In the afterword to his new novel, “The Zone of Interest”, Martin Amis tries to make sense of the man who he describes as “stand[ing] alone as a source of lasting and unanimous incomprehension.”
An edited version is now in the FT Magazine, titled “Martin Amis on Hitler and the nature of evil”.
The question of “Why” pervades the essay from the first:
Newly detrained at Auschwitz in February 1944, and newly stripped, showered, sheared, tattooed, and reclothed in random rags (and nursing a four-day thirst), Primo Levi and his fellow Italian prisoners were packed into a vacant shed and told to wait. This famous passage continues:
. . . I eyed a fine icicle outside the window, within hand’s reach. I opened the window and broke off the icicle but at once a large, heavy guard prowling outside brutally snatched it away from me. ‘Warum?’ I asked him in my poor German. ‘Hier ist kein warum’ (there is no why here), he replied, pushing me inside with a shove.
One can argue about the success of the attempt but the journey is worthwhile:
And on the other hand the leader, who indulged these tendencies on the stage of global politics. His inner arcanum, Haffner believes, floridly manifested itself during the critical hinge of the war: namely the two-week period between November 27 and December 11, 1941.
When the Blitzkrieg in the east began to collapse, Hitler notoriously remarked (November 27):
On this point, too, I am icily cold. If one day the German nation is no longer sufficiently strong or sufficiently ready for sacrifice to stake its blood for its existence, then let it perish and be annihilated by some other stronger power … I shall shed no tears for the German nation.
By December 6, as the war diary of the Wehrmacht Operations Staff records, Hitler had acknowledged that “no victory could any longer be won”. And on December 11, four days after Pearl Harbor, he boldly, gratuitously, and suicidally declared war on the USA. Where, here, is the Führer’s why? According to Haffner, he was “now coveting defeat”; and he wanted that defeat to be “as complete and disastrous as possible”. Thereafter his aggression veered in on a new target: Germans.