Hitler Without His Diaries

Hitler in Vienna, 1907-1913

by J. Sydney Jones
Stein and Day, 350 pp., $19.95

The Nazi Machtergreifung

edited by Peter D. Stachura
Allen and Unwin, 191 pp., $19.50

The Secret Diaries of Hitler’s Doctor

by David Irving
Macmillan, 310 pp., $16.95

Hitler und die Endlösung: “Es ist des Führers Wunsch” of California Press next spring.

by Gerald Fleming
Limes Verlag (Munich), 219 pp., DM28

In 1976, the late Jean Améry, who had fought in the Resistance against Hitler and suffered imprisonment in a concentration camp, wrote gloomily that time was on the side of his former enemies and that sooner or later a false historical objectivity would discover that the Pétains and Lavals of the 1930s had been excellent fellows after all, and that even Adolf Hitler should not be denied his place in the Pantheon.

Améry’s prediction has not yet been fulfilled, although the bull market in Hitler stock in recent times would have seemed to him a sign that it soon would be. The first “Hitler boom,” which was of relatively short duration, was just about five years ago, apparently touched off by Joachim Fest’s film Hitler, a Career, when posters showing the Führer’s face were displayed on street corners all over Germany, breaking a long unofficial taboo. A rash of articles in weekly magazines about the personal aspects of Hitler’s life broke out, some of them so glamorized that the historian Guido Knopp complained that Hitler was being sold to the German people “partly as the good uncle of Obersalzburg who petted Bavarian children and fed German sheep dogs, and partly as a gifted entertainer of history, unfortunately pursued by bad luck, a mixture of Savonarola, Cromwell and El Cid.”

Worried lest a continuation of this might have deleterious effects upon his countrymen’s attitude toward their own history, Knopp organized a conference of academic and private historians on the theme “Hitler Today: A German Trauma.” This meeting at Aschaffenburg aroused national attention. Its proceedings were subject to some distraction—including Werner Maser’s defense of the theory that Hitler had a son living in France, and a strident appearance by the British historian David Irving, who offered, not for the first time, to give a thousand dollars to anyone who could give him documentary proof that Hitler knew about, let alone ordered, the extermination of the Jews. But it produced thoughtful statements by Eberhard Jaeckel, J.P. Stern, and others concerning the responsibility of historians for protecting the public from the kinds of trivialization and commercialization that would obscure the real meaning of Hitlerism.

We are now in the middle of a similar boom, and one that, unlike the one in 1977 and 1978, has assumed a transatlantic scope. This was provoked by the revelation of the so-called Hitler diaries in April, and its result, according to The Wall Street Journal, has been that, “whether because of historical interest or morbid fascination, books about Hitler, paintings done by him, documents signed by him and memorabilia concerning him are stirring up popular and commercial interest as seldom before.” As in the earlier case, scholars and theologians and cultural critics have found all this alarming, and some of them have warned that it represents a kind of creeping rehabilitation.

It is possible that such concern is exaggerated. There is, after all, perfectly good reason for our fascination with …

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