A few days ago I was browsing recommendations on Amazon and came across this book whose title caught my attention. I have not read anything on Nazi Germany in quite some time so I decided to take a closer look. I was unaware of Hans Baur (1897-1995) and his relationship with Adolf Hitler (1889-1945). As the Fuhrer’s pilot, I knew Baur would have very intimate knowledge of Hitler’s life behind the scenes and the book does not disappoint. However, it should be noted that it is really Baur’s story with Hitler filling many of the pages for obvious reasons. The story is interesting but I could not help feel that Baur left many things out. Readers may also feel the same way for reasons that will be discussed below.
Baur begins with his early life but quickly moves forward to his career as a pilot. It is apparent from the start that he was a very gifted aviator with an extraordinary career. His recollections about the early days of aviation are fascinating and will remind the reader that flying today is exponentially safer than it once was. He does not go into too much technical detail but just enough so that anyone can follow along. He even discusses some monumental moments in aviation including the founding of the German airline Lufthansa. From a historical standpoint, it is a good summary of the development of air travel in Europe. But by no means is it the only source of information and Baur never implies as much. He was a devoted pilot and you can feel his love of aviation in his words. With hundreds of thousand of air miles, the future for him was bright but his entire life changed when he was summoned to appear before Adolf Hitler.
It will be no surprise that at this point in the book, the story picks up pace sharply. Hitler is no ordinary passenger, but instead the Fuhrer who ruled Germany and began a world war. Curiously, the image of Hitler given by Baur is in stark contrast to the man who plotted to take over Europe and gave the go ahead for the Final Solution. The Hitler we see here comes across as an affable uncle type character who dotes on his close acquaintances and their children. In Baur’s defense, his time with Hitler was mainly spent in the air and in private conversation. And according to his words, Hitler did not discuss future plans for the war with him, typically resulting in Baur finding out major news at the very last minute from someone else working for the Fuhrer.
Because the book is about the Third Reich, there is the elephant in the room regarding the treatment of the Jews. Baur barely discusses it and only brings it up once in the book. Without Baur here to answer for himself, it is nearly impossible to say what he believed about Jewish people. At no point in the book does he display any antisemitism but it is possible that even if he did have those feelings, he would not have stated such in his memoirs. I was honestly mystified about this and felt that if he was against the Final Solution, he would have made a statement clarifying his position. But that is simply my opinion. 0Most likely, he had very good reasons to avoid discussing the Final Solution. This may not satisfy some readers but I caution that the book is still good regardless.
His inside position in Hitler’s circle gave him unrestricted access nearly everywhere and he interacted with all of the major figures of the Reich. Hermann Goering (1893-1946) and Rudolf Hess (1894-1987) are frequent flyers with Baur, whose criticisms of Goering are quite amusing. But what is more incredible is that he was present at nearly every major moment in the history of the Reich. And although he had no military power or responsibilities in planning aerial missions against the Allies, he was a keen observer of the reality facing Germany as it started to become clear that the war would be lost. Baur is frank in his assessments of those around him and the German war effort. He confirms what historians have written for years and what many Germans began to realize as the Allies started to make gains and bomb in broad daylight.
In April, 1945, the Allies began to close in on Berlin. Hitler knew the end was near and had buried himself inside his bunker. Baur stayed with him until the very end, resisting Hitler’s efforts to send him off. He provides a detailed account of the final days with Hitler and what happened inside the bunker. The information he provides can be crossed-referenced and readers will find that it matches with the descriptions given by other authors. However, I believe that the entire dialogue between Baur and Hitler is not provided anywhere else. As I read this part of the book, I found myself in disbelief at some of the scenes that play out even as the Red Army is only hundreds of yards away. They are surreal and caused me to wonder if those involved believed they were in a film and waiting for the director to yell cut.
Following Hitler’s death, Baur escapes with several others before falling into Soviet Hands. The last part of the book is about his time as a prisoner of war being held in Russia. It was clearly a rough experience and he explains in detail all that happened. His title and rank resulted in never ending questions and Soviet officers maintained disbelief that he had no knowledge the Reich’s war plans. After ten hard years, he was released and returned to Germany in a homecoming. I leave it up to readers to decide whether he was a hero or a war criminal guilty by association. Yet it is also possible that he was simply Hitler’s pilot.