Late in the afternoon, April 30, 1945, the corpse of Adolf Hitler, who had just poisoned and shot himself, was burned in the garden behind the Reich Chancellery. The setting sun signaled the start of the joyful Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer (see Thought Tool Volume IV issue #20).
The war had gone badly for Germany since its defeat at Stalingrad when a million German soldiers perished. A few months later the Russians inflicted another defeat on Germany at the battle of Kursk. By December 1943, America had overcome German defenses and invaded Italy. Six months after that, June 6, 1944, Allied forces landed in Normandy and began encircling the Third Reich. Half a year later the Wehrmacht attempted one final assault launching the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. It failed. Four months later Hitler was dead and Germany surrendered.
How could Germany not have surrendered after Stalingrad? Or after the Normandy invasion? Or, at the very latest, by the end of 1944? It seems to make no sense.
Not only did Germany not surrender after the Battle of the Bulge, but the final concert of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra took place on April 12, 1945. Just four days before the Soviets assaulted Berlin, an audience listened to Wilhelm Furtwangler conducting Bruckner’s 4th Symphony. Only a week before Hitler took his own life, a major soccer match was played before a capacity crowd in a Munich stadium.
Historians have attempted to explain the secret of Germany’s extraordinary perseverance and preservation of normality till the very end. They describe German discipline and long-standing military tradition. These were certainly relevant factors but the single most important was Hitler’s forceful willpower.
In his memoirs, Admiral Doenitz wrote about how during one gloomy briefing, “I looked into his [Hitler’s] eyes and I just knew that everything would be all right.”
Gauleiter Rudolf Jordan wrote how horrified he and his fellow Nazi leaders were by Hitler’s gaunt appearance at a meeting on February 24, 1945. In his diary he described how, “Hitler then approached each man individually and looked him in the eyes, at which point the mood suddenly lightened.” The Nazi leader possessed a mighty will. And he used it for terrible evil.
Yet, a strong will can be an enormous asset and force for virtue when wielded by good people trying to succeed, like entrepreneurs and sales professionals. Willpower is obviously an indispensable asset for successful parents of stubborn toddlers and because it can be communicated to those around one, it is also vital for anyone with a calling and a mission.
Ancient Jewish wisdom cites Scripture to teach us how to develop titanium willpower.
He who is slow to anger is better than a strong man and a
master of his passions is better than a conqueror of a city.
In other words, developing superb self-discipline gives us the willpower that can influence and inspire others.
The great Hebrew transmitters explain three secrets about these words of King Solomon:
- To become a strong man, allowing you to influence and lead others, you must first learn to control your anger.
- To conquer cities—which means achieving your big, bold goals—you must first learn to master your passions.
- Conquering cities is a metaphor for redirection, not destruction. Few conquerors wish to obliterate the city they capture. They wish to redirect its creative energies for their purposes. Instead of obliterating our powerful passions we must redirect them to Godly goals.
Seek small weekly victories in your struggle for self-mastery. Set yourself achievable strategies of self-discipline with feats just beyond your comfort zone, thus building up your willpower each day.
Good people need strong will; so do good societies. Evil ideas are often perpetrated by well-meaning but misguided people. Combatting evil is urgent and is what the American Alliance of Jews and Christians does. This is why I occasionally ask you for support. If helping me is not in your heart right now, no problem. I am truly happy you’re reading Thought Tools each week. But if you’re okay with reading about what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and why, please click here. You’ll discover my passion and possibly yours too.