Hitler's War: An introduction to the new edition
"To historians is granted a talent that even the gods are denied - to alter what has already happened."
I bore this scornful adage in mind when I embarked on this study of Adolf Hitler's twelve years of absolute power. I saw myself as a stone-cleaner-less concerned with architectural appraisal than with scrubbing years of grime and discoloration from the facade of a silent and forbidding monument. I set out to describe events from behind the Führer's desk, seeing each episode through his eyes. The technique necessarily narrows the field of view, but it does help to explain decisions that are otherwise inexplicable. Nobody that I knew of had attempted this before, but it seemed worth the effort. After all, Hitler's war left forty million dead and caused all of Europe and half of Asia to be wasted by fire and explosives; it destroyed Hitler's Third Reich, bankrupted Britain and lost her Empire, and it brought lasting disorder to world affairs; it saw the entrenchment of Communism in one continent, and its emergence in another.
In earlier books I had relied on the primary records of the period rather than published literature, which contained too many pitfalls for the historian. I naively supposed that the same primary-sources technique could within five years be applied to a study of Hitler. In fact it would be thirteen years before the first volume, Hitler’s War, was published in 1977 and twelve years later I am still indexing and adding to my documentary files. I remember, in 1965, driving down to Tilbury Docks to collect a crate of microfilm ordered from the U.S. government for this study; the liner that brought the crate has long been scrapped, the dockyard itself leveled to the ground. I suppose I took it all at a far too leisurely pace. But I hope that this biography, now updated and revised, will outlive its rivals, and that more and more future writers find themselves compelled to consult it for materials that are contained in none of the others. Traveling around the world I have found that it has split the community of academic historians from top to bottom, particularly in the controversy around the "holocaust." In Australia alone, students from the universities of New South Wales and West Australia have told me that there they are penalized for citing Hitler's War; at the universities of Wollongong and Canberra students are disciplined if they don't. The biography is required reading for officers at military academies from Sandhurst to West Point, New York and Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and has attracted critical praise from the experts behind the Iron Curtain and from the denizens of the Far Right.
I, as its author, have had my home smashed into by thugs, my family terrorized, my name smeared, my printers firebombed, and myself arrested and deported by tiny, democratic Austria - an illegal act, their courts decided, for which the ministerial culprits are to be punished. A journalist for Time magazine dining with me in New York in 1988 remarked, Before coming over I read the clippings files on you. Until Hitler's War you couldn't put a foot wrong, you were the darling of the media; after it, they heaped slime on you.
I offer no apology for having revised the existing picture of the man. I have tried to accord to him the kind of hearing that he would have got in an English court of law - where the normal rules of evidence apply, but also where a measure of insight is appropriate. There have been skeptics who questioned whether the heavy reliance on -inevitably angled - private souces is any better as a method of investigation than the more traditional quarries of informaton. My reply is that we certainly cannot deny the value of private sources altogether. As the Washington Post noted in its review of the first edition in 1977, "British historians have always been more objective toward Hitler than either German or American writers."
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My conclusions on completing the manuscript startled even me. Hitler was a far less omnipotent Führer than has been believed, and his grip on his subordinates had weakened with each passing year. Three episodes - the aftermath of the Ernst Röhm affair of June 30, 1934, the Dollfuss assassination a month later, and the anti-Jewish outrages of November 1938 - show how his powers had been preempted by men to whom he felt himself in one way or another indebted. While my Hitler's central and guiding prewar ambition always remains constant, his methods and tactics were profoundly opportunistic. Hitler firmly believed in grasping at fleeting opportunities. "There is but one moment when the Goddess of Fortune wafts by," he lectured his adjutants in 1938, "and if you don't grab her then by the hem you won't get a second. chance!" The manner in which he seized upon the double scandal in January 1938 to divest himself of the over-conservative army Commander in Chief, Werner von Fritsch, and to become his own Supreme Commander too, is a good example.
His geographical ambitions remained unchanged. He had no ambitions against Britain or her Empire at all, and all the captured records solidly bear this out. He had certainly built the wrong air force and the wrong navy for a sustained campaign against the Britsh Isles; and subtle indications, like his instructions to Fritz Todt (page 43) to erect huge monuments on the Reich's western frontiers, suggest that for Hitler these frontiers were of a lasting nature. There is equally solid proof of his plans to invade the east - his secret speech of February 1933 (page 46), his memorandum of August 1936 (pages 57-58), his June 1937 instructions for the expansion of Pillau as a Baltic naval base (page 66), and his remarks to Mussolini in May 1938 (page 100), that "Germany will step out along the ancient Teutonic path, toward the east." Not until later that month, it turns out (page 104), did Hitler finally resign himself to the likelihood that Britain and France would probably not stand aside.
These last prewar years saw Hitler's intensive reliance on psychological warfare techniques. The principle was not new: Napoleon himself had defined it thus: "The reputation of one's arms in war is everything, and equivalent to real forces." But using the records of the Propaganda Ministry and various editorial offices I have tried to illustrate how advanced the Nazis were in those "cold war" techniques. Related to this theme is my emphasis on Hitler's foreign Intelligence sources.
The Nazis' wiretapping and code-breaking agency, the Forschungsamt, which destroyed all its records in 1945, holds the key to many of his successes. The agency eavesdropped on foreign diplomats in Berlin and - even more significantly - it fed to Hitler hour-by-hour transcripts of the lurid and incautious telephone conversations conducted between an embattled Prague and the Czech diplomats in London and Paris during September 1938 (pages 127-135). From the time of Munich until the outbreak of war with Britain Hitler could follow virtually hourly how his enemies were reacting to each Nazi ploy, and he rightly deduced by August 22, 1939, that while the western powers might well formally declare war they would not actually fight - not at first, that is.
The war years say Hitler was a powerful and relentless military commander, the inspiration behind great victories like the Battle of France in May 1940 and the Battle of Kharkov in May 1942; even Marshal Zhukov later privately admitted that Hitler's summer 1941 strategy - rather than the general staff's frontal assault on Moscow-was unquestionably right. But at the same time Hitler became a lax and indecisive political leader, who allowed affairs of state to stagnate. Though often brutal and insensitive, he lacked the ability to be ruthless where it mattered most. He refused to bomb London itself until Mr. Churchill forced the decision on him in late Augsut 1940. He was reluctant to impose the test of total mobilization on the German "master race" until it was too late to matter, so that with munitions factories crying out for manpower, idle German housewives were still employing half a million domestic servants to dust their homes and polish their furniture. Hitler's military irresolution sometimes showed through, for example in his panicky vacillation at times of crisis like the battle for Narvik in 1940. He took ineffectual measures against his enemies inside Germany for too long, and seems to have been unable to face effectively against strong opposition at the very heart of his High Command. In fact he suffered incompetent ministers and generals far longer than the Allied leaders did. He failed to unite the feuding factions of Party and Wehrmacht in fights for the common cause, and he proved incapable of stifling the corrosive hatred of the War Department (OKH) for the Wehrmacht High Command (OKW).
I believe that I show in this book that the more hermetically Hitler locked himself away behind the barbed wire and mine fields of his remote military headquarters, the more his Germany became a Führer-Staat with a Führer. Domestic policy was controlled by whoever was most powerful in each sector - by Hermann Göring as head of the powerful economic agency, the Four-Year Plan; by Hans Lammers as chief of the Reich Chancellery; or by Martin Bormann, the Nazi party boss; or by Heinrich Himmler, minister of the interior and Reichsführer of the evil-famed SS.
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Hitler was a problem, a puzzle even to his most intimate advisers. Joachim Ribbentrop, his foreign minister, wrote in his Nuremberg prison cell in 1945:
I got to know Adolf Hitler more closely in 1933. But if I am asked today whether I knew him well - how he thought as a politican and statesman, what kind of man he was - then I'm bound to confess that I know only very little about him; really, nothing at all. The fact is that although I went through so much together with him, in all the years of working with him I never came closer to him than on the first day we met, either personally or otherwise.
The sheer complexity of that character is evident from a comparison of his brutality in some respects with his almost maudlin sentimentality and stubborn adherence to military conventions that others had long abandoned. We find him cold-bloodedly ordering a hundred hostages executed for every German occupation soldier killed; dictating the massacre of Italian officers who had turned their weapons against German troops in 1943; ordering the liquidation of Red Army commissary Allied commando troops, and captured Allied aircrews; in 1942 he announced that the male populations of Stalingrad and Leningrad were to be exterminated. He justified all these orders by the expendiencies of war. Yet the same Hitler indignantly exclaimed, in the last week of his life, that Soviet tanks were flying the Nazi swastika as a ruse during street fighting in Berlin, and he flatly forbade his Wehrmacht to violate flag rules. He had opposed every suggestion for the use of poison gases, as that would violate the Geneva Protocol; at that time Germans alone had manufactured the potentially war winning lethal nerve gases Sarin and Tabun. In an age in which the government of the democracies engineered or condoned the assassinations, successfully or otherwise, of the inconvenient - from General Sikorski, Admiral Darlan, Field Marshal Rommel, and King Boris of Bulgaria to Fidel Castro, Patrice Lumumba, and Salvador Allende - we learn that Hitler, the world's most unscrupulous dictator, not only never resorted to the assassination of foreign opponents but flatly forbade his Abwehr to attempt it. In particular he rejected Admiral Canaris's plans to assassinate the Red Army General Staff.
The biggest problem in dealing analytically with Hitler is the aversion to him deliberately created by years of intense wartime propaganda and emotive postwar historiography. I came to the subject with almost neutral feelings. My own impression of the war was limited to snapshot memories-1940 summer picnics around the wreckage of a Heinkel bomber in the local Bluebell Woods; the infernal organ note of the V-1 flying bombs passing overhead; convoys of drab army trucks rumbling past our country gate; counting the gaps in the American bomber squadrons straggling back each day from Germany; waving to the troopships sailing in June 1944 from Southsea beach to Normandy; and of course, VE-day itself, with the bonfires and beating of the family gong. Our knowledge of the Germans "responsible" for all this was not profound. In Everybody's magazine, long defunct, I recall "Ferrier's World Searchlight" with its weekly caricatures of a clubfoot dwarf called Goebbels and the other comic Nazi heroes.
The caricatures have bedeviled the writing of modern history ever since. Confronted by the phenomenon of Hitler himself, historians cannot grasp that he was a walking, talking human weighing some 155 pounds with graying hair, largely false teeth, and chronic digestive ailments. He is to them the Devil incarnate; he has to be, because of the sacrifices that we made in destroying him.
The caricaturing process became respectable as the Nuremberg war crimes trials. History has been plagued since then by the prosecution teams' methods of selecting exhibits and by the subsequent publication of them in neatly printed and indexed volumes and the incineration of any document that might have hindered the prosecution effort. At Nuremberg the blame for what happened was shifted from general to minister, from minister to Party official, and from all of them invariably to Hitler. Under the system of "licensed" publishers and newspapers established by the victors in postwar Germany the legends prospered. No story was too absurd to gain credence in the history books and memoirs.
Among these creative writers the German General Staff take pride of place. Without Hitler few of them would have risen above colonel. They owed him their jobs, their medals, their estates and endowments, and not infrequently their victories too. After the war those who survived - which was sometimes because they had been dismissed and thus removed from the hazards of the battlefield - contrived to divert the blame for final defeat. In the files of Nuremberg prosecutor Justice Robert H. Jackson I found a note warning about the tactics that General Franz Halder, the former chief of General Staff, proposed to adopt: "I just want to call your attention to the CSDIC intercepts of Halder's conversations with other generals. He is extremely frank on what he thinks should be suppressed or distorted and in particular is very sensitive to the suggestion that the German General Staff was involved in anything, especially planning for war." Fortunately this embarrassed interplay of conscience and memory was more than once recorded for posterity by the hidden microphones of the CSDIC (Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Center). Thus the cavalry general Rothkirch, the III Corps commander, captured at Bitburg on March 6, 1945, was overheard three days later describing how he had personally liquidated Jews in a small town near Vitebsk, Russia, and how he had been warned not to disturb mass graves near Minsk as these were about to be exhumed and incinerated so as to destroy all traces. "I have decided," he told fellow prisoners, "to twist every statement I make so that the officer corps is white-washed - relentlessly, relentlessly! And when General Heinz Guderian and the arrogant, supercilious General Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg were asked by their American captors to write their own history of the war, they first sought Field Marshall Wilhelm Leeb's permission as senior officer at the Seventh Army's CSDIC. Again hidden microphones recorded their talk:
Leeb: Well, I can only give you my personal opinion . . . You will have to weigh your answers carefully when they pertain to objectives, causes, and the progress of operations, in order to see where they may impinge on the interests of our Fatherland. On the one hand we have to admit that the Americans know the course of operations quite accurately; they even know which units were employed on our side. However they are not quite so familiar with our motives. And there is one point where it would be advisable to proceed with caution, so that we do not become the laughingstock of the world. I do not know what your relations were with Hitler, but I do know his military capacity . . . You will have to consider your answers a bit carefully when approached on this subject so that you say nothing that might embarrass our Fatherland . . .
Geyr von Schweppenburg: The types of madness known to psychologists cannot be compared with the one the Führer suffered from. He was a madman surrounded by serfs. I do not think we should express ourselves quite as strongly as that in our statements. Mention of this fact will have to be made, however, in order to exonerate a few persons.
After agonizing over whether and which German generals advocated war in 1939, Leeb suggested:
"The question is now whether we should not just admit openly everything we know "
Geyr: Any objective observer will admit that National Socialism did raise the social status of the worker, and in some respects even his standard of living.
Leeb: This is one of the great achievements of National Socialism. The excesses of National Socialism were in the first and final analysis due to the Führer's personality.
Guderian: The fundamental principles were fine.
Leeb: That is true.
In writing this biography I therefore adopted strict criteria in selecting my source material. I have used not only the military records and archives; I have burrowed deep into the contemporary writings of his closest personal staff, seeking clues to the real truth in diaries and private letters written to wives and friends. For the few autobiographical works I have used I preferred to rely on their original manuscripts rather than the printed texts, as in the early postwar years apprehensive publishers (especially the "licensed" ones in Germany) made drastic changes in them - for example in the memoirs of Karl-Wilhelm Krause, Hitler's manservant. Thus I relied on the original handwritten memoirs of Walter Schellenberg, Himmler's Intelligence chief, rather than on the mutilated and ghostwritten version subsequently published by André Deutsch. I would go so far as to warn against several works hitherto accepted as "standard" sources on Hitler - particularly those by Konrad Heiden, the Abwehr/OSS double agent Hans Bernd Gisevius, Erich Kordt, and Hitler's dismissed adjutant Fritz Wiedemann. (The latter unashamedly explained in a private 1940 letter to a friend, "It makes no difference if exaggerations and even falsehoods do creep in") Profesor Carl-Jakob Burckhard’s "diary" quoted in his memoir, Meine Danziger Mission 1937-1939, is impossible to reconcile with Hitler's actual movements; while Hermann Rauschning's Conversations with Hitler (Zürich, 1940) has bedeviled analysis of Hitler's policies ever since it was published by the evil propagandist Emery Reves (Imre Revéüsz) along with a host of other fables. Rauschning, a former Nazi Danzig politician, met Hitler on only a couple of formal occasions. It was being republished in Vienna as recently as 1973, although even the otherwise uncritical West German historian Professor Eberhard Jäckel - who carelessly included 78 forgeries in a serious volume of Hitler's manuscripts, and then dismissed this poisonous injection as making up less than 5 percent of the total volume! - emphasized in a learned article in Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht (No. 11, 1977) that Rauschning's volume has no claim to credibility at all. Reves was also publisher of that other famous "source" on early Nazi history, Fritz Thyssen's "memoirs," I Paid Hitler (London, 1943). Henry Ashby Turner, Jr., has pointed out in a paper in Vierteljahrsheft für Zeitgeschichte (No. 3, 1971) that the luckless Thyssen never even saw eight of the book's nineteen chapters, while the rest were drafted in French! The list of such spurious volumes is endless. The anonymous "memoirs" of the late Christa Schroeder, Hitler Privat (Düsseldorf, 1949) were penned by Albert Zoller, a French army liaison officer to the U.S. Seventh Army. Martin Bormann's alleged notes on Hitler's final bunker conversations, published with an introduction by Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper in 1961 as The Testament of Adolf Hitler and - regrettably - published by Albrecht Knaus Verlag in German as Hitlers Politisches Testament: Die Bormann Diktate (Hamburg, 1981) are in my view quite spurious: a copy of the partly typed, partly handwritten document is in my possession, and this leaves no doubt.
But historians are quite incorrigible, and will quote any apparently primary source no matter how convincingly its pedigree is exposed. Albert Speer's Inside the Third Reich made him a personal fortune after the West Berlin firm of Propyläen published the book in 1969. They earned him wide respect for his disavowal of Hitler. But some critics were puzzled that the American edition differed substantially from the German original Erinnerungen and the British edition. In fact I learned the truth from the horse's mouth, being one of the first writers to interview Speer after his release from Spandau prison in 1966. The former Reichsminister spent an afternoon reading out loud to me from his draft memoirs. The book subsequently published was very different, having been written, he explained, by my own in-house editor at the Ullstein publishing house (Annette Engel geb. Etienne), by their chief editor Wolf-Jobst Siedler, and by historian Joachim Fest, editor of the prestigious Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Miss Etienne confirmed this. When I challenged Speer in private at a Frankfurt publishing dinner in October 1979 to publish his original memoirs, he replied rather wistfully that he wished he could: "But it would be impossible. That manuscript was quite out of keeping with the modern nuances. Even the captions to the chapters would have caused difficulties." A courageous Berlin author, Matthias Schmidt, later published a book exposing the Speer legend and the "memoirs"; but it is the latter volume which the lazy gentlemen of my profession have in their libraries, not Schmidt's, thus proving the opening words of this introduction true.
It was symptomatic of Speer's truthfulness to history that while he was in Spandau he paid for the entire wartime diaries of his office (Dienststelle) to be retyped omitting the more unfortunate passages, and donated these faked documents to the Bundesarchiv in Koblenz. My comparison of the 1943 volume, housed in the original in British Cabinet Office archives, with the Bundesarchiv copy made this plain, and Matthias Schmidt also reveals the forgery. In fact I have been startled by the number of such "diaries" which close scrutiny proves to have been faked or tampered with - invariably to Hitler's disadvantage.
Two different men claimed to possess the entire diaries of Vice Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the legendary Abwehr chief hanged by Hitler in April 1945. The first, Klaus Benzing, produced "documents of the postwar German Intelligence Service (BND)" and original papers "signed by Canaris" in his support; the second, the German High Court judge Fabian von Schlabrendorff, announced that his set of the diaries had recently been returned by Generalissimo Francisco Franco to the West German government. Forensic tests on the paper and ink of a "Canaris document" supplied by the first man, conducted for me by the London laboratory of Hehner & Cox Ltd., proved them to be forgeries. An interview with Franco's chef de bureau - his brother-in-law Don Felipe Polo Valdes - in Madrid disposed of the German judge's equally improbable claim. Similarly the Eva Braun diaries published by the film actor Luis Trenker were largely forged from the memoirs written decades earlier by Countess Irma Larisch-Wallersee; the forgery was established by the Munich courts in October 1948. Eva Braun's genuine diaries and voluminous intimate correspondence with Hitler were acquired by the CIC team of Colonel Robert A. Gutierrez, based in Stuttgart-Backnang in the summer of 1945; after a brief sifting by Frau Ursula Göhler on their behalf, these papers have not been seen since. I visited Gutierrez twice in new Mexico - he subsequently released Eva Braun's wedding dress and silver flatware (which he admitted having retained) to my research-colleague Willi Korte, but he has not conceded an inch over the missing papers and diaries.
The oft-quoted diaries of Himmler's and Ribbentrop's Berlin masseur Felix Kersten are equally fictitious - as for example the "twenty-six-page medical dossier on Hitler" described in chapter XXIII (pp. 165-171 of the English edition) shows when compared with the genuine diaries of Hitler's doctor, Theo Morell, which I found and published in 1983. The genuine Kersten diaries which Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper saw in Sweden were never published, perhaps because of the political dynamite they contained on Sweden's elite, including publisher Albert Bonnier, alleged to have offered Himmler the addresses of every Jew in Sweden in return for concessions in the event of a Nazi invasion. Similarly the "diaries" published by Rudolf Semmler in Goebbels - the Man Next to Hitler (London, 1947) are phony too, as the entry for January 12, 1945, proves; it has Hitler as Goebbels's guest in Berlin, when the Führer was in fact still fighting the Battle of the Bulge from his headquarters in West Germany. And there are obvious anachronisms in Count Galeazzo Ciano's extensively quoted "diaries": for example Marshal Rodolfo Graziani's "complaints about Rommel" on December 12, 1940 - two full months before Rommel was appointed to Italy's North Africa theater! In fact Ciano spent the months after his dismissal in February 1943 rewriting and "improving" the diaries himself, which makes them readable but useless for the purposes of history. Ribbentrop warned about the forgery in his prison memoirs - he claimed to have seen Ciano's real diaries in September 1943 - and the Nazi interpreter Eugen Dollmann described in his memoirs how the fraud was actually admitted to him by a British officer at a prison camp. The OSS files on this are in the Allen W. Dulles papers (unfortunately still closed) at the Mudd Library, Princeton University; but even the most superficial examination of the handwritten original volumes reveals the extent to which Ciano (or others) doctored them and interpolated material - yet historians of the highest repute have quoted them without question as they have Ciano's so-called "Lisbon Papers," although the latter too bear all the hallmarks of subsequent editing. (They have all been retyped on the same typewriter although ostensibly originating over the six years 1936-42.)
Some diaries have been amended in relatively harmless ways: the Luftwaffe Chief of Staff Karl Koller's real shorthand diary often bears no resemblance to the version he published as Der letzte Monat (Mannheim, 1949). And Helmuth Grenier, keeper of the official OKW operations staff war diary until 1943, seized the opportunity in 1945, when asked by the Americans to retranscribe his original notes for the lost volumes from August 1942 to March 1943, to excise passages which reflected unfavorably on fellow prisoners like General Adolf Heusinger - or too favorably on Hitler; and no doubt to curry favor with the Americans, he added lengthy paragraphs charged with pungent criticism of Hitler's conduct of the war which I found to be missing from his original handwritten notes. This tendency - to pillory Hitler after the war-was also strongly evident in the "diaries" of the late General Gerhard Engel, who served as his army adjutant from March 1938 to October 1943. Historiographical evidence alone - e.g., comparison with the 1940 private diaries of Reichsminister Fritz Todt or the wife of General Rudolf Schmundt, or with the records of Field Marshal von Manstein's Army Group Don at the time of Stalingrad - indicates that whatever they are, they are not contemporaneous diaries; tests on the age of the paper confirmed it. Regrettably, the well-known Institut fur Zeitgeschichte in Munich nonetheless published them in a volume, Heeresadjutant bei Hitler 1938-1943 (Stuttgart, 1974), rather feebly drawing attention to the "diaries"' inconsistencies in a short introduction.
With the brilliant exception of Trevor-Roper, whose book The Last Days of Hitler was based on the records of the era and is therefore virtually unassailable even today, each successive biographer repeated or engrossed the legends created by his predecessors, or at best consulted only the most readily available works of reference themselves. In the 1960s and 1970s a wave of weak, repetitive, and unrevealing Hitler biographies had washed through the bookstores. The most widely publicized was that written by a German television personality, Joachim Fest; but he later told a questioner that he had not even visited the magnificent National Archives in Washington, which houses by far the largest collection of records relating to recent Europen history. Stylistically, Fest's German was good; but the old legends were trotted out afresh, polished to an impressive gleam of authority. The same Berlin company also published my book shortly after, under the title Hitler und seine Feldherren; their chief editor, Siedler, found many of my arguments distasteful, even dangerous, and without informing me suppressed or even reversed them. In their printed text Hitler had not told Himmler (on November 30, 1941) that there was to be "no liquidation" of a consignment of Jews from Berlin; he had told him not to use the word Liquidate" publicly in connection with their extermination program. Thus history is falsified! I prohibited further printing of the book, two days after its appearance in Germany, and litigated for ten years to regain the right to publish it in its original form. To explain their actions, the Berlin publishers argued that my manuscript expressed some views that were "an affront to established historical opinion" in their country.
My idle predecessors had gratefully lamented that most of the documents had been destroyed. They had not - they survived in embarrassing superabundance. The official papers of Luftwaffe Field Marshal Erhard Milch, Göring's deputy, were captured by the British and total over 60,000 pages; the entire war diary of the German naval staff, of immense value far beyond purely naval matters, survived; it took many months to read the 69 volumes of main text, some over 900 pages long, in Washington and to examine the most promising of the 3,900 microfilm records of German naval records held in Washington. After the first edition of this book appeared in 1975 the diaries of Joseph Goebbels were released in the west; I had some qualms that they might reveal some of my more dangerous hypotheses to have been hollow. (They did not, in my opinion.)
Many sources of prime importance are still missing. That diplomatic historians never once bothered in thirty years to visit the widow of Joachim von Ribbentrop's Staatssekretär von Weizsäcker, father of the present West German president, was a baffling mystery to me. Had they looked for the widow of Walther Hewel, Ribbentrop's liaison officer to Hitler, they would have learned about his diaries too. And who are these overemotional historians of the Jewish holocaust who have never troubled themselves even to open a readily available file of the SS Chief Heinrich Himmler's own handwritten telephone notes, or to read his memoranda for his secret meetings with Adolf Hitler? Alas, apart from one 1935 diary now in the United States, of which I have donated a copy to the Bundesarchiv, the diaries of Himmler have vanished - partly said to be in Moscow, and partly known to be in Tel Aviv, Israel; Chaim Rosenthal, a former attache at the Israeli Consulate in New York, obtained the Himmler diaries by the most questionable means and donated them to the University of Tel Aviv in 1982, but following extensive litigation against Rosentha l -now non grata in the U.S.A. - the university returned the volumes to him.
Other diaries are also sorely missed. Those of former Gestapo executive Werner Best were last seen in the Royal Danish Archives in Copenhagen in 1945; those of Karl Wolff were last seen at Nuremberg. The diaries of Hans Lammers, Wilhelm Bruckner, Karl Bodenschatz vanished into American or French hands; those of Professor Theo Morell too, to turn up miraculously in my presence in Washington in 1981. Nicolas von Below's are probably in Moscow. Alfred Rosenberg's remaining unpublished diaries are illicitly held by an American lawyer based in Frankfurt. The rest of Milch's diaries, of which I obtained some five thousand pages in 1967, have vanished, as have General Alfred Jodl's diaries covering the years 1940 to 1943; they were looted along with his private property by the British 11th Armored Division at Flensburg in May, 1945. Only a brief fragment of Benito Mussolini's diary survives: the SS copied the originals and returned them to him in January 1945, but both the originals and the copy placed in Ribbentrop's files are missing now. The important diaries of Rudolf Schmundt were, unhappily, burned at his request by his fellow adjutant Admiral Karl-Jesco von Puttkamer in April 1945, along with Puttkamer's own diaries. The diary of Dr. Stephan Tiso, the last Slovak premier (from August 1944), is held in the closed files of the Hoover Institution, Stanford, California; they also hold the diary of SS Obergruppenführer Friedrich-Wilhelm Kruger-another item willfully overlooked by West Germany's historians.
My search for sources that might throw light on Hitler's character was sometimes successful, sometimes not. Weeks of searching with a proton-magnetometer - a kind of supersensitive mine detector - in a forest in East Germany failed to unearth a glass jar containing stenograms of Goebbel's very last diaries, although at times, according to the map in my possession, we must have stood right over it. But in writing this biography I did obtain a significant number of authentic, little-known diaries of the people around Hitler, including an unpublished segment of Jodl's diary; the official diary kept for OKW chief Wilhelm Keitel by his adjutant Wolf Eberhard, and Eberhard's own diary for the years 1936 through 1939; the diary of Nikolaus von Vormann, army liaison officer to Hitler during August and September 1939; and the diaries kept by Martin Bormann and by Hitler's personal adjutant Max Wünsche relating to Hitler's movements. In addition I have used the unpublished diaries of Fedor von Bock, Erhard Milch, Erich von Manstein, Wilhelm Leeb, Erwin Lahousen, and Eduard Wagner - whose widow allowed me to copy some two thousand pages of his private letters. Christa Schroeder, one of Hitler's private secretaries, made available exclusively to me her important contemporary papers. Julius Schaub's family let me copy all his manuscripts about his twenty years as Hitler's senior aide, as did Wilhelm Brückner's son. I am the first biographer to have used the private papers of Staatssekretär Herbert Backe and his minister, Richard Walter Darré, and the diaries, notebooks, and papers of Fritz Todt. The British government kindly made available to me precious fragments of the diary of Admiral Canaris. Scattered across Germany and America, I found the shorthand and typed pages of Erwin Rommel's diaries, and the elusive diaries and notebooks that Reichmarschall Hermann Göring had kept from his childhood on. Among the most revealing documents used in this biography are the manuscripts written by Generaloberst Werner Freiherr von Fritsch in 1938 and 1939; this I obtained from a Soviet source. Jutta Freifrau von Richthofen allowed me access to the voluminous unpublished diaries of her husband, the late field marshal.
In short, every member of Hitler's staff or High Command whom I located seemed to have carefully hoarded diaries or papers which were eventually produced for my exploitation here. They were mostly in German, but the research papers on the fringe of my work came in a Babel of other languages: Italian, Russian, French, Spanish, Hungarian, Romanian, and Czech. Some cryptic references to Hitler and Ribbentrop in the Hewel diaries defied all my puny code-breaking efforts, and then proved to have been written in Indonesian! All of these records I have now donated to the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich, where they are available as the Irving Collection to other writers. Second World War researchers will find microfilms of all the materials that I collected while researching this and other books available from Microform Ltd., East Ardsley, Wakefield, Yorkshire, WF3 2JN (telephone 0924-825 700) and Altair Publishing, 21 Scott Green Drive, Gildersome, Yorkshire LS27 7BZ (telephone 0532-536 615).
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Of the newly available collections of records three are worthy of note-the formerly Top Secret CSDIC - series interrogation reports in Class War Office 208 at the Public Records Office, Kew, London; the "Adolf Hitler Collection," housed in three file boxes at the Seeley G. Mudd Library, Princeton University, New Jersey; and some five hundred pages of Joachim von Ribbentrop's preministerial letters and memoranda to Hitler, 1933-36, found in the ruins of the Reich Chancellery and now in the Louis Lochner papers at the Hoover Institution's archives, Stanford, California.
The "Hitler Collection" was purloined by Private First Class Eric Hamm of the U.S. Army's war crimes branch from Hitler's residence in Munich, and eventually sold by a Chicago auction house. It reflects Hitler's career well -archive photographs of his sketches and paintings, ambassadors' dispatches, reports on the shooting of "professional criminals" while "resisting arrest," a 1925 hotel registration filled out by Hitler (who entered himself as "stateless"), documents on the Spanish civil war, Röhm's preparations for the 1923 beer-hall putsch, an instruction by Martin Bormann that Hitler had agreed to cover bills run up by the peripatetic Princess Hohenlohe but would pay no more, extensive documentation on the Party's relations with the Church; on December 20, 1940, Pierre Laval wrote to Hitler "desiring from the bottom of my heart that my country shall not suffer," and assuring him: "The policy of collaboration with Germany is supported by the vast majority of the French." Hjalmar Schacht several times protested to Hitler about the economic damage caused by anti- Jewish strictures; on August 24, 1935, he wrote that Robert Ley's instruction that Woolworth & Co. was not to buy from Jewish suppliers would result in the company's head office canceling ten million marks of orders from Germany annually "It is not clear to me, and never has been, how I am supposed to bring in foreign currency in the face of such policies." On March 30, 1936, Schacht asked Hitler to receive a certain American silk manufacturer who had been requested by President Roosevelt to "convey personal greetings to the Führer." On June 20, 1938, Count Helldorf, police chief of Berlin, sent to Hitler a report on organized anti-Jewish razzias in Berlin. Later that year the police sent to Hitler a file on the Jewish assassin Herschel Grynszpan, confirming that his parents had been dumped back over the Polish border at Neu Bentschen on October 29 - a few days before he gunned down a German diplomat in Paris - pursuant to the Reich's drive against Polish Jews who had settled in Germany. In February 1939 Hitler endorsed the refusal of his embassy in Washington to pay Danegeld to Kurt Lüdecke, a former Nazi who had invited the Party publishing house or some other Reich agency to buy up all rights in his scurrilous memoirs to prevent their publication. The same file shows Hitler acting to stop the Nazi heavyweight Max Schmeling staging a return fight against the Negro Joe Louis. ("As you know," Julius Schaub wrote to the sports minister on March 2, 1939, "the Führer was against the fight in the first place.)
Most enigmatic of these documents is one evidently originated by the Gestapo after 1940, typed on the special "Führer typewriter," reporting ugly rumors about Hitler's ancestry - "that the Fiihrer was an illegitimate child, adoptive son of Alois, that the Führer's mother's name was Schicklgruber before the adoption and that the Schicklgruber line has produced a string of idiots." Among the latter was a tax official, Josef Veit, deceased in 1904 in Klagenfurt, Austria. One of his sons had committed suicide, a daughter had died in an asylum, a surviving daughter was feebleminded. The Gestapo established that the family of Konrad Pracher of Graz has a dossier of photographs and certificates on all this. Himmler had them seized "to prevent their misuse."
The Ribbentrop files reflect his tortuous relations as "ambassador extraordinary" with Hitler and his rivals. He had established his influence by making good contacts with Englishmen of influence - among them not only industrialists like E.W.D. Tennant and newspaper barons like Lord Rothermere, Lord Astor, and Lord Camrose, but also the Cabinet ministers of the day, including Lord Hailsham, Lord Lloyd, Lord Londonderry, and young Anthony Eden, in whom Ribbentrop rightly saw the rising star of the Conservative Party. The files contain records of Ribbentrop's meetings with Stanley Baldwin and Ramsay Macdonald in 1933 and 1934 - which the latter would probably wish had gone unrecorded, as events turned out. They also reflect the tenuous links established between Sir Oswald Mosley and his lieutenants with the Nazi party leadership in Berlin. Typical of the many handwritten letters from Ribbentrop to Hitler was one dated January 6, 1935, thanking him for the show of confidence betokened by his new appointment to Reichsleiter - "Not only does this clearly define my status in the Party, removing any doubts as to your views on me and my activities, but the appointment also gives me a different position vis-à-vis the foreign ministry both externally and internally." He signed it "your trusty Ribbentrop."
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Nothing created such agony when this biography was first published as my analysis of Hitler's role in the Jewish tragedy. Pure vitriol spilled from the pens of my critics, but I see no reason to revise my central hypothesis, which is based on the records of the day: that Hitler grasped quite early on that anti-Semitism would be a powerful vote-catching force in Germany; that he had no compunction against riding that evil steed right up to the portals of the Chancellery in 1933; but that once inside and in power, he dismounted and paid only lip service to that part of his Party creed. The Nazi gangsters under him continued to ride to hounds, however, even when Hitler dictated differently, e.g., in November 1938. As for the concentration camps he comfortably left that dark side of the Nazi rule to Himmler. He never visited one; those senior officials and foreigners who did obtain privileged access, like Ernst Udet or General Erhard Milch or British Members of Parliament in 1933 and 1934, were favorably impressed (but those were early days). Himmler is known to have visited Auschwitz in 1941 and 1942. Hitler never did.
The scale of Germany's Jewish problem is revealed by an unpublished manuscript by Hitler's predecessor as Chancellor, Dr. Heinrich Bruning. Writing in American exile in 1943 he stated that after the inflation there was only one major German bank not controlled by Jews, some of them "utterly corrupt." In 1931 he had brought the banks under government supervision, and had had to keep the government's findings of dishonesty in the banks secret "for fear of provoking anti-Semitic riots." Bruning blamed foreign correspondents for exaggerating the "occasional ill-treatment of Jews" at the beginning of the Nazi regime: "In the spring of 1933 foreign correspondents reported that the River Spree [in Berlin] was covered with the corpses of murdered Jews. At that time hardly any Jews except for leaders of the Communist party . . . had been attacked . . . If," he pointedly added, "the Jews had been treated so badly from the beginning of the regime, it could not be explained that so very few of them left the country before 1938." In 1948 Bruning would write to the editors of Life forbidding them to publish an August 1937 letter he had written to Winston Churchill revealing that "from October 1928 the two largest regular contributors to the Nazi party were the general managers of two of the largest Berlin banks, both of Jewish faith, and one of them the leader of Zionism in Germany."
I had approached the Nazi maltreatment of the Jews from the traditional viewpoint prevailing in the 1960's. Supposing Hitler was a capable statesman and a gifted commander, the argument ran, how does one explain his Murder of six million Jews." If this biography were simply a history of the rise and fall of Hitler's Reich it would be legitimate to conclude "Hitler killed the Jews." He after all had created the atmosphere of hatred with his speeches in the 1930's; he and Himmler had created the SS; his speeches, though never explicit, left the clear impression that "liquidate" was what he meant. For a full-length war biography of Hitler, I felt that a more analytical approach to the key questions of initiative, complicity, and execution would be necessary. Remarkably, I found that Hitler's own role in the "Final Solution" - whatever that was - has never been examined. German historians, the epitome of painstaking essaying on every other subject, had developed monumental blind spots when Hitler himself cropped up: bald statements were made, and blame was laid, without the shadow of historical evidence in support. British and American historians followed suit. Other writers quoted them. For thirty years our knowledge of Hitler's part in the atrocity had rested on inter-historian incest.
Many people, particularly in Germany and Austria, had an interest in propagating the accepted version that the order of one madman originated the entire tragedy. Precisely when this order was given was, admittedly, left vague. Every document actually linking Hitler with the treatment of the Jews invariably takes the form of an embargo, from the 1923 beer-hall putsch (when he disciplined a Nazi squad for having looted a Jewish delicatessen) right through to 1943 and 1944. If he was an incorrigible anti-Semite, what are we to make of the urgent edict issued "to all Gau directorates for immediate action" by his deputy, Rudolf Hess, during the infamous Night of Broken Glass in November 1938, ordering an immediate stop to such outrage "on orders from the very highest level"? Every other historian has shut his eyes and hoped that this horrid, inconvenient document would somehow go away. But it has been joined by others, like the extraordinary note dictated by Staatssekretär Schlegelberger in the Reich Ministry of Justice in the spring of 1942: "Reich Minister Lammers," this states, referring to Hitler's top civil servant, "informed me that the Führer has repeatedly pronounced that he wants the solution of the Jewish Question put off until after the war is over." Whatever way one looks at this document it is incompatible with the notion that Hitler had ordered an urgent liquidation program. (The document's original is in Justice ministry file R22/52 in the archives at Koblenz.) And Hermann Göring himself is on record as stressing at a Berlin conference on July 6, 1942, how much the Führer and he deprecated the doctrinaire harassment of Jewish scientists for example:
I have discussed this with the Führer himself now; we have been able to use one Jew two years longer in Vienna, and another in photographic research, because they have certain things that we need and that can be of the utmost benefit to us at the present. It would be utter madness for us to say now: "He'll have to go. He was a magnificent researcher, a fantastic brain, but his wife is Jewish, and he can't be allowed to stay at the University," etc.
The Führer has made similar exceptions in the arts all the way down to operetta level; he is all the more likely to make exceptions where really great projects or researchers are concerned.
On several occasions in 1942 and 1943 Hitler made - in private - statements which are incompatible with the notion that he knew that a liquidation program had begun. We shall see how in October 1943, even as Himmler was disclosing to privileged audiences of SS generals and Gauleiters that Europe's Jews has been systematically murdered, Hitler was still forbidding liquidations - e.g., of the Italian Jews in Rome - and ordering their internment instead. (This order his SS also disobeyed.) In July 1944, overriding Himmler's objections, he ordered that Jews be bartered for foreign currency or supplies; there is some evidence that like contemporary terrorists he saw these captives as a potential asset, a means whereby he could blackmail his enemies. Wholly in keeping with his character, when Hitler was confronted with the facts he took no action to rebuke the guilty; he would not dismiss Himmler as Reichsführer SS until the last day of his life. It is plausible to impute to him that not uncommon characteristic of heads of state who are overreliant on powerful advisers: a conscious desire "not to know." But the proof of this is beyond the powers of a historian.
For the want of hard evidence - in 1977 I offered, around the world, a thousand pounds to any person who could produce even one wartime document showing explicitly that Hitler knew, for example, of Auschwitz - my critics resorted to arguments ranging from the subtle to the sledgehammer (in one instance, literally). They postulated the existence of Führer orders without the slightest written evidence of their existence. John Toland, Pulitzer prize-winning author of a Hitler biography published in the United States, appealed emotionally in Der Spiegel for historians to refute my hypothesis, and they tried by fair means and foul. Perplexed by Himmler's handwritten note about a call to Heydrich after visiting Hitler's bunker on November 30, 1941-"Arrest [of] Dr. Jakelius. Alleged son Molotov. Consignment [transfer] of Jews from Berlin. No liquidation." - these wizards of modern history scoffed that probably Molotov's son was believed to be aboard a trainload of Jews from Berlin concealed as "Dr. Jakelius" and was on no account to be liquidated. In fact Molotov had no son; Dr. Jakelius was a Viennese neurologist involved in the Euthanasia program; and the consignment of Jews from Berlin had that morning arrived at Riga and had already been liquidated by the local SS commander by the time that Himmler scribbled down Hitler's injunction.
So far the German historians have been unable to help Mr. Toland, apart from suggesting that "of course" the whole project was so secret that only oral orders were issued. But why should Hitler have become so squeamish in this instance, while in contrast he had shown no compunction about signing a blanket order for the liquidation of tens of thousands of fellow Germans (the Euthanasia program); his insistence on the execution of hostages on a one-hundred-to-one basis, his orders for the liquidation of enemy prisoners (the Commando Order), of Allied airmen (the Lynch Order), and Russian functionaries (the Commissar Order) are documented all the way from the Führer's headquarters right down the line to the executioners.
Most of my critics relied on weak and unprofessional evidence. For example, they offered alternative and often specious translations of words in Hitler's speeches (apparently the Final Solution was too secret for him to sign an order, but simultaneously not so secret that he could not brag about it in public speeches!); and quotations from isolated documents that have however long been discarded by serious historians as worthless or fakes, like the Gerstein Report or the "Bunker conversations" mentioned earlier. Of explicit, written, wartime evidence, the kind of evidence that could hang a man, they have produced not one line. Thus, in his otherwise fastidious analysis of Hitler and the Final Solution (London, 1983) Professor Gerald Fleming relied on war crimes trial testimonies, which are anything but safe; reviewing that book, Professor Gordon Craig concluded that even Fleming had failed to refute my hypothesis. Professor Martin Broszat, director of the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich, crudely assailed my biography in a 37-page review in the institute's journal, then refused space for a reply. Unfamiliar with my sources, and unaware that I had in several cases used original files which he and other historians had read ordy in English translation, he accused me of distorting and even inventing quotations. Amidst such libels and calumnies Broszat was, however, forced to concede: "David Irving has perceived one thing correctly when he writes that in his view the killing of the Jews was partly a Verlegenheitslösung, 'the way out of an awkward dilemma.'"
Broszat's corollary, that there was no central Hitler Order for what happened, caused an uproar among the world's historians, a Historikerstreit which is not politically limited to Left versus Right. My own conclusion went one logical stage further: that in wartime, dictatorships are fundamentally weak - the dictator himself, however alert, is unable to oversee all the functions of his executives acting within the confines of his far-flung empire; and in this particular case, I concluded, the burden of guilt for the bloody and mindless massacres of the Jews rests on a large number of Germans (and non- Germans), many of them alive today, and not just on one "mad dictator," whose order had to be obeyed without question.
* * * * *
I also found it necessary to set very different historical accents on the doctrinaire foreign policies which Hitler enforced - from his apparent unwillingness to humiliate Britain when she lay prostrate in 1940, to his damaging and emotional hatred of the Serbs, his illogical and over-loyal admiration of Benito Mussolini, and his irrational mixtures of emotions toward Josef Stalin.
For a modern English historian there was a certain morbid fascination for me in inquiring how far Adolf Hitler really was bent on the destruction of Britain and her Empire - a major raison d'être for our ruinous fight, which in 1940 imperceptibly replaced the more implausible reason proffered in August 1939, the rescue of Poland from outside oppression. Since in the chapters that follow evidence extracted again and again from the most intimate sources - like Hitler's private conversations with his women secretaries in June 1940 - indicated that he originally had neither the intention nor the desire to harm Britain or destroy the Empire, surely British readers at least must ask themselves: what, then, were we really fighting for? Given that the British people bankrupted themselves (by December 1940) and lost their Empire in defeating Hitler, was the Führer right after all when he noted that Britain's attitude was essentially one of "Aprés moi le déluge - if only we can get rid of the hated National Socialist Germany"?
Unburdened by ideological idealism, the Duke of Windsor suspected in July 1940 that the war was continuing solely in order to allow certain British statesmen (he meant Mr. Churchill and his friends) to save face, even if it meant dragging their country and Empire into financial ruin. Others pragmatically argued that there could be no compromise with Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. But did Britain's leaders in fact believe this? Dr. Bernd Martin of Freiburg University has revealed the extent to which secret negotiations on peace continued between Britain and Germany in October 1939 and long after-negotiations on which, curiously, Mr. Churchill's files have officially been sealed until the twenty-first century, and the Cabinet records blanked out. Similar negotiations were carried on in June 1940, when even Mr. Churchill showed himself momentarily willing in Cabinet meetings to deal with Hitler if the price was right.
Of course, in assessing the real value of such negotiations and of Hitler's publicly stated intentions it is salutary to know that on June 2, 1941, he admitted to Walther Hewel: "For myself personally I would never tell a lie; but there is no falsehood I would not perpetrate for Germany's sake!" Nevertheless one wonders how much suffering might have been spared if both sides had pursued the negotiations - might all that happened after 1940, the saturation bombing, the population movements, the epidemics, even the Holocaust itself, have been avoided? Great are the questions, yet modern historiography has chosen to ignore the possibility, calling it heresy.
The facts revealed here concerning Hitler's recorded actions, motivations, and opinions should provide a basis for fresh debate. Americans will find much that is new about the months leading up to Pearl Harbor. The French will find additional evidence that Hitler's treatment of their defeated nation was more influenced by memories of France's treatment of Germany after World War I than by his respect for Mussolini's desires. Russians can try to visualize the prospect that could conceivably have unfolded if Stalin had accepted Hitler's offer in November 1940 of inclusion in the Axis Pact; or if, having achieved his "second Brest-Litovsk" peace treaty (as momentarily proposed on June 28, 1941) Stalin would have accepted Hitler's condition that he rebuild Soviet military power only beyond the Urals; or if Hitler had taken seriously Stalin's alleged peace offer of September 1944. What is the result of these twenty years' toiling in the archives? Hitler will remain an enigma, however hard we burrow. Even his intimates realized that they hardly knew him. I have already quoted Ribbentrop's puzzlement; but General Alfred Jodl, his closest strategic adviser, also wrote in his Nuremberg cell on March 10, 1946:
. . . But then I ask myself, did you ever really know this man at whose side you fed such a thorny and ascetic existence? Did he perhaps just trifle with your idealism too, abusing it for dark purposes which he kept hidden deep within himself? Dare you claim to know a man, if he has not opened up the deepest recesses of his heart to you - in sorrow as well as in ecstasy? To this very day I do not know what he thought or knew or really wanted. I only knew my own thoughts and suspicions. And if, now that the shrouds fall away from a sculpture we fondly hoped would be a work of art, only to reveal nothing but a degenerate gargoyle-then let future historians argue among themselves whether it was like that from the start, or changed with circumstances.
I keep making the same mistake: I blame his humble origins. But then I remember how many peasants' sons have been blessed by History with the name, The Great.
"Hitler the Great"? No, contemporary History is unlikely to swallow such an epithet. From the first day that he "seized power," January 30, 1933, Hitler knew that only sudden death awaited him if he failed to restore pride and empire to post-Versailles Germany. His close friend and adjutant Julius Schaub recorded Hitler's jubilant boast to his staff on that evening, as the last celebrating guests left the Berlin Chancellery building: "No power on earth will get me out of this building alive!"
History saw this prophecy fulfilled, as the handful of remaining Nazi faithfuls trooped uneasily into his underground study on April 30, 1945, surveyed his still-warm remains - slouched on a couch, with blood trickling from the sagging lower jaw, and a gunshot wound in the right temple - and sniffed the bitter-almonds smell hanging in the air. Wrapped in a gray army blanket, he was carried up to the shell-blasted Chancellery garden. Gasoline was slopped over him in a reeking crater and ignited while his staff hurriedly saluted and backed down into the shelter. Thus ended the six years of Hitler's War. We shall now see how they began.
- David Irving
London, January 1976
and January 1989
(This revised introduction to the new American edition of Hitler’s War has been published with the author’s permission. The new edition of Hitler’s War is available for purchase from the Institute of Historical Review.]
Source: Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 389-416.
Published with permission of and courtesy to the Institute for Historical Review (IHR).
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