The idea that historical events, catastrophes in particular, didn't happen on their own but were driven by the hidden machinations of malign influences has deep roots. The appeal is clear: we can ascribe these events not to human shortsightedness or frailty, or to the contingencies of fate and circumstance, but to unseen forces. Conspiracy theories and paranoia go hand in hand. Something, or someone, is trying to control our lives and to regain that control we need to expose the truth.
Conspiracy theories have lately proliferated, powered by the Internet and social media, as well as by the declining influence of the traditional gatekeepers of facts and information. In his new book, Richard J. Evans, one of the world's leading historians of the Third Reich, explores this new golden age of conspiracy theories and what underlies it. To do that, he focuses on five of the most enduring conspiracies theories of the Nazi period, including those that fueled Hitler's rise in the first place. Hence he reexamines the notorious anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion; the "stab-in-the-back" myth about the of the role of Jews in Germany's loss in World War One; and the 1933 burning of the Reichstag, which the Nazis used to solidify their grip on power. Evans also delves into the multiple rumors regarding the ill-fated and mysterious 1941 flight to England by Rudolf Hess, Deputy Leader of the Nazi Party, and his death in Spandau prison in 1987. Lastly, he turns to the recurrent rumor that Hitler somehow managed to escape from Berlin in 1945 and live out his days in Argentina.
The Hitler Conspiracies is a book about fantasies and fictions, fabrications and falsifications. A distinguished work of history by one of the world's most distinguished historians, it offers equally a hard look at our own troubled times, a "post-truth" era in which "alternative facts" have gained new standing.