Unless correspondents ask us not to, this Website will post selected letters that it receives and invite open debate.
Eric Yankovich asks on Thursday, January 1, 2004 if it worth spending time reading Hitler's Table Talk
How good is Hitler's Table Talk?
I PURCHASED a book Hitler's Table Talk, 1941 to 1944. It is about 1.5 inches thick. It has an introduction by H.R. Trevor-Roper and translated by Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens.
Can you please tell me if you have read it and what your thoughts are. Assuming Hitler did have these so called "Table Talks", do you believe that it was faithfully translated?
The reason I ask you is that I do not trust much of anything, especially being burnt by reading Albert Speer's book. I briefly discussed this with you about four or five years ago during a luncheon you had in Washington D.C.
I read a bit of the Table Talk and I am already turned off because H.R. Trevor Roper engages in an anti-Hitler diatribe in the beginning of the book, so it is difficult for me to trust the translation. H.R. Trevor Roper should have written a book "why I hate Hitler, even though I never met him!"
I respect your opinion; I read five of your books already. The last one was Dresden, a real crime and tragedy if there ever was one.
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David Irving replies:
Hitler's Table Talk is the product of his lunch- and supper-time conversations in his private circle from 1941 to 1944. The transcripts are genuine. (Ignore the 1945 "transcripts" published by Trevor-Roper in the 1950s as Hitler's Last Testament -- they are fake).
The table talk notes were originally taken by Heinrich Heim, the adjutant of Martin Bormann, who attended these meals at an adjacent table and took notes. (Later Henry Picker took over the job). Afterwards Heim immediately typed up these records, which Bormann signed as accurate.
François Genoud purchased the files of transcripts from Bormann's widow just after the war, along with the handwritten letters which she and the Reichsleiter had exchanged.
For forty thousand pounds -- paid half to Genoud and half to Hitler's sister Paula -- George Weidenfeld, an Austrian Jewish publisher who had emigrated to London, bought the rights and issued an English translation in about 1949.
For forty years or more no German original was published, as Genoud told me that he feared losing the copyright control that he exercised on them. I have seen the original pages, and they are signed by Bormann.
They were expertly, and literately, translated by Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens, though with a few (a very few) odd interpolations of short sentences which don't exist in the original -- the translator evidently felt justified in such insertions, to make the context plain.
Translation is a difficult chore: I have translated four books, including Nikki Lauda's memoirs -- one can either produce a clinical, wooden, illiterate version, like Richard "Skunky" Evans' courtroom translations of Third Reich documents, or one can produce a readable, publishable text which properly conveys the sense and language of the original.
Try translating for publication the Joseph Goebbels diaries -- written often in a Berlinese vernacular -- without running into trouble with the courts! Louis Lochner succeeded in my view magnificently.
Weidenfeld's translator also took liberties with translating words like Schrecken, (see facsimile above), which he translated as "rumour" in the sense of "scare-story". In my own view such translations are acceptable, but they caused a lot of difficulty at the Lipstadt Trial where I found myself accused of manipulating texts and distorting translations (because although I relied on the Weidenfeld translation, I had had access to the original document, and should have known that the actual word was Schrecken).
The Table Talks' content is more important in my view than Hitler's Mein Kampf, and possibly even more than his Zweites Buch (1928). It is unadulterated Hitler. He expatiates on virtually every subject under the sun, while his generals and private staff sit patiently and listen, or pretend to listen, to the monologues.
Along with Sir Nevile Henderson's gripping 1940 book Failure of a Mission, this was one of the first books that I read, as a twelve year old: Table Talk makes for excellent bedtime reading, as each "meal" occupies only two or three pages of print. My original copy, purloined from my twin brother Nicholas, was seized along with the rest of my research library in May 2002.
I have since managed to find a replacement, and I am glad to say that -- notwithstanding the perverse judgment of Mr. Justice Gray -- Hitler's Table Talk has recently come back into print, unchanged: Schrecken and all.