Somebody make it stop. This incessant fixation on Hitler's sexuality, on his alleged perversity. I think it's fair to say that the very apex of cultural stupidity in our era is the compulsive conjunction of Hitler and sex. He was a "predatory" homosexual. He engaged in excretory practices with his underage half-niece. And, one of the most enduring, a myth I thought I had refuted once and for all but that now rears its head again: Hitler had only one testicle.
Isn't it obvious by now what this is about? Our need to prove that Hitler was not "normal," thus not like us, normal human nature thereby exculpated from producing a Hitler. It fills a need to reassure ourselves there is no Hitler potential in human potential. We're off the hook.
But despite the obviousness of it, it just doesn't stop.
Consider this passage from a recent New York Times book review of a new novel by A.N. Wilson called Winnie and Wolf:
There is a scatological leitmotif in this narrative, morally figurative of the Nazi ambience. Watching Hitler deliver a speech from an upstairs window, Herr N. notes that with every patriotic phrase, "the buttocks let out the quickfire whumps and cracks that accompanied the volleys firing from the mouth, and the room gradually filled with a gaseous sulphur odor." He comes up with his "flatulence theory": the idea that Hitler at the moment of orgasm would break wind. No woman could be expected not to laugh, and to Hitler this would be intolerable. But Winnie Wagner, with her hero-worship of the man and her great warmth of heart—with her, it would be different.
Right. Brilliant. Even novels and films about Nazis that don't feature Hitler somehow seem to have an unnatural quotient of sex. Take The Reader, the German best-seller (surprise!) and Oprah favorite in which a woman who served as a Nazi concentration camp guard later is subsequently sexually voracious with a teenage boy. Sex you will be able to see in great quantities in the soon-to-be-released film. Alas, the book has taken in literati over here as well (with the notable exception of Cynthia Ozick, who contended that it was ultimately an exercise in exculpation that metaphorically depicted the German people as somehow unaware of what was being done in their name). The movie version offers a plentitude of nudity and simulated sex with a plentifully nude Kate Winslet as the Nazi war criminal.
I've tried to point out the sheer lack of historicity or profundity in our efforts to link Hitler (and Nazis in general) with unconventional sex. I touched on these themes a few years back in a Slate column on the Hitler-was-homosexual claim,a claim that implicitly linked homosexual behavior to Hitler's criminal pathology. And I devoted a chapter of my book Explaining Hitler to attempting to discredit the emblematic Hitler perversion rumor, the Geli Raubal story: an effort by Nazi defectors and Freudians to prove that Hitler was really, really bad because of an apocryphal sexual perversion he practiced with his half-niece, Geli, who committed suicide before he became Führer. (As if, if it weren't for all that, he'd have turned out OK.) But my efforts to disprove this tall tale didn't stop supposedly literary novelists such as Ron Hansen, Norman Mailer, and lesser lights from taking it seriously.
And now the "missing testicle" is back. One of the most widespread urban legends about Hitler is that he was monorchid, and the supposedly missing testicle has seemed—to many who should know better—not just a minor deformity but the key to Hitler's psyche.
There is even a school of Freudian "psycho-historians" who view Hitler's putatively half-empty scrotal sack as the root cause of his murderous character, his sexuality, and his anti-Semitism. The rumor offers one-stop shopping for Hitler explainers.
This is a theory I thought I'd put an end to. Back in 1995 I published a prequel-like excerpt from my Hitler book in The New Yorker in which I made reference to the persistence of the one-testicle legend, including dubious, then-new reports that the testicle had been lost when the child Hitler—I'm not making this up—took part in an ill-advised barnyard prank in which he attempted to urinate down the mouth of a billy goat.