Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Litany of Lies

The British detectives who travelled to Moscow to attempt to unravel the mysterious death of a former KGB man in London were probably under no illusions as to the difficulties they would face. Dealing with the Russians has never been a straightforward process, it never is with totalitarian states, and this is admirably illustrated by a study of a Russian publication, “The Hitler Book.”

There must be over one thousand books on the subject of the life and times of Adolf Hitler and, in spite of the excellence of many of these, none have come close to penetrating the mind of the man who called himself The Fuhrer. Much of the problem stems from his rarely having committed his thoughts to paper. Mein Kampf was merely a wordy diatribe of half-baked notions and revealed nothing of the man. Had “The Hitler Diaries” not been total forgeries, they might have shone some light, as have Goebbel’s on his devious character, but Hitler seems to have kept no diary. Martin Bormann attempted to record, surreptitiously, Hitler’s table talk but this proved to be totally inconsequential ramblings on a variety of subjects. Perhaps this was the true mind of Hitler, inconsequential.

It may have been the enigma of the Nazi leader that prompted Joseph Stalin to commission a biography of his dictatorial counterpart in 1947. A team of writers under the leadership of Feodor Karpovitch Parparov were given the dubious honour of preparing the material for their notoriously prickly boss. The ultimate raspberry award for any ghost writer, Siberia must have looked like a holiday camp to them. They did have two sources that should have been of immense value. Heinz Linge and Otto Gunsche were two SS officers who had been captured by the Russians shortly after the suicide of Hitler. Both had been in daily contact with him over the past few years. The British author, Hugh Trevor-Roper, had interviewed both men in 1945 when he wrote his authoritative work, “The Last days of Hitler,” which has remained substantially the most accurate description of those turbulent days. Now the Russians turned to them as a main source for information.

Both men were prisoners and almost certainly their first priority would have been to give their interrogators information that they wanted – not necessarily the information that a strict adherence to facts would involve. And who could blame them? Neither man could be classified as particularly erudite and their contributions seem to consist mostly of tattle-tale stuff, interesting enough if its accuracy could be relied upon, but little more than court gossip. Once again, we are missing the essence of the man.

If the authors of “The Hitler Book” had read any of the existing works on the life of their subject, it does not show up in the final version. By 1949 they had polished it for presentation and it reads as being the submission of an amateurish student thesis to an especially cantankerous professor. The shadow of the Lubyanka prison seems to have been hovering over them.

Providing one bears in mind the provenance of the information, the book is pretty interesting. Some of the personal details are almost certainly factual, neither Linge nor Gunsche, who seems to have been the less forthcoming of the two, would have had any reason to have invented these, it is only in the presentation of material that might have been less than flattering to the Soviets that there would have been a reason to obfuscate.

Apart from the errors of fact, which are numerous, the blatant misinterpretation of recorded history, most especially that of the US/UK contribution to the war, makes for startling, and sometimes laughable, reading. It is an undeniable fact that the Soviet Union bore the brunt of the casualties and it is arguable that they contributed the major part in the defeat of Nazism but the book virtually ignores any actions on the part of its allies. The amazing thing is that Stalin accepted it without demur. As commander in chief of his own armed forces, he was well aware of the true facts and was also on reasonably good terms with Churchill who was open enough in exchanges of information, giving him an accurate overview of the situation, a view which was hardly reflected in the subsequent book. But, devoid of all criticism of the Soviet Union, the book was to become the official Russian version of the life of Adolf Hitler.

This gives one a pretty good idea of the Soviet attitude to truth, an attitude that seems to have changed little since the days of Stalin.

Under the circumstances, it’s not surprising that the British detectives find themselves spinning their wheels in Moscow.


Post a Comment

<< Home