Historian: Hitler Saw Himself as an Artistic Genius

Spiegel has an interview with art historian Birgit Schwartz who locates Hitler’s view of himself as a creature above human morality in his Romantic notion of himself as an artistic genius:

Birgit Schwartz     (© Michael Appelt)
Birgit Schwartz (© Michael Appelt)

In my opinion, people have underestimated the notion that Hitler considered himself an artist, in fact, an artistic genius, and that much can be deduced from this self-image, this overheated artist’s ego. However, this has hardly played a role in the research to date. [...] Hitler’s deluded view of himself as a genius is based on the confused system of thought emerging in the late 19th century, which centered on the idea that a genius — a strong personality who outshone everything else — could do anything he pleased. [...] He referred to himself once as a minor painter, but that was at a time when he believed he was a great architect. On the whole, he saw himself as a creative genius. You mustn’t forget that the concept we have today of a genius is so much more harmless than it was back then. We define a genius on the basis of his talent. At the time, talent was not the main focus. A genius had to have a strong personality. He was a larger-than-life talent who was permitted to do anything, including evil things. The genius has outstanding ideas, and they must be implemented, even if they are completely amoral. [...]

The research describes Hitler as a man who was a failure during his first 30 years before suddenly, as if in a new life, managing to captivate the masses as a politician. It’s a divided biography, in other words. But the question is: Where did he get his self-confidence, and the certainty that he was an exceptional figure? [...] Hitler, in his delusions of being a genius, is best understood by studying the last months of his life. The period in the Führer’s bunker is very illuminating. It was only a few steps from his quarters to the cellar of the New Reich Chancellery, where the model of his architectural plans for Linz was displayed. He had to reaffirm his status as a genius, and he could only do so through his close connection to art and architecture. These final attempts at creating a certain image for himself had a fatal effect.

The Fuhrer’s Obsession with Art (Spiegel)