by David Irving
Viking, 926 pp., $17.50
by John Toland
Doubleday, 1,035 pp., $14.95
Hitler Among the Germans
by Rudolph Binion
Elsevier, 207 pp., $12.00
The Psychopathic God, Adolf Hitler
by Robert G.L. Waite
Basic Books, 482 pp., $13.50
“It seems likely,” Robert Waite begins his book, “that more will be written about Adolf Hitler than about anyone else in history with the exception of Jesus Christ.” This is a depressing prospect indeed. Why Hitler should continue to arouse such interest is a subject worthy of a major essay, for which The New York Review might well offer a prize. At the bottom of his first page Professor Waite prints this quotation:
The more I learn about Adolf Hitler, the harder I find it to explain and accept what followed. Somehow the causes are inadequate to account for the size of the effects. It is offensive to our reason and to our experience to be asked to believe that the [youthful Hitler] was the stuff of which the Caesars and Bonapartes were made. Yet the record is there to prove us wrong. It is here, in the gap between the explanation and the event, that the fascination of Hitler’s career remains.
Although this comes from an introduction I wrote twenty years ago, I should not want to alter it today; but the passage of thirty years since Hitler’s death has naturally extended the spectrum of comment in a way which is well illustrated by three of the four books I have been reading.
At one end of the spectrum is David Irving, an Englishman, whose book was first published in Germany in 1975 (Hitler und seine Feldherren). Further printing, however, was stopped after two days as a result of a dispute between author and publishers, apparently over his view of Hitler’s responsibility for the “Final Solution.” The book begins rather abruptly at the outbreak of war in 1939, with no discussion of the events leading up to this, and then takes 800 pages to cover in detail the five and a half years separating this from Hitler’s defeat and suicide.
Mr. Irving’s strength is in the persistence with which he pursues new evidence. This is a virtue recognizable by any historian and since I am critical of the use Mr. Irving makes of the evidence I want to be fair and acknowledge the energy and resource he has shown as a researcher.
There is no danger that anyone will overlook these. Mr. Irving rarely misses an opportunity to reiterate his claim that this is “not another biography of Hitler drawing on the same tired, mutually-supporting material” that other historians have used, but one entirely based on firsthand research “eschewing published sources.”
It is a pity, in view of this claim, that he has not devoted more space to discussing the material he has used. At first sight the eighty pages of notes would appear to offer everything one wants, but it is often difficult without considerable research to distinguish between the claim to have unearthed new material which has never been seen before and the claim to have gone back to original sources already known and not relied on copying out quotations from other …