"I have no doubt that behind every crime a personal tragedy lies hidden. If we were to investigate such events and their backgrounds more closely, we might be able to do more to prevent crimes than we do now with our indignation and moralizing. Perhaps someone will say: But not everyone who was a battered child becomes a murderer; otherwise, many more people would be murderers. That is true. However, humankind is in dire enough straits these days that this should not remain an academic question. Moreover, we never know how a child will and must react to the injustice he or she has suffered-there are innumerable "techniques" for dealing with it. We don't yet know, above all, what the world might be like if children were to grow up without being subjected to humiliation, if parents would respect them and take them seriously as persons. In any case, I don't know of a single person who enjoyed this respect* as a child and then as an adult had the need to put other human beings to death. * By respect for a child, I don't mean a "permissive" upbringing,which is often a form of indoctrination itself and thus shows a disregard for the child's own world.
We are still barely conscious of how harmful it is to treat children in a degrading manner. Treating them with respect and recognizing the consequences of their being humiliated are by no means intellectual matters; otherwise, their importance would long since have been generally recognized. To empathize with what a child is feeling when he or she is defenseless, hurt, or humiliated is like suddenly seeing in a mirror the suffering of one's own childhood, something many people must ward off out of fear while others can accept it with mourning. People who have mourned in this way understand more about the dynamics of the psyche than they could ever have learned from books.
The persecution of people of Jewish background, the necessity of proving "racial purity" as far back as one's grandparents, the tailoring of prohibitions to the degree of an individual's demonstrable "racial purity"--all this is grotesque only at first glance. For its significance becomes plain once we realize that in terms of Hitler's unconscious fantasies it is an intensified expression of two very powerful tendencies. On the one hand, his father was the hated Jew whom he could despise and persecute, frighten and threaten with regulations, because his father would also have been affected by the racial laws if he had still been alive. At the same time--and this is the other tendency--the racial laws were meant to mark Adolf's final break with his father and his background. In addition to revenge, the tormenting uncertainty about the Hitler family was an important motive for the racial laws: the whole nation had to trace its "purity" back to the third generation because Adolf Hitler would have liked to know with certainty who his grandfather was. Above all, the Jew became the bearer of all the evil and despicable traits the child had ever observed in his father. In Hitler's view, the Jews were characterized by a specific mixture of Lucifer-like grandeur and superiority (world Jewry and its readiness to destroy the entire world) on the one hand and ugliness and ludicrous weakness and infirmity on the other. This view reflects the omnipotence even the weakest father exercises over his child, seen in Hitler's case in the wild rages of the insecure customs official who succeeded in destroying his son's world.
It is common in analysis for the first breakthrough in criticizing the father to be signaled by the surfacing of some insignificant and ludicrous trait of his that the patient's memory has repressed. For example, the father--big out of all proportion in the child's eyes--may have looked very funny in his short nightshirt. The child had never been close to his father, had been in constant fear of him, but with this memory of the skimpy nightshirt, the child's imagination provides a weapon, now that ambivalence has broken through in the analysis, which enables him to take revenge on a small scale against the godlike, monumental paternal figure. In similar fashion, Hitler disseminates his hatred and disgust for the "stinking" Jew in the pages of the Nazi periodical Der Stürmer in order to incite people to burn books by Freud, Einstein, and innumerable other Jewish intellectuals of great stature. The breakthrough of this idea, which made it possible for him to transfer his pent-up hatred of his father to the Jews as a people, is very instructive." For Your Own Good, page 196 and 197