Although he has been dead for nearly 70 years, Adolf Hitler continues to make headlines. In recent years, the Nazi dictator has become an inescapable presence in Western political and cultural life, serving as a polemical trump card in political debates, a demonic star in feature films, a marketable symbol in advertising campaigns and an iconic figure on Internet websites.
Every time Hitler makes an appearance in the news, commentators rush to interpret its significance. In the same way that Kremlinologists during the Cold War sought to determine how the latest Politburo statement reflected shifting Soviet policies, today, scholars of memory seek to determine what the latest Hitler headlines reveal about contemporary views of the Nazi past.
The latest example of this phenomenon is currently taking place in Germany, where a new novel featuring Hitler has recently shot up the best-seller lists and has prompted reflections about the reasons for its success. Written by German journalist Timur Vermes, “Er Ist Wieder Da” (“He’s Back”), features an unusual counterfactual premise: What if Adolf Hitler suddenly came back to life in present-day Germany?
In pursuing this fanciful premise, “Er Ist Wieder Da” adopts a satirical approach that accounts for much of the novel’s popularity. Indeed, its best-seller status testifies to the yearning of many Germans to adopt a more normalized perspective toward the Nazi era.
“Er Ist Wieder Da” is narrated in the first person by Hitler himself in a longwinded, histrionic style familiar to readers of “Mein Kampf.” As the novel opens, the ex-dictator describes waking up in an empty lot in the middle of Berlin, unclear as to why he is still alive. Like a Japanese soldier emerging out of decades of self-imposed jungle isolation, Hitler spends many of the early chapters trying to make sense of his new surroundings.