Queer as Volk?
A new book claims Hitler was a closet case.
Machtan jeers: "How could he have known, in default of any physical desire to guide him?"—which assumes what it is supposed to prove. But what's most disingenuous is Machtan's selective quotation. He surely knows that later on in the Stern interview, Mimi Reiter claimed that on a subsequent occasion, she and Hitler slept together, and "I let everything happen." Who knows if there's any truth in this or what bearing it might have (though Machtan is fairly insistent that Hitler never slept with women)? But if Machtan quotes the earlier part of Reiter's account as evidence of homosexuality he should at least acknowledge the latter as contradictory.
Who cares? Well, Machtan thinks we should care because the "Hidden Hitler" explains the Hitler of history: his anti-Semitism and his murderous ruthlessness against enemies. And even if we doubt Machtan's belief in his theory's geopolitical ramifications, it might be interesting to know more than we do about this world-shattering figure. That is, if we could. But in the absence of much conclusive evidence, Machtan goes too far when he claims that Hitler's homosexuality is a "historical fact," much less an historical explanation.
Machtan and his thesis are not, prima facie, homophobic, although he's aware that it might be misused by homophobes. He goes out of his way to give an enlightened spin to his view of the role homosexuality played in making Hitler Hitler: If only there were more tolerant laws in Austria and Germany, Hitler wouldn't have experienced shame over his putative homosexuality; the shame wouldn't have poisoned, distorted "the hidden Hitler"; the secret spring of his malevolence might not have developed. But despite the evident sincerity of the spin, it tends to put Machtan in the camp of those explainers who see Hitler as a victim—or at least the product of a corrupt system rather than a moral agent.
But it's perhaps more useful to think of The Hidden Hitler as a symptom of a recurrent fever in Hitler explanation. One whose source is a longing for the kind of consolation that sexual theories of Hitler offer.
Suggestions that Hitler can by explained by sexual aberration serve to distance. Distance Hitler from "normality," thereby distancing "normal" human nature from implication in Hitler's crimes. He was "not like us" in any way. Sexual theories imply there is no Hitler potential in "normal" people, only in "the abnormal type," whether it involves heterosexual or homosexual practices condemned by convention. And yet millions of conventionally normal people became Hitler's partners in genocide. It's far more disturbing to envision a Hitler normal in any respect than some "abnormal" Other.
I tend to feel that the historian John Lukacs has the better of the arguments over Hitler's sexuality. Lukacs suggests that the paucity of evidence of Hitler's having sex with anyone suggests not something repressed or hidden, but rather an aspect that was, well, absent. But I will concede there may be a longing for consolation of some sort beneath my own predisposition here: the consolation of never having to imagine Hitler in bed with anyone, male or female. The SouthPark movie gave us a brilliant and hilarious vision of Satan and Saddam Hussein copulating in Hell. I don't think I'm ready for the Hitler version yet.
Ron Rosenbaum is the author of The Shakespeare Wars and Explaining Hitler. His latest book is How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III.