Hitler: Ascent 1889–1939 by Volker Ullrich (Translated by Jefferson Chase) - review by Nicholas Stargardt

Nicholas Stargardt

The Great Imitator

Hitler: Ascent 1889–1939


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Was Hitler ever – intentionally – funny? The answer, surprisingly enough, is yes. After hosting Mussolini in Berlin in September 1937, the Führer helped his entourage let off steam by mounting a full-scale parody of the Duce: ‘His chin thrust forward, his legs spread and his right hand jammed on his hip, Hitler bellowed Italian or Italian-sounding words like giovinezza, patria, victoria, macaroni, belleza, bel canto and basta.’ For a dictator who only spoke German, the act exceeded Hitler’s ordinary range and the court architect, Albert Speer, noted that the laughter was more than polite: the performance ‘was indeed very funny’. 

This vignette is one of the many surprises in Volker Ullrich’s new biography of Hitler. It gave me pause for thought, because we are far more used to mocking Hitler than considering his humour or laughter. From the courage of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator to the bathos of John

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