Review of Richard J. Evans’s The Hitler Conspiracies: The Third Reich and the Paranoid Imagination
Published by Allen Lane, London 2020, pp. 276, price £20
This a compelling book about ‘fantasies and fictions, fabrications and falsifications’ — an excursion through five episodes of the Nazi period by the celebrated Cambridge historian, Sir Richard Evans. It colours in the background to today’s ‘paranoid style’ which wages war on expertise and where ‘alternative facts’ are promoted as being no different from alternative interpretations.
Evans deconstructs the mythology surrounding the anti-Semitic forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion; Germany’s ‘Stab in the Back’ defeat in the First World War I; the burning down of the Reichstag in 1934; the flight of Rudolf Hess to Scotland in 1941 — and Hitler’s wondrous escape to Argentina by submarine at the end of the war. He meticulously traces the evolution of lies and nostrums surrounding these and is rightly unsparing in castigating the opportunists who bend history so that it perfectly matches their own conspiratorial mania.
The Protocols evolved out of the French Revolution’s attack on the Catholic church — and the reaction to the promotion of equal rights for Jews. The Protocols did not refer to Jews in typical anti-Semitic terms as ritual murderers and the poisoners of wells, but saw them as subversive instigators of division in society — defenders of liberalism and socialism, upholders of academic endeavour and freedom of expression in the press.
In 1920, this forgery sold 120,000 copies. Goebbels understood it to be utter nonsense, but it was a useful tool since it was ‘characteristic of the race’.
The Nazis exploited the sudden capitulation of Germany in 1918 — an unnecessary and unneeded capitulation despite all military and political evidence to the contrary — blaming it on the Jews, accusing them of ‘a stab in the back’. Yet it was the Kaiser’s generals who had previously rejected the idea of a negotiated peace without any annexation.
Evans notes that the German War Ministry had conducted a survey of its 100,000 Jewish soldiers within its ranks during the First World War. It found that 80% of all Jews in the German forces were serving at the front. And, of these, 12,000 had been killed and 35,000 decorated for bravery. The results were never published and so the myth of Jews as shirkers, deserters and defeatists was born.
Evans suggests that the decimation of the Reichstag was the work of a deranged Dutchman, Marinus van der Lubbe, a fact obscured by two conspiracy theories, one perpetrated by the Nazis and one by the Communists.
And when Stalin worried that Hess’s flight might result in an alliance between Germany and Britain against the USSR, the Tass news agency surmised that Hess’s wife had been brought to London since she had been pictured playing the piano. The photo in question turned out to be the famous British Jewish pianist, Dame Myra Hess.
Hitler’s ‘escape’ from his Berlin bunker never ceases to fascinate. On one occasion, it was reported that he had been spotted in Dublin, dressed in women’s’ clothing. A retired German miner stated in 1969 that he had been arrested 300 times since 1945 for being mistaken for Hitler. All this did not deter the History Channel from laying out $16 million to make a series ‘Hunting Hitler’.
Richard Evans has written a highly effective antidote to the falsehoods churned out today by many rulers and their trolls.
Jewish Chronicle 30 October 2020