and workers of the world not to take up arms against anyone including Hitler , which was why it was also celebrated by the Communist Party, then promoting the odious Hitler-Stalin pact, which also argued against the anti-fascist struggle until the Soviet Union was attacked, of course. Hitler was murdering people, and Chaplin was telling the world not to resist, the Stalinist line at the time: Blame it all on a brain defect. While I can see the logic of the proponents — that the usage has trivialized the originals — I just find it wrong in most cases to ban speech of any kind.

No Hitler analogies then? Yes, they can trivialize, but on the other hand, a blanket, ironclad rule denying the use of Hitler or Nazi analogies removes them from significance in contemporary discourse entirely. It consigns Hitler to the YouTube parody realm and virtually sacralizes Hitler analogies by prohibiting them, just like Claude Lanzmann prohibiting Hitler explanations.

Yes, such comparisons are most often hyperbole, but their value is that they at least acknowledge that there may in fact be some ultima Thule, some distant but real mark of the existence of ultimate evil. A dark pole star. Removes them from having any validity as comparison, when for instance in fact the reason the world does have caesium atomic clocks or however they keep Greenwich Mean Time now attests to the value of having some absolute standards by which we can measure things.

That Holocaust stories should somehow make us think better of our fellow human beings? Hitler should disturb our faith in human nature. I wrote an essay about Chaplin and Benigni, whose triumphalist clowning at the Oscars, dancing not just on the chairs but, metaphorically, on the graves of the dead, I still find disgusting beyond belief. As someone put it, Spielberg made a movie about one Christian saving Jews instead of a movie about a continent full of Christians killing six million.

A happy ending to a Holocaust movie! Afterward, the cheap and tawdry feel-good Holocaust books and movies came surging in like a flood. Some were complete fabrications Misha: It was the marginal and the damaged, which should remind us that there are real limits to what evil and misfortune can accomplish. You know what we need reminding of, Malcolm Gladwell? What we need to be reminded of, what the French finally needed to remind themselves of, is how most of them happily collaborated with the Nazis in serving up the Davids to the German Goliath.

The lesson of the Holocaust should be to question whether there are any limits to human evil.

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In this connection, I would like to add a corrective, or rather an extension, of a remarkable defining statement about the Holocaust by the German writer W. But then I came upon that remarkable statement. It was a kind of hyperbole, of course. To which I would add: They are the consolations of fools, and those who peddle them should be ashamed of themselves. But the appeal of these false hopes for human nature cannot be denied.

All these moments of micro-compassion, these stories, might be true locally, but they are false globally; they are the moral equivalent of Holocaust denial. Which brings us to the subject of Holocaust denial and the ongoing argument about the history of evil. The continued rise of Holocaust denial: And not just the massive Internet-bred tidal wave of toxic filth that washes up on websites worldwide along with instant access to Mein Kampf 17 million copies printed by some estimates — even before Internet distribution or the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Judging from Google hits and chat room stats, there are more people who believe in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion than ever. When the first edition of Explaining Hitler came out, Holocaust denial was mainly the province of skinhead neo-Nazis, addled pseudo-intellectuals, and one individual whose anti-Semitic pseudo-history one can observe in my David Irving chapter.

An ideological agenda for anti-Semitic anti-Zionism: The Jews invented the Holocaust in order to guilt-trip the world into giving them sovereignty over Israel. An entire nation, Iran, has seen its leadership endorse this version of Holocaust denial. A nation which denies that the original Holocaust happened but nonetheless has leaders who have endorsed the idea of perpetrating another one. It was just a metaphor. But more subtle and more insidious versions of Holocaust denial have continued to emerge in the decade or so since this book was first published.

Lang is one of the most brilliant and courageous thinkers I encountered in writing this book. Beginning with the supposed first murder, Cain and Abel, and reaching an end point in Hitler. How does one measure evil? By quantity — body count? Is there an algorithm? Holocaust denial not only robbed the graves of their bodies but condemned those who had been murdered to characterization as liars and fabricators, twisted the knife into their already violated souls.

Heidegger had also shown himself an eagerly sycophantic Nazi follower once Hitler came to power, getting himself appointed rector of the University of Freiburg where he gave pro-Hitler lectures wearing a Nazi uniform, denounced Jews, and got the Jews on the faculty fired forthwith. New revelations from the previously unpublished diaries of Heidegger show him to be a venomous anti-Semite.

After the war, after exploiting his prewar love connection with Hannah Arendt as credulous and deceived about Heidegger, it seems, as she was about Eichmann to obtain de-Nazification, he settled into a quiet, bucolic existence, occasionally issuing polemics mainly about the evils of industrialized agriculture.

Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil by Ron Rosenbaum

Sounding, as some have mocked him, like a locavore avant la lettre. Industrialized agriculture was evil. Nothing about industrialized murder or what it might have meant for the World Spirit. Indeed, as Lang found to his incredulity, not once did this man who pronounced on history and human nature with such sweeping majesty find it in him to utter or indite a single word about the murder of 6 million Jews in which he shared complicity with all others who wore the Nazi uniform and saluted and enabled Hitler.

Five years after the publication of Explaining Hitler I published a page compilation of essays on contemporary anti-Semitism Those Who Forget the Past to which Ozick contributed a stunningly powerful afterword, in the course of which she singled out for particular scorn a remark made by Ian Buruma, the Dutch journalist. What Begin had said at the time was that in making a terribly difficult decision he knew would be initially condemned by most of the world, but he was thinking about the million and a half children murdered in the Holocaust. And how much it weighed on his mind that a single Iraqi nuclear weapon derived from Osirak fuel enrichment the whole purpose of the plant would put an entire new generation of Israeli children and citizens in peril of a Second Holocaust.

Was it shameful, as Buruma contended? For some reason, Buruma felt the need to scold Begin. That something so incomprehensible and unimaginable had actually happened once meant it was no longer unimaginable that it could happen again. Buruma was shaming Begin for the crime of making a historical analogy. No denial it existed, just denial it should have any consequences. One can see Holocaust inconsequentialism even — or especially — in those like Claude Lanzmann who attempt to sacralize the Holocaust, to privatize it for their own personal construal, and to denounce anyone who deviates from his approach.

And it is here we come to what I believe is the most urgent mission of this Afterword: A debate on facing pages between me and Claude Lanzmann over the issue of Hitler explanation, the legitimacy of which as you can see in chapters six and seven of my book Lanzmann has declared himself Final Arbiter and Lord High Executioner of all others. A debate that came down to my exposure of his misreading of the words of Primo Levi.

If I risk repetition, so be it, for all I know some may only read this Afterword and Primo Levi deserves justice. Levi, you probably know, was an Auschwitz survivor, one of the most highly regarded writers and thinkers about the Holocaust. It is no small point; it is at the heart of the debate of the question of explanation, the very epistemology of it.

No food or water for days. Freezing cold, but dying of thirst, he opened a window in his confinement hut to break off an icicle outside for water. An SS Camp guard shouted at him to stop. The power of the guard is absolute — one could be executed simply for asking why a guard asks one to do something. Not to himself or others. Indeed I describe in chapter 15 how he uses it as a verbal club to personally denounce and cruelly insult an actual Auschwitz survivor in a public forum — for wishing to explore the question.

And then demanding that we follow his command, the Lanzmann variation of the SS command as if it were a Commandment writ on a stone tablet: Instead, he bloviates with immense self-sacralizing self-importance: We must be content just to know it exists. That seems to be the only permissible way. The last call is answered not with an apologetic Lanzmann, but with an attacking one who comes close to calling Rosenbaum a liar. This anecdote is not simply stating Rosenbaum's hardships in attempting to get interviews from so many opposing theorists it lends itself as insight into the very nature of Lanzmann.

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He is the one who attacked Dr. Micheels, an Auschwitz survivor and psychoanalyst at Yale School of Medicine, who tried to explain why the Holocaust happened. What is disturbing about this picture is not the fact that Lanzmann is attacking a Holocaust survivor wanting to know why he had undergone such hardships, but the fact that Lanzmann is the director of Shoah , a highly respected nine-hour long documentary about the Holocaust.

Lanzmann is therefore someone who you think would have the capacity to understand a survivor's position in wanting to ask why. Anecdotes such as the one I've explained fill Rosenbaum's book, one that, although digressing from academic thought, is not boring. Another strong point of Rosenbaum's book is his discovery of the archives of the Munich Post , the aggressive anti-Hitler newspaper of the s and early s that was presumed lost.

His insight about what once was thought a non-attacking, conformist German society now shines light about what this newspaper wrote about Hitler and his Nazi Party, and demonstrates that not everyone in Germany fell under Hitler's powerful spell. Rosenbaum obviously has some inclination to demonstrate how valiant and martyr-like the reporters at the Munich Post were because he himself is a journalist. Nonetheless, the finding is remarkable. Rosenbaum declares that the Post's journalists were. There is certainly a lot of emphasis placed on the Munich Post as being the first at everything, and Rosenbaum is correct to recognize it for that.

These reporters certainly would have been more influential if they had not been silenced so quickly by Hitler and his party. Yet they did not leave without a fight. As Rosenbaum explains, their final headlines read: What is perhaps most insightful about the Post reporters, Rosenbaum explains, is that they were able to see through Hitler's charade and made public his "signature crimes," 51 blackmailing and counterfeiting true history. Gross states that Rosenbaum is enticed to believe that "Hitler was a gangster first and an ideologue second," however this is not Rosenbaum's "settled opinion" about Hitler's nature, but is nonetheless a forceful one Gross, Perhaps an even stronger argument for Rosenbaum's Explaining Hitler is his ability to raise questions within the reader.

Thought-provoking statements such as Dr. Micheels'"'Da soll ein warum sein': To me this can be translated into never forgetting to ask why things happen in life, but also never giving or settling for an answer that allows the perpetrator to get away or gain victory. Conclusion back to top. The man was a perfect mountebank Though in the end, he started to believe his own lies Nowadays, it is very difficult to believe Trevor-Roper's theory that Hitler was an idealist whose ideology was misplaced.

His history up to the point when Nazis came to power was too calculating and crooked to fit the picture of a man driven by a vision. Also, he kept the enormity of his crimes secret from the world, as though he wanted no one to know. It makes more sense to assume that he used the prevalent antisemitism as a vehicle for his rise to power. However, I believe Bullock may have been right in saying that ultimately he came to believe in his own superhuman stature.

His mad grab for world domination and his stubborn refusal to see the writing on the wall are the hallmarks of a deluded individual. According to official reports, Geli committed suicide using Hitler's gun to shoot herself, because he did not allow her to pursue a musical career in Vienna. But a lot of skeletons seemed to have emerged from the cupboard since then. Rumours have been rife that Hitler was carrying on an affair tainted by excretary perversions "undinism" and "coprophilia" - that is, obtaining sexual gratification by getting one's partner to urinate and defecate on one with her; and, as in the case of all Hitler rumours, with no corroborating evidence.

However, a school of thought firmly believes that Hitler murdered his half-niece out of jealousy, when she tried to escape this intolerable situation. In the post-war era of trying to find a psychological explanation for everything, it may be ironic or fitting that the theories of Freud, a gifted Jew who fled the Nazi empire, have been used to the maximum extent to explain Hitler's alleged sexual abnormalities as the reason for his monstrous behaviour.

Apart from the ones quoted above, the story of the single testicle, his Oedipal attachment to his mother, the primal scenes he witnessed in the small apartment where his father may have abused his mother are all quoted as the reasons why Hitler became Hitler. Maybe there is a kernel of truth in many of them: One of these which Rosenbaum spends a lot of time on, i.

Fritz Gerlich based on the shape of his nose using the Nazis' own methods of racist science in brilliant parody , I consider only as a savage lampoon. More interesting is the fact that Hitler secretly admired Genghis Khan, and was convinced that following his brutal methods of conquest will ultimately result in history looking at him in a favourable light as conqueror. This might have well happened had Hitler won the war. The second argument that Rosenbaum examines in detail - that Hitler became a hater after Geli Raubal's death - I also dismiss along with him as nonsense.

Hitler was not an embittered man, firing like a loose cannon. His psychopathology was planned and methodical. The one by Berel Lang is astonishing, and in my opinion, possible. Hitler did not kill Jews because he was convinced of his own rectitude: He did it because it was evil. In fact, evil for evil's sake, so far seen only in literary villains like Iago. Even though this may seem far-fetched, it would go a long way in explaining the great care which was taken in the creation of the death factories - "the method itself was the madness", to quote the author - and attempt to erase all trace of them as soon as the war was lost.

Lang puts forward the frightening hypothesis that Hitler and his cronies were artists one way or the other, and this was the art they excelled in: The second one, put forth by David Irving, is one of denial - the Holocaust never happened: Even though many may adopt this as a political position Iran is one prime example or as a case genuine antisemitism the many publicly deniers who privately believe it happened and delight in it , Irving comes across as a person who was genuinely conned by Hitler's inner coterie into accepting the Fuhrer's relative innocence.

When I read about Claude Lanzmann's extreme stance that nobody should even attempt to find an explanation for Hitler, and also of his vile attack on Dr. Louis Micheels, an Auschwitz survivor who is genuinely interested in finding the reason for the Holocaust, I connected it up with Berel Lang's frightening theory of evil as an art form. Lanzmann, a Jew who never suffered, purports to set himself up as a world authority on who should think what about the Holocaust: I found similar also to the attitude here on GR thet we are forbidden from making fun of Hitler.

An unpleasant memory, buried for a long time in my mind, suddenly surfaced. I was studying in the ninth grade. During lunchtime, kids with the innate propensity for cruelty that lies within us, tortured and killed a chameleon for fun. I was disgusted and fascinated at the same time. Even though I did not participate in the barbaric pastime, I could not tear myself away from the spectacle. It was the Hitler within me, the artist of evil. IMO, this is why people like Lanzmann are so violent - they have glimpsed the beast within, and afraid of its deadly charm.

So by negating it, burying it, they try to escape. For people like Dr. Micheels, who have seen the beast close at hand, this danger of identification does not exist, because they have been 'inoculated'. The Holocaust would not have been possible without Hitler: The Jews were a convenient victim, objects of hatred already conveniently available. Hitler was the reason, but not the only one. If another artist of evil is born in today's world, another holocaust is possible, maybe with a different breed of victim - unless we recognise and internalise the beast within.

Was it Hitler's plan to kill off all the Jews in the world from the beginning itself, or did the madness grow on him? Or was it the circumstances which made Hitler Hitler , and he only a pawn? Did the Holocaust just happen? There is the historian Yehuda Bauer, who believes Hitler is explainable in principle, though may not be in practice due to lack of historical data - however, he dismisses the idea of God unless as an evil entity who willed the Holocaust or as a weak figure who is powerless to stop it.

For the theologian Emil Fackenheim, it is the opposite: Hitler is unexplainable, God works in mysterious ways: There are four more widely differing explanations of the Holocaust put forth. George Steiner who says that the Jews exclusivity of themselves as the "Chosen People" singled them out a sort of "blame the victim" ; Hyam Maccoby who holds centuries of antisemitism in Christendom, and historic Christianity itself responsible; Daniel Goldhagen who holds German society respponsible and Lucy Dawidowicz who places the blame squarely on the shoulders of Hitler, refuting theories that the "Final Solution" was a late decision - in fact, Hitler started the war to exterminate Jews.

In his opinion, understanding Hitler does not mean reducing him to the ordinary - you should still be able to hate Hitler, even if he is explained. I quote the concluding paragraph of the chapter in full: Not to resist all or any inquiry, not to resist thought, but to resist the misleading exculpatory corollaries of explanation.

To resist making the kind of explanatory excuses for Hitler that permit him to escape, that grant him the posthumous victory of a last laugh. I do not agree with this view. I do not believe in good and evil as absolute constructs, and I am highly sceptical of the concept of free will.

But that is beside the point. At the very end of the book, Rosenbaum comes to the same conclusion as I did - Hitler as an artist of evil. Only thing is, I would add that I partially agree with Maccoby and Goldhagen also, of a society willing to accept that evil. However, in the afterword, he shoots off in tangents and begins attacking all and sundry who do not share his view of Hitler as evil incarnate, and He denounces Chaplin and Roberto Benigni for making films about the Holocaust that are "feel good": I wrote an essay about Chaplin and Benigni, whose triumphalist clowning at the Oscars, dancing not just on the chairs but, metaphorically, on the graves of the dead, I still find disgusting beyond belief.

As someone put it, Spielberg made a movie about one Christian saving Jews instead of a movie about a continent of Christians killing 6 million. A happy ending to a Holocaust movie!


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He then goes into an understandable tirade about Holocaust Denial and why I am not surprised? The last one means that one does not condone acts from Jews read Israel which are a direct result of their experiences of the Holocaust. Begin said that "in making a terribly difficult decision he knew would be initially condemned by most of the world, but he was thinking about the million and a half children murdered in the Holocaust".

Rosenbaum says that instead of Begin, Buruma is to be condemned for criticising him. So is any Israeli aggression justifiable because of the Jewish experience of the Holocaust, and their fears of its future occurrance? I am afraid, if we agree to this, we grant Hitler that posthumous victory: Instead, let us not continue to hate. Instead, let us learn to cry with the victims. As the Buddha said, compassion is the only valid emotion. View all 65 comments. May 06, Matt rated it liked it Shelves: There is a formulation, called Sayre's Law, that states: Hoarding on TLC her choice or Hillbilly: The Real Story on the History Channel my choice.

In other words, people can get riled up over very, very small stakes. Sometimes, compromise can be reached. For instance, my wife and I can usually come to an agreement to watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians , thereby promoting peace in our time. Sometimes, however, there can be no compromise, no agreement, no peace. That's the case with Hitler explainers, or non-explainers, as the case may be. Ron Rosenbaum's Explaining Hitler doesn't attempt to actually explain the man. It's not a handbook for funny mustaches and genocide. Rather, it attempts, in Rosenbaum's words, to explain the explainers.

The Explainers proper noun are a disparate group of tweedy men with elbow patches and pipes and an immense lexicon of subtle-yet-slicing insults who somehow get paid to sit around all day and think and write and talk about Adolf Hitler. The biggest question I had, at the end of the day, was "where do I sign up? Anyone who wants to understand Hitler, the man, need not consult this book.

It won't help, and will most likely hinder. On the other hand, if you want to read about really smart men and one or two women wasting their vast intellects arguing minutiate about a goose-stepping mass murderer who's been dead 65 years, then by all means, have at it. And yes, I count myself among the latter group. Explaining Hitler is a loose, shaggy, hard-to-pin-down sort of book. It's part memoir and part travel log; part compendium and part synthesis; part history and part sociology; and partly about a dictator who might have had one ball.

Rosenbaum is a writer who I have enjoyed reading on the website Slate.

Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil

In that forum, his dense, wordy, literate, highly intellectual pieces are more easily digested. In a book length format, it's a little harder going. Rosenbaum went to Yale, and I have the sneaking suspicion he's been starting decades-worth of cocktail parties with the phrase: So I hope you've brushed up on your philosophy and theology, because there will be a test but no bibliography, to which I say, shame! To be fair, though, Rosenbaum is a great tour guide. Knowledgeable, passionate, and even-keeled. He has an amazing way of always remaining the most moderate, reasonable, and logical person in any debate.

I'm sure he's very irritating to argue with, and I mean that as a compliment. The book is given its structure by the topics it chooses to tackle.

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These can be summarized as: There are actually more sections in the book, but there is some bleed-over, and a few of Rosenbaum's discussions are actually more digressionary, which is not to say uninteresting. The slowest going is at the start. These are the portions of the book dealing with the alleged Jewish ancestry of the Schicklgruber-Hitler family.

Now, I'll admit, I'm not a big fan of geneology in general. Mostly because I find it embarrassingly hard to follow family trees. When I'm asked to remember lines of consanguinity, I usually have a terrible flashback to my first year Property course in law school. This section is enlivened, actually, but what I thought was Rosenbaum's best contribution: This was the nickname given a group of newspapermen who formed a sort of Weimar-era Gawker, except that instead of making fun of Conde Naste employees, these journalists raked mud in Hitler's face and paid for it; paid dearly.

Rosenbaum follows this with a debate over Hitler's consciousness of evil, which boils down to a nerd fight between two distinguished English professors: It is not so much enlightening as it is comforting - comforting to know that in some places, people get paid to wear herringbone, drink high balls, and snort contemptuously that you would think that. The greatest disappointment I had was with the discussion of Hitler's alleged sexual "deviancy". In case you didn't know, many people have tried to explain Hitler's actions through the prism of sex, whether it be a sexual problem monorchidism, impotence or an outlandish fetish pedophilia, undinism, incest.


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To attempt to explain Hitler this way is, obviosly, hopelessly reductive. It would be laughable if it weren't so prevalent, and there's a lot of ways you can go here. For one, you can turn the theoretical lens back on the theorist, to study the pathology of anyone who thinks you can understand Hitler by determining whether he liked to give or receive a Hot Carl.

Or, at the very least, you can relate some of the lurid "details" so I can be properly revolted. Unfortunately, the only story we get is a thirdhand account of Geli Rabaul urinating on Hitler's face which actually sounds like wishful thinking. Mostly, Rosenbaum keeps a safe distance from this subject, making these sections as flaccid, allegedly, as Hitler's netherparts. Explaining Hitler also gives a little time to Holocaust skeptics, chiefly, David Irving. This is sort of a sidetrack, since Irving isn't so much of a Hitler explainer, as he is a diminisher.

Still, you got to hand it to Rosenbaum. He suppressed the urge to knee Irving in the groin, which must have been quite difficult. Perhaps the most entertaining section of the book revolves around the insufferably arrogant Claude Lanzmann, the French of course director of the nine-hour documentary Shoah. Lanzmann believes that you should not be allowed to question the "why" of the Holocaust. If you do, Lanzmann will shout at you, as he shouted down an actual Holocaust survivor.

Again, Rosenbaum's ability to not inflict physical harm on his interview subjects is commendable. In his place, it's very likely I'd be in a French prison for the high crime of "shoving one's beret down one's throat. With the exception of Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, I hadn't heard of most of these people, and by this point in the book, I was tired of the esoterica. Yes, I discovered, even I have my limits as to the parsing of historical nuance. I've read a lot about the Nazis and Hitler, probably more than is healthy, and I enjoyed Rosenbaum's take.

It's a fresh way to look at things; to examine history not through the eyes of the historical figure, but through the eyes of those writing that figure. Ultimately, though, I found my understanding of Hitler diminished. He had become so abstract - a collection of lies, myths, conjecture, speculation, and sexual peccadilloes - that he wasn't a human anymore, or even a demon.

He had transformed into that raving lunatic from those Downfall mash-up videos you can find on YouTube. A creature of ridicule and scorn who couldn't possibly have risen from the backwaters of Austria to lead the most powerful nation in Europe. To me, the question of explanation is misplaced. I don't think it's impossible to determine Hitler's motives. I don't think it's impossible to determine whether he hated Jews or whether he was cynically using them as scapegoats; and I don't think it's impossible to determine why Hitler hated the Jews; and I don't even think it's impossible to reasonably infer what effect Hitler's misshappen scrotum had on his psyche.

But these aren't the important questions, are they? Having those answers wouldn't solve the Great Mystery. By this, I mean, a lot of people have a lot of crackpot notions. I once talked to a client who claimed to be a timeless angel who had swallowed the sun and spit out the Eiffel Tower of all places. The fact that Hitler wanted to annihilate the Jews is, sadly enough, not unique. The more important story, one that is much easier to piece together, but just as hard to fathom, is how this runty little crackpot with the stupid mustache and that weird forelock of hair, who loved dogs, hated Jews, and willingly allowed himself to be urinated upon, actually rose to the top and put his theory into practice.

View all 10 comments. If this were "merely" a work of scholarly investigation - examining the writings of those who have tried to explain the evil of Hitler and the Holocaust - it would still be interesting, but not nearly as interesting as the book Ron Rosenbaum wrote. He adds a layer of journalism on top of a work of biography, history, and historiography, interviewing each of the Hitler "explainers" in person and helping us see their motives.

The passive-aggressive Claude Lanzmann , for example. Lanzmann, the direc If this were "merely" a work of scholarly investigation - examining the writings of those who have tried to explain the evil of Hitler and the Holocaust - it would still be interesting, but not nearly as interesting as the book Ron Rosenbaum wrote. Lanzmann, the director of the hugely acclaimed 9-hour Holocaust documentary Shoah , had agreed to meet with Rosenbaum in Paris.

But when Rosenbaum showed up at Lanzmann's address at the appointed time, repeatedly ringing the buzzer, calling Lanzmann from a nearby brasserie this was the days before cellphones and leaving messages, returning to ring the buzzer again, he got no response. On the way back to his hotel, he called Lanzmann one more time from a laundromat. This time Lanzmann answered, and was annoyed at Rosenbaum, insisting not only that he'd been in the building the whole time, but that he'd given Rosenbaum the access codes for the building's security keypad.

Furthermore, Lanzmann said, too much time had been wasted and he could now no longer do the interview. After pleading from Rosenbaum, Lanzmann relented, but the interview was conducted with Lanzmann's ill-concealed hostility and belligerence hanging over it like a miasma. After this story, and another one in which Lanzmann publicly disrespected a Holocaust survivor at a conference, I understood why Rosenbaum used Hitler's baby photo for his cover; not just because it symbolizes better than any other image the lengths people will go to trying to explain the metamorphosis from innocence to evil, but because the image utterly pissed off Lanzmann, by evoking the mere notion that Hitler ever could have been innocent, guiltless, guileless.

In a delicious inversion, Rosenbaum also interviews the Holocaust survivor Lanzmann disrespected at the conference, who turns out to be so solicitous of Rosenbaum that he insists Rosenbaum write down the license plate number of his car so they won't miss each other at the train station. Lanzmann had attacked the film Schindler's List , writing: No, says the researcher, Lanzmann has clearly written, "after Shoah , after his film , certain things are forbidden.

Rosenbaum's narrative of his discussions with the various historians of Hitler and the Holocaust is so fascinating that I was surprised to look back at the table of contents and realize this is only half the book. The first half delves into several topics: Hitler's relationship to his half-niece Geli Raubal, which is cloaked in mystery; it seems to have been sexual, or romantic, but was it also deeply perverse? Was Hitler a devotee of undinism, also known as urolagnia, or watersports? Did he have young Geli squat over his face and piss on him, causing her such psychological distress that she ultimately killed herself?

Or did she kill herself for some other reason?