Irving v. Lipstadt

Defense Documents

David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial: Electronic Edition, by Richard J. Evans

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(E) The 'Table Talk'

1. Martin Bormann commissioned his adjutants Heinrich Heim and Henry Picker to make surreptitious notes of Hitler's table talk. These notes took on a semi-official role. Bormann would work through the notes; correct, reformulate and comment on them. Although marked 'secret' the contents of the table talks were passed on to ministers, Gauleiters and Reichsstatthalter as Hitler's official line.108 For instance Alfred Rosenberg received a letter from Bormann on 23 July 1943, repeating all that Hitler had said about the eastern questions a few days previously.109 The 'Table Talk' became embroiled in much legal wrangling at the time of publication, mainly because Picker published parts of Heim's notes without the latter's permission, and because the Swiss Nazi François Genoud claimed to be the rightful owner of the document.110 Of importance is that Picker seems to have toned down some of Hitler's language and Heim made a habit of omitting all military matters for security reasons. Both are facts that might have had a filtering influence on what was recorded of Hitler's talk on the fate of the Jews.
2. Irving has submitted his notes on a conversation between Heinrich Heim and an interviewer from the Munich Institute for Contemporary History as part of his case:
"Heim believes" - according to a talk of 17 July 1952 - "that Hitler knew nothing of the happenings in Auschwitz etc. and also would not have sanctioned it." ... "The whole measure against the Jews is far too doctrinaire, as to have come from Hitler's mind. In addition Hitler knew about the appalling labour   shortages [...]" ... "The whole action fitted Himmler much better. Kaltenbrunner once gave a presentation on the Jewish action, whereupon Hitler had immediately ordered Himmler to stop the measures." 111
3. Against this we can weigh what Schroeder told Gitta Sereny. Sereny mentioned to Schroeder that Heim had told her that he did not think that Hitler knew about the extermination of the Jews. Schroeder is reported as having replied '" Oh Heimchen - he's too good for this life. Of course Hitler knew! Not only knew, it was all his ideas, his orders."'112
4. Henry Picker was rather more circumspect:
Over state secrets, Hitler was totally uncommunicative. He told us nothing in his table talk about the extermination of the Jews in the concentration camps; as late as July 24, 1942, he spoke of setting up a Jewish national state on Madagascar. His conversations nevertheless revealed his deep-rooted and fanatical hatred for all other races.113
5. He added: 'The mass murder was completely hidden, even from the majority of the FHQ staff. [...] I ask myself then [because of Himmler's obsessive secrecy] did Himmler want to spare Hitler a confrontation with the brutal realities of the concentration camps? Or did he want to preserve his [Hitler's] anonymity [...] as a "desk bound murderer"?' 114
6. Hitler's antisemitism is a constant refrain monologues, and his statements have been quoted at various points in this submission.115 There is a central ambiguity in Hitler's private   conversations, the same one in fact as in official propaganda. On the one hand the genocide was evoked and rhetorically justified in general terms: but on the other hand the political reality of the genocide, the physical process of carrying it out, was denied and treated as a state secret. 116In propaganda terms this dichotomy explains the pains that the Nazis took to avoid public discussion about what was happening to the Jews. The Nazis had learned a valuable lesson from the uproar against the euthanasia killings in summer 1941: that they could not take public support for granted. But, although the 'Final Solution' was a secret, at least partial public knowledge of what was going on was required to fulfil the basic terror function it was intended to exercise. It was, in other words, a kind of 'open secret'.
7. Hitler's coded language and euphemisms mitigated moral responsibility and guaranteed a harmony amongst his guests which certainly would have been strained, if not broken, by an open admission of the fate of the Jews. It also guaranteed that the Hitler myth remain unsullied. As a prophet Hitler could demonstrate his charisma and his ability to bend history to his will, he could also guarantee in this way a measure of personal unaccountability. Hitler saw himself as the agent of deterministic forces, convinced that he knew the 'eternal laws of nature' and that his duty was merely to validate them.117 These private and public 'prophecies' employed a technique of implicit presuppositions, so that it was the listener who became responsible for what he or she understood from the statement. Vagueness was cultivated because it enhanced uncertainty. A lack of detail avoided uncomfortable discussion. It therefore remains ultimately a subjective question as to what Hitler's individual staff took from these monologues. But, with   the benefit of hindsight and the ability to peruse the documentation, few could pretend that despite Hitler's attempts to mask his murderous plans the meaning of such statements was anything short of transparent.


108. Picker, p. 29, Monologue, p. 16.
109. Monologue, p. 19.
110. Karl Laske, Ein Leben zwischen Hitler und Carlos: Francois Genoud (Zurich, 1996), pp. 112-121.
111. Document 122. Document 210 repeats the same view.
112. Gitta Sereny, Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth (New York, 1995) p. 248.
113. Picker and Hoffmann, p. 8.
114. Picker, pp. 17-18.
115. Picker, pp. 70, 78-9, 305-6, 340, and 456; Monologe, pp. 99, 106-8, 148, 228-9, 293, and 377.
116. See David Bankier, 'The use of Antisemitism in Nazi Wartime Propaganda' in Michael Berenbaum and Abraham J. Peck (eds.), The Holocaust in History. The Known, the Unknown, the Disputed, and the Reexamined (Bloomington/Indianapolis, 1998), pp. 41-55, and Volker Ullrich, '"Wir haben nichts davon gewußt" - Ein deutsches Trauma.' in 1999. Zeitschrift für Sozialgeschichte des 20. und 21. Jahrhunderts, vol. 4 (October 1991), pp. 11-46.
117. Monologue, p. 23.
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