Monday, 14 July 2014

Book Review - The Goebbels diaries : the last days

The Goebbels diaries : the last days by Joseph Goebbels - edited, introduced and annotated by Hugh Trevor-Roper, translated from the German by Richard Barry

London : Secker & Warburg, 1978                                                ISBN 0436179660

What can one write about Joseph Goebbels? The eminence grise of the Nazis, the little club-footed Propaganda Minister was in some ways the most active, fiendish and successful of the motley crew of thugs and murderers who made up the leadership of the Third Reich.

Goebbels had literary pretensions in his youth, and began writing a diary in the '20s. Various parts of his diary have been found from time-to-time: some of the diaries from the mid-war years (1942-43) were found and published not long after the conflict: these diaries covering the last eight weeks of the war were discovered in the '70s and published then. Unbeknownst to the West, the Soviets had a copy of the whole diary in their archives, and this has recently been published in a full scholarly edition (in German).

...the last days covers the period 27 Feb to 9 Apr 1945. Goebbels by now was dictating his diary to a stenographer, and the first part of the day's entry was a military situation report, followed by Goebbels' comments. And it is these comments that form the interesting part of the diary.

Like many diaries, there is some repetition of themes - Goebbels by now no doubt was under a lot of stress, and his comments are a mixture of brutal reality, cynicism, wild and unrealistic hope and banality ( for example one of the entries discusses a proposed new tax system for the Reich in some detail).

One gets a real sense of Goebbels from the pages of this book; utterly unscrupulous, cynical, manipulative and smart. Some of his conclusions seem prescient now - his take on the political wiles of Stalin were spot on, as was his view that the War meant the end for Britain's status as a major power. Some of his other points are fairly well off the mark - he attacks the Allies for their bombing raids, destruction of historic places and failure to feed those remaining as barbaric,and yet these were exactly the things that the Nazis had been doing in Europe and beyond from 1939. He constantly refers to the frictions between the Allied powers, stating that if Germany could hold out they would eventually fall apart, without grasping the larger point that the Allies would never disconnect from each other until Nazi Germany had unconditionally capitulated.

He is aware from reports of the collapse of German morale, but thinks his power of rhetoric is enough to bring them back again. He is coming to the conclusion in these pages that the Nazis are no longer listened to - something he puts at the feet of people as diverse as Ribbentrop, Ley, and other functionaries - never himself.

His most vicious barbs are saved for Goering and the Luftwaffe - he grasped that it was Germany's failure in the air war that sealed her fate, and during the time of these diaries he spends much time trying to reorganise the Luftwaffe and get Goering dismissed.

What is also clear direct from Goebbels' mouth is that he was fully aware of The Holocaust.

This book is a fascinating insight into the thinking of one of the maddest most barbarous regimes in history - Goebbels saw his diary as a "world historical" document, and indeed it is -just not in the way he intended.

Chilling and fascinating at the same time, this is worth a read - as would the whole diary if it's ever published in English.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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