15 DECEMBER 1961, Page 6

Second Thoughts



ttr German version of William Shirer's his-

tory of the Third Reich, which is a record best-seller in America at ten dollars and has been for many months, has been getting some rough treatment by German reviewers. It has been adly reviewed by almost every reputable news- paper and periodical here, and not for the obvi- ous reason, but for reasons which at least one reader noted in the original English (or rather American) edition, but which I kept quiet about because the book was highly praised by British historians on its first appearance. (I bought it, in fact, as a checking source for dates and facts, and at once had to abandon it because in those parts of the narrative where I was tolerably cer- tain of my facts I found Shirer to be completely unreliable.) The German reviewers usually get off to a rousing start with an attack on the translation; this may be unjust since the English is pedestrian and poor to start with and Shirer uses words so loosely that it is often uncertain what he actually means—he says, for instance, that Prussia is bereft of minerals, meaning that there are no mineral resources in the earth there, not that they have been taken away. The next object of attack is the ludicrous quick round-up of German his- tory, full of errors, over-simplifications and superficialities. Prussia is described calmly as having no large towns—Breslau, Koenigsberg, Stettin, Danzig and Berlin are presumably muddy villages to Mr. Shirer, not to mention a host of other large and medium-large centres. Of the long and crucial discussion about 'greater' or 'smaller' unification in the nineteenth century he says: 'Austria . . . was not allowed [sic] to join the North German Federation.' In the English ver- sion some comical mis-translations of German add to the impression of incompetence—genial is translated as `genial'; the word in German means the quality of genius. The attacks go on to range from Shirer's view that Hitler loved the Prussian colours because he had served under them in the First World War—Hitler served in a Bavarian regiment with the blue-white colours of the Wit- tclsbachs—to accusations of major mistakes in political and military history.

Certainly, in the areas of the book which 1 can check with certainty the mistakes and insuffi- ciencies are so numerous as to make the book useless as a means of reference. On Hitler's early life and the sources of his ideas Shirer is certainly guilty of what all the German reviewers accuse him; he had not read the recent work on his subject. To take a few examples of the dozens pointed out with anger, or glee, or both . . . 'Though refraining from actual participation in Austrian politics . ..' says Shirer of the eighteen- year-old boy, a penniless and workless inmate of a doss-house. `So far as is known he had no rela- tions of any kind with women during his sojourn in Vienna.' Josef Greiner's book, though primi- tively written (Greiner is an engineer and no writer), is taken seriously by psychologists and historians who have checked his recollections, and Greiner tells a different tale. Moreover, Felix Kersten in his published diaries (he was Himm- ]er's masseur and doctor and a Swede) recounts reading Hitler's medical history of syphilis, which caused his attack of blindness at the end of the First World War which Hitler attributes, typi- cally, to a gas attack.

Other uncheckable accounts take the syphilis back to before the war in Vienna. This matter is probably impossible to establish now, for Hitler killed anybody who knew of it, and the papers were one of the most jealously guarded of State secrets, but both Greiner and Kersten cannot simply be dismissed—or left unread. On the sub- ject of Hitler's call-up to the K lend K army, Shirer says, 'Probably he left Austria to escape military service.' There is no probability about it; the member of the Linz local government who hid the relevant papers for years has published the whole story with photostats. Shirer seems never to have heard of Jetzinger's book which was published in 1956, though the affair of the papers was common knowledge long before that —I recall dimly hearing talk of them before 1949 in Vienna.

On the subject of the origins of Hitler's ideas, especially anti-Semitism, Shirer adopts Schoenerer as a major influence on Hitler. Schoenerer's activity and influence were over by 1904 and Hitler went to Vienna first in 1907. Lanz von Liebenfels and the whole hilarious crowd of Vienna sub-cultures to which he be- longed are ignored; Wilfried Daim's work on this subject (Daim is the head of the Institute of Political Psychology in Vienna), which is quite indispensable for the origins of Hitler's ideas, seems to have escaped Shirer's enormous reading programme. Altogether this section of the book is ridiculous; no one who has read Shirer on Wagner and the Nibelungenlied can take him seriously on artistic or philosophical matters- i' reads like a discussion of Yeats by one who believes that Cole Porter's lyrics are great poetry.

The attacks on Shirer's book, however, have now taken a new turn with an article in Die Well which asks the question: If German historians don't like Shirer, Wheeler-Bennett and Co., why don't they write some history themselves? The question is not, it needs perhaps to be said, one of interpretation, and whether or not it suits the Germans, but of recording facts correctly. And the question is timely and cruel; for though there is a more or less constant flow of contributions to learned periodicals on matters of detail, the whole of German recent history, from the First World War on, is—in German and on a scholarly rather than a polemical or persuasive (propa- ganda) basis—nothing more than a great blank.

As Die Welt points out, anyone needing infor- mation on, for instance, the Polish-German his- tory of the First World War, is bound to rely on one work of historical scholarship from a Ger- man, Professor Conze; which is probably why Salomon's The Outlaws is so often quoted as a source for conditions in East Germany immedi- ately after the end of that war. For the Freikorps there are Nazi sources, otherwise almost nothing. On Hitler, there are articles in the monthlies, fas- cinating accounts of details such as Hitler's acquisition of legal German tcitizenship, one ex- cellent work on the seizure of power, a number of marginal memoirs of varying worth, a mass of rubbish from the illustrated weeklies and— translations of often highly tendentious foreign works where the facts are sometimes so slanted that they are not much more worth than the illustrated weeklies. There is not a single scholarly biography of Hitler by a German; the Germans read Bullock, which is a fine piece of work, but not written with the intimate understanding of a native historian, and now much out of date, psychologically. There are a number of soldiers' memoirs of the campaigns of the Second World War, but no historian to sift and analyse their work. The standard work of reference on the persecution of the Jews remains Reitlinger; 00 the civil administration of the East European territories, Dal lin.

It is not enough to say German historians are afraid of the subjects; on the contrary all refined and educated Germans are obsessed by them. Neither is it enough to say that the Americans had all the documents until recently. A dozen American or German foundations would have given grants and facilities at any time to anY historian wanting to unpack, list and .index that 485 tons of German Foreign Office records stored in Virginia that Shirer mentions in his foreword. The study of history is in a poor way in England when eminent scholars can praise a book like Shirer's and leave the pointing-out of a thousand mistakes to the journalists they treat with con- tempt: in Germany it seems to he quite dead.