I know at least some journals of prominent party members have been uncovered, so I was wondering if any kind of consensus can be reached on the emotional state/the real reasons behind Hitler's actions?

I am wondering, I guess emotionally speaking, why Hitler (and other prominent Nazi leaders) did the various atrocities they are attributed to them. Did Hitler enjoy killing people, or did he profess remorse in private settings where we can assume he was speaking his mind? Was it just a personal play for power? Did he honestly believe all of his actions were just/ethical/for the greater good?

When they sentenced the retarded and disabled, the Jews, entire portions of civilian populations, to death, did they think it was somehow for the best? Did they revel in their power over others? Or was there no emotion at all, the atrocities were just a net benefit?

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    Jonathan, the Nazi leadership did not see themselves as authors of "atrocities". That is an image of them you are taught which is completely different from their idea of themselves, which was heroic. They considered themselves to be rescuing the world from Bolshevism and introducing a new, superior way of life which would lead humanity into the future. Your idea of "nazis" (a word they would never use themselves) as thuggish murderers, would be completely unrecognizable to them. If you showed them a 1990 American "modern history" textbook they would consider it a bizarre, twisted parody. – Tyler Durden Aug 31 '15 at 21:11
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    When people kill, usually it is because they think they have some reason to do so. Moreover, most of this activity takes place out of sight. The US maintains secret prisons in Djibouti and other secure places where they torture and kill "extremists". Do you lie awake at night apologizing for it? No, you don't even know that its there. Do you think Lincoln worried in his bedchamber about burning down Atlanta and hundreds of other cities in the south and "hurting" people? No, Lincoln was determined to "preserve the union" no matter many people he had to kill to do it, and he had no compunction. – Tyler Durden Aug 31 '15 at 21:35
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    A book you might read is Albert Speer's Inside the Third Reich. Speer was an architect who came from an upper middle-class German family and was commissioned to design the great sets for Hitler's speeches. Eventually he became his Armaments Minister. At Nuremburg he received a long prison sentence (not the death penalty) and in the 1970s recanted a great deal of what had been done during the Nazi period. It is the nearest thing to an apologia by anyone close to the regime that I have ever read. It is about 40 years since I read it, but I feel sure you would find it interesting. – WS2 Sep 1 '15 at 7:24
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    Can we create the Hitler Stack Exchange and move all the Hitler questions there? – MCW Sep 2 '15 at 0:41
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    Actually, the narrow question of whether Hitler expressed remorse is answerable: no. – Ne Mo Sep 2 '15 at 10:26

I hope you won't be offended when I say your question is a little naive. People have killed one another and worse (yes, it is possible to do worse) and called it good since long before Hitler. His contemporaries recognized this. Churchill called Nazi Germany a tyranny 'never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime'. He was acknowledging that Hitler was a spectacularly extreme example of something well known throughout history, not a new phenomenon of evil.

However, it is reasonable to ask whether the Nazis knew what they were doing was wrong. I would say they did. They tried to keep the holocaust a secret. Himmler said that it was a page of their country's history which could never be written. He also said that they had managed to kill all these Jews and remain 'decent fellows' because they were strong. This seems like a ridiculous thing to say, but it demonstrates that at some level he knew the killing was wrong, or he would have bragged about it.

This does not amount to remorse. We have a fairly good idea what Hitler's final thoughts were; he wrote a testament saying he had been right about everything, and that he would do it all again. The Nazi leaders who survived the end of the war mostly expressed no remorse. As far as I know only Kritzinger said that he was ashamed.

I don't believe religion is a good thing for mankind, but its literature often expresses my thoughts far better than I could.

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil!

Isaiah 5:20, KJV

  • As Ne Mo says in this post, Hitler left a testament which describes his feelings at the end. A representative sentence: I die with a happy heart, aware of the immeasurable deeds and achievements of our soldiers at the front, our women at home, the achievements of our farmers and workers and the work, unique in history, of our youth who bear my name. No remorse there. – Tyler Durden Aug 31 '15 at 22:01
  • I guess if he was the kind to doubt his convictions he never would of taken it so far to begin with. But what really bugs me, I guess, is certain specific atrocities. There are some really good reasons why Hitler would of wanted to do some of the horrible things he did, and why they might even of been reasonable and understandable for a zeal filled idealist to do. But, for example, why not just keep disabled people from breeding, and why the Genaralplan Ost? – Jonathon Aug 31 '15 at 22:32
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    You don't get it. Once you have decided someone is not a human, all humanitarianism goes out the window. At that point only practical considerations limit how evil you can be. The Nazis considered various alternatives to mass killing, such as taking them all to Madagascar. When they discovered one thing couldn't work, they tried something more extreme, and so on. Read up on cumulative radicalisation. – Ne Mo Sep 1 '15 at 9:43
  • Take this with a grain of salt (because it's from a re-enactment in cinema): In the movie about the Wannsee Conference, the officials present are all very chatty and friendly with each other when not talking about the topic at hand. On the subject of eliminating the Jews (and other undesirables) they made a whole lot of nervous jokes, except for Heydrich, who was all business and totally humorless throughout. Several times one of the other officials tries to put off a question with a joke, and gave serious answers only when Heydrich brushed aside the jokes and forced everyone to stay on topic. – EvilSnack Jan 15 '19 at 20:18
  • This tells me that while a few Nazi officials--the worst of them, we can say--thought that killing the Jews was a grand idea, or were simply so callous that doing so did not bother them, quite a few Nazi officials had some struggles with their consciences, which they handled by trying not to think about the evil in which they were participant. – EvilSnack Jan 15 '19 at 20:19

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