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To The Bitter End
on 12 October 2009
The title of this book is complete in itself. Heinz Linge, appointed by Hitler as his valet in 1935, was still there a decade later when the Nazi dictator committed suicide. He helped carry the body out of the bunker, doused it with petrol and set it alight. Contrary to some reports Linge never doubted "Hitler's genius would see us through". However, his commitment was not that of a fanatical Nazi. His chosen role was that of servant to master, not slave to ideology. The only concept to him as an SS officer was "that whatever the circumstances the flag had to be kept flying." After his capture by the Russians, who were convinced Hitler had escaped, he was beaten, tried and sentenced to twenty five years imprisonment before being released in 1955,
Linge's picture of Hitler is in stark contrast to that of the fanatical leader. Although Linge paints Hitler as having a will of iron which downed the strongest challenger to his own ideas he also shows a lighter and more complex side of his personality. Hitler believed he was destined to fulfill the role for which "Providence" had selected him. As none of the attempts on his life succeeded the more that were made the more Hitler became convinced he was invulnerable. Hitler tried to keep his private life private and was tolerant of others' sexual behaviour as long as it did not interfere with the affairs of State as it did when Goebbels became infatuated with the Czech film star Lida Baarova. Hitler insisted the affair must end.
Linge admits Hitler was full of contradictions. "He might show the most fatherly concern for a female secretary who had stubbed her toe but be utterly ice-cold when issuing orders which sent thousands to their deaths". Similarly "Hitler was for me often indulgent, reasonable and adaptable" but could display ruthlessness in dealing with conquered nations. As head of an efficient army, he oversaw an inefficient administration preferring old comrades who did their "incompetent best" to newcomers who would outshine others. He described Himmler as "a pedant like his father. Really an ideal man for Reich culture minister....but I need him where he is." Linge notes that Himmler failed to persuade Hitler to replace Christianity with the cults of Wotan and Thor. The dictator was happy that the SS was full of non churchgoing Nazis.
As for the Fuhrer during the war "Hitler was little more than a warlord, strategist and soldier" who "imposed upon himself exaggerated and superfluous obligations." After the invasion of Poland communal decision making disappeared and the "old comrades" were willing to play the game even as Hitler's health deteriorated before their eyes. The physical decline of the Fuhrer was rapid after the failed assassination attempt of July 1944 and all medical attempts to get Hitler to change his dietary habits were unsuccessful.
Hitler's immediate entourage were constantly at loggerheads, particularly Goering and Goebbels. Linge had no time for Bormann, whom Hitler treated as a servant rather as an equal which was far different from the treatment accorded Hess. Ribbentrop was arrogant and while Linge suggests Speer was less than truthful in his post war claims, he makes it clear that Speer authored a memorandum in 1943 explaining to Hitler that the war was lost. Only Speer could have got away with it although Hitler refused to read the memorandum, suspecting it contained an irrefutable but unpalatable argument.
Linge, whose memory was imperfect, admitted that he had such blind faith in Hitler that he tended to overlook the dictator's weaknesses until late in the war. He admits that by the end Hitler was "tired and depressed" but refutes the claim that Hitler was less than one hundred percent compos mentis. However, notwithstanding Linge's closeness to the dictator, the Fuhrer's determination to have an "heroic" end in Berlin suggests a state of mind that was not completely sane.
When Linge was in captivity the Russians adopted a harsh attitude based on the belief that Hitler had escaped. The Soviets had obviously listened to the words to Colonel Bogey and asked Linge whether it was true that Hitler only had one ball. Surprisingly questions were not asked about Goering, Himmler or Goebbels. The book is well written and easy to read. However, one is left wondering how anyone, even an SS officer, could operate within such a moral vacuum and with the absence of an apology. Worth reading because it's an eyewitness account but the application of some degree of skepticism is recommended. Four stars and a must for all students of the psyche of a dictator.