Friday, 6 December 2013

Hess, Hitler, Churchill: An assessment of Padfield's theory.

The Remains of Hess' Messerchmitt 110 that were recovered
in Scotland.

On May 10 1941 Rudolf Hess, Deputy Fuehrer and close friend of Adolf Hitler, flew a Messerschmitt 110 – the wreckage of which is on display at the Imperial War Museum in London - to Scotland in a desperate attempt to make peace with the British and grant Germany a free hand in Europe. The traditional view of this bizarre turn of events is that Hess took the flight without the foreknowledge of either Hitler or the British government. It is exactly this theory - taken for granted by highly-respected historians and laymen alike - that Peter Padfield attempts to dispel in his new book Hess, Hitler & Churchill. Padfield argues that not only was Hess expected by the Mi6, but that he was unwittingly duped into undertaking his mission by false intelligence; intelligence designed to give the impression that the pro-peace and anti-Churchill clique in the UK was far more influential than it actually was.

Hess remained adamant until his death that his mission was not undertaken on Hitler’s orders, and Padfield attributes this to Hess’ sense of honour and duty to his beloved Fuehrer. But Hermann Goering - the Reichsmarschall, head of the Luftwaffe and original successor to the Fuehrer - was not so loyal and, after the war, would have had an even stronger motive to emphasise his own involvement in the attempted peace offering. In his post-war interrogation, Goering claimed that if Hitler had really wanted to do a deal with the British, he could have used ‘reliable semi-diplomatic channels through neutral countries’, and that his ‘own connections with Britain were such that I could have arranged it within forty-eight hours’. These connections included Swedish businessman Birger Dahlerus, but, as Padfield points out, the UK Foreign ministry was, by September 1940, already informing Lord Halifax that it had ‘had enough of Dahlerus, Goerdeler, Weissauer and company’. It is unlikely that, so long after the war, Goering was still lying about these affairs in order to protect Hitler’s reputation. Indeed, Goering openly criticised Hitler on military grounds while in Allied captivity. Also, if as Padfield claims, Goering was truly involved in this peace plan, why on May 13, 1941, did he berate Professor Willi Messerschmitt (the designer of the plane Hess used) for allowing it to happen? 
And if the peace mission was undertaken with Hitler’s approval, why would Hess have needed to acquire a plane from Messerschmitt himself? If Hess had indeed acted with Hitler’s approval, he could have procured one easily from General Udet. This does not necessarily disprove any of Padfield’s claims, but it would seem a strange course of action for Hess to have taken.

Padfield describes a May 4 meeting (for which he admits the original documents in the report cannot be found) between Hitler and Hess, in which Hitler lays out his intentions towards Britain. The proposals described by Padfield bear striking resemblance to those found in a document that was supposedly recovered after Hess’ plane crash, although not found on his person. It may indeed have been the case that Hitler approved of Hess making a gesture of peace to the British, but Hitler’s chief aide Julius Schaub recalls that the Fuehrer, upon hearing of the landing, fretted that Hess would be given ‘some drug or other to make him stand before a microphone and broadcast whatever Churchill wants’. Equally dubious is Padfield’s certainty that after a brief meeting with Hess shortly before his departure, Alfred Rosenberg - the leader of Hitler’s Foreign Policy Office-  travelled to Hitler’s home in the Bavarian Alps to inform Hitler of Hess’s flight. As Padfield documents without comment, Rosenberg himself testified in his post-war interrogation that there had been nothing out of the ordinary about the meeting besides Hess’ unusual behaviour towards his son. 

Histories of the Third Reich often speak of Hitler’s outburst at the news of Hess’ flight, but Padfield argues that this display of hysterics was a mere put-on, orchestrated to save the Fuehrer from appearing weak in the crucial months before invading Russia. Padfield partly bases this assertion on the testimony of Hitler’s attendant Heinz Linge, given some 35 years after the fact. According to Linge’s recollection, when he received the news at 9.30am, Hitler, who was usually still in bed at midday, was already dressed and shaved. It seems a leap, however, to conclude therefore as Padfield does that Hitler was waiting to receive the news. Padfield favours this testimony over the original and conflicting one given by Linge immediately after the war. Although this early testimony was almost certainly given under pressure from the Soviets, this newer testimony given nearly four decades later also needs to be treated with a fair amount of caution. Padfield repeatedly insists that Hitler had to deny involvement in the peace offer in order to avoid appearing weak, a reasonable enough assumption. Yet Joseph Goebbels - who the author seems to believe was also involved - wrote in his diary entry for May 14: ‘It’s rightfully asked how such an idiot could be the second man after the Fuehrer’. And as Ian Kershaw’s history of public opinion regarding Hitler and the party makes clear, the Hess affair was a PR disaster, so it seems unlikely that Hitler and Goebbels would have knowingly embarked on such a catastrophe.

On the subject of the Holocaust, Padfield does not conclude, as many authors have done - including Pat Buchanan - that mass genocide could have been prevented if Britain had made peace with the Third Reich. Instead, Padfield agrees with Professor Peter Longerich’s conclusion that the so-called ‘Madagascar plan’ - a plan to relocate the Jewish population of Europe to the island, often touted by revisionists as a more humane solution to the ‘Jewish Question’ - was genocidal from the start. Hadfield claims that the post-war cover-up of the Hess incident stems from Allied embarrassment over inaction in the face of Hess’ tacit admission that the Jews had been ‘basically eliminated’. Even today, the inaction of the Allies in the face of overwhelming evidence of genocide remains shameful; one need only recall Adolf Eichmann’s 1944 offer to Joel Brand in 1944, guaranteeing the lives of one million Jews in exchange for ten thousand vehicles for the Eastern campaign. Brand, who spent the war trying to save Hungarian-Jews from deportation to Auschwitz, was arrested by the British on the grounds that delivering the trucks from Istanbul would amount to assisting the enemy.

Although Padfield’s theory is not entirely original - and while he leaves many questions unanswered - he draws on many new sources, and his book deserves to be taken seriously. Most intriguingly, Padfield has been in contact with an informant, who viewed and partially-typed into clear English the peace proposals mentioned above. Yet one cannot help but be frustrated at this source’s anonymity. As Padfield puts it, the informant has provided a key to understanding Hess’ mission ‘yet… is in a sense the weakest link in the story, for he cannot be named; hence his testimony can neither be probed nor proved’. Historians have long grappled with this dilemma, balancing a desire to present the truth with a need to honour the wishes of the dead who confide in good faith. I am reminded somewhat of Dr Caroline Sturdy Colls, who has carried out research into the mass gravesites at the former death camp Treblinka in Poland. It is against religious custom to exhume the bodies of the dead - but wouldn’t it be nice to finally shut those Holocaust deniers up?  For the time being however, we must respect Padfield’s decision to omit, in an otherwise lucid and penetrating book, the name of a key source.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Christopher Hitchens caught out?

Did the Hitch really read Ian Kershaw's Hubris?

The late Christopher Hitchens, acclaimed journalist, self described contrarian, and author of Why Orwell Matters, appears to have fallen into a trap once described by his political patron saint.
In 1946 George Orwell wrote a highly entertaining piece titled Confessions of a Book Reviewer, where he mentioned that a professional book reviewer always has to read "at least fifty pages if he is to avoid making some howler which will betray him not merely to the author, but even to the general reader.".

In 1999, Hitchens wrote a piece for Vanity Fair titled: Imagining Hitler. The article was a review of Ian Kershaw's Hubris, the first in a two volume biography of Adolf Hitler. Unlike the fictional reviewer in Orwell's essay (who reviewed books for a living), this was clearly a piece that Hitchens was proud of as it was included in his 2011 book Arguably, an anthology of his essays pieced together not long after he had been diagnosed with cancer.

The review itself contains very little about Kershaw's book, and merely talks at length about Hitler, even praising the older and far shorter biography written by Sebastian Haffner. But the great blunder of the piece was Hitchens' decision to reference one of the anecdotes in Mein Kampf.

"I treasure one episode, in the clotted pages of Mein Kampf, above all others. As a young, resentful loser hanging around in the Austro-Hungarian empire, Adolf Hitler was forced to seek employment on a construction site." Hitchens then proceeds to quote Hitler's retelling of an argument he had had with his left wing co-workers, which culminated in them threatening to throw him off the scaffold. Hitchens then ponders: "Was there one, I wonder, who ever made the connection and sometimes thought of the chance he had missed, to send that little bastard over the edge and right onto the brick pile below?"

This would all be a very reasonable line of speculation if it were not for the fact that Professor Kershaw-  in the very book Hitchens was "reviewing"- states on page 53 that: "the story he (Hitler) told in Mein Kampf about learning about trade unionism and Marxism the hard way through his maltreatment while working on a building site is almost certainly fictional." This, Kershaw bases on Reinhold Hanish (the young Adolf's associate in Vienna) having no memory of the event itself or of being told about it by Hitler. Hanish also recalled Hitler being incredibly idle and having only ever engaged in manual labour once shifting snow, a job which Hanish introduced him to. Hitler had also recounted the same story in 1921 (before writing Mein Kampf) of working on a construction site before he was eighteen. This would have been before he had moved to Vienna!

Did Hitchens read Kershaw's Hubris or had he merely read bits and pieces of it? We will never know now. However, since it is in poor taste to speak ill of the dead, let us return to the essay by George Orwell in which he also wrote:

"... 1,000 words is a bare minimum - to the few (books) that seem to matter... the usual middle-length review of about 600 words is bound to be worthless even if the reviewer genuinely wants to write about it."

Less than 1,000 words is worthless? Uh oh, what does that say about my own reviews on this blog?

Literature mentioned:

(1999) Imagining Hitler by Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair.
(1998) Hitler: 1889-1936, Hubris by Ian Kershaw.
(1946) Confessions of a Book Reviewer by George Orwell.
(2011) Arguably by Christopher Hitchens.
(1979) The Meaning of Hitler by Sebastian Haffner.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Review: Goering, By David Irving.

David Irving's biography of Hitler's head honcho Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering is a book that cannot be ignored. It is vastly superior to Richard Overy's account which comes across as dull and lacking in personal information. Irving's biography delves so deep into the life of Goering that it follows the man from birth; his glittering career as a fighter pilot; his first love; his mental breakdown; his recovery; his ascension to power; his second love; his fall from power; and eventually to the mystery surrounding his death. 

Irving has a reputation for his sympathy for Hitler and the Nazis, and is known to make various excuses for them. However, in this book Irving pulls no punches in his treatment of this figure, referring to him as a "bully", and (this made me laugh) a "manicured mountain of perfumed flab." It is only during the Nuremberg trials when he has nothing left to lose that Goering proves his valor. However, it is doubtful that Irving believes this excuses him for his ruthlessness as chief of Prussian secret police, or that it excuses him for his pursuit of expensive treasures while neglectful of his military responsibilities (1). What Irving does successfully document is the very human side to Goering. At times, Goering appears maximally loyal to his Fuhrer, particularly after surviving his assassination attempt in 1944, at other times Goering is indignant at his abuse for the failures in his leadership of the Luftwaffe, and later on in Allied captivity prior to the Nuremberg Trials, Goering appears happy to drop dirt on Hitler and blame the Allied victory on Hitler's poor judgement, specifically in regards to the airforce (2). Irving also shows the correspondence between Hermann and his wife and daughter while in captivity. The letters are so touching that if they had instead been attributed to a more respected historical figure such as Winston Churchill, nobody would be at all shocked. 

Author, David Irving.

The book is not is without drawbacks however. Irving's greatest flaw in the book is also his greatest asset. In a later edition of the book, Irving writes a dedication to Tom Congdon who taught him how to write in such a readable way. Indeed, the book is very enjoyable, far harder to put down than the adjective-lacking prose of Raul Hilberg or the course academic language of Peter Longerich. However, there are times when it seems as though Irving is making guesses far beyond the source material provided. Many times throughout the book we are told what Goering must have been thinking, or the aromas and sights he would have taken in. Perhaps this information is provided by the source material, but if so, it is impossible to tell. This brings me to my second criticism. Irving has a peculiar referencing style that appears to be used in all of his books. Rather than the harvard or chicago style (which I loosely and alternatively use in this blog myself), Irving provides citations for specific page numbers, and various different claims within those pages. For instance, Irving might claim that one particular character was highly flatulent on page 134. In the notes section, the reader might find "134, flatulence" in the notes. However, in many cases, such references are not provided. For example, between pages 437 and 442, not a single note is given despite the various claims made. It is thus up to the reader to guess what material was cited to make the claim. For all of his pride in only using primary sources, Irving does use considerably less of them, and the ones he uses are often so obscure that it is hard for the layman to locate them and verify them himself. However, rather than criticising Irving for using sources that are inaccessible to the layman, perhaps mainstream academics should be criticised for not having made the effort to uncover those sources and reproduce them themselves (3). Fortunately, Irving, a self-made historian has made much of his material available in the Irving Collection at archives such as the public record office in Kew. For that he should be commended. 

To return however to the high points. Irving has uncovered so many new sources of information that it has allowed him to pepper the book with humorous anecdotes. For example, we find out that Goering named a yacht after his first wife Carin and gave it as a gift to his second wife Emmy; and that while Emmy was waiting for her husband to be released by the Allies, she was visited by a trickster sergeant, who brought her the wonderful but false news that he would soon be freed, to which she responded by rewarding him with a diamond ring! Irving also goes into intricate detail over the nature of Goering's suicide, and the questions of where he received the cyanide capsule, dispelling such myths as the claim that it was smuggled in his anus. These small touches make all the difference, because despite at first seeming unimportant to the narrative, ultimately there is no narrative to a human life. Those little things are what life is comprised entirely of.

Despite occasional relishes and liberties which are typical of Irving, this remains an important book. Indeed, despite his reputation being tarnished, notable historians such as Hans Mommsen are not afraid to cite his books (4). In short, this book is essential reading for an understanding of the exploits of one of Hitler's most notorious henchmen.

1) As a side note, in Irving's famous Hitler's War, the Fuhrer himself is not exempt from moral culpability despite his (alleged) ignorance of the extermination of the Jews. If we follow Irving's logic here, neither should similar excuses be made for Goering's carelessness in authorising Heydrich to initiate and create a "draft of the organizational, logistical, and material advance preparations for carrying out the requisite final solution of the Jewish problem." This document from December 1941 has long been misunderstood as a key moment in the initiation of the mass Jewish extermination program. However it is clear from a reading of the document itself that it does not refer to execution, and is in fact quite specific in its reference to "emigration or evacuation". 
2) One example that Goering gives is Hitler's insistence that the new Me262 should be manufactured as a speed bomber as opposed to a fighter.
3) Notable exceptions are Raul Hilberg, Jeremy Noakes and Geoffrey Pridham who have published anthologies of translated primary sources for public consumption.
4) In Volume 2 of Ian Kershaw's biography of Hitler, no less than 8 of Irving's book are cited, including Goering.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Resistance to Nazism: A failure to act

What were the greatest sources of potential resistance to the Nazi government, and why did they fail?

 It must be asked how between the years 1933 and 1939, such little success was made against the Nazi party through political resistance. How could an entire nation, with a population of approximately 66 million fail to overthrow what was ultimately an oligarchy that made up only a small fraction of the people? (Feldgrau, 2012).
 Prior to the war years and the attempt on Hitler’s life in 1944, the three largest sources of potential resistance to the Nazi regime were: the various underground left-wing movements, the remaining conservatives and aristocrats, and both the Catholic and Protestant churches. Despite their potential, and mass base of support, each of these groups failed for their own different reasons.
 The Left’s failure was due to lack of unity or leadership, the Right failed because of a refusal to speak out strongly enough, along with their mistaken belief that they could "tame" Hitler (Kershaw, 1998, pp.510), whereas the churches failed because they were too focused on their own survival and not necessarily resisting Nazi rule.

  The early years of the Nazi Party’s ascent to power saw it allying itself with conservatives such as von Papen and Hindenburg, the latter being a monarchist at heart, yearning for a return to the years prior to the establishment of the Weimar Republic. The NSDAP, having always been an enemy of the left wing parties, had to moderate itself to begin with. An example of this can be seen in the twenty-five point program of the German Worker’s Party (later renamed the NSDAP). Paragraph 17 clearly called for the “confiscation without compensation of land for communal purposes”  (Ludecke, 1937). This radical proposal would clearly have alienated the landowning class of Germany, thus costing the Nazi party their support. It was for this reason then, that Hitler re-interpreted this proposal to refer only to Jewish land, believing (as Goering recalled) that it had been written by “simple” folk (Goering, 1947).
 The blindness of the conservative Right in Germany, to the very real and increasingly obvious threat Nazism displayed, arose from a shared determination with Hitler to eliminative democracy and the threat of socialism. It was this blindness that, as Kershaw phrases it; "delivered the power of a nation-state containing all the pent-up aggression of a wounded giant into the hands of the dangerous leader of a political gangster-mob." (1998, pp.424).
As they soon found out, once Hitler had fully secured his place as the Fuhrer, he no longer needed to moderate himself for the approval of the aristocracy or the conservatives.  His true feelings towards the upper classes of Germany were finally expressed:
“Had Communism really intended nothing more than a certain purification by eliminating isolated rotten elements from among the ranks of our so-called 'upper ten thousand' or our equally worthless Philistines, one could have sat back quietly and looked on for a while." (Domarus, 1988, pp.892).
Some conservatives realised their mistake sooner than others. Franz von Papen, who had been largely responsible for his ascent, attempted to dilute the power Hitler had in matters of state. His strategy was to fill his office with as many Christians (mainly Catholic but with exceptions) conservatives, and aristocrats as possible. These included names such as Herbert von Bose, and the lawyer Edgar Jung. Jung himself contemplated an assassination attempt against Hitler, but valued his own future career in politics, believing that it would be put in jeopardy if he were to make such a proposal. Instead, he settled for Papen’s more moderate approach, which was to give a speech criticizing the excesses of Hitler and his SA, thereby rallying the army and the remaining old right wing forces together and to put them in their place.

 Papen delivered his speech (co-written by Jung) at the University of Marburg, which already had a large conservative population. (Burleigh, 2001, pp.677). Unfortunately, as was often the case with Papen, the contents of the speech were tame. Papen was careful to point out examples of great Nazi achievements, focusing primarily instead on the restrictions on freedom of speech that they had already enacted so far and advocating "discussion with the people with trust on both sides." as opposed to "threats against helpless segments of the people":
"If one wishes a close proximity to and a close connection with the people, one must not underestimate the good sense of the people; one must return their confidence and not constantly want to tell them what to do." (TotMWC, 1949).
 Perhaps the only point that resonated was Papen’s warning that a second Nazi revolution (as advocated within some of the fringe elements of the Nazi party such as the SA), would necessarily be succeeded by another: "talk of a second wave that will complete the revolution seems not to want to end... One who threatens with the guillotine is the one who is most likely to come under the executioner’s axe." (TotMWC, 1949).
 And despite his call for "discussion with the people with trust on both sides." this privilege was reserved only for "those who (had) put themselves at the service of National Socialism and its efforts without reservation and (had) proven their loyalty." This speech must not be mistaken for a great liberal polemic in defence of free speech, along the lines of John Stuart Mill or Thomas Paine, rather these declarations must be recognised as the conservative and highly authoritarian concerns they admittedly were: "If the liberal revolution of 1789 was the revolution of rationalism against religion, against attachment, so the counter-revolution taking place in the twentieth century can only be conservative..." (TotMWC, 1949).
  Although the speech was met with thunderous applaus (so much so that Goebbels sought to have it banned), Hitler had already considered Papen's warnings, and was fearful of them himself. It was precisely this fear of another revolution that drove him to carry out what would historically be known as the Night of the Long Knives. Ernst Rohm was in Hitler’s eyes, becoming a threat of his own, challenging not only his supremacy, but the place of the Wehrmacht too.
Hitler had to either make a bargain with the unruly and unpopular SA, or make an appeal to the army by crushing the former. Hitler chose the army, and on the 30th of June, the Night of Long Knives took place. Multiple arrests and several executions (including that of Rohm) took place. Hitler had successfully sated the Wehrmacht’s thirst for blood, thereby stripping Papen of the only ammunition he had in his speech.  In a last ditch effort; Papen managed to secure a meeting with President von Hindenburg on the same day. Hitler caught wind of this however, which only convinced him that he would be forced to target conservative opponents in the near future (Kershaw, 1998, pp.511).
Although Papen was spared, Hitler used the purge of the SA as an opportunity to kill his own predecessor General von Schleicher (who had been highly critical of Hitler in the past), as well as the head of the Catholic Action Party Eric Klausener. Undoubtably more alarming for Papen would be the discovery of Dr Jung, dead in a ditch on the 1st July.  It can be argued then, that the half-hearted nature of Papen’s protests against the Nazis had led to the worst backfire imaginable for him. His actions (or lack thereof) had given Hitler ample motive to strike directly against conservative opponents, yet had failed to rally the military behind his own cause. Instead, by killing General von Schleicher, Hitler had struck just the amount of fear he needed into the ranks of the military, as well as gaining the cooperation and respect of Reichenau and Defence Minister Blomberg, the latter of whom praised the Fuhrer for his "soldierly determination and exemplary courage" in his actions against the "traitors and mutineers." (Kershaw, 1998, pp.517).

 On the opposite side of the spectrum were Hitler’s other longstanding political rivals. Hitler had from the beginning been an opponent of the Left, in both its Marxist and Social Democratic forms. Despite his shared hatred of the aristocracy and capitalism, Hitler believed the communists would turn "flourishing countrysides into sinister wastes of ruins.” (Domarus, 1988, pp.839).
The Nazis had reason to fear the Left, as in the November 1932 election, the combined left wing parties received 13.1 million votes, against the NSDAP’s smaller 11.7 million. The Left, despite failing to overthrow the Nazi regime in the end, managed to resist them for a long period of time. The Social Democrats in particular were already prepared after having faced similar repression under Bismarck’s anti-socialist law of 1878-1890. Over several decades, the Social Democrats had created an impressive network of communication, distributing pamphlets and making secret radio broadcasts (Evans, 2006, pp.57).
Leon Trotsky in 1931 however, had warned that unless the Social Democrats and Communists united against Hitler, they would be trampled on:
“Should fascism come to power, it will ride over your skulls and spines like a terrific tank. Your salvation lies in merciless struggle. And only a fighting unity with the Social Democratic workers can bring victory. Make haste, worker-Communists, you have very little time left!” (Trotsky, 1931).
 The Social Democrats had, on one hand viewed Bruning as “the lesser of two evils”, while the communists on the other had viewed Hitler as the lesser (Trotsky, 1931). The communists in particular, had underestimated Hitler as a threat, insisting upon the Leninist line that Fascism was simply “capitalism in decay”. Ultimately they failed to grasp the potency of the Nazi party. This was because they clung dogmatically to an economistic view of history, and attempted to analyse the Nazis through a Marxist lens, believing that they were a party of the bourgeoisie. They deluded themselves into thinking that Fascism was only a temporary stage as capitalism entered its death throes, and that if they concentrated on maintaining the structure of their own party and made their presence known to the world, all would be well when the time came. All they did was leave their numbers open to attack (Burleigh, 2001, pp.667).
This division cut so deeply between the two factions that the communists on many occasions mockingly referred to the SPD as “social fascists”. The KPD focused their main assaults against the Social Democrats, viewing the fascists as a lesser threat that they could occasionally side with, an example being the 1931 referendum.
  As Borkenau observed, this was no longer "the belief that there was no difference between Fascism and democracy and that the Social-Democrats were just as bad as the Nazis… participation in the Nazi referendum implied more. It implied the view that to overthrow the last defence of German democracy, the Prussian government, in co-operation with the Nazis, meant progress, that a Nazi régime was preferable to a democratic régime." (Borkenau, 1983, pp.342-343).

The Social Democrats were resented by the KPD, not only for ideological reasons, but also for the events in 1919.  In response to the attempted coup by the Spartacists, the Social Democrats requested that the right wing Freikorps crush them. The Communist leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were both executed. Ever since then, the Communists had harboured a deep-seated hatred towards the SPD. Their attitude to the relationship between the Fascists and the Social Democrats can be summed up by a statement made in the communist newspaper Arbeiterzeitung, in response to the Nazi party’s decision to remove a statue of Frederich Ebert in Frankfurt:
“Without Ebert… it would have been impossible for the SA and SS to be running around today. We Communists have a suggestion to make to the Nazis: put the statue of Ebert back in its former place and put the highest Nazi medal around his neck for his undying services to the reaction.” (Burleigh, 2001, pp.666).
Many of the more left-leaning members of the SPD shared the Marxist view of history with the KPD, themselves also overlooking the permanence of the Nazi threat. However, the greatest cause for inactivity within the SPD was their undying hope that their exiled leadership in Prague would return to them. In the meantime, they concentrated on maintaining communications both internally and externally. However, as more of their reports came to the exiled leadership, the more the latter began to realise how little chance they had in staging a revolt (Evans, 2006, pp.57).
 As soon as Hitler became the chancellor on Jan 30 1933, and Goering was appointed to the position of Prussian Minister of the Interior, the latter's first goal was to purge the state's police force and replace them with Nazi loyalists, including members of the SA and SS. Goering had the KPD election meetings in Prussia banned, and had Nazi thugs deployed to break up the meetings of various other opposition parties (Irving, 2010, pp.114). As the Italian consul general Giuseppe Renzetti reported, Goering was "waging a merciless fight against the left'." (pp.115).
 Within a year, NSDAP had control of 86 newspapers with 3,200,000 readers. Laws were then enacted closing down 120 Left wing plants, and these were cheaply sold to the party. Max Amann (president of the Reich Media Chamber and Reich Press Leader) now controlled an empire of 700 newspapers (Irving, 2001, pp.15-16).
Many of the members of the SPD became disillusioned with the passivity of the SPD, and formed their own splinter groups such as the Red Shook Troops, and the International Socialist Fighting League (Evans, 2006, pp.58). By this point, all hope for a successful organised overthrow by the left was finished.

The final source of potential opposition came from the religious institutions in Germany. Hitler had always had nuanced views towards the churches. According to Albert Speer, Hitler would adopt different tones regarding religion, depending on whom he was addressing. When amid his political associates in Berlin, he would criticize the church harshly, whereas in the presence of women he would adopt a more approving and conservative attitude. Hitler wished to unite the Catholic and Protestant churches, although the appointed Reich’s Bishop Muller was not up to the task in Hitler’s eyes (Speer, 1995, pp.148-149).  Hitler had no intention of replacing the Church “with something equivalent”, to him “that would be terrifying.” (Trevor-Roper, 1973, pp.6-7).  Instead, Hitler believed the Churches would learn to adapt to the goals of National Socialism, as it always had done throughout History (Speer, 1995, pp.149). Hitler’s predictions were correct, especially in regards to the protestant church. Since the church had described the First World War as a “holy crusade”, Nationalism and Protestantism had long been considered two sides of the same coin (Evans, 2006, pp. 220). The behaviour of the Protestant churches is also not surprising, given the long history of figures such as Martin Luther, making inflammatory statements about the wrath Jews would soon face for turning their backs to Christianity and Jesus Christ:
“And if there were a spark of common sense and understanding in them, they would truly have to think this: O my God, it does not stand and go well with us; our misery is too great, too long, too hard; God has forgotten us, etc. I am no Jew, but I do not like to think in earnest about such brutal wrath of God against this people, for I am terrified at the thought that cuts through my body and soul: what is going to happen with the eternal wrath in hell against all false Christians and unbelievers?”
(Hilberg, 2003, pp.3).
The Catholic Church also had its own history of anti-Semitism. There are striking similarities between the Canonical Laws and the various anti-Jewish decrees made by the Nazis, one of many examples being the marking of Jewish houses required in 17th century Frankfurt and the April 1942 mandatory marking of Jewish apartments (Hilberg, 2003, pp.10,12). Given this dark history, it should be no surprise that Cardinal Faulhauber, despite protesting against the persecution of non-Aryan Catholics, had nothing to say regarding the treatment of non-Catholic Jews (Evans, 2006, pp.235).

By 1941, the Nazis had murdered 11 percent of the Catholic clergy and most of the churches and chapels in the diocese of Posen-Gnesen had been shut down. In truth, despite there being a few outspoken martyrs such as Dietrich Bonheoffer, the Catholic Church largely concentrated on preserving their own way of life. Since the concordat in 1933, the Catholic Church had agreed to remain politically neutral and abandon the Catholic Centre party.

In a certain sense, the Catholic Church found itself outmanoeuvred by Hitler in very much the same way von Papen and the conservatives had. The ambiguity of the Party’s stance towards established religion made it difficult to decide upon their own relationship with it. The Protestants however, were charmed all of the more easily. For instance, although he was raised a Catholic, Hitler assured them that he “thought like a protestant” thereby ridding the Protestant clergy of fears of a third Catholic chancellor (Conway, 1968, pp.20). In all cases however, the aim for both German Catholic and Protestant churches was to survive, and not to rebel against the Nazis.
This lack of activity against the Nazi regime cannot by tied to the inability to act. Rather, it was due mainly to an unwillingness to act. In 1934, the Nazi puppet church known as the “German Christians”, called for the eradication of the Old Testament from their doctrines, and advocated the compulsory retirement of non-Aryan ministers. This was met with a quick response from Martin Neimoller and a large portion of the Protestant ministers, who formed the “Emergency League” (Burleigh, 2001, pp.720-721). This shows that the Protestant Church had the ability to act radically when they saw it was necessary.
The same criticism can also be made against the Catholic Church. Despite the concordat with the Vatican, (trading peace with the Catholic Church in exchange for political neutrality), by 1937 hostile behaviour by the Nazis towards the Church had escalated. Catholic spokesmen complained about the countless informants, spying on their activities. The Hitler Youth Groups were harassing Catholic Youth groups, and nativity plays had now been banned by Goebbels’ Theatre Chamber on the grounds of it being a form of political propaganda, and thus a breach of Catholic neutrality (Evans, 2005, pp.241-242).

The response to this was quick. In January of that year, a large group of senior bishops and cardinals travelled to the Vatican in order to denounce the increasing anti-Catholic attacks. Pope Pius XI himself, expressed his disapproval of Hitler’s actions, complaining of Hitler’s “deification” of Nazi dogma in the manner of a “cult”, declaring the treatment of the Catholic church “as illegal as it (was) inhumane” (Conway, 1968, pp.164-166).
Clearly then, when it came to their own flock the Catholic church was more than capable of standing up and defending itself, and therefore their failure to combat Nazi repression didn’t not come out of any lack of ability.
It must be acknowledged however, that the Catholic Church had initially taken a firm stance against the euthanasia proposals by the Nazis, including the draft sterilisation law. However, their protests were deliberately cut short so as not to go against the terms of the concordat. In addition to the assorted outspoken Catholics putting their lives and careers in jeopardy by objecting to the Nazi ideas of euthanasia, were those who advocated it. Though it may have contradicted the Catholic ideal of the “sanctity of life”, the theologian Mayer placed the health of the community above that of the individual, and former Jesuit Muckermann taught eugenic studies at his university and eventually came to advocate euthanasia as a means to an end. Therefore, even this one claim to resistance the Catholic Church can rightfully lay claim to is also tainted by the actions of certain individuals (Burleigh, 2001, pp.363). As Hockenos aptly put it:
 “It is imperative to understand the church’s opposition to the state for what it really was: occasional critiques by a small group of churchmen against particular state policies. Such as the Nazi euthanasia program and most importantly Nazi church policy.”
(Hockenos, 2004, pp.16).
Ultimately then, as Victoria Barnett argued, at the heart of these failures was the fact that the Churches sought to act in their own, short-sighted interests. The Churches had no desire for self-sacrifice or heroism, and focused mainly on "pragmatic" and "strategic" measures that would supposedly protect these institutions' autonomy in the Third Reich. Public institutional circumspection carried to the point of near numbness; an acute lack of insight: these are the aspects of the Churches' behaviour during the Nazi era that are so damning in retrospect (Barnett, 1998).

In conclusion, despite the obviously uniform state repression against each, there is no single unified reason why these assorted groups failed to resist the Nazi regime. The conservatives such as Papen were too half-hearted in their protests against the Nazi’s, and were unable to inspire dissent and provide a robust critique of their policies. The Left, despite being large in size, refused to unite against the Nazi threat, and ultimately underestimated the danger it presented, carrying on with its own infighting and factionalism. Despite these differences, there is one similarity between the failure of both the Left and that of the religious institutions. Neither had strong leading opposition within the country itself, relying instead on the guidance of leaders from abroad, such as the exiled SPD members and the Vatican. Furthermore, both groups were content to weather the storm and concentrate on their own survival, rather than unite with other groups against persecution on a national scale.


Barnett. V, (1998), The Role of the Churches: Compliance and Confrontation. Dimensions. 12 (2)

Borkenau. F, (1983) World Communism. A History of the Communist International, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, pp. 342, 343.
Burleigh. M (2001) The Third Reich, A New History, Pan Books, London, pp. 363, 666, 667, 677.
Conway J.S, (1968) Nazi Persecution of the Churches 1933-1945, Basic Books, pp.20, 164-166
Domarus. M , (1988) Hitler:  Speeches and Proclamations,, US, (1 May 1937), Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, pp. 446, 839, 892.
Evans R.J, (2006) The Third Reich in Power, Penguin Books, London, pp.57,58, 220, 235, 241-242, Statistics and Numbers. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 08 November 12].
Goering.(1947) Trial of the Major War Criminals, Volume.9, Goering’s Testimony, Nuremburg.
Hilberg. R, (2003) The Destruction of the European Jews, 3rd Ed, Volume 1, Yale University Press, New Haven, pp.3, 10-12.
Hockenos. M.D, (2004) A Church Divided: German Protestants confront the Nazi past, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, pp.16.
Irving. D, (2010) Goering: A Biography, Focal Point Publications, United States.
Irving. D, (2001) Hitler’s War: And the War Path, Parforce UK Ltd, pp.15-16.
Kershaw. I, (1998) Hitler, 1: 1889-1936: Hubris, Allen Lane, London, pp.509-11.
Ludecke. K.G, (1937) I Knew Hitler, New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons
(1949) Trial of the Major War Criminals, Volume 15. pp. 544-557. 
Speer. A, (1995) Inside the Third Reich, Phoenix, pp.148-149
Trevor-Roper. H.R, (1973) Hitler's Table Talk, 1941-44, Introduced by H.R. Trevor Roper, Night of the 11th-12th July 1941, George Weidenfeld & Nicholson Ltd, pp.6-7.
Trotsky. L, (1931). For a Workers' United Front against Fascism. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 08 November 12].

Monday, 4 March 2013

Franz von Papen's Marburg Speech, June 17th 1934

In an earlier post, I referenced the speech given by Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen at the university of Marburg on June the 17th 1934. I used the text from the "Nazi Germany Sourcebook" by Roderick Stackleberg and Sally Winkle, who themselves reference the document presented at the Trial of the Major War Criminals at the International Military Tribunal of 1949, Volume 15 to be precise.
I have already posted the text in full onto the wikipedia page. My understanding of the nuances of copyright law regarding a primary source from 1949 is poor, and part of me suspects it will be taken down. Just in case, I will post the text here too. Enjoy:

The translation differs from that of Ian Kershaw and William Shirer, an example of this is: 

1. "Nothing can be achieved through everlasting dynamics" - which in Kershaw's Nemesis, is translated to: 
"Permanent dynamism permits no solid foundations to be laid." (1998, pp.509)
2.  "If one wishes a close proximity to and a close connection with the people, one must not underestimate the good sense of the people... nor (should they use) threats against helpless segments of the people, but only by discussion with the people with trust on both sides." which in Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is translated to:
"If one desires close contact and unity with the people, one must not underestimate their understanding…. It is not by incitement… and not by threats against the helpless part of the nation but only by talking things over with people that confidence and devotion can be maintained.” (1960, pp.218)
Since Kershaw's translation is more recent than both the version available below and Shirer's, I have relied on the segments he uses when available in my own posts. However, since a more recent translation is not available in full, I will keep Stackleberg and Winkle's here for the time being.

… The events of the past one and one-half years have gripped the whole German people and affected them deeply. It seems almost like a dream that out of the valley of misery, hopelessness, hate, and fragmentation we have found our way back to a German national community. The horrendous tensions in which we have lived since the August days of 1914 have dissolved, and out of this discord the German soul has emerged once again, before which the glorious and yet so painful history of our people pass in review, from the sagas of the German heroes to the trenches of Verdun, and even to the street fights of our time. An unknown soldier of the World War, who conquered the hearts of his countrymen with contagious energy and unshakable faith, has set this soul free. With his Field Marshall he has placed himself at the head of the nation, in order to turn a new page in the book of German destiny and to restore spiritual unity. We have experienced this unity of spirit in the exhilaration of a thousand rallies, flags, and celebrations of a nation that has rediscovered itself. But now, as the enthusiasm has lessened and tough work on this project has become imperative, it has become clear that a reform process of such historical proportions also produces slag, from which it must be cleaned. …
The function of the press should be to inform the government where deficiencies have crept in, where corruption has settled, where serious mistakes are being made, where unsuitable men are in the wrong positions, and where transgressions are committed against the spirit of the German revolution. An anonymous or secret news service, no matter how well organized, can never be a substitute for this responsibility of the press.…If other countries claim that freedom has died in Germany, then the openness of my remarks should instruct them that the German government can afford to allow a discussion of the burning questions of the nation. The only ones who have earned the right to enter this debate, however, are those who have put themselves at the service of National Socialism and its efforts without reservation and have proven their loyalty. …
If the liberal revolution of 1789 was the revolution of rationalism against religion, against attachment, so the counter-revolution taking place in the twentieth century can only be conservative, in the sense that it does not have a rationalizing and disintegrating effect, but once again places all of life under the natural law of Creation. That is presumably the reason why the cultural leader of the NSDAP, Alfred Rosenberg, spoke of a conservative revolution. From this there emerge in the field of politics the following clear conclusions: The time of emancipation of the lowest social orders against the higher orders is past. This is not a matter of holding down a social class – that would be reactionary – but of preventing a class from arising, gaining the power of the state, and asserting a claim to totality. Every natural and divine order must thereby be lost; it threatens a permanent revolution … The goal of the German Revolution, if it is to be a valid model for Europe, must therefore be the foundation of a natural social order that puts an end to the never-ending struggle for dominance. True dominance cannot be derived from one social order or class. The principle of popular sovereignty has, however, always culminated in class rule. Therefore an anti-democratic revolution can only be consummated by breaking with the principle of popular sovereignty and returning to natural and divine rule. … But once a revolution has been completed, the government represents only the people as a whole, and is never the champion of individual groups; otherwise it would have to fail in forming a national community … It is not permissible, therefore, to dismiss the mind (Geist) with the catchword “intellectualism.” Deficient or primitive intellect are not in themselves justification for war against intellectualism. And if today we sometimes complain about 150 percent Nazis, then we mean those intellectuals without substance, people who would like to deny the right of existence to scientists of world fame just because they are not Party members …
The sentence, “men make history,” has frequently been misunderstood as well. The Reich government is therefore right to criticize a false personality cult, which is the least Prussian kind of thing one can imagine. Great men are not made by propaganda, but rather grow through their deeds and are recognized by history. Even Byzantinism cannot delude us about the validity of these laws. Whoever speaks of Prussian tradition, therefore, should first of all think of silent and impersonal service, and last or not at all of reward and recognition. … I have so pointedly described the problems of the German Revolution and my attitude toward it, because talk of a second wave that will complete the revolution seems not to want to end. Whoever toys with such ideas should not conceal the fact that the one who threatens with the guillotine is the one who is most likely to come under the executioner’s axe. Nor is it apparent to what this second wave is to lead. Have we gone through an anti-Marxist revolution in order to carry out a Marxist program? …
No nation can afford a constant revolt from below if it wants to pass the test of history. The Movement must come to a standstill some day; at some time a stable social structure must emerge, maintained by an impartial judiciary and by an undisputed state authority. Nothing can be achieved through everlasting dynamics. Germany must not go adrift on uncharted seas toward unknown shores, with no one knowing when it will stop. History moves on its own; it is unnecessary to drive it on incessantly. If therefore the German revolution should experience a second wave of new life, then not as a social revolution, but as the creative culmination of work already begun. The statesman is there to create standards; the state and the people are his only concerns. The state is the sole power and the last guarantor of something to which every citizen can lay claim: iron-clad justice. Therefore the state also cannot endure any dualism in the longterm, and the success of the German Revolution and the future of our nation depend on whether a satisfactory solution can be found to the dualism between party and state. The Government is well informed on all the self-interest, lack of character, want of truth, unchivalrous conduct, and arrogance trying to rear its head under cover of the German Revolution. It is also not deceived about the fact that the rich store of confidence bestowed upon it by the German people is threatened.
   If one wishes a close proximity to and a close connection with the people, one must not underestimate the good sense of the people; one must return their confidence and not constantly want to tell them what to do. The German people know that their situation is serious; they feel the economic distress; they are perfectly aware of the defects of many laws conditioned by the emergency; they have a discerning feeling for violence and injustice; they smile at clumsy attempts to deceive them with false optimism. No organization and no propaganda, no matter how good, will in the long run be able to retain trust. I have therefore viewed the wave of propaganda against the so-called petty critics differently from many others. Confidence and readiness to cooperate cannot be won by incitement, especially of youth, nor by threats against helpless segments of the people, but only by discussion with the people with trust on both sides. The people know that great sacrifices are expected from them. They will bear them and follow the Führer with unwavering loyalty, if they are allowed to have their part in the planning and in the work, if every word of criticism is not taken for ill will, and if despairing patriots are not branded as enemies of the state. …"

Friday, 21 December 2012

Review: The Hitler Myth by Ian Kershaw

The Hitler Myth, Image and Reality in the Third Reich.

  Today I’ll be reviewing a book that has already been out for some years, but I still think deserves more attention. In Ian Kershaw’s “The Hitler Myth”, the author sets out to explain the social relationship between the Fuhrer, the Nazi Party, and the populace. Following Max Weber’s “ideal types”, Prof Kershaw categorizes Hitler as a “charismatic” leader, typically emerging in pre-political times or moments of crises, in the absence of a legitimate state and bureaucracy. 
  Through an exhaustive use of reports from the SD, and from the remaining Social Democrat opposition groups, the author reveals how the image of Hitler created through propaganda campaigns, was radically detached from the realities of who he was. 
   Hitler’s speeches inspired the masses, and his early bloodless military victories (over the Sudetenland, the Rhineland coup etc) were enough to prove to them that he was a military genius. It was this image of him - the military genius - that also shielded him from criticism in moments of domestic crisis. The persecution of the churches for instance, which was met with much hostility from the populace, was blamed squarely on the Nazi Party, and the “radicals” that filled its ranks. Hitler on the other hand, was assumed to have known nothing about such excesses, and the excuse was made that if he had only known about what was taking place, he would have done something about it. An instance of this was the Rohm Putsch in 1934, or the “Night of Long Knives”. The SA, by 1934 were not viewed with much respect, as their hooliganish behaviour, and their sexual deviancy was looked down upon. When Hitler spilled their blood, the popular response was not one of horror, but of relief that their dear leader had stepped in to protect his beloved people from the excesses of his Party. So detached was the Fuhrer and his Party, in the eyes of the German people, that one ballot paper in Potsdam had scrawled across it: “For Hitler, Yes, for his Big-Shots (the party), No.” (pp.68). 

Max Weber, (1864-1920),
German Sociologist.
  Using Max Weber’s terms, as a “charismatic" leader, the basis of Hitler’s power lay "principally outside the sphere of everyday life" (pp.120). As long as this distance could be maintained, Hitler retained his influence as a symbol of national unity. 

  An interesting development was that the inner ring of the Nazi party, did not merely view the “Hitler myth” as a tool of propaganda. Goebbels especially, and Hitler himself began to fall under their own spell.
   To use less mystical terms, let me ask the obvious question: Given that Hitler had been vindicated as a strategist after having previously ignored the mounting criticisms and advice from the military leadership  in taking Czechoslovakia, (for more on this, see Irving’s Hitler’s War), what would this have done for his ego? Indeed, as Kershaw puts it, “The day on which Hitler started to believe in his own ‘myth’ marked in a sense the beginning of the end of the Third Reich.” (pp.82).
The boost in confidence from his previous victories, and the high esteem the German people held him in, deprived Hitler of his wits, and caused him make serious blunders. As the sanguinary campaign in the east extended for years - despite being promised a short victory - the German people could no longer bring themselves to exempt Hitler from blame, given that they had previously done so on the grounds that he was too occupied on said military and diplomatic efforts. The Hitler salute faded from public life, direct criticisms of the Fuhrer himself increased in number (as the SD reports demonstrate), and gradually the people increasingly wanted an end to the war, even at the cost of victory. 
“In this sense”, Kershaw argues, “the Hitler myth was a fundamental component of the underlying instability of the Nazi regime and its untrammelled dynamic of destruction.” (pp.264). What we learn then, is that the Hitler myth was not only a great boon to the Hitler state, but eventually planted the seeds of its destruction.
  The book was written (in English) originally in 1987, long before Kershaw received his knighthood, but even today it is hard to find a more impressive work of scholarship on such an important aspect of the Third Reich. Given its short length, its lack of academic jargon when discussing the “Hitler myth” (something commonplace in the works of Roger Griffin and Michael Burleigh for instance), and the importance of its subject, I recommend this book to everyone.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Downfall (2004): Inaccuracies.

 Before I begin, this isn't going to be some scathing review of what is otherwise a very entertaining movie. I hate to be the guy who ruins the magic of Star Wars by pointing out the impossibility of lightsaber technology, or telling everyone there could be no sound in a vacuum and therefore no Formula 1 race car sound coming from the TIE fighters as they fly through space. Nevertheless I'd like to point out two historical inaccuracies in the 2004 movie Downfall, directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel.
 If anyone is reading this (god forbid) and can point out some other flaws please do and I will update this post to include them (only if they are properly referenced!).

Goebbels' "Throats cut" remark. 

Around 50 minutes into the movie, Joseph Goebbels is informed that his personal recruits are being "mowed down" due to their substandard weaponry and poor training. Goebbels insists that what they lack in capability they make up for in zeal. Eventually, he becomes impatient and has an outburst about the culpability of the German people.


"I feel no sympathy. I repeat, I feel no sympathy! The German people chose their fate. That may surprise some people. Don't fool yourself. We didn't force the German people. They gave us the mandate. And now their little throats are being cut."

Not to nit-pick here, since Goebbels did express this kind of sentiment to one of his subordinates, but what he really said was was far more powerful.

'His comments represented a total attack on the old officer corps and 'Reaction'. He accused them of treason, treason which they had been committing for years…
   I objected to these ideas, this cheap excuse… 'Even if there may have been instances of treason, are they not more than compensated for by the loyalty, the self-sacrifice, the courage and the faith of the German people, who have shown more good will towards their government than any other nation has ever done.'
   My interjection had an unexpected effect. Dr Goebbels abandoned the topic of the alleged treason of the officer corps and turned, initially full of cynicism and then of anger, against the German people. He accused them of cowardice. He began his objections with the words: "What can I do with a nation whose men don't even fight any more when their women are being raped."
Then, he poured out justifications for his and Hitler's policies. It was no longer the old virtuoso performance of cold, calculating eloquence. It was an outburst in which for the first time ideas poured out with elemental force, which hitherto have been most carefully hidden, even denied.
   For then he suddenly announced: the German people had failed. In the east they were fleeing, in the west they were preventing the soldiers from fighting and receiving the enemy with white flags.
   His pale face became red with anger, his veins and his eyes bulged as he shouted that the German people deserved the fate that awaited them. And then, suddenly, calming down, he remarked cynically that the German people had after all chosen this fate themselves. In the referendum on Germany's quitting the League of Nations they chose in a free vote to reject a policy of subordination and in favour of a bold gamble. Well, the gamble hadn't come off. 
   I sprang up and wanted to interrupt him. I wanted to say that he himself and Hitler had never interpreted that referendum in terms of a choice between peace and an adventure. On the contrary, both had always insisted that they only wanted to use peaceful means in Germany's fight for existence.
   Dr Goebbels saw my gesture but didn't let me speak it. He too got up and continued to speak: 'Yes, that may surprise some people, including my colleagues. But have no illusions. I never compelled anybody to work for me, just as we didn't compel the German people. They themselves gave us the job to do. Why did you work with me? Now, you'll have your little throat cut.'
   Striding towards the door, he turned round once more and shouted: 'but the earth will shake when we leave the scene…' (1)

For reasons other than length, I can't understand why this was altered. My problem isn't merely the lack of historical accuracy, but also the fact that:"but the earth will shake when we leave the scene." would have added far more meaning to Goebbels' tantrum.

Albert Speer visits Magda Goebbels.

 Roughly an hour into the movie, Albert Speer is seen visiting Magda Goebbels alone in her room while she is sick. Just prior to this conversation, Speer also has a brief but sobering conversation with Trudl Junge about whether she plans to escape or stay and die with the Fuhrer. This conversation is not mentioned in Albert Speer's recollection, which is surprising since many other conversations with those surrounding Hitler (which seem far more trivial) are recalled by him. In fact, Trudl Junge/Humps is not mentioned in the entire book.  Speer's visit to Magda Goebbels is also completely different to his recollection.


Speer: Fever?
Frau Goebbels: Albert, my heart can't take it. 
Speer: Why don't you take the children and get out of here?
Frau Goebbels: But where to?
Speer: I once told you, I can send a barge to Schwanenwerder. It can be fixed up as a hideout until it's all over... Which won't be long.
Frau Goebbels: I've thought it through carefully. I won't let the children grow up in a world with no National Socialism. 
Speer: Think it over again, Magda. The children deserve a future.
Frau Goebbels: If the idea of National Socialism dies, there is no future.
Speer: (gets up to leave, then turns once more) I can't believe you really want this.
Frau Goebbels: Go...
(Speer leaves)

Albert Speer in his own words:

"An SS doctor informed me that Frau Goebbels was in bed, very weak and suffering from heart attacks. I sent word to her asking her to receive me. I would like to have talked to her alone, but Goebbels was already waiting in an anteroom and led me into the little chamber deep underground where she lay in a plain bed. She was pale and spoke only trivialities in a low voice, although I could sense that she was in deep agony over the irrevocably approaching hour when her children must die. Since Goebbels remained persistently at my side, our conversation was limited to the state of her health. Only as I was on the point of leaving did she hint at what she was really feeling: ''How happy I am that at least Harald [her son by her first marriage] is alive." I too felt confined and could scarcely find words - but what could anyone say in this situation? We said good-by in awkward silence. Her husband had not allowed us even a few minutes alone for our farewell." (2)

 A completely different picture from that depicted in the movie scene, in which Joseph Goebbels is nowhere to be seen.

Anyway, sorry for spoiling everyone's fun! Next week I will be showing how Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark and Inglorious Basterds are also somewhat unreliable in an academic setting (sarcasm).

(1) (1998) Noakes. J, Pridham. G, Nazism 1919-1945, Volume Four: The German Home Front in World War II, doc. 1379. From "Hier spricht Hans Fritzsche. Nach Gesprächen, Briefen und Dokumenten" edited by Hildegard Springer,  (Stuttgart 1949), pp.28-9.
(2) (1995) Speer. A, Inside the Third Reich, Chapter 32: Annihilation, Phoenix, London, pp. 642-3

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

George Orwell's "Bookshop Memories"

Blogger's remarks:
I thought I'd do something different today. I couldn't help chuckling at this memoir by George Orwell of his experience working in a second-hand bookshop. I can't help but admit to being one of those romantics picturing it "as a kind of paradise where charming old gentlemen browse eternally among calf-bound folios". Working in a second hand bookshop has long been a small fantasy of mine, but I am a little wiser from reading this. Having worked at an Oxfam bookshop, I can also relate to Orwell's experience with the purchasing habits of social rejects with very rare and specific tastes, as well as women looking for books for their nephews (specifically that relative too). Nevertheless I am relieved that there are no complaints of a repeated customer asking for the same items (in my case: ladybird childrens books or books on British birds) but never being satisfied with what is presented to them. Lastly of course, who doesn't enjoy the smell of old books?
Anyway, enjoy!

"When I worked in a second-hand bookshop — so easily pictured, if you don't work in one, as a kind of paradise where charming old gentlemen browse eternally among calf-bound folios — the thing that chiefly struck me was the rarity of really bookish people. Our shop had an exceptionally interesting stock, yet I doubt whether ten per cent of our customers knew a good book from a bad one. First edition snobs were much commoner than lovers of literature, but oriental students haggling over cheap textbooks were commoner still, and vague-minded women looking for birthday presents for their nephews were commonest of all.
  Many of the people who came to us were of the kind who would be a nuisance anywhere but have special opportunities in a bookshop. For example, the dear old lady who ‘wants a book for an invalid' (a very common demand, that), and the other dear old lady who read such a nice book in 1897 and wonders whether you can find her a copy. Unfortunately she doesn't remember the title or the author's name or what the book was about, but she does remember that it had a red cover. But apart from these there are two well-known types of pest by whom every second-hand bookshop is haunted. One is the decayed person smelling of old breadcrusts who comes every day, sometimes several times a day, and tries to sell you worthless books. 
  The other is the person who orders large quantities of books for which he has not the smallest intention of paying. In our shop we sold nothing on credit, but we would put books aside, or order them if necessary, for people who arranged to fetch them away later. Scarcely half the people who ordered books from us ever came back. It used to puzzle me at first. What made them do it? They would come in and demand some rare and expensive book, would make us promise over and over again to keep it for them, and then would vanish never to return. But many of them, of course, were unmistakable paranoiacs. They used to talk in a grandiose manner about themselves and tell the most ingenious stories to explain how they had happened to come out of doors without any money — stories which, in many cases, I am sure they themselves believed. In a town like London there are always plenty of not quite certifiable lunatics walking the streets, and they tend to gravitate towards bookshops, because a bookshop is one of the few places where you can hang about for a long time without spending any money. In the end one gets to know these people almost at a glance. For all their big talk there is something moth-eaten and aimless about them. Very often, when we were dealing with an obvious paranoiac, we would put aside the books he asked for and then put them back on the shelves the moment he had gone. None of them, I noticed, ever attempted to take books away without paying for them; merely to order them was enough — it gave them, I suppose, the illusion that they were spending real money.
  Like most second-hand bookshops we had various sidelines. We sold second-hand typewriters, for instance, and also stamps — used stamps, I mean. Stamp-collectors are a strange, silent, fish-like breed, of all ages, but only of the male sex; women, apparently, fail to see the peculiar charm of gumming bits of coloured paper into albums. We also sold sixpenny horoscopes compiled by somebody who claimed to have foretold the Japanese earthquake. They were in sealed envelopes and I never opened one of them myself, but the people who bought them often came back and told us how ‘true’ their horoscopes had been. (Doubtless any horoscope seems ‘true’ if it tells you that you are highly attractive to the opposite sex and your worst fault is generosity.) 
  We did a good deal of business in children's books, chiefly ‘remainders’. Modern books for children are rather horrible things, especially when you see them in the mass. Personally I would sooner give a child a copy of Petrenius Arbiter than Peter Pan, but even Barrie seems manly and wholesome compared with some of his later imitators. At Christmas time we spent a feverish ten days struggling with Christmas cards and calendars, which are tiresome things to sell but good business while the season lasts. It used to interest me to see the brutal cynicism with which Christian sentiment is exploited. The touts from the Christmas card firms used to come round with their catalogues as early as June. A phrase from one of their invoices sticks in my memory. It was: ‘2 doz. Infant Jesus with rabbits’.
  But our principal sideline was a lending library — the usual ‘twopenny no-deposit’ library of five or six hundred volumes, all fiction. How the book thieves must love those libraries! It is the easiest crime in the world to borrow a book at one shop for twopence, remove the label and sell it at another shop for a shilling. Nevertheless booksellers generally find that it pays them better to have a certain number of books stolen (we used to lose about a dozen a month) than to frighten customers away by demanding a deposit.
Our shop stood exactly on the frontier between Hampstead and Camden Town, and we were frequented by all types from baronets to bus-conductors. Probably our library subscribers were a fair cross-section of London's reading public. It is therefore worth noting that of all the authors in our library the one who ‘went out’ the best was — Priestley? Hemingway? Walpole? Wodehouse? No, Ethel M. Dell, with Warwick Deeping a good second and Jeffrey Farnol, I should say, third. Dell's novels, of course, are read solely by women, but by women of all kinds and ages and not, as one might expect, merely by wistful spinsters and the fat wives of tobacconists. It is not true that men don't read novels, but it is true that there are whole branches of fiction that they avoid. Roughly speaking, what one might call the average novel — the ordinary, good-bad, Galsworthy-and-water stuff which is the norm of the English novel — seems to exist only for women. Men read either the novels it is possible to respect, or detective stories. But their consumption of detective stories is terrific. One of our subscribers to my knowledge read four or five detective stories every week for over a year, besides others which he got from another library. What chiefly surprised me was that he never read the same book twice. Apparently the whole of that frightful torrent of trash (the pages read every year would, I calculated, cover nearly three quarters of an acre) was stored for ever in his memory. He took no notice of titles or author's names, but he could tell by merely glancing into a book whether be had ‘had it already’.
In a lending library you see people's real tastes, not their pretended ones, and one thing that strikes you is how completely the ‘classical’ English novelists have dropped out of favour. It is simply useless to put Dickens, Thackeray, Jane Austen, Trollope, etc. into the ordinary lending library; nobody takes them out. At the mere sight of a nineteenth-century novel people say, ‘Oh, but that's old!’ and shy away immediately. Yet it is always fairly easy to sell Dickens, just as it is always easy to sell Shakespeare. Dickens is one of those authors whom people are ‘always meaning to’ read, and, like the Bible, he is widely known at second hand. People know by hearsay that Bill Sikes was a burglar and that Mr Micawber had a bald head, just as they know by hearsay that Moses was found in a basket of bulrushes and saw the ‘back parts’ of the Lord. Another thing that is very noticeable is the growing unpopularity of American books. And another — the publishers get into a stew about this every two or three years — is the unpopularity of short stories. The kind of person who asks the librarian to choose a book for him nearly always starts by saying ‘I don't want short stories’, or ‘I do not desire little stories’, as a German customer of ours used to put it. If you ask them why, they sometimes explain that it is too much fag to get used to a new set of characters with every story; they like to ‘get into’ a novel which demands no further thought after the first chapter. I believe, though, that the writers are more to blame here than the readers. Most modern short stories, English and American, are utterly lifeless and worthless, far more so than most novels. The short stories which are stories are popular enough, vide D. H. Lawrence, whose short stories are as popular as his novels.
Would I like to be a bookseller de métier? On the whole — in spite of my employer's kindness to me, and some happy days I spent in the shop — no.
Given a good pitch and the right amount of capital, any educated person ought to be able to make a small secure living out of a bookshop. Unless one goes in for ‘rare’ books it is not a difficult trade to learn, and you start at a great advantage if you know anything about the insides of books. (Most booksellers don't. You can get their measure by having a look at the trade papers where they advertise their wants. If you don't see an ad. for Boswell's Decline and Fall you are pretty sure to see one for The Mill on the Floss by T. S. Eliot.) Also it is a humane trade which is not capable of being vulgarized beyond a certain point. The combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman. But the hours of work are very long — I was only a part-time employee, but my employer put in a seventy-hour week, apart from constant expeditions out of hours to buy books — and it is an unhealthy life. As a rule a bookshop is horribly cold in winter, because if it is too warm the windows get misted over, and a bookseller lives on his windows. And books give off more and nastier dust than any other class of objects yet invented, and the top of a book is the place where every bluebottle prefers to die.
  But the real reason why I should not like to be in the book trade for life is that while I was in it I lost my love of books. A bookseller has to tell lies about books, and that gives him a distaste for them; still worse is the fact that he is constantly dusting them and hauling them to and fro. There was a time when I really did love books — loved the sight and smell and feel of them, I mean, at least if they were fifty or more years old. Nothing pleased me quite so much as to buy a job lot of them for a shilling at a country auction. There is a peculiar flavour about the battered unexpected books you pick up in that kind of collection: minor eighteenth-century poets, out-of-date gazeteers, odd volumes of forgotten novels, bound numbers of ladies’ magazines of the sixties. For casual reading — in your bath, for instance, or late at night when you are too tired to go to bed, or in the odd quarter of an hour before lunch — there is nothing to touch a back number of the Girl's Own Paper. But as soon as I went to work in the bookshop I stopped buying books. Seen in the mass, five or ten thousand at a time, books were boring and even slightly sickening. Nowadays I do buy one occasionally, but only if it is a book that I want to read and can't borrow, and I never buy junk. The sweet smell of decaying paper appeals to me no longer. It is too closely associated in my mind with paranoiac customers and dead bluebottles."

- George Orwell: ‘Bookshop Memories’
First published: Fortnightly. — GB, London. — November 1936.