History: A gripping, fly-on-the-wall account offers new insights into Hitler's psyche
A few weeks ago in the UK, newspapers carried a half page ad for Downfall, the movie about Hitler's final days. The ad showed a hunched up, beaten, but still dangerous Hitler beside the headline, "It's a happy ending. He dies".
The Hitler fascination remains undimmed. Mao and Stalin may have had more people killed, but when pure evil is mentioned in the West, Hitler usually wins the gold medal.
The Hitler Book supports the widely held view that Hitler was delusional, irrational and because of his infantile psychological make-up, utterly unable to tolerate any criticism of his own deficiencies.
In 1943, a team of American psychologists working at the request of the OSS (forerunner to the CIA) produced, over an intense five-month period, a psychological assessment of Hitler. They concluded that Hitler's Oedipus complex, as defined by Freud, had been rendered chronically pathological by his father's brutality. The resulting castration complex and the ensuing sense of gross inferiority, demanded enormous compensation in grandiosity and megalomania. The seed for the extermination of 6.5 million people of Jewish descent was sown in the mind of a small boy in Austria in the final decade of the 19th century.
The Americans also looked into Hitler's sexuality and concluded that it was doubtful whether his relationship with Eva Braun had ever been sexually consummated. They predicted with great accuracy that Hitler would withdraw from public view more and more as the war went against him, that he would sacrifice Germany for his own failure and that he would in the end commit suicide.
In May, 1945, when the remnants of the Third Reich surrendered to the Red Army, among the prisoners taken were Hitler's SS adjutant, Otto Gunsche, and his personal assistant, Heinz Linge. Stalin was greedy for information about Hitler and was not convinced that the German leader was dead but feared he had secretly been taken prisoner by the Allies. Linge and Gunsche, who had been among the last to see Hitler alive, were flown to Moscow and interrogated separately over four years. The result of these interrogations was a single dossier, dealing with Hitler from 1933-1945, and presented to Stalin in 1949. Following Stalin's death, the dossier lay in Moscow's General Department archive until two years ago when it was discovered by Matthias Uhl, a political scientist, who has co-edited this edition.
The banality of Hitler's working day in December 1941 is described:
"Hitler spent his time hearing situation reports, gossiping with the photographer, Hoffmann and his chums, reading adventure stories, drawing incomprehensible designs, because he saw himself as a great artist, skiving off in the evenings with Schaub [another adjutant], because the latter showed him colour slides of naked French dancers, or taking his dog . . . for walks."
Hitler's famous mouth-foaming temper tantrums were those of the spoiled child, but he was also a highly intelligent and manipulative leader, who could switch charm on and off at will, and who well knew the value of a theatrical appearance:
"The masses must always have the Führer before their eyes . . . All cameras must be directed towards me: the crowd follows my every move. The Führer needs to move the masses like an actor - his clothing, his mimicry, his gestures - they are all important," he said at lunch with his adjutants and press officer in 1933.
This book, written for Stalin alone, is as much a political as an historical document and some of the unflattering portrayals of Hitler must be treated with caution. Likewise, someone without any knowledge of the second World War might well assume from this book that Germany was defeated by Russia alone. This is not entirely fanciful. The Soviets, who suffered over 11 million military casualties in the war, shook the power of Germany sufficiently to make an Allied victory possible in 1945.
The Hitler Book also largely ignores the Final Solution, although Hitler's personal interest in the workings of the gas chambers is noted. In 1949, when this dossier was presented to Stalin, Soviet anti-Zionism was in full cry, and thus anything that might have portrayed Hitler's Jewish victims in a sympathetic light was simply omitted.
Everything fell apart for Hitler following the defeat at Stalingrad. His behaviour became ever more erratic and his changes in mood more pronounced. His cheerful reaction to the Normandy landings was bizarre. He believed almost to the end that a grand coalition of Germany and the Allies could be formed to fight the Russians.
The Hitler Book is a gripping fly-on-the-wall document and a valuable addition to the canon of work that surrounds Hitler's personality.
The dossier confirmed for Stalin beyond doubt that shortly before four o'clock on the afternoon of April 30th, 1945, as Russian shells exploded above his bunker, Hitler shot himself in the head. Eva Braun had died moments earlier from cyanide poisoning.
Peter Cunningham's most recent novel is The Taoiseach (Hodder Lir).
The Hitler Book: The Secret Dossier Prepared for Stalin Edited by Henrik Eberle and Matthias Uhl, with a foreword by Richard Overy John Murray, 370pp. £20