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Posted Thursday, August 1, 2002

Henry Picker and Heinrich Heim were the two scribes who took down what Hitler said at his mealtime conversations. Hermann Rauschning wrote a book called Conversations with Hitler (also: Hitler Speaks). Problem: How can we assess their reliability?


Table Talk

How Reliable is Henry Picker?

by Joe Pryce


NO one will go to bat for -- although one or two of us would have enjoyed taking a bat to -- the Hermann Rauschning baggage [Gespräche mit Hitler], who should by now have been driven out of the game per saecula saeculorum; but, of course, he is still too useful to certain parties so he is to be stored in the broom closet: they won't give him the sack outright.

I well remember back in the late 1960s, when my 16 year old sister performed a devastating feat of philological criticism when she proved to her imbecile High School history teacher -- who ranked Hitler Speaks with such "existentialist" and gratefully forgotten bilge of yesteryear as Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre -- that huge hunks of "Hitler's" dialogue were hoisted ne varietur out of Guy de Maupassant's shattering later works, those horror contes that were written when the spirochaetes were delving into his little gray cells and madness was right around the bend ("The Horla," "Diary of a Madman," etc.); while other bits were plundered from "unknown" author Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and some moodily Gothic hunks of mise en scene were hammered together out of bits and pieces left from Zarathustra' first Paris Opera run.

Yes, high marks all round to the professoriate! But as Huysmans once said, "The sea of human stupidity is forever at high tide," and so recently I learned that an author had indulged, in a poor and pallid piece of hackwork on Adolf Hitler for the Sunday supplement of the Sunday Pail of Swill, in the goofiest bit of circular reasoning that I had encountered in donkey's years.

He blandly stated that even though Rauschning may not have been an intimate with Hitler, the work in question may still prove to be a viable documentary source, because it still "rings true" as resonating with what we "intuitively recognize as Hitler's own voice."

Yeah, after we have allowed Rauschning, Maupassant, Dostoyevsky, and -- who knows! -- Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, to drill that melodramatic blather into our heads for 60 years! However, I do believe that at least some small degree of caution may be in order when dealing with the documentary records provided by Herr Henry Picker, for at least one reputable authority holds that Picker may not have been all that he should be.

Heinrich Haertle seems to have thought that Picker can be positioned more along the lines of what the late Mark Twain referred to as a provider of "stretchers" (third or fourth cousins of the truth) rather than the more creative and culpable outright liar of the Münchhausen or Rauschning or Speer species.

Still, counsel may well want to check out what Heinrich Haertle has to say. In Herr Haertle's edition of Alfred Rosenberg's post-war memoirs, entitled (by the editor) Grossdeutschland Traum und Tragödie: Rosenbergs Kritik am Hitlerismus (and in spite of the usual Fleet-Street sneering, these memoirs are precisely that, a "critique," which, when conjoined with Rosenberg's principled refusal to join the winning team, as it were, once all had been made clear to him, certainly makes the post-war cynicism at his tenacious stand at Nuremberg tell us a bit more about the rancid souls of our hollow men at the daily rags than we may have wanted to know.

It certainly casts a more noble radiance upon Rosenberg (left): a man who kept his nerve, his pride, and his principles intact and entire after his downfall.

Strange, is it not, how so many commentators almost come right out and say something that no 19th century historian would have dreamed of saying under any circumstances; I'm paraphrasing, of course: come on, don't be an idiot, get real, make a deal and say what they want you to say. Everybody's doing it!

No wonder they found him incomprehensible! Here's what Haertle has to say with reference to Picker's editorial methods in the apparatus criticus appended to the memoirs; Haertle doesn't pound Picker to a perfect pulp as, say, Housman was wont to do with a bold blockhead who was quite wrong -- and about to learn the fact -- in his deeply-held conviction that he was quite well-prepared to edit a new improved edition of Manilius (which would turn out to be, like as not, something that he would never do again, in some cases because the savagery of the review by Housman may well have tempted him to thoughts of an early retirement from the career he had chosen, and perhaps even the planet he had not!), but the contempt is surely in evidence -- and Haertle, though an NSDAP loyalist, was a real scholar, and one of the few men in brown whose integrity was not for sale, viz., he was one of the rare Party spokesmen who insisted in public that Nietzsche was not one of the Parteigenossen and that he would never look the part in jackboots and armband:

Die Legende, Hitler habe den Inhalt des Mythus nicht gekannt, dürfte damit widerlegt sein. Schon aus Vorsicht und des mit der Veröffentlichung verbundenen Wagnisses wegen wird sich Hitler das Manuskript genau angesehen haben. In einem Gespräch im Führerhauptquartier am 11. April 1942 soll er jedoch behauptet haben, der Mythus sei von ihm nur zum geringen Teil gelesen worden. Er betonte dabei, dass dieses Werk keinen parteiamtlichen Charakter habe. Der Titel sei schief, da etwas "Mystisches" gegen die Geistesauffassungen des 19. Jahrhunderts gestellt werde. Als Nationalsozialist müsse man aber "den Glauben an das Wissen des 20. Jahrhunderts gegen den Mythos des 19. Jahrhunderts stellen." Diese angeblichen "Tischgespräche" sind allerdings nur mit entsprechender Vorsicht verwertbar. Der "Protokollant", Henry Picker, hat sich ohne Auftrag und Genehmigung nur heimlich Notizen angefertigt und diese später zu subjektiven "Niederschriften" ausgebaut, bei denen niemand mehr wahrheitsgetreue Wiedergabe und formal und inhaltliche Veränderungen zu unterscheiden vermag. Offensichtlich wird dabei "mythisch" mit "mystisch" verwechselt. [p. 296]

My own studies are in philosophy, but you know as an historian full well just what kind of mischief junk philology can get up to when it has a sinister end in view. So, can you imagine what the great minds of 19th century European scholarship would have said of an author like Michael Hauskeller, who, in an essay on "Ludwig Klages und die Moderne Ethik" could indulge in such a filthy bit of trickery as this:

Und wenn Rudolf Hess dann später erklärt, dass der nationalsozialistisch Massenmord "nichts als angewandte Biologie" sei,'

I do believe that the only way to retaliate against such an offense is in kind, say, with a glitzy pamphlet featuring Hauskeller, with the intervention of some space-age quilt-quotations and a few nifty graphics, endorsements from Joe McCarthy and Jeff Dahmer, and several snaps of the guy with three or four underage zebras, as he gets all smarmy and sentimental confessing that nothing is more fun than a spot of NS genocide on the weekend -- and then he winks and winks again -- fade-to-black with Current 93 soundtrack.


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IrvingDavid Irving comments:

HENRY Picker took over the duties of writing the notes on Hitlers conversations from Heinrich Heim, Martin Bormann's adjutant, in 1942. I interviewed Heim in the 1960s. He told me that Picker had found a sheaf of his notes in the desk when he took over, and after the war rewrote them in the third person and published them as his own work. Picker, a wealthy landowner after the war, established a priate Hitler museum stuffed with priceless Hitleriana, for example he purchased all of Julius Schaub's personal effects.

Far more significant than Picker's are the original Heim Aufzeichnungen, of which one (October 25, 1941) is illustrated here. Heim ("H/") wrote them in the first person, in direct speech, and Bormann personally signed each day's notes as accurate. The several ring binders of the notes were purchased from the Bormann family, along with Bormann's own correspondence with his wife, by Swiss banker François Genoud after the war.

Austrian-born publisher George Weidenfeld published an English translation as Hitler's Table Talk, with an introduction by Hugh Trevor-Roper -- the book is still in my view one of the best windows into the mind of Hitler himself. Weidenfeld had purchased rights from Genoud (as the latter told me) for forty thousand pounds. Genoud insisted that half the payment be made direct to Hitler's sister Paula! Weidenfeld choked, but did as he was bidden (Weidenfeld later denied this story). Genoud allowed me privileged access to the original German documents for Hitler's War. Other scholars like Martin Broszat and Charles Syndour were unfamiliar with the German texts, and jealously accused me of misquoting when I produced my own translations of the notes, but that is another story. Finally, the table-talk notes written by Dr Werner Koeppen (Rosenberg's adjutant) should not be overlooked. I donated a transcript to the Institut für Zeitgeschichte many years ago.

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