The Nazis Loved Conspiracy Theories, and Conspiracy Theorists Love Them

November 11, 2020 | Robert Philpot
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From 2015 to 2018, a series aired on the history channel investigating various claims that Adolf Hitler faked his death and escaped to Latin America after World War II. Such outlandish theories calling the death of the German dictator into question have proliferated since the event itself, and, if anything, have grown more widespread. They are among the subjects treated by Richard Evans in his new book The Hitler Conspiracies, as Robert Philpot writes:

Evans, one of the world’s foremost experts on Nazi Germany, [does not of course] believe that Hitler took refuge at a Tibetan monastery, or fled to Argentina on a submarine with Eva Braun, or that the couple had two daughters, one of whom—Angela Merkel—went on to become the chancellor of Germany. The truth . . . is rather simpler. As a wide range of eyewitnesses testified to, after marrying Braun and poisoning his dog, Hitler and his new wife retired to his study on April 30, 1945. A short while afterwards, the pair committed suicide and their bodies were taken into the gardens of the bombed-out Reich Chancellery, doused with gasoline, and set alight.

But these are not the only category of conspiracy theory the book covers:

“Hitler is a figure who, in an increasingly secular age, attracts the attention of a lot of people because he’s a kind of icon of evil; he’s universally recognizable, . . . and he’s obviously hugely important in the modern history of Europe and the world,” Evans says in an interview.

As Evans shows, the Third Reich was itself “built on the foundation of a conspiracy theory”: the idea that the Communists had set the Reichstag alight in February 1933 as a prelude to seizing power. . . . But there was no Communist plot; a Dutch ultra-leftist, Marinus van der Lubbe, who was caught red-handed on the scene, acted alone. . . . Likewise, the conspiracy theory developed by the Communists—that the Nazis had themselves set fire to the German parliament and pinned the blame on the hapless van der Lubbe in order to do away with their opponents—was also a lie.

And of course, the central tenet of Nazi thinking, anti-Semitism, is rooted in the belief that a vast and nefarious Jewish conspiracy is responsible for the world’s misfortunes.

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