How could a failed artist and racist rabble-rouser like Adolf Hitler attain the highest office in the land in a country as modern and civilized as Germany?
The answer unfolds in Apocalypse Hitler, a riveting two-part DVD released by Entertainment One Films Canada Inc. on the eve of Holocaust Education Week, which starts November 1, and presented by Isabelle Clarke and Daniel Costelle.
Born into a working-class family of perhaps partial Jewish origin in a provincial town in Austria, Hitler was certainly not destined for immortality. Circumstances, however, decreed otherwise.
Fanatical, clever and opportunistic, Hitler turned into an arch German nationalist after serving as a lowly soldier on the western front in World War I, an event he would describe as the most sublime of his life.
A struggling artist who had been rejected by the art school of his choice, he emerged from the trenches utterly convinced that Germany had been stabbed in the back by Jewish traitors. A gifted orator, he harped on this outlandish theme after joining the National Socialist German Workers Party, the precursor of the Nazi party.
The film, which is entirely in colour, traces his role in the 1923 putsch in Munich, his imprisonment on charges of treason and his authorship of Mein Kampf, the turgid bible of the Nazi movement that would sell 80 million copies from 1933 onward.
We learn, in an aside, that the first black SS uniforms were designed by Hugo Boss, whose expensive menswear is all the rage these days.
The film underscores the maxim that perseverance is a quality that politicians should possess.
The Nazis hit bottom in the 1928 election, winning only 2.6 per cent of the votes. But Hitler carried on. He exploited the impact the Depression had on many Germans, and he appealed to their sense of outrage by harping on the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, which humiliated Germany.
According to British historian Ian Kershaw, Hitler would have remained on the ragged periphery of German politics, and would have been considered a nut case, had it not been for the economic crisis of the early 1930s.
A skilful manipulator, he offered Germans hope of a better tomorrow and fanned fears of a Communist takeover. And in a master stroke, he convinced a considerable number of Germans that the old political order was discredited.
When the Nazi party lost 40 of its parliamentary seats in the November 1932 election, some gleeful observers prematurely concluded that Hitler was a spent force. They were labouring under a huge misconception, of course. Within two months of this setback, Germany’s ailing president, Paul von Hindenburg, appointed Hitler as chancellor.
Apocalypse Hitler makes it abundantly clear that the new chancellor played his cards extremely well.
Rather than being a compliant tool at the disposal of conservatives like von Hindenburg, Hitler, a tireless conspirator, had a plan. He consolidated his power, arrested and murdered opponents on the left and right and engineered the infamous Reichtstag fire.
In line with antisemitic Nazi ideology, the propaganda minister to-be, Joseph Goebbels, openly threatened German Jews, just a month after Hitler became chancellor, and the new regime staged the first state-organized boycott of Jewish shops in April 1933. Having ordered reams of books to be burned throughout Germany, Goebbels said, “The era of Jewish intellectualism is over.”
Apocalypse Hitler reaches a sombre conclusion. Most Germans embraced Hitler’s totalitarian regime and displayed indifference to the persecution of Jews.