Richard Overy, “Interrrogations: The Nazi Elite in Allied Hands, 1945″

Richard Overy, “Interrrogations: The Nazi Elite in Allied Hands, 1945″

Interrogations (Amazon US, UK, CA, DE [english]) includes partial transcripts from the interrogations held at Nuremberg or locations relevant to similar trials such as the “Doctors’ Trial”. The following people appear in the book either as having been interrogated or having submitted an affidavit or other type of testimony:

Overy begins the book with a 200 page introduction that provides context for the transcripts and recalls some of their highlights. 300 pages of transcripts then follow. Some of the transcripts are not from interrogations, but rather from secret tapings of conversations between prisoners.

As you would imagine, it all makes for fascinating reading. I read the book a few years and marked a few passages. I’ll share a few of those now.

In this section, Albert Speer speaks of Adolf Hitler’s belief in his own destiny, particularly in light of the attempts on his life, all of which he escaped:

Out of innumerable isolated incidents, he had pieced together a firm conviction that his whole career, with its many unfavorable events and setbacks, was predestined by providence to take him to the goal which it had set him. In all difficult situations and decisions this belief of his served as a primary argument. The more his overworked condition caused him to lose his original gift of detaching himself in his thinking from the pressure of current events, and the more he was cornered by the course of events, the more emphasis he would place on this argument of his ‘predestined fate’.

The incomprehensible fact that he escaped injury on the 20 July [1944] gave him new foundation for this belief. Dr Goebbels’ press campaign about Frederick the Great and the course of the Seven Years War confirmed him in this belief and gave it a new incentive. Towards the end he even saw in Roosevelt’s unexpected death a parallel to Frederick the Great’s history; – the Empress Elizabeth had died shortly before the end of the Seven Years War, thus rescuing Frederick the Great out of a seemingly hopeless situation.

It is true that he cited this parallel in his first moment of elation on receipt of the news. [p. 235-6 of 2002 Penguin Paperback]

Speer again, on Hitler fancying himself a military leader:

His [Hitler’s] reaction to 20 July was indicative of the high opinion he had of himself as a military leader. He stressed the fact that the occurrence on 20 July historically justified him in his military decisions, in spite of the fact that during the last few years he had nothing but setbacks. These, however, he ascribed to the continuous treachery and intentional misinterpretation of his orders.

He issued an order that all the daily conferences on the situation should be taken down in shorthand verbatim, as he wanted to prove to posterity that he had always judged the position currently and given the right orders. Actually these documents are devastating for him and his entourage. [246]

Hermann Goering on Hitler, dead or alive, and the whereabouts of Martin Bormann:

Question: Do you think the Fuehrer is dead?

Goering: Absolutely, no doubt about it.

Question: What makes you think so?

Goering: Well, this is quite out of the question. We always knew the Fuehrer would kill himself if things were coming to an end. We always knew that. There is not the least doubt about it.

Question: Well, was there any understanding or agreement to that effect?

Goering: Yes, he said this only too clearly and too explicitly to different people, and we all knew about this exactly.

Question: What about Bormann?

Goering: (Throwing his hands into the air) If I had my say in it, I hope he is frying in Hell, but I don’t know about it… [311-312]

From a taped conversation between Ernst von Gottstein, identified as Hauptbauleiter OT, Gauamtsleiter für Technik, Gau Kärnten (Carinthia in today’s Austria) and Eugen Horak, identified as “Interpreter in Gruppe VI/C of the RSHA”, RHSA being the Reichssicherheitshauptamt, or the Reich Main Security Office:

Horak: I was present in Vienna when they were loading up people for one of those mass evacuations. Hundreds were crammed into wagons, which normally took a couple of cows. And they were thoroughly beaten up as well. I went up to a young SS man and asked if the beating up was really necessary. He laughed and said they were only scum anyway. You know the whole thing was so unnecessary and one could well have got along without it … what was the purpose of all that beating up? I have nothing at all against the gas chambers. A time can come when it is useful to the race to eliminate certain elements. Extermination is one thing, but there is no need to torture your victims beforehand. [372]

I found that particular passage particularly brutal and offensive. And that’s what makes this book useful as a selection of original sources: I think it’s important to be able to read the actual thoughts of the very real people who were part of this regime, no matter how ugly those thoughts may be.

(Photo credit: the lead graphic for this article is a combination of four photos found at Wikimedia Commons and described as being in the public domain because they are photos from the Federal Government of the United States. From left to right, the photos are of the following persons: Hermann Goering, Wilhelm Keitel, Alfred Jodl, Arthur Seyss-Inquart.)