In response to:
Hitler's Last Minute from the September 26, 1968 issue
To the Editors:
The exact sequence of Hitler’s suicide is indeed a trivial matter; what disturbs me, however, is the manner in which books are reviewed and in which history is recorded. I am astonished that a historian of Mr. Trevor-Roper’s standing [NYR, September 26] can be so careless or dishonest in order to prove so unimportant a point. Twice he emphasizes the fact that the post-mortem examination “permitted”—not compelled—death by poison; he quotes only that glass fragments have been found in the mouth of the corpse. The full quote from Bezymenski (also exhibits 1-11,13) states that all corpses near the bunker had ampoules in the mouth, that there was a distinct smell of bitter almonds, that forensic-medical-chemical tests showed cyanide in the organs. All this “gestatten der Kommission den Schluss zu ziehen…” which means leads to the conclusion… (and not permitted versus compelled). It seems to me that people can be shot after being poisoned, but hardly swallow poison after being shot.
The most interesting disclosure is Hitler’s monorchism—I wouldn’t have thought he had one.
Dr. Henry Schmitz
Syracuse, New York
H.R Trevor-Roper replies:
Dr. Schmitz should read before he writes, and be more scrupulous in his use of words when he does write. It is not I but he who is being “careless or dishonest.” The published autopsy report on Hitler’s body states that there were splinters of a glass ampoule in his mouth. It makes no explicit reference to poison in the factual part of the report. Only in the “Conclusion” do the signatories refer to the smell of bitter almonds and chemical tests on internal organs in “other bodies.” In other words, their argument appears to be that although, in Hitler’s case, there were no traces of poison (perhaps they had been eliminated by the burning), nevertheless, by analogy with the other corpses, they could reasonably conclude that the glass ampoule had contained poison. Since I fully conceded that this was so, I cannot see what Dr. Schmitz is fussing about.
Dr. Schmitz further complains that I use the word “permitted” while he would prefer to render the German phrase differently. I was quoting the text in front of me, and I quoted it accurately. Since the original text is anyway in Russian, not German, I regard Mr. Schmitz’s cavils as footling.
Finally, Dr. Schmitz offers his own views about Hitler’s alleged “monorchism”—i.e., the statement, in the autopsy report, that he had only one testicle. I ignored this detail, since it would have involved me in unnecessary argument. However, since it has been raised, I will state that I regard it as questionable. Bezymenski, having quoted the report, finds corroborative evidence of Hitler’s “monorchism” in the “fact” that he “always categorically refused to have a medical check-up.” Since I have in my possession copious medical reports by Hitler’s doctors, showing that he was very thoroughly examined, I find it permissible to doubt the “fact”; and since these reports state explicitly that Hitler’s sexual organs showed “no trace of abnormality,” I find it equally permissible to doubt the detail which so interests the juvenile mind of Dr. Schmitz.
November 21, 1968