More than a half-century after Adolf Hitler committed suicide in a Berlin bunker, the dictator’s legacy and influence lives on, precisely as he predicted before putting the gun to his head. In the spring of 1945, as it became increasingly clear that the Nazi cause was lost, Hitler dictated his final political testament to his secretary: “Out of my personal commitment the seed will grow again one day, one way or another, for a radiant rebirth of the National Socialist movement in a truly united nation.” The next day, Hitler ended the Nazi regime by committing suicide. Respected author and publisher Peter Wyden, who himself escaped the Nazis, has returned to Germany many times over the years and, to his dismay, he has found evidence that Hitler’s last testament was startlingly accurate.
Though the Nazi cause had been exposed and vilified worldwide, it is still clandestinely cherished by many. In the process of documenting manifestations of Hitler’s far-reaching influence, which he termed the “Hitler virus,” Wyden discovered that its carriers were not merely to be found among the older generation but an alarming number of outbreaks of the virus are among the young adults, who find in Hitler a moral and spiritual guide, aided and abetted by a new breed of right-wing academics who make the rewriting of history their mission and a new generation of politicians whose agendas are frighteningly close to those of young Hitler. In these often chilling pages, Wyden recounts the results of his research and points out that the Hitler virus is, indeed, still a cause for concern worldwide.
The virus referred to in the title of this uneven but passionate book is the staying power of Hitler and his ideology, a half-century after the end of WWII. Wyden (Stella), who, as a child, escaped from the Nazis before the war, focuses on many of the usual suspects in Germany in addressing Hitler's legacy: skinheads on trial for murder; "New Right" historian Eric Nolte, who says, "I don't consider the embodiment of evil"; Judge Rainer Orlet, notorious for lenience with neo-Nazis. He highlights Germans who continue to celebrate the F hrer's birthday and those (numbering about 150,000 annually) who visit his refuge at Berchtesgaden. He records, with obvious rancor, his interviews with Holocaust deniers such as British historian David Irving (himself the subject of another new book, D.D. Guttenplan's The Holocaust on Trial, Forecasts, Apr. 23). At times, he vacillates between an optimistic conviction that Germany has learned its lesson and a fear that neo-Nazism will have its day. Wyden is at his best in uncharted territory, i.e., ordinary people's continuing fascination with Hitler. After spending time with some of the visitors to Berchtesgaden, Wyden is disturbed by, but unable to discern what lies behind, their fascination. For local tourist officials, it is clearer: Hitler "is their star" and "their migraine. They prize him but cannot officially admit it." The Hitler virus seems almost epidemic in Wyden's account, and his portraits linger in the mind. (Wyden died before the volume was completed; his publisher, with the collaboration of his widow, completed the manuscript.)