Posted December 11, 1998

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JANUARY 13th, 1982 (Wednesday)


IN MID-JANUARY I found myself addressing the Cambridge Union. Four hundred students filled the chilly structure, attentive and orderly but for a minority of minorities who rose to their feet regardless of the Rules of that ancient body, and voiced their objections in language reminiscent of Julius Streicher's Stürmer.

A number of their friends had come up from London and wanted to attend, they objected; but Peter Harvey, the Union's sage and distracted president, ruled that only Members might attend. I myself had no objection, and said as much, although the last time that people brought their friends and comrades up from London to "attend" a speech me it was a memorable occasion: they arrived by the coachload and it took scores of police to battle them back from the entrances to the Birmingham Union building.

On this occasion I saw out of the corner of my eye the tall, gaunt figure of Richard Morley -- a veteran of that Birmingham battle who is now a leading light in the Cambridge Union -- limp onto the Floor next to me dragging a recently broken leg and making me think for one moment that the Birmingham Werewolf had arrived. But he was merely raising a Point of Order with a courtesy and courtliness that some of Cambridge's indigenous indignants have still to acquire.

 ON THE BRITISH AIRWAYS Trident to Hamburg, I found myself behind the rotund figure of Lord Weidenfeld. We conversed amiably.

He was able to deny as apocryphal one story I had been told by a mysterious Swiss lawyer friend, François Genoud. Martin BormannGenoud controls the rights to all Hitler's, Bormann's [left] and Goebbels's literary estates. As such, he was the man who sold Weidenfeld the rights to Hitler's Table Talk, published in l953.

According to Genoud's agreeable version, when Weidenfeld asked to whom he should make the cheque payable, he said: "Not cheque, cheques. £20,000 to me, please; and the other £20,000 to Paula Hitler" -- the Führer's sister. Weidenfeld swore him to secrecy. I am sure Weidenfeld swore.

Not so, the noble publisher now said to me, as we unfastened our seatbelts. "Paula Hitler?" he exclaimed, raising his eyebrows. "Did part of the money go to her?"

Our lives seem inextricably entwined. It was Weidenfeld who precipitously cancelled the contract on my biography Hitler's War. At that time, he had not even seen the manuscript, which was only half written.

Hitler bookI had promptly offered it to Hodder and Stoughton Ltd., who offered substantially more than he had paid and made a great success of the publication. I remember running into Lord W. again on October 13, 1973, at the Frankfurt Book Fair and taking the opportunity of asking the reasons behind his decision. I wrote in my diary in my hotel room that night:

"8 pm to midnight, dinner party for 200 given by Reader's Digest. [...] I found myself eventually next to Weidenfeld, whom Robin [Denniston] insisted on placing next to me. Towards 11 pm [...] in the same maudlin fashion the same W. as had stared stonily through me all evening poured out his heart about the 'tragedy' which had lost his firm the Hitler book without even seeing it.

"He asked rhetorically if I knew who the enemies intriguing against me are? He had cancelled the book under extreme outside pressure, he said, from officials of Zionist groups and representations made -- indirectly, he later hinted -- by the embassies of two European countries, one of whom, a 'Nato Federal Republic', had stated to him that its secret service had warned most urgently against publishing my book as I was a 'highly dangerous man', etc. etc."

My note reminds me that I later formally thanked him for these very open revelations.

Afterwards he published my biography of Erwin Rommel, The Trail of the Fox, and did very well out of it indeed.

  IN HAMBURG I was to address the German People's Union. As a precaution I had first inquired of the German embassy whether it is a proscribed organisation: it is not.

At Hamburg's modern congress centre, where I was due to speak that Saturday afternoon, I was perplexed to find the building cordoned by police and placards announcing that the event had been cancelled. As I tried to enter, senior police officers were telling the arriving guests to disperse. It was with some difficulty that I got past them. Organisers assured me that a judicial injunction had been obtained by their lawyer, Dr Jürgen Rieger, obliging the congress hall to honour its contract, despite the threat of terrorist violence.

The director of the People's Union had covered every base. One of his men was carrying over ten thousand pounds in cash in case the hall management demanded a cash security. In fact, if the meeting had been abandoned, then the Union would have been many thousands of pounds the richer through compensation from the hall management: the Union has won several such actions before. We sat in the hall restaurant, awaiting the court official.

Masked and hooded men began trickling across the park and surrounding the building. I don't think they were on our side. The police moved up reinforcements. Thirty truckloads of helmeted riot police and dog handlers arrived in convoy with water cannon. Swinging batons and wielding shields they forced back the hooting demonstrators. Several guests were manhandled before they could get into the building but the police looked on impassively.

After ninety minutes, the court tipstaff arrived and announced: "If you do not open the hall, I shall be obliged to do so by force" (He was all of five foot six, so his courage was formidable.) Our meeting began. Of the eight hundred people who had come from all over Hamburg to hear me, only 150 braved the combination of flying fists, police obstinacy and below-zero temperatures. Next day, the tabloid Bild newspaper announced that the violence had been caused by clashes between Reds and Nazis.

Fortunately, the police managed to keep both factions out of the auditorium. At Düsseldorf it was the same story. The opposition had inserted advertisements in the Rheinische Post and several other newspapers announcing that the meeting was cancelled. They also threatened violence, and the Hilton hotel cancelled the contract at the eleventh hour.

This time the Union's lawyer, the Pickwickian Dr Hans Linnenbrink, obtained an immediate court injunction, under which the hotel would have forfeited up to half a million Deutschmarks (£120,000) if they refused to honour their contract; the alternative would be six months' jail for the hotel manager. Eight hundred people packed the hall, and only one man had to be ejected throughout the three hour meeting. The Düsseldorf police did their job and there was no violence whatever.

Why the difference? Hamburg has a radical Left administration, and the police leadership there are political appointees.

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