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Dramatic footage of Adolph Hitler during a 1932 Nazi Party rally.

Video clip: 75k RealVideo clip

Video clip Copyright University of South Carolina

Ron Rosenbaum's latest feat: 'Explaining Hitler'

Web posted on: Thursday, July 16, 1998 2:10:51 PM EDT

ATLANTA (CNN) -- When Ron Rosenbaum was younger, he seldom considered his Jewish ancestry in connection with the Holocaust. His parents were third-generation Americans, with his immediate family moving to the United States before World War I, before the world came to know Adolf Hitler.

Then came Thanksgiving 1982 when Rosenbaum's father made a stunning revelation: a distant relative had perished in the Holocaust.

"I think it certainly may have sensitized me more to it," the author and journalist says. Suddenly, Hitler was real: a living, breathing madman who had taken one of Rosenbaum's own.

Years later, Rosenbaum, like many before him, set out to find an explanation, a reason why Hitler orchestrated the 20th century's greatest crime against humanity. But what he found surprised him: competing theories, some with little foundation of fact, others that relied on simple events to mystically turn Adolf Hitler, the innocent child, into Adolf Hitler, the man who wanted to wipe out millions in the name of Aryan supremacy.

Rosenbaum realized that a half-century removed from the murders of millions of Jews, we were no closer to realizing what made the man who was responsible for it tick.

Explaining Hitler

Tackling Hitler

"I was stunned" to see the lack of agreement, Rosenbaum says. "All these questions were being bitterly argued over by some really smart, impassioned historians. I saw that there was a book to be done to address the nature of these controversies and what was the agenda behind the perspectives being staked out."

The result: "Explaining Hitler" -- Rosenbaum's new hardcover that chronicles his search for the truth behind the enigma of Hitler that took him to Vienna, Munich, London, Paris, Jerusalem and Dollersheim, Hitler's crumbling hometown in the Austrian countryside.

The book is the latest in a long line attempting to tackle the Hitler conundrum. With the name of true evil in the title, and Rosenbaum's own reputation as a hound dog researcher and reporter, the book is getting strong coverage from major media outlets.

"What I tried to do is to talk about the brightest people about the nature of Hitler's mind," Rosenbaum says. "Did he know what he was doing was wrong? I strongly believe he did."

From child to child killer

The book's cover features a picture of Hitler as a child, a haunting reminder, Rosenbaum says, that Hitler "went from innocent child to a child killer."

Rosenbaum takes the information we have on Hitler from a new angle, questioning not only the legitimacy of each theory, but trying to understand the perspective of the person from which the theory derives.

"There are those that believe that Hitler can or could be explained, using the tools of psychology that we explain ourselves with, that he's just on the far extreme of the continuum, but on the continuum that includes us," Rosenbaum says. "But there are others that believe none of it really adds up to explain Hitler's crimes."

Among the theories Rosenbaum considers: the long-held idea that Hitler had a Jewish grandfather and wanted to purge himself of this by exterminating the world of Jews; the whispering about the mysterious death of a half-niece who engaged in an intense relationship with Hitler; the clash of contemporary thought regarding Hitler as either the "Laughing Hitler" or the "Hamlet Hitler."

'Hitler should not escape'

Arguments from historians, theologians, and philosophers are heard, including Hugh Trevor-Roper, Daniel Goldhagen, George Steiner, and Claude Lanzmann.

With no shortage of theories, Rosenbaum shows no shortage of energy in his researching. His visit to Dollersheim serves as the symbolic backdrop for the search for facts regarding Hitler. The bombed-out remains of the ghost village -- allegedly the result of a Nazi attack by Hitler's orders -- offer no pertinent evidence on the seeds of flowering destruction.

And it is the cruel twist of history that Hitler died in a Berlin bunker in 1945, denying the world his punishment, or even their own comprehension of the events transcribed under his leadership of Germany in World War II. With his death, Hitler, in effect, escaped explanation.

But Rosenbaum, with "Explaining Hitler," wants to keep his ghost alive.

"It was important to me that Hitler not be allowed to escape," Rosenbaum says. "Hitler should not escape responsibility."


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