The world’s most infamous vegetarian is reduced from his own self-fashioned image of triumphant statesman and war leader to a brooding figure mopping his sweating brow with a crumpled kerchief as the realisation dawns on him that there are, after all, no deeds without consequences—not even for der Führer.
He sits hunched in an amorphous landscape, next to a corpse lying face-down in the mud—an echo of an earlier pictorial composition in which the artist, the exiled German satirist Georg Grosz, had represented the Nazi dictator as Cain having killed his brother. In the background, burning buildings produce a sinister glow. The hell to which he is condemned is of his own making, the product of the destruction that he has wrought. A host of skeletons rises up from the earth around his feet and has started clambering up his legs, threatening to overwhelm him: his innumerable nameless victims are coming for revenge.
Modern Western Christianity tends to put an emphasis on ‘turning the other cheek’ and ‘he that is without sin’ casting the first stone (John 8:7). The message of Christ, in this modern interpretation, is one of forgiveness. Yet, the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is in essence about an uncharitable person getting what he deserves. The one story in the New Testament that deals with the specifics of the afterlife tells us ‘behave, or else...’
This must have been an important part of the story’s appeal over the ages, as it is an important aspect of the way that Christians have imagined hell—a place where the unjust, the law-breakers, and the morally corrupt pay the price of their behaviour.
Georg Grosz has effectively co-opted the Western tradition of hell imagery that was inspired by the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus to condemn one prime candidate for ‘most evil man of history’ to a fate in which we cannot help but find at least a little satisfaction.
Schmölders, Claudia. 2009. Hitler’s Face: The Biography of an Image, trans. by Adrian Daub (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press), esp. p.191
19 “There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazʹarus, full of sores, 21who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; 23and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazʹarus in his bosom. 24And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazʹarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazʹarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, 28for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.’ ”