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Letters | The Hitler He Knew

80 years later, power of denial can still take hold

Former bodyguard Rochus Misch, who died this month at 96, pointed to a photo of Adolf Hitler he had taken in Berchtesgaden in southern Germany in the early 1940s.

Herbert Knosowski/Associated Press/File 2005

Former bodyguard Rochus Misch, who died this month at 96, pointed to a photo of Adolf Hitler he had taken in Berchtesgaden in southern Germany in the early 1940s.

I think that the Globe’s Sept. 12 editorial “Hitler’s bodyguard: The power of denial,” on Rochus Misch denying that his boss was a monster, is itself something of an act of denial. The history of late 19th and 20th century Germany through World War II has fascinated me, in part because of the horrors that nation inflicted on the world while it was also a dynamic, highly educated, cultured, and, at times, progressive culture. Our nation, if not all nations, would do well to remember how easily prejudice, fear, perceived wrongs, and grinding economic hardship can make otherwise respectable citizens support a savior others see as a monster.

None of this is to deny, excuse, or explain away the atrocities of the Third Reich. It is simply to acknowledge that Hannah Arendt got it right: Evil on that scale was possible only because it was banal, with millions supporting it, some actively, but most passively. What I suggest we Americans think about is, with apologies to Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel: It could happen here — if enough good people let it.

Donald E. Vaughan

Boston

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