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

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(D) Conversation in Hitler's inner circle.

1. Before weighing up the sources at hand it is worthwhile to consider the moot point of with whom and to what extent Hitler revealed his thoughts on 'the Jewish question' and the 'Final Solution'. It would seem that, at least in social intercourse, the concrete fate of the Jews was taboo, or at best only alluded to in a general, indierct way. Irving himself has written that 'The "Jewish problem" was taboo at the Berghof.'90 The film directress Leni Riefenstahl similarly describes Hitler's absolute refusal to be drawn on the Jewish problem with her.91 At first glance this would tie in with other known aspects of Hitler's personality - for instance, his refusal to hear of bad news, or his pathological aversion to visiting the retreating fronts, or Germany's bomb-ravaged cities once the tide of war had changed. As the war progressed, Hitler increasingly shunned the company of military men, intellectuals, and bureaucrats: or in other words, people who were liable to bring news and views from the outside world. Gitta Sereny concluded that Hitler's silence was a psychological reflex, and that Hitler tried to stop people in   his intimate circle from associating his person with deeds, which would have disturbed the harmony of their relationship.92
2. Bormann's adjutant's Henry Picker, who like Heinrich Heim recorded Hitler's evening 'Table Talk', wrote that: 'Thereby it was astonishing that even on the most exciting days he [Hitler] rarely opined on actual problems of war rather, he could lecture about the harmfulness of smoking or such like, even when in the military conferences before lunch the differences of opinion were explosive.'93 Heim concurred:
In assessing Hitler's monologues one thing has to be constantly borne in mind. His need for relaxation and displacement [Verdrängung] was such that in the winter months of 1941-2 not a word was said of the huge crisis on the eastern front, the straits of the population in the escalating air war, the supply difficulties, and the initial weakening of Italy. The need for recuperation was no less visible in the memories of the sunlit past, the tales of interesting encounters and experiences, in discussions on questions of art.94
3. Schroeder claimed that for Hitler, tea evenings were a source of relaxation and that 'nothing political would be spoken of.'95
After Stalingrad Hitler could no longer listen to music. From then onwards we spent the evenings listening to his monologues. But it was always the same conversation: his youth in Vienna, the time of struggle, the history of mankind, the microcosmos and the macrocosmos and so on. With most subjects we already knew in advance what he would say, and so the evenings often became quite tiresome. Events in the world or on the front could not be touched upon during the tea times; everything to do with the war was taboo.96
4. By all accounts Hitler was obsessive about secrecy, not only with the destruction of the Jews, but with all state and military secrets. Picker wrote that
At the same time the astonishing thing was that even on the days of the highest tension he hardly ever commented on current war problems. Rather he knew how to chat about the harmfulness of smoking or the like, even when opinions in the military conferences before lunch, before dinner, or at midnight had clashed violently.97
5. Picker added;  
In any case it was his skill to present something so effectively to his guests that the harshness and brutality of his attacks, especially against foreign statesmen, the bourgeoisie, church, Jewry, lawyers, and diplomats would be easily overlooked. Nevertheless his ever alert instinct never left him, even whilst highly excited, never to forget to camouflage the things for which those in his company had no resonance, exactly the same as the wide mass of our population. Take only for example the horrors of the persecution of the Jews, which he veiled with the preparations for the founding of a Jewish national state in Madagascar or inner Africa.98

6. This desire for secrecy was formalised in Hitler's 'Fundamental Order Number 1' [Grundsätzlicher Befehl Nr. 1] of 25 September 1941. It ordered that no member of a party, government, or military agency was to be informed or seek to know more than was required for the enactment of his or her duties.
  • 1. No one; no department, no official, no staff, and no worker may learn of a matter which is to be kept secret if they do not absolutely need to know of it for official reasons.
  • 2. No department, no official, no staff, and no worker may learn more of a matter, which is to be kept secret than is absolutely necessary to carry out their duty.
  • 3. No department, no official, no staff, and no worker may learn of a matter which is to be kept secret, or more precisely the part which is necessary to them, sooner than is absolutely necessary to carry out their duty.
  • 4. The thoughtless spreading of decrees, orders, communications whose being secret is of critical importance is forbidden, especially re any sort of general distribution lists.99

7. Many of Hitler's staff cite this order, not to claim that Hitler himself was ignorant of the 'Final Solution', but to give a plausible reason for their own ignorance. Schroeder wrote that 'If Hitler's 'Fundamental Order' ever was strictly followed then it was by Hitler's personal adjutants. It was always only to be guessed when something special happened or was supposed to happen.'100 In her notes on Hitler written for the Nuremberg psychiatrist Douglas M. Kelly, she wrote:
Hitler only needed the secretaries for simple dictation and thereby it was impossible for them to get a full picture of the plan or the success of an operation. This tactic corresponded with Hitler's principle to never let anyone know anything that they did not have to know out of necessity. He informed those who really had to be initiated into something only at the moment it was absolutely demanded [...]
However this example [the invasion of France] is no exception because all events took place under similar secrecy. Evidently this had to do with the fact that Hitler did not completely trust anyone. I had the impression that Hitler only trusted the individual to a very specifically determined extent, as far as the   circumstances and the situation allowed. This universal suspicion on Hitler's part infected his whole staff and resulted in a generally oppressive atmosphere.101
8. Elsewhere she wrote:
With the same amazing control Hitler could keep secrets. He was convinced that each individual only had to know that which was absolutely necessary to carry out his offices. He often said that "a secret shared by two people is no longer a secret" He never spoke of his secret intentions and plans and also never even gave a hint of an impending operation or such like.102
9. Both Heinz Linge and Nicolaus von Below agreed. Linge wrote:
Because biological anti-Semitism was one of the main aspects of national socialism, a fact that not only every German certainly experienced in some form or another between 1933 and 1939 even without having read Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' or the 'Stürmer', such comments from Hitler could surprise us least of all. Quite the opposite. Even I, who really should have known more, knew as little as the military about Himmler's special authorities. Hitler's ability consistently to safeguard secrets was without   parallel. No one learnt more than he had to know in a particular situation, and no one was excepted, neither Bormann, Himmler and Göring, or [Eva] Braun.103

10. Von Below said that:
Like many others I believed at the time the excuse given for the deportation of the Jews to the east,a deportation which did not remain unknown, that one were recruited for work detail in tasks important for the war. This seemed perfectly plausible to me considering the increasing use of domestic and foreign labour potential. I know nowonly that I was subject to a terrible deception. It is inconceivable to me how this mass murder could be successfully covered with the impenetrable veil of secrecy. Nothing forced its attention upon our ears through immediate channels, including through relatives, friends, and comrades, because my family and my wife's family had no Jewish friends or acquaintances, and because we lived in a certain isolation during the war. The 'Führer Order No. 1' of 1941 had effect here. Certain themes were taboo, also in our circle, in a system such as the National Socialist regime with an excellently functioning secret police which did not even stop short of dealing with the military.104
11. With Irving's unequivocal statement in mind that Hitler's staff 'all uniformly testified that never once was the extermination of either the Russian or European Jews mentioned [...]', it is interesting that few of Hitler's staff quoted above inferred from this (alleged) silence that Hitler was in any sense ignorant of the 'Final Solution'. In the same sense none of them assumed that Hitler was ignorant of forthcoming campaigns or political events, merely because they remained unmentioned by him.105 Rather the conclusion was that Hitler's silence and dissembling were part and parcel of his persona.
12. The journalist Gitta Sereny contacted five of Hitler's former staff for a 1977 article which took issue with Hitler's War, and concluded that '...all stated that while they had indeed told Irving that Hitler had never spoken of the extermination camps in their hearing, none of them was of the opinion that Hitler did not know about what was happening to the Jews.'106 The stenographer cited by Irving conceded his doubts:
In the Führer conferences, which I reported in shorthand, there was never any mention of the atrocities against the Jews. For the present it must remain an unanswered question, whether Hitler himself issued specific orders [...] or whether orders issued in generalised terms were executed by subordinates and sadists in this brutal and vile manner.107


92. Sereny, p. 112.
93. 'Dabei war verblüffend, daß er [Hitler] selbst in den spannungsreichensten Tagen kaum zu aktuellen Kriegsproblemen Stellung nahm, vielmehr - auch dann, wenn in den militärischen Lagerbesprechungen vor dem Mittagsessen die Meinungen heftig aufeinander geplatzt waren - etwa über die Schädlichkeit des Rauchens oder dergleichen dozieren konnte.' (Henry Picker, Hitler's Tischgespräche im Führerhauptquartier (Stuttgart, 1976), p. 36. Henceforth Picker. For a slightly different account see Henry Picker and Heinrich Hoffmann, The Hitler Phenomenon. an Intimate Portrait of Hitler and his Entourage (London, 1974), p. 7.
94. 'Bei der Beurteilung der Monologe Hitlers werden stets diese Aspekte berücksichtigt werden mussen. Dem Bedürfnis nach Entspannung und Verdrängung entsprach es, daß in den Wintermonten 1941/2 die schwere Krise an der Ostfront, die Nöte der Bevölkerung im harter werdenden Luftkrieg, die Versorgungsschwierigkeiten und die sich abzeichnende Schwäche Italians mit keinem Wort erwähnt werden. Nicht minder sichtbar wird das Bedürfnis nach Erholung bei den Erinnerungen an eine besonntere Vergangenheit, den Berichten über interessante Begegnungen und Erlebnisse, bei Eröterungen über Fragen der Kunst.'and subsequent Footnotes 108, 109 (Monologue, pp. 13-14).
95. Er war mein Chef, p. 224.
96. 'Nach Stalingrad konnte Hitler keine Musik mehr hören. Wir verbrachten nunmehr die Abende damit, ihn monologisieren zu höre. Aber es waren auch immer wieder die gleichen Gespräche: seine Jugendzeit in Wien, die Kampfzeit, die Geschichte der Menschheit, der Mikrokosmos und der Makrokosmos usw. Bei den meisten Themen wußten wir schon im voraus, was er sagen würde, und so wurden die Abende oft zu einer recht anstrengenden Angelegenheit. Die Ereignisse in der Welt und an der Front durften während der Teestunden nicht berührt werden, alles, was mit dem Krieg zusammenhing, war Tabu.' (ibid., p. 130).
97. 'Dabei war das Verblüffende, dass er selbst in den spannungsreichsten Tagen kaum zu aktuellen Kriegsproblemen Stellung nahm, vielmehr - auch dann, wenn in den militäischen Lagebesprechungen vor dem Mittagessen, vor dem Abendessen oder um Mitternacht die Meinungen heftig aufeinandergeplatz waren - über die Schadlichkeit des Rauchens oder dergleichen zu plaudern verstand.' (Picker, pp. 42-43).
98. 'Auf jeden Fall war seine Kunst, den Tischgästen etwas darzulegen, so effecktvoll, daß die Schärfe und Brutalität seiner Angriffe - besonders gegen ausländische Staatsmänner, Bürgertum, Kirche, Judentum, Juristen und Diplomaten - leicht überhört wurde. Trotzdem ließ ihn sein immer wacher Instinkt auch bei größter Lebhaftigkeit nie die Tarnung vergessen bei Dingen, für die bei seiner Tischgesellschaft ebenso wie in der breiten Masse unseres Volkes die Resonanz fehlte. Man nehme z.B. nur die Greuel der Judenverfolgung, die er durch Vorarbeiten über die Errichtung eines jüdischen Nationalstaates auf der Insel Madagaskar oder im Innerafrika verschleierte.' (Picker, p. 44).
99. '1. Niemand: Keine Dienstelle, kein Beamter, kein Angstellter und kein Arbeiter dürfen von einer geheimzuhaltenden Sache erfahren, wenn sie nicht aus dienstlichen Gründen unbedingt davon Kenntnis erhalten müssen. 2. Keine Dienstelle, kein Beamter, kein Angstellter und kein Arbeiter dürfen von einer geheimzuhaltend Sache mehr erfahren, als für die Durchführung ihrer Aufgabe unbedingt erforderlich ist. 3. Keine Dienstelle, kein Beamter, kein angstellter und kein Arbeiter dürfen von einer geheimzuhalten Sache bezw. Dem für sie notwendigen Teil früher erfahren, als dies für die Durchführung ihrer Aufgabe unbedingt erforderlich ist. 4. Die gedankenlose Weitergeben von Erlassen, Verfügungen, Mitteilungen, deren Geheimhaltung von entscheidener Bedeutung ist, insbesondere laut irgendwelcher allgemeiner Verteilerschlüssel, ist verboten' (document 112, Grunsätzlicher Befehl, in Martin Moll (ed.) "Führer-Erlasse" 1939-1945 (Stuttgart, 1997), p. 201).
100. Wenn Hitlers "Grundsätzlicher Befehl" strikt befolgt wurde, dann war das in der Persönlichen Adjutantur Hitlers. Es war immer nur zu erahnen, wenn sich etwas besonderes ereignet hatte oder sich ereignen sollte.' (Er war mein Chef, p. 48).
101. 'Hitler brauchte die Sekretärinnnen nur für einfach Diktate und dadurch war es ihnen nicht möglich, ein vollständiges Bild von dem Plan oder dem Erfolg eines Unternehmens zu erhalten. Diese Taktik entsprach Hitlers Grundsatz, nie jemanden etwas wissen zu lassen, was dieser nicht unbedingt wissen mußte. Jene aber, die unbedingt in eine Sache eingeweiht werden mußte, unterrichtet er erst, wenn der Zeitpunkt es unbedingt erfoderte.[...]Dieses Beispiel ist jedoch keine Ausnahme, denn alle Vorgänge spielten sich in ähnlich geheimsvoller Weise ab. Offentsichtlich hing dies damit zusammen, daß Hitler niemanden vollständiges Vertrauen schenkte. Ich hatte den Eindruck, daß Hitler dem einzelnen nur bis zu einem genau festgelegten Punkte traute, so weit es Umstände und Lage erforderten. Dieses allgemeine Mißtrauen Hitlers ging auf seinen ganzen Stab über und bewirkte eine allgemeine bedrückte Atmosphäre.' (Er war mein Chef, p. 268). Linge also spoke of the 'camouflage' [ Tarnung] surrounding the invasion of France (Linge, pp. 195-6).
102. 'Mit ebenso erstaunlicher Beherrschung konnte Hitler Geheimnisse bewahren. Er war überzeugt davon, daß ein jeder nur das zu wissen hat, was er unbedingt zur Ausübung seines Amtes brauchte. Oft sagte er: "Ein Geheimnis, das zwei wissen, ist kein Geheimnis mehr." Neimals hat er über seine geheimen Absichten und Pläne gesprochen und hat auch niemals eine Andeutung über eine bevorstehende Operation oder dergleichen gemacht.' (Er war mein Chef, p. 75).
103. 'Da der biologische Antisemitismus einer der tragenden Aspekte des Nationalsozialismus war, was nicht nur jeder Deutsche spätestens zwischen 1933 und 1939 auf irgendeine Weise mit Gewißheit erfahren hatte, auch ohne Hitlers "Mein Kampf" oder der "Sturmer" gelesen zu haben, konnten derartige Hitler-Äußerungen am allerwenigsten bei uns Überraschung auslösen. Im Gegenteil. Über die Sondervollmachten Himmlers wußte auch ich, der eigentlich mehr hätte wissen müssen, im Detail so wenig wie die Militärs. Hitlers Fähigkeit, Geheimnissse konsequent zu wahren, war beispiellos. Niemand erfuhr mehr, als er in einer bestimmten Situation unbedingt erfahren mußte, und niemand war dabei ausgenommen: weder Bormann, Himmler und Göring noch Braun.' (Linge, pp. 186-187).
104. 'Wie viele andere glaubte ich aber damals daran, was als Grund für die nicht unbekannt bleibenden Juden-Deportationen in den Osten angegeben worden ist, daß man sie dort zum Arbeitseinsatz für Kriegeswichtige Aufgaben heranziehe. Dies erschien mir angesichts der zunehmenden Nutzung des in- und ausländischen Arbeitskräftepotentials als durchaus plausibel, und ich weiß nun erst, daß ich einer schrecklichen Täuschung unterlag. Es ist mir unbegreiflich, wie es gelingen konnte, diesen Massenmord mit dem undurchdringlichen Schleier des Geheimnisses zu umgeben. Da meine Familie, auch die Familie meiner Frau, keine jüdischen Freunde oder Bekannte hatte und wir während des Krieges in einer gewissen Isolation lebten, drang auf unmittelbaren Wegen davon nichts an unser Ohr, auch nicht über andere Verwandte, Freunde und Kamaraden. Der "Führerbefehl Nr. 1" von 1940 1941 tat hier seine Wirkung. In einem System wie der nationalsozialistischen Herrschaft mit einer vorzüglich funktionierenden Geheimpolizei, die auch vor dem Militär nicht halt machte, waren bestimmte Themen tabu, auch in unserem Kreise.' (von Below, p. 291).
105. Hitler's War, p. 327.
106. The five were Werner Koeppen [Rosenberg's representative in the Führerhauptquartier and also a recorder of Hitler's Table Talk (unpublished?)], Otto Günsche, Nicholaus von Below, Christa Schroeder, and Richard Schulze-Kossens. Dr. Koeppen said ' "I must doubt that he [Hitler] knew nothing"' Otto Günsche said: '"Of course, one must assume that he did know..."' Von Below said: '"According to reason, the assumption has to be that he knew".' Christa Schroeder said: '" That Hitler should not have known, is quite impossible".' Richard Schulze-Kossens said that he did not realise that Irving claimed in his book that Hitler didn't know: '"I thought it just says that Hitler didn't give the order for the extermination. One must of course conclude that he knew - I can't believe, knowing Himmler, that he would have acted off his own bat [...]".' (Document 500)
107. Hitler's War, p. 850.
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