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

Table of Contents
(E) The 'Table Talk' >>

(A) Irving's misrepresentation of Hitler's staff as 'ordinary people'

1. For the sake of simplicity we can distinguish between three main groups in Hitler's intimate circle:
  • Hitler's own personal staff of valets, servants, secretaries, body guards, and chauffeurs.
  • His social circle, including many well-known Nazi socialites and dignitaries.38
  • Hitler's adjutants and representatives from the various military, ministry, and party organisations.

2. The distinctions between the three groups were in reality often blurred. As the war ground on Hitler increasingly limited his social circle to his immediate surroundings. Adjutants not only attended official conferences and discussions, but joined Hitler's evening table alongside visiting officials like Reich Marshal Hermann Göring or Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. The extent to which members of one of the three groups were privy to larger or smaller aspects of Hitler's world varied from individual to individual, according to the position and confidence they enjoyed with Hitler.
3. Distinct from these three groups were those who dealt with the logistics of running of the Führerhauptquartier: technicians, stenographers, wireless and telephone operators, and the like.   They enjoyed a lower security clearance and formed no part of the 'inner circle', save when exercising their official duties.
4. As early as 1978 Anthony Seldon brought Irving's attention to a very simple but crucial point regarding this group: 'What your so-called "witnesses" recount 30 years after Hitler's death is namely neither original nor spontaneous. These people have had time, at least 30 years long, to justify themselves. Besides they were often in a position where they had to justify themselves.'39 In notes provided by Irving on the craft of oral history he warned only of the danger that witnesses might exaggerate or boast of their own role, or that of their own organisation. He left unmentioned the constant danger with Nazi witnesses that they might have good grounds to do exactly the opposite, namely to deprecate their own role or deny any knowledge or complicity. 40 Yet it is incumbent on the historian to consider the ulterior motives which a particular witness might have for relating that which he or she has done in the past. A number of aspects of the collective biography are apposite here, aspects which Irving wilfully ignores.
5. Irving is at pains to represent the group as being composed in some sense of ordinary people. To the journalist Ron Rosenbaum he said
what struck me early on [...] is that you're dealing with people who are educated people. [Hitler] had attracted a garniture of high-level educated people around him. The secretaries were top-flight secretaries. The adjutants were people who had gone through university or through Staff College and had risen through their own abilities to the upper levels of the military service. So they were educated people with insight. [...] This is the point. These people without exception, spoke well of him. Coming as I did   with an as-yet-unpainted canvas, this was really the seminal point, the seminal experience - to find twenty-five people of education, all of whom privately spoke well of him.41

6. Yet all of these people worked for years amongst the top echelons of the Nazi State. A shared quality amongst Hitler's staff was a fervent loyalty, reverence and personal devotion towards the person of the Führer, bordering on the sycophantic and fawning. Many of Hitler's servants and adjutants were 'old fighters' from the 'Time of Struggle' [Kampfzeit] from 1919 - 1933. Irving himself described Otto Günsche as 'Hitler's most faithful bulldog.'42 Max Amann was an old First World War comrade of Hitler's.43 Wilhelm Brückner and Fritz Wiedemann were both provided for in Hitler's will of 2 May 1938.44 Many of them likewise enjoyed high ranks within the SS.
7. Far from being ordinary people, the term 'old Nazi' is apt for many of the survivors of Hitler's circle. Astrid Lang defined 'old Nazis' thus:
People who were functionaries under National Socialism, or to be more precise in the NSDAP and its subsidiary organisations (e.g. the Hitler Youth) as well as former members of the so-called elite units (SA, SS). Most of this circle gloss over the National Socialist era and deny participation in the crimes, if not the crimes of the regime themselves as a whole.45

Three of Hitler's adjutants will suffice to illustrate this point.
8. First, Irving has submitted Julius Schaub's statement at Nuremberg.
Hitler never spoke of the so-called Final Solution of the Jewish Question or about the destruction of the Jews in my presence. Such subjects were never talked of in Hitler's surroundings; neither in the Führerhauptquartier nor elsewhere. Conversations about the KZs [concentration camps] never occurred. I myself learnt nothing of the so-called Jewish Question or a destruction of the Jews until the capitulation.46
9. Julius Schaub was imprisoned with Hitler in Landsberg after the attempted Putsch of 9 November 1923 and was Hitler's personal servant from 1925 onwards. By all accounts he was one of Hitler's most loyal and trusted confidants. Christa Schroeder described Schaub as 'a mystery-monger par excellence amongst the adjutants. Naturally he was informed about what was happening and he quite obviously enjoyed such situations.'47 Already in his last will and testament of 2 May 1938 Hitler had provided for Schaub in the event of his death with an intended lump sum of 100,000 Marks and a monthly pension of 500 Mark.48 His loyalty to Hitler was such that Hitler entrusted Schaub to burn his documents in the Berghof after he realised that the war was lost. Questioned at Nuremberg in March 1947 Schaub confirmed that he was still loyal to Hitler.49 He was also directly involved in killing operations himself.50 He   thus had every reason to minimise Hitler's knowledge of the Holocaust, as well, of course, as his own.
10. Secondly, Franz von Sonnleithner was a Foreign Office adjutant to Hitler and party to the deportation of the Jews of Denmark and Rome to extermination camps in the east.51 In his post-war memoirs he made little effort to disguise his antisemitism, his resentment at any tarnishing of the German past, and his belief that Nazi crimes were equalled by those of the Allies. 'Today the ability of the Germans to judge has been so distorted that everyone who was loyal to Hitler is considered stupid if not criminal.'52 His memoirs have a thoroughly tendentious tone.53 Choosing his words with some care von Sonnleithner implied that the Nuremberg Trial was a Jewish revenge tribunal. He noticed the number of allegedly Jewish names on office doors at Nuremberg and commented:
I thought to myself at the time that I would have considered the Jewish people cleverer than to take such a prominent role in the prosecutor's office as, so to speak, a chorus of revenge. I felt sorry that there were people who would never learn how to conduct themselves so as to get rid of pent-up aggression. The   German people were so affected at the time that they would have jumped at the chance to let bygones be bygones.54
12. Elsewhere he wrote:
In Ossweil we were led into a gym to be shown a film about the horrors of the German concentration camps. [...] As humans we naturally felt sorry for our fellow human beings who had suffered any horrible fate, but we equally knew precisely that not only we had conducted the war harshly but that the other side had done a few things which amongst us would certainly have been labelled as war crimes. Besides only a very few of us were responsible for the resulting action.55
13. Here too, therefore, we are dealing with an unrepentant, active Nazi who continued after the war to justify the crimes of Nazism and deny all responsibility for them.
14. Thirdly, Heinrich Heim was not only one of earliest of Hitler's followers (old party membership number 1782), but a man his editor described as 'a convinced national socialist'.56
15. In notes on Heim made by the Munich Institute for Contemporary History, following the above conversation, the author recorded that '...Heim lives in a dream world and still reveres Hitler   in a completely unrealistic way.'57 Francois Genoud, the copyright holder of many major Nazi documents and himself no stranger to Nazi apologetics, described Heim to Irving in 1971 as 'an old Nazi' [einen alten Nazi].58 Heim apparently wanted to use some of the proceeds from the sales of his book to form a museum in Hitler's memory in Linz, and continued to be unashamedly antisemitic in his political writings.59 Again, therefore, his loyalty to Hitler after the war was an important factor in predisposing him to exculpate his leader.


38. Hitler's regulars at the Berghof included his doctor Theodore Morell, his court photographer Heinrich Hoffmann, his press speaker Otto Dietrich, the Munich Gauleiter Otto Wagner and the Vienna Gauleiter Baldur von Schirach and his wife Henriette von Schirach. The wives of the top elite were also regular fixtures such as Anni Brandt, Maria von Below, Margret Speer, Gerda Bormann, and of course Eva Braun,
39. Hitler heute, p. 90.
40. Document 882, Anthony Seldon to Irving, 7 February 1983, (labelled as Irving to Anthony Seldon).
41. Ron Rosenbaum, Explaining Hitler. The Search for the Origins of his Evil (London, 1998), p. 228.
42. Ibid., p. 229.
43. Robert M. W. Kempner, SS im Kreuzverhör. Die Elite die Europa in Scherben Schlug (Nördlingen, 1987), p. 341.
44. Gerd Sudholt (ed.), Adolf Hitler's drei Testamente. Ein Zeitdokument (Leoni am Sternberger See, n.d.), pp. 29 and 31.
45. Astrid Lange, Was die Rechten lesen. Fünfzig rechtsextreme Zeitschriften. Ziele, Inhalt, Tatik (Munich, 1993), p. 21.
46. Document 1856, Staatsarchiv Nürnberg, KV Prozesse, Fall 11, Akte G15, Dietrich Dokument Nr. 279, Affidavit Julius Schaub, 8.6.1948.
47. 'Ein Geheimniskrämer par excellencce in der Adjutantur war Julius Schaub. Er war natürlich informiert über das, was gerade anstand, und genoß solche Situationen ganz offensichtlich.' (Crista Schroeder, Er war mein Chef. Aus der Nachlaß der Sekretärin von Adolf Hitler ed. by Anton Joachimsthalter (Munich/Vienna, 1985), p. 48). Henceforth Er war mein Chef.
48. Adolf Hitlers drei Testamente, p. 29.
49. Kempner, p. 343.
50. A.L. Rüter-Ehlermann and C.F. Rüter (eds.), Justiz und NS-Verbrechen. Sammlung deutscher Strafurteile wegen nationalsozialistischer Tötungsverbrechen 1945-1966 (Amsterdam, 1970), Vol. 2, pp. 149-55.
51. NG-5027, telegram no. 1645, 9.10.1943; Ulrich Herbert, Werner Best. Biographische Studien über Radikalismus, Weltanschaung und Vernunft 1903-1989 (Bonn, 1996).
52. 'Heute ist das Urteilsvermögen der Deutschen derart verdreht worden, daß jeder für dumm, wenn nicht für verbrecherisch gehalten wird, der Hitler die Treue hielt.' (Franz von Sonnleithner, Als Diplomat im "Füuhrerhauptquartier" forward by Reinhard Spitzy (Munich/Vienna, 1989)., p. 230). Henceforth von Sonnleithner.
53. Von Sonnleithner, pp. 246-7.
54. 'Ich dachte mir damals, daß ich das jüdischen Volk für klüger gehalten hätte, als sich so stark in der Anklagebehörde gleichsam als ein Chor der Rache zu beteiligen. Ich bedauerte, daß es Leute gibt, die nie lernen werden, wie man sich benehmen muß, um aufgestaute Agressionen abzubauen. Das deutsche Volk war damals so getroffen, daß es gerne die Gelegenheit ergriffen hätte, verflossene Zeiten vergessen zu machen.' (von Sonnleithner, p. 266).
55. 'In Ossweil wurden wir auch in die Turnhalle geführt, um uns einen Film über die deutschen Konzentrationslager-Greuel zu zeigen. [...] Als Menschen taten jedem natürlich alle Mitmenschen leid, die irgend ein schreckliches Schicksal erlitten hatten, aber wir wußten so genau, daß nicht nur wir den Krieg hart geführt hatten, sondern auch die auf der Gegenseite einiges getan hatten, was bei uns sicher als Kriegsverbrechen bezeichnet worden wäre. Außerdem waren die wenigstens von uns für das jetzt so bestandete Tun verantwortlich.' (von Sonnleithner, p. 241).
56. Werner Jochmann (ed.) Adolf Hitler. Monologe im Führerhauptquartier 1941-1944. Die Aufzeichnungen Heinrich Heims (Hamburg, 1980), pp. 12 and 15. Henceforth Monologe.
57. '...Heim lebe in eine Trauwelt und verehre heute noch Hitler in einer gar unrealistischen Weise.' (IfZ ZS-243/I, protocol of a conversation between Heinrich Heim and Dr. Mau, 17 July 1952, p. 9.)
58. Document 290, note on an interview of M. Francois Genoud, Lausanne, 21 June 1971.
59. See the accout in Schroeder, Er war mein Chef and Joachim von Lang, Der Sekretär.
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(E) The 'Table Talk' >>

accessed 12 March 2013