Hitler knew in detail about the attempted extermination of the Jews. That’s according to “Das Buch Hitler” — “The Hitler Book” — a newly published German translation of a work written in Russian for Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in 1949.
Though few have really doubted that Hitler knew about the genocide of European Jewry, the book seeks to make clear that SS chief Heinrich Himmler conferred with Hitler about the details of the mass murder, according to historian Matthias Uhl of the Institute for Contemporary History in Berlin. An English-language edition of “The Hitler Book” is due out in November.
“The most remarkable thing about the book is the direct connection between Hitler and the Holocaust,” Uhl said. “This is the first information showing that Hitler got real information from Himmler on the gas chambers, and that Himmler showed him the sketches of the project of the gas chambers. This is the first time that we have this information that Hitler was so involved in the Holocaust.”
Not all historians agree that the book offers an important contribution.
“I think it’s completely insignificant how much Hitler knew of the details of the genocide,” said Wolfgang Benz, director of the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism at the Technical University in Berlin. “It’s clear that Hitler knew. And whether he knew about the methods in detail, or if he just told Himmler to get rid of the Jews, it’s all the same.”
“I consider such books dumb, even if I haven’t yet read them,” Benz added, because “they keep on adding importance to this figure of Hitler.”
“If you take the international scene, I would agree that most historians do know that, of course, Hitler knew,” said rabbi and historian Andreas Nachama, director of the Topography of Terror archive and documentation on the history of the Gestapo.
Nachama said he would read the new book with interest.
“But the interrogations were probably done by KGB intelligence personnel, and you have to be in a way cautious with these kinds of sources,” he said.
The book, which had been stashed in a Soviet archive for decades, was based on interviews with two of Hitler’s aides: his butler, Heinz Linge, and SS adjutant Otto Guensche, who worked as Hitler’s assistant for 10 years.
Soviet authorities arrested Linge and Guensche in Berlin on May 2, 1945. The two had been present when Hitler’s body was burned in his bunker.
The interviews were conducted while the two men were in Soviet prisons. Interviewers got them to talk by beating them, Uhl said.
The resulting text, which Uhl described as “entertainment for Stalin,” was completed in December 1949.
Now that it has been made available to the public, the text can help disprove the arguments of some Holocaust revisionists who say Hitler was unaware of the attempted genocide or did not approve of it, Uhl said.
According to the text, Hitler was personally interested in the development of gas chambers in extermination camps, and Himmler showed him the plans. Hitler even ordered support for engineers building the gas chambers.
In a segment of the book’s text cited by Reuters, “Hitler told Himmler to use more trucks with mobile gas chambers so that munitions needed for the troops wouldn’t be wasted on shooting Russian” prisoners.
“Himmler reported that the mobile gas chambers were working. He laughed cynically when he said that this method of murder is ‘more considerate’ and ‘quieter’ than shooting them,” the excerpt continues.
According to the Reuters report, Linge and Guensche said Hitler was not worried when the United States declared war in December 1941, and made jokes about it. Hitler is quoted as saying that American “cars never win races, American planes look sharp but their engines are worthless….”
Uhl uncovered the book by chance in 2003 while researching Soviet military security policy in the 1960s, when the Berlin Wall was built.
“I found it in a file of the Soviet Central Committee of the Communist Party,” he said. He recognized it as a text that had been cited decades ago.
It was known that the document existed, Uhl said, adding that Guensche and Linge had talked about it when they were released from prison and sent back to Germany. But the text apparently had been seen by few people until now.
“There is one copy of this book in the archive of the president of the Russian Republic, where only Russian historians can work,” Uhl said. “The other copy was in a file that was not interesting for historians who deal with the Third Reich and the Holocaust. It was in an area dealing with the 1960s.”
Uhl received permission to publish the text from the Russian Archive of Contemporary History and worked with University of Halle historian Henrik Eberle, who specializes in National Socialist history. The two historians acknowledge that the information in the report was extracted through torture.
“We have information from the document, and from Linge and Guensche, that their Soviet interrogators beat them, and if they talked, they got more food and medical help,” Uhl said. “So it was like the carrot and the stick.”
Linge and Guensche were sent back to Germany in 1955. Linge died in 1980, and Guensche died in 2003, shortly before Uhl rediscovered the text.