- Hitler's Millennial Reich: Apocalyptic Belief and the Search for Salvation
Redles argues that because the early Nazi movement was rich in millennial and apocalyptic symbolism, Nazism must have been millennial and apocalyptic. His interpretation of the movement employs the conceptual repertoire and terminology of millennial studies to reassert the psychohistorical approach to understanding Adolf Hitler and the Old Guard Nazis. To the convergent troubles of the Weimar Republic, Hitler offered a ponderously spiritualized response, which drew its élan from his developing awareness of prophetic destiny and shamanic insight into the deeper causes of Germany's woes. This response, with its relentless topoi of betrayal, disdain for "degenerates," impending violent purification, and doom for Jews as the "Evil Others" responsible for it all, awakened an "apocalypse complex" among right-wing extremists. As the one individual capable of resolving its inherent tensions, Hitler did not so much exploit as tap into this complex by reconstructing a sense of harmonic order (45). Thus, the Führer and those first touched by his appeal were [End Page 288] psychically simpatico. They united naturally and with grotesque tenacity behind the movement's great idea of national redemption via apocalyptic cleansing.
It is not surprising that an expert in comparative millennialism would define the carrying power of Nazism as essentially spiritual, nor that he would insist that the movement be interpreted in religious terms. The question arises, however, whether the empirical record from which this definition and interpretation are supposed to spring matters less to the author than asserting the relevance of millennial studies does. Redles starts from the conclusions that millennialism matters and that Old Guard Nazis were millenarian occultists. Then he proceeds to find "pervasive" evidence in Nazi rhetoric, symbolism, and the Führer cult to support these two claims (12).
Much of this evidence—the ideas of the Thule-Gesellschaft (a German occultist organization), the messianism that Hitler supposedly developed while recovering from gas attack in Pasewalk hospital, the account of Hitler's youth given by his teenage companion August Kubizek, the testimonials of men like Gregor Strasser and Alfred Rosenberg, and Hermann Rauschnigg's Hitler Speaks (London, 1939)—has been criticized for its unreliability or rejected outright by such well-established scholars as Kershaw.1 Nonetheless, Redles believes that although it may be "of marginal value for traditional objective history," this evidence, despite its enervating factual inaccuracies, is "essential for grasping the murky but crucially important subjective world of Nazi millennial myth" (192). According to Redles, every utterance worth taking seriously in evaluating the cognition of the early Nazis is at least epiphenomenal of an apocalyptic mentality, however temporary, latent, repressed, or even unconscious. The millennial accents of Nazism were so clear that the implications for the field are unavoidable: Historians who do not read the evidence as Redles does fundamentally, even willfully, misunderstand the essential nature of Nazism (208, n. 30).
Because it is fixed within the tight interpretive paradigm of millennial studies, Redles' description of Nazism is remarkably neat. Hitler the messiah was "perfectly suited" to lead the rudderless Germans suffering under the chaos of Weimar (159). The symbolic expressions of Nazi ideology resonated precisely with eschatological longings common among individuals eager to relax their elemental fears by projecting onto Hitler an "apocalyptic complex" of their own. The "Final Solution" was intended. Circumstances may have delayed its implementation, but Hitler's racial soteriology implied the extermination of European Jewry from the very beginning.
Agreement with Redles' tidy history will depend significantly upon acceptance of his argument that the sources are trustworthy and that his chosen paradigm for interpreting them is more reliable than the methods [End Page 289] of "traditional objective history." Many readers will remain unconvinced.
1. See, for example, Ian Kershaw, Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris (New York, 1998).