The Fuehrer Myth.

by Stig Hornshøj-Møller

Tiderne Skifter, Copenhagen, 1996. 424 pp.

Essay on background, reasoning, methodology, thesis and documentation in my Danish book on the decision making process that led to the Holocaust.

The cornerstone for the whole approach in my book is my source-critical analysis of the notorious anti-Semitic propaganda film "The Eternal Jew," which was published in late 1995 by the Institute for the Scientific Film in Göttingen, Germany. In this analysis, I carefully described the production history, the distribution history and the effects of the film on the audience. The main section of the book contains a frame-to-frame analysis on several levels:

a) An identification of - as well as an evaluation of the authenticity of - its 712 clips;

b) A description of the manipulation of the film through the way it was shot, cut and commented by the narrator;

c) A semiotic analysis of how the many different topics as ideological signs and codes in the film reflected the contemporary Nazi view of the Jews, acting as "visual proof" of Nazi anti-Semitic conceptions (because it allegedly was left to each onlooker to draw the conclusions of what was seen with their own eyes).


This part of my research project originally started in 1970 as a methodological example of historical film analysis, based upon the general theory on film as a historical source developed by professor Niels Skyum-Nielsen (University of Copenhagen).

Film historians had, at that time, long claimed that the film was made as deliberate advocacy for mass-murder, but most historians had never taken notice of this claim. The main reason for disregarding this notion was purely chronological: the film having been produced and shown in 1940, it did not match the general opinion among historians, namely that the final key decision for a radical final solution of the "Jewish question" was made sometime during the year of 1941.

Through my detailed analysis I, therefore, at first tried to prove that there was no positive evidence to support that claim of those film historians, based on their internal analysis of "Der ewige Jude" and the feature film "Jew Süss" (also produced and shown in 1940 as part of an anti-Semitic film campaign). It seemed reasonable to believe that their analytical deductions were influenced by their knowledge of the Holocaust that followed. This was still my opinion when I - together with David Culbert - published an article in the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television Vol. 12, 1, 1992 (pp. 41-68): "'Der ewige Jude' (1940): Joseph Goebbels' unequaled monument to anti-Semitism."

However, even while writing this article I had difficulties with the verification of my original hypothesis. As Ilan Avisar rightfully pointed out in the next issue of the journal: In this article, we had not drawn the conclusions of the film itself (the actual reason for this omission originally being the forthcoming source-critical edition). I found still more and more evidence on many different levels which supported the claim that "Der ewige Jude" was intended to legitimize the systematic annihilation of the Jews.

It came to me that I had to change my hypothesis and had to accept that the chronology reconstructed by some of the world's leading historians could be wrong. I began instead to look for more evidence which could verify that this film had had an important function in the very decision-making process itself that led to the Holocaust.

"The Eternal Jew" - an X-ray of the decision-making process

What finally convinced me of the need to trust my own findings were two months during the autumn of 1991 where I watched - live - one month of Serbian and one month of Croatian television on cable-TV. (My wife helped me with the language, as she lived in the former Yugoslavia for two years and has a Danish university degree in Serbo-Crotian.)

It happened during the genocidal fighting over East Slavonia (Ossiek and Vukuvar) and what I saw in the program mix on both sides was exactly the same kind of propaganda mix that was presented to the German public in the cinemas in 1939-1941. The programmes proved to me, beyond any doubt, how the presentation of an "inhumane" enemy formed that genocidal mentality which - according to the book by Robert J. Lifton and Eric Markusen: Genocidal Mentality (1990) - is a necessary condition for perpetrators to be able to commit genocide. The only difference between "The Eternal Jew" and Serbian and Crotian presentation of "reality" was that mutilated human bodies were used instead of ritual slaughtering as "proof" of this inhumanity - and that the call for genocidal behaviour in these programmes was not quite so outspoken as it was in "The Eternal Jew." This notion has later been substantially supported by several studies of the role of the media in the genesis of genocidal killing in the former Yugoslavia.

I consequently had to accept the film as a mirror of a deliberate decision by Adolf Hitler and started to develop a new chronology in the decision-making process based on the production and distribution history of "The Eternal Jew" (as well as its propaganda-twin "Jew Süss"). The so-called "documentary" was initiated and produced by Joseph Goebbels himself, but it was shown several times to Hitler, who each time ordered new changes before he finally approved it for public screening. This process has made me characterize the film as an X-ray of the actual decision-making process.

The Production History of "The Eternal Jew"

The lack of public support for the Reichskristallnacht had left Joseph Goebbels, the instigator of the pogrom, with a problem of legitimization. Immediately afterwards, for the first time, he initiated the production of films with clear anti-Semitic topics. (One of them was "Jud Süss," which was delayed for many reasons.) Goebbels also wanted to make a "reality-film," but lacked footage which showed Jews looking like the Nazi image of Jews.

The Polish authorities rejected German filming in Polish ghettos, but during the campaign in Poland this obstacle disappeared, and the German newsreels began to have Jewish topics. After having approved the UFA 474 (which had a longer story on Polish ghettos) on October 4, 1939, Goebbels ordered his chief of film production within the Ministry of Propaganda, Fritz Hippler, to go to Poland to film Jews in the ghettos, Jewish service in the synagogue, and ritual slaughtering: "That must be the (unreadable word) anti-Semitic propaganda, one can think of." The next day Goebbels had another meeting with Hippler and Eberhard Taubert - an expert on anti-Semitism - where he himself outlined the contents of such a "documentary" film: "It should be a first-class propaganda film."

Fritz Hippler went to Lodz and filmed according to his master's wishes, including ritual slaughter which was deliberately staged as cruelty to animals. When Goebbels saw half an hour of the rushes from this event, he wrote in his private diary: "The Jewry has got to be annihilated" (entry from October 17, 1939). The film production thereafter can only be conceived as his personal effort, as an adviser, to convince and to compel the Führer to implement the ultimate consequence of the Führer's own ideology - just as Hitler himself had "prophesized" publicly in his notorious speech on January 30, 1939: "If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevization of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!").

Hitler finally approved the film on May 20, 1940 - the day when German troops reached the English Channel and thus sealed the destiny of France. This event was - as I see it - conceived by Hitler as a confirmation by Fate of his "God-given mission." Already the next day he spoke to General Halder of his next goal: Soviet Russia. (As Yehuda Bauer and others have concluded from quite different sources than I have used, Hitler's warfare must be understood as his personal war against the Jews, where the war against "Jewish-Bolshevik Russia" was the foreign policy component and the killing of the rest of European Jewry the component of internal policy.)

Hitler, however, needed more external confirmation from Fate in order to be able to take such an atrocious decision.

Hitler's Ultimate Decision to Launch the Holocaust

During the evacuation of Dunkirk, Adolf Hitler seemed to be more interested in visiting old battlefields from WW 1 than in the ongoing war. On June 1, 1940, he visited La Montagne near Werwicq, where he was blinded from poison gas during the night of October 13 to 14, 1918. Here Hitler virtually could see with his own eyes that he had achieved what he had planned to do when he made his decision to become a politician on November 10, 1918, being temporarily blinded in Pasewalk.

For psychological reasons (see my explanatory analysis regarding his probable Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, further down), it must have been here, or immediately after, that Hitler made the decision to embark upon the final phase of his war against the Jews. At least, there is concrete evidence that he once more talked about attacking Russia the very next day - and his behaviour during the following days clearly supports such a claim from a semiotic point of view. E.g. on June 5 he issued a secret decree which legitimized the possibility of calling a state of legal emergency (the decree was renewed twice - on December 20, 1940, and again on May 15, 1941 - both in clear connection with the launch of "Operation Barbarossa.")

Another semiological argument is the name "Wolfsschlucht" which Hitler gave to his new headquarter on June 6. It derives from the opera "Der Freischütz" by Carl Maria von Weber, the German national opera. In this opera the "Wolfsschlucht" is both an well-known allegory of Germany and the scene of a Pact with the Devil (who has a Jewish name). I argue in my book why and how this opera helped Hitler in the early 1920s to find his identity after the war trauma (see further down).

After having acted like a mute God in Compiègne on June 21, 1940, Hitler visited the place near Soissons where he got his Iron Cross 1st Class - which obviously acted as a token for him - on the way back to the Wolfsschlucht. From a psychological point of view it is therefore reasonable to claim that when he had received another "concrete" confirmation from Fate - the formal capitulation of France the next day (June 22, 1940, exactly one year before the attack on Soviet Russia) - he called upon Himmler and gave him an oral order to be responsible for the extermination of European Jewry. If Felix Kersten can be trusted, Himmler rejected at first, but then accepted the assignment due to his loyalty to the Führer. Himmler apparently delegated it to Heydrich - who did not have the same kind of moral scruples as Himmler - to start planning. To me, Heydrich's letter to Ribbentrop on June 24 could be seen as the first initiative.

In the meantime Hitler visited Paris. At Napoleon's grave he - as I see it - symbolically took over the task of fighting Russia. After having visited more old battlefields from WW 1, he left "Wolfsschlucht" on June 28, 1940 - the anniversary of the Versailles Treaty - and left for the next headquarters in Germany, which he had already named "Tannenberg." No member of the general staff could misinterpret this meaning of this symbolic name. It could only signify that the next phase of the war would be a campaign against Russia and the general staff started planning such a campaign all by itself without a specific order. According to Albert Speer, Hitler also explicitly talked about Russia with Keitel before leaving the "Wolfsschlucht" that day.


It is well-known that Hitler was obsessed with rituals - and it is well-known that he had an excellent memory for dates and places. My reconstruction of the decision-making process made me look into the question whether I could discern the logic in his psychopathic thinking and behaviour. It is well-known that Hitler behaved in a very emotional, hysterical manner, and I wanted to disclose this way of emotional reactions to outside events in cases where it is specifically known that he himself was the one that took the decisions.

In this part of the research I have used a holistic, mainly semiotic way of analyzing, because it soon became clear to me that what set such decisions in motion was what Hitler just had experienced, i.e. what he just had seen. This importance of this notion is also confirmed by the many psychological portraits of Adolf Hitler that have been published by leading scholars, but contrary to these studies which focus more on a description of the different features of his personality, I have used chronology as my main structure, asking the simple question: what had he just experienced before making a specific decision?

Just one example to show the viability of such an approach. It is well-known that Adolf Hitler wrote a surprising personal letter to Stalin on August 20, 1939, an act which by all historians is considered to be the very reason for Stalin's quick acceptance of the German offer of a pact between the two ideological enemies. I asked myself why that day and not one day before or one day after? The reason turned out to be as simple as it was stunning and also elucidating for Hitler's behaviour: That afternoon he was watching newsreels from all over the world, including one from Russia with Stalin in a close-up during a parade. He then asked to see the Russian newsreel once more and studied Stalin very carefully. Then he left the audience without a word - and wrote the letter to Stalin. That it really was the film that motivated the letter is confirmed by an entry in Goebbels' diary from March 15, 1940, where he and Hitler discussed Russia: "The Führer saw Stalin in a film and found him immediately sympathetic. At that moment did the German-Russian alliance really start." My book is filled with such examples of the intimate relation between Hitler's visual experiences and well-known political decisions which can be traced back to Adolf Hitler himself.

Hitler's Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-like Personality

The importance of Hitler's visit to Werwicq and other battle-fields of WW 1 made me go to the distinguished International Rehabilitation and Research Center for Torture Victims in Copenhagen. I wanted to learn more about modern knowledge on war trauma, which seemed to be the key for the whole decision-making process. Reading the newest research on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder it became quite clear to me that the two occasions where Hitler lost eyesight in WW 1 must have had aroused a PTSD-like state of personality in him. And I began to use this psychiatric model of explanation as a frame-work of analysis of key moments of his life after his decision to become a politician. It also turned out that his many descriptions of how he remembered what happened during his second blindness - as collected by Rudolph Binion - exactly matched the way that Vietnam veterans described their own traumatic experiences.

The veterans described their traumatic event as a sudden split of personality where they felt they met God (or Satan) - or looked upon themselves from the outside. The psychiatrists explain that in order to survive mentally from the shock the brain creates a new Ego, based on earlier personally experienced surviving strategies. However, as the person in question does survive the traumatic experience, the old Ego gradually takes over again - except when something from the outside (very often with a strong visual component) suddenly makes him remember the traumatic situation with all its connotations and activates the new Ego to protect the person from what he conceives as a mortal danger.

Following this theory (which now has been substantiated through brain scans and other physiological research) it would be possible to explain the gap between Hitler as Führer and Hitler in private which has confused many historians. One could say that the new Ego from the traumatic event in Pasewalk constitutes Hitler's "inner voice" (which he himself often talked about) and that Mein Kampf is part of his own inner struggle to describe and come to terms with this "inner voice."

Such an explanation would account for a lot of things. First of all it would explain the change of Hitler after Pasewalk, where he suddenly began to be an extrovert in social relations with others, and no longer stayed in his own fantasy world. It would secondly explain how he had received all the components in his ideology from corroborative experiences in his earlier fantasy world, and from key events in his life before Pasewalk, when he had been confronted with the real world in a way which he himself had conceived as "traumatic." As Brigitte Hamann most recently has pointed out in her book on "Hitler's Wien," although he had experienced all the features of anti-Semitism that later became part of his ideology, he was not a radical anti-Semite when he left Vienna.

After Pasewalk Hitler went through an identity crisis during which he tried to find out what his "inner voice" was telling him. One can conceive of the time up until "Mein Kampf" as his attempt to describe his new Ego, which he himself called "Wolf." In my book I outline how Hitler first found visual confirmation of the political and cultural features of his new role in society through films, photos and art (especially the painter Franz von Stuck). Later, he was also able to put his new Ego in words in "Mein Kampf," using a mix of personal experiences and books where he found confirmation of his new role in life.

Finally I describe how his Führer-Ego developed into the Führer-Myth with the help of the modern mass-media, especially through the photos of Heinrich Hoffmann and films like "Triumph of the Will" as well as other propaganda-films, newsreels and feature films. One could also say that I have made a detailed inventory of Hitler's "social reconstruction of reality," always using chronology as the skeleton for my analysis.

It is obvious that in Hitler's mind the new war (i.e. WW 2) should reverse the old war (WW 1) and establish the Thousand-Year Reich. From a psychological point of view he seemed to have been obsessed with this goal where the extermination of Evil (i.e. the Jews) was the eschatological precondition for achieving this goal.

This observation led me to a semiotic comparison of Hitler's experiences in WW 1 and his strange behaviour during the campaign in France. That behaviour, at first sight, does not seem to have any kind of logic, unless his actions are a kind of conjuration or "exorcism" through ritual visits to important places of WW 1 - both those with symbolic connotation to Germany like Langemarck and Compiègne and those with symbolic connotations to himself like Werwicq and the place near Soissons where he was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class.

Modern research into PTSD has identified individuals, suffering from war traumas, who in their personality and social background resembled Adolf Hitler. Some of them believed that the Vietnam war had been lost simply because they earlier had committed a severe personal sin (which had no connection with either combat nor the incident that evoked their PTSD-condition). Therefore they felt forced by their new Ego to do something in order to atone for their sin and thereby save their country. These psychological patterns are very much like the political behaviour of Adolf Hitler and resemble the way he himself verbally explained his "mission" after Pasewalk.

The Genesis of Hitler's Exterministic Anti-Semitism

From a psychological and psychiatric point of view there can be little doubt that Hitler's radical anti-Semitism must go back to a personal experience with a Jew which either actually was a radical violation of his personality or later was conceived as personal sin in his traumatized mind. Brigitte Hamann had recently concluded that although most of the elements of Hitler's anti-Semitism had been exposed to him during his time in Vienna, he had not yet become a radical anti-Semite when he left the city. The traumatic experience must have happened during World War 1.

There seems to be only one person who fits this pattern: Hugo Gutmann, Hitler's direct superior between January 31 and August 30, 1918 - and notably also the man who recommended him for the Iron Cross 1st Class. For one reason or another, Hitler never told anybody how and why he got this award, which for a private soldier like him was so unusual. The reasons in the official document are astonishingly weak, compared to other recommendations of the same kind.

According to Gutmann's statement after the war, he had promised Hitler and an another soldier the Iron Cross if they would get a message through during severe fighting in late May 1918. However, it took two months before Gutmann was able to fulfill his promise: Hitler got the cross on August 4, 1918.

Four days later the German army had to retreat, and at the end of the month Gutmann left the regiment for a post behind the front. The regiment with Hitler was sent to Belgium, where he was wounded during the night between October 13 and 14 and temporarily blinded. Then he was sent to Pasewalk, where he made his decision to become a politician on November 10, 1918, because an "inner voice" told him to do so.

Hitler refered to Gutmann on one occasion only, where he explicitly singled him out as an example of how German honour had been violated during WW 1 by Jews bearing the Iron Cross. The date of this reference (November 10, 1941) is crucial, because Hitler had just recalled his notorious prophecy in a speech and probably also had rebuked Himmler for lack of efficiency in carrying out his order. This date also had other semiotic connotations to Hitler: Pasewalk 1918, a "prophetic" speech in 1933, the Reichskristallnacht 1938, and a secret, also "prophetic" speech to the press, commenting this event and urging propaganda for violence.

I believe that such a rebuke from Hitler on that day was the reason why Himmler had such severe stomach pains that he broke his oath of secrecy. The following day, Himmler told Felix Kersten after treatment, for the first time, about how Hitler had given him an order to annihilate the Jews immediately after the capitulation of France. There are also other signs of the importance of this date for the implementation of the Holocaust: Goebbels went public in his weekly "Das Reich" on November 16 with the notorious leading article "Die Juden sind schuld," while Heydrich started to prepare the Wannsee Conference.

There is, however, perhaps an even stronger argument for the importance of Gutmann as the arouser of Hitler's fierce anti-Semitism. It would seem unlikely that Gutmann would voluntarily lobby for Hitler to be awarded an Iron Cross, if Hitler had been a strong anti-Semite in Spring 1918 - yet right from his first known political statement from September 1919 he was.

I have earlier referred to the significance of the name "Wolfschlucht" which he called his new FHQ after having visited Werwicq, and that it must have been here that he gave Himmler the order to be responsible for the annihilation of the Jews on June 22, 1940. The day before - on the way back from Compiègne, where he had acted like a mute God in public (it was filmed for the Wochenschau) - the Führer visited the place near Soissons where he had got his Iron Cross - and in order to "erase" the memory from WW 1 he installed a new headquarters here and called it "Wolfsschlucht 2". This move can be seen as a parallel to the way he removed the memory of his father. In 1938-42 he destroyed the villages of Strones and Döllersheim, where his father and his grandparents came from, and turned them into the biggest military training area of Western Europe.

From these observations arises the big question about what actually did happen that made Hitler hate Gutmann so much?

One - although unlikely - possibility could be that the Iron Cross was Hitler's award in return for a homosexual relationship. Gutmann was born in 1880 and was still unmarried in 1918 despite a good financial situation before the war. He later got married and had two children.

Another - and a much more likely - possibility is the following scenario. It is well-known that one of the reasons for Hitler's strange relations to women derived from the lack of one testicle which made him distrust his manhood. There are nevertheless reasons to believe that he had a sexual relation to a French woman, Charlotte Lobjoie, in 1917. She got pregnant, but their relationship broke off because Hitler's regiment was transferred. At that point, Hitler - already harboring some anti-Semitic dislike - got Gutmann (described in a recommendation from August 4, 1918, as a very efficient link between officers and private soldiers, i.e. authoritative) as his immediate superior.

If Gutmann's story is correct (and I believe that it is) - and Hitler really got the Iron Cross for bravery - Hitler could have started mistrusting Gutmann because it took two months before it was awarded. Gutmann was on leave on the "blackest day in the history of WW 1" four days later (August 8, 1918), when the German army had to retreat, and shortly after he was tranferred to a post behind the lines, while Hitler stayed in the frontlines and got wounded etc. From Hitler's childish fantasy world this succession of experiences might - together with the anti-Semitic outburst in the German society in November 1918 - be the reason why he conceived the reception of the Iron Cross from a Jew as his personal sin to his morals as a German. It all got mixed up in his mind during the traumatic experience in Pasewalk.

The Significance of "Produced Reality"

One of the main features of my book is a dynamic analysis of the importance of visual communication in both the establishing and the development of the Führer-Myth in Hitler himself as well as in his followers and in the complex process that led to the Holocaust. It focuses on "produced reality" through mass communication as a decisive factor in this process, where Hitler succeeded in transfering his own inner ideas to inner ideas in the minds of the German people.

The book, however, also analyses in great detail how this "produced reality" struck back and reinforced the world view of key figures like Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler and Heydrich. It also carefully describes these four key persons with empathy, because I find it vital for the historical understanding of the whole decision-making process of industrialized mass-murder - not only with regards to the historical genocide of the Holocaust, but also as part of a more general theory of genocidal behaviour - to consider them as human beings, acting according to emotions and their own social reconstruction of reality.

From this approach it becomes evident that the private life of Joseph Goebbels, and his struggle with other top men of the Third Reich to have Hitler's backing, played a decisive role in the whole process. There is a detailed description of the origin of the Reichskristallnacht, whose radicality was closely connected with Goebbels' affair with the actress Lida Baarova and his attempt to set up a "ménage à trois" with her and his wife Magda. It is concluded that the Minister of Propaganda - partly because of his own radical anti-Semitism, partly as a means for regaining power - was the decisive instigator of the Holocaust.

Another main topic is the analysis of the executive system, i.e. the relations between Hitler, Himmler and Heydrich. Although it was Himmler who was put in charge of the annihilation project, it was clearly Heydrich who organized it. It is argued that Heydrich competed with Himmler to become the successor to Hitler, and that while Himmler morally was against the genocide and was reluctant to carry the order out, Heydrich had no such scruples. It is also argued that Himmler was promised the highest award in The Third Reich for the assignment - the physical remains of Adolf Hitler after his death - and that he rebuilt the castle Wewelsburg as a mausoleum for the Führer and the Führer Myth which was to be the "center of the world."

The book ends with a description of the Wannsee Conference and a short chapter on the atrocities of the Holocaust itself, using quotations and well-known pictures which are intended as icons.

The postscript stresses the importance of Hannah Arendt's famous book on Eichmann and the notion that every person acts out of his or her "social construction of reality." It also underlines the dangers of modern society, where the construction of reality by the media can lead to the development, and a substantiation, of a genocidal mentality in the same way it happened with "The Eternal Jew."

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