The recent death at 96 of Rochus Misch, Adolf Hitler’s bodyguard and last surviving witness to Hitler’s denouement in the bunker, provoked considerable debate on the notion of denial and complicity. Despite the overwhelming evidence that Hitler was a racist and a genocidal maniac, Misch refused to believe it. He was captivated by Hitler’s charisma. He somehow managed to overlook what everybody else saw while remaining loyal to, and in complete denial about, Hitler to his dying day.
The power of denial is not the purview of only Nazis. It can lord over even otherwise decent people. And it can metastasize anywhere, as it did in South Boston during the decades in which the recently convicted Whitey Bulger held sway. Some people in Southie, especially Bulger’s family, didn’t see Whitey as a vicious criminal who menaced and murdered. They saw him as a friend or a brother or an uncle. They saw him as funny and smart and generous. And they were deluding themselves about the depth of his depravity.