At the close of WW11 H R Trevor Roper, a noted and respected historian, was a major in the British Military Intelligence Service. Because the myriad of stories circulating about the fate of Hitler were causing political and operational difficulties in post war Europe, he was tasked with making a full and exhaustive investigation into the fate of Hitler. This book is the result of his investigations.
First published in 1947 to worldwide acclaim, this fine book has stood the test of time, even after nearly 70 years of constant and unrelenting research by other historians and many new documents coming to light, especially from the USSR, it is in most respects still a definitive work about the last days of The Third Reich and in particular Hitler and his court.
Covering in the main the last two years of Nazism, it describes in almost forensic detail the manner in which the brutal and semi religious fanaticism of Hitler and his acolytes came to its end. The endless empty rhetoric about racial purity, death, fire, struggle, sacrifice, blood and destruction, used constantly by Hitler, Goering, Goebbels, Himmler, Bormann, and so many others of that Teutonic mind-set that so captured a nation in the mid 1930’s, was by now being seen for what it really was, a recipe for endless and almost unimaginable world-wide suffering on a scale never before seen. The absolute madness prevalent in the last nine months of the war, after the attempted assassination of Hitler in July 1944, is almost unbelievable. The war is lost, any rational person can see that, however Hitler cannot because his whole philosophy, his reason for being, his god given mission, is based on Arian supremacy and his divine right to rule over the Germanic peoples. He now fully believes in his own propaganda: that Germany cannot lose the war as long as he is there to save the nation. He is their saviour and will prevail against the forces of “International Jewry” and evil.
He has, over the years, successfully surrounded himself with fundamentally ineffective, cowardly and unqualified persons who are promoted to vitally important positions of responsibility based on whether Hitler “liked them or not” or if he was “comfortable in their presence”. He wasn’t keen on very clever or successful people and this is probably the reason for the pitiable quality of the people around him. Considerations of suitability or competence for the post are for the most part were not even considered. His Armaments minister for instance was an Architect with no political, government or armaments knowledge whatsoever who eventually betrayed him in his last days in that dark damp bunker. With an intense messianic sense of his own personal destiny and place in history he sees the war in terms of himself alone and not in terms of the German people. In fact in those last desperate months he eventually disowned even his own people saying “those left alive are of no use, the best have already fallen”. His scorched earth policy (destroy absolutely everything including railways, bridges, water treatment works, hospitals, schools, factories, gas supplies, airports, roads, municipal buildings, libraries, etc) shocked even hardened Nazi’s to his attitude to his own war weary and suffering people. As far as he was concerned they had proven themselves “not worthy”. This complete absence of empathy for even his own people hints at that severely damaged psyche.
The last few weeks in war torn Berlin were desperate indeed. Hitler, as expected, slowly turned on those around him, accusing his generals of mass disloyalty, even Goering, Himmler and Speer being denounced as traitors. He was directing troops he no longer had, and his frightened Generals proved themselves unable to pluck up enough courage to tell him. Saying no to him at this late stage could get you shot on the spot. As those around him, who knew the score, began slowly to abandon him, others tried to negotiate a settlement with the allies in a last ditch attempt to save their own lives and perhaps the city. It seems, at about this time, the real world began to re-emerge from the fog of war, revealing the sorry stooped bitter figure of a man he had become. At just 56, he looked 20 years older, may have had Parkinson’s disease, was a mental and physical wreck, saw spies and assassins everywhere, and was probably by now a Neurotic Psychopath.
Fearing, even in death, being captured by the advancing Russians he arranged to marry Eva Braun and for them to commit suicide a few hours later and their bodies to be “burned away”. He had heard of how Mussolini’s body had been hung upside down for anyone to see. His enormous ego could not allow such humiliation even after death.
I’m sure there are other more accurate books on the great tyrants last weeks but I’m not sure they will have the same raw immediacy that TLDOH still captures even today.
A great read, but ultimately truly sad.