How Hitler Became Hitler: Janet Flanner’s Description of Hitler

A Powerful Quotation: Tell-tale Signs Of A Dictator In The Making
by Gene Griessman, Ph.D

Here’s a remarkable description of Hitler that you may be able to use in your writing or speeches.  I have Garrison Keillor and “The Writer’s Almanac” to thank for discovering this remarkable piece.

Here’s the background. In 1922 an American writer by the name of Janet Flanner took a trip to Paris, and decided to settle there. Harold Ross asked Flanner if she would write for his new publication that he named The New Yorker. Flanner agreed, and thus began her “Letters from Paris” column that ran for 50 years. She once said that of all the work she did for the magazine, she was most proud of her 1936 piece on Hitler, entitled “Fuhrer.”

Seldom is a writer able to predict how good or how bad someone will become.

(Many resders find similarities between Trump and Hitler in this article, and with good reason. Despite some obvious differences, there are also deeply troubling parallels.)

It is far easier to look back and recognize tell-tell signs, but this description of Hitler was written when many world leaders were taken in by him, when some political figures were praising his accomplishments. An excerpt from Flanner’s piece on Hitler is below. If ever character was destiny, it was revealed in what Hitler became.  And Hitler’s character is reveled here:

“Being self-taught, his mental processes are mysterious; he is missionary-minded; his thinking is emotional, his conclusionsmaterial. He has been studious with strange results: he says he regards liberalism as a form of tyranny, hatred and attack as part of man’s civic virtues, and equality of men as immoral and against nature. Since he is a concentrated, introspective dogmatist, he is uninformed by exterior criticism.

President Paul von Hindenburg, left, and Chancellor Adolf Hitler ride in an open car during a parade in Berlin, Germany, May 1933 (photo credit: unknown/German Federal Archive)

On the other hand, he is a natural and masterly advertiser, a phenomenal propagandist within his limits, the greatest mob orator in German annals, and one of the most inventive organizers in European history. He believes in intolerance as a pragmatic principle. He accepts violence as a detail of state, he says mercy is not his affair with men, yet he is kind to dumb animals. … His moods change often, his opinions never. Since the age of twenty, they have been mainly anti-Semitic, anti-Communist, anti-suffrage, and Pan-German. He has a fine library of six thousand volumes, yet he never reads; books would do him no good — his mind is made up.


You will almost certainly not be able to use this profile in its entirety in a speech.  It is much too long for that.  Speeches generally require pithy quotes that can be readily grasped by an audience.  For an article or book, you have much more latitude.

We have bolded several sentences and phrases that you might be able to use.  Possibilities include how dictators regard liberalism, the nature of dogmatism, and the dangers of a closed mind.  My personal favorite is: “…he never reads; books would do him no good — his mind is made up.


Gene Griessman is an internationally known keynote speaker, actor, and communication strategist. His video “Lincoln on Communication” is owned by thousands of corporations, libraries, and government organizations.

Gene Griessman

He has spoken at conventions all over the world. To learn more about his presentations, contact us at 404-435-2225 or abe@mindspring.com. Learn more about Gene Griessman at presidentlincoln.com and atlantaspeakersbureau.com

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