Die Tagebücher von Joseph Goebbels: Sämtliche Fragmente (The Goebbels Diaries: All Entries)
Munich: K.G. Saur, Vol. 4, 741 pp., DM348
The diaries of Joseph Goebbels are an extraordinary find, for many reasons, including their size and their history. Goebbels was a truly compulsive writer as well as speaker—an unusual combination. He began to write a regular diary in July 1924 (there are indications of an irregular diary even earlier) at the age of twenty-six. The last entry is probably that of April 9, 1945, three weeks before his suicide along with his wife and children, and the complete collapse of the Third Reich. The total of the retrieved hand-and typewritten material may amount to more than 60,000 pages. When completed, their publication will comprise ten large volumes, of which the first four have now been published by the Institut für Zeitgeschichte in cooperation with the West German Federal Archives. These four volumes of Goebbels’s diaries from July 1924 to July 1941 are a unit by themselves. Goebbels wrote them by hand, often every day, even when he was at his frenzied work as the minister of propaganda and culture in the Third Reich.
He turned to dictating them to a first-rate stenographer in July 1941. A few months earlier he had the written diaries transported to an underground safe and commissioned the same man to begin transcribing them on a typewriter. Thus there are portions of these diaries of which two or even more transcripts exist. This is one guarantee of their authenticity, about which there should be no question. The extensive introductions of Elke Fröhlich, their compiler and editor, describe the extreme care and precision of their analysis and transcription. (Goebbels’s handwriting became increasingly difficult; besides, many of the retrieved pages were damaged by moisture.) In reading these nearly three thousand large printed pages I found only a few, very minor, errors in the annotations.
The story of the recovery and the detection of these manuscripts is long and complicated. Elke Fröhlich has given an account within her 103-page introduction in Vol. 1 (and in an article in the October 1987 number of the Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte). Some of the material was found by a German woman who had been ordered by the Russians to clean up the Führerbunker soon after the fall of Berlin; another portion was found within a mass of paper sold by a junk dealer a year later; much of the material, in large aluminum boxes, was carted away by the Russians; more boxes were found by the East Germans in the late 1960s. The Russians eventually turned over microfilm rolls to the East German authorities, who, after some of the material was leaked to a West German publisher, agreed to their publication. One odd detail is Goebbels’s request to a German phototechnician in November 1944 to begin the photographic reduction of these thousands of pages (“I may lose everything, but these personal papers of mine must be preserved for posterity”): the technician was the man who either invented or at least was a pioneer of what much later became …