William L. Shirer: Twentieth Century Journey: The Start, 1904–1930; The Nightmare Years, 1930–1940; A Native’s Return, 1945–1988 – William L. Shirer

shirer Quite some time has passed since my last post, mainly due to work matters and my being fully invested in finishing the book that is the subject of this review.  Originally, I had planned on reading this three-part autobiography by William L. Shirer (1904-1993) one book at a time but Amazon also offers them combined and I decided to take the plunge.  Shirer  is by far, one of my favorite authors and there was no way I could pass this one up.  Some of you may be familiar with him and recall that he is best known for his time as a CBS correspondent stationed in Nazi Germany during Adolf Hitler’s (1889-1945) rise to power. Upon returning to the United States, he moved to radio full time and lived the rest of his years as an author of historical non-fiction that has stood the test of time. 

At the onset, I did not fully appreciate the length of the material.  And to say that the e-book is a long would be an understatement.  But contained within is an incredible story by one of America’s greatest witnesses to history.  Up first is volume one called “The Start” and his story begins in the Midwest in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on February 04, 1904, shortly after the turn of the century.  America was a very different place and Shirer is a master storyteller who brings the distant past back to life, allowing us to re-live what it was like in a time before cars, planes and the modern technology we take for granted daily.  As Shirer tells his story, he reveals something about his family’s ancestry that would later be a source of irony in the book. To be more specific, Shirer explains: 

“The family name originally was Scheurer, a fairly common name in the German Black Forest region. Some time during the trek west it was Anglicized to Shirer. My grandfather attached no importance to the change, explaining to me once, when I asked him, that it was done mainly because the town officials and tradesmen mistakenly kept writing it the way they thought it sounded, and it was simpler to go along with them.” 

In a twist of fate, the author of German stock, would make his name famous by reporting on the atrocities of the Third Reich in his family’s fatherland.  But Germany was not his first destination as a foreign news correspondence. In fact, Germany was not even on his list of places to be stationed.  How and why he left the United States to work in Europe is fully explained and it is clear that from a young age, Shirer’s life was destined to be anything but ordinary.  It surely was a complex fate and Shirer sums up the turn of events in this passage: 

“I had come over to Europe for two months. As it turned out, I would remain there to live and work for two decades, experiencing and chronicling the remaining years of an uneasy peace, the decline of the democracies, the rise of the dictatorships, turmoil, upheaval, violence, savage repression, and finally war.” 

Shirer did return to the United States early in his career, but a meeting with Robert Rutherford “Colonel” McCormick (1880-1955) of the Chicago Tribune turned out to be more than he could ever expected and set him down the path that would take him back to Europe and finally Berlin, where he would witness the rise of Nazi Germany.  The first volume is a good and Shirer’s memories of his time in Europe wherein he convalesced with some of the greatest writers and stars are interesting.  Among the many stars who make an appearance are literary greats Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951), Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) and Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961).  Shirer is like a human recorder, observing everything and brining the past back to life through his words.  It becomes clear that Europe is a second home and a place more familiar to him than the United States.  And though he would eventually return home, the reader will begin to see that Europe is the place where the best is yet to come and his to Germany in the second volume called “The Nightmare Years”, is where we see the William Shirer that most of us will be familiar with.  

In the second volume, Berlin takes center stage as Hitler is ramping up the Germany war machine as part of his master plan to dominate Europe. But first, he moves to annex neighboring countries without the use of force and Shirer revisits each episode to explain how Hitler pulled off those feats and why no one moved to stop him.  It will make some readers wonder whether World War II could have been prevented as early as 1938. Hitler seized on the inaction of Britain and France, setting his sights on Poland. But this time, people did step in and the world went to war.  Shirer, who had left the Chicago Tribune in a weird series of events that is discussed in the book, was hired by legendary broadcaster Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965) to become the CBS Correspondent in Berlin. This change of fate placed Shirer at the scene of the crimes so to speak as the Nazi regime plotted and schemed its way to become a looming threat across an entire continent. 

His interactions with the German officials are particularly amusing and reveal the façade presented to ordinary Germanys by the Nazis who had assured them that Germany did not want war with anyone.  Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945) makes repeated appearances throughout the story and the full extent of his delusion is on display.  Shirer gives his analysis of Goebbels and the other characters in Hitler’s inner circle whose names are infamous in world history.  I believe Oscar Wilde had it right when he said “the world is a stage, but the play is badly cast”.  However, in Nazi Germany, the cast was not only but deadly to anyone deemed inferior or Jewish.  Shirer does not go into the issue of the concentration camps extensively and I believe to do so would have required a different book. But he does bring up the matter later on during the Nuremberg trials. This part of the story is focused on the rise, menace and fall of Nazi Germany but in a highly compressed format.  Also, Shirer and his family left Germany in 1940, five years before the Germany military surrendered to Allied forces. His return home and life after war are covered extensive in volume three titled “A Native’s Return”. 

Upon returning home, Shirer starts the process of becoming re-acclimated with his native land. I do not believe he ever imagined how his life would change as he re-settled in America.  He found a place on radio but his relationship with Murrow takes a strange turn and Shirer goes through the entire story of his departure from CBS. I have not heard Murrow’s side if he ever put it in writing or gave statements orally.  But, the influence of former CBS president William S. Paley (1901-1990) is clearly evident and cast a dark cloud over the events as they play out.  But Shirer does not stay down for long and moves through life facing adversity head on.  And one decision in 1954, changed his life and reputation forever. It was then that he decided to write his masterpiece, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany, a book that remains among my favorites.  What I found surprising through Shirer’s words is that originally, no one wanted to publish the book.  It sounds mind-boggling today but I can understand that in 1954, a book over 1,000 pages was not an easy sell and still is not.  But in writing that book, Shirer created the definitive account of the Third SS Reich.  

Following the success of the book, Shirer embark on another project about the French defeat in World War II, a book which I have added to my list.  That book’s creation and reception are explained and shows the extent of knowledge Shirer possessed with regards to the war.  As the third volume progresses, he offers his continuing commentary on historical events in American history from Watergate to the Iran-Contra scandal.  And his frankly discusses his personal problems including the relationship with his wife Tess and his heart problems in later years.  Incredibly, Shirer never stops moving and even fulfils is dream of seeing Russia.  A good recap of that trip is also included in Shirer’s signature writing style.  As the third volume winds down, Shirer provides an overview of his life and those of his closest friends who all meet their own ending in various ways.  It truly is an incredible story of a journey through a century that changed our world.  As an American, he was placed in a unique position observe the world and as a final reflection, Shirer closes the three-part series with this quote that I personally can relate to for a number of reasons: 

“It was a complex fate, maybe, as Henry James said, to be an American and one, I realize, not especially admired by some in other countries and other cultures, who perceived us as “the ugly Americans.” Still, as I wrote in the last line of the general introduction, I am glad it was mine.” – William L. Shirer 

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The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men – Eric Lichtblau

nazisSeventy-five years have passed since Germany suffered defeat in World War II. Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) escaped justice by shooting himself with a pistol after watching Evan Braun (1912-1945) succumb to the ingestion of a poison laced capsule. Allied forces had hoped to put Hitler on trial for the whole word to see but the Austrian menace had no desire to fall into their hands.  While the hunt was on for other high-ranking Nazi officials, a secret operation was underway to bring hundreds of Hitler’s former conspirators to the United States as Washington began to prepare for the Cold War against the Soviet Union.  The mission was given the name Operation Paperclip and during its existence, some of the most notorious figures of the Third Reich were given a free pass to America and welcomed with open arms. Author Annie Jacobsen thoroughly examined the secret plan in her best-selling book Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America.  The book is eye-opening and shocking, however it is far from the full story.  In fact, there were are more former Nazis hiding in America during and after World War II, sometimes right in plain sight.  Eric Lichtblau revisits the stories of the Nazis next door. 

The tone of the book is set early as we go back in time to a meeting with former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Allen Dulles (1893-1969) and Nazi General Karl Wolff (1900-1984) in which Wolff offers his services in getting Germany to surrender. The working relationship established that night was only the beginning of a long and dark association between the United States Government and the Third Reich’s former henchmen. Today, the thought of such a think taking place is bound to cause repulsion. But as World War II came to a close, Washington was focused on Moscow and was willing to take any help it could get in fighting off the threat of communism. And this paranoia of a red scare, encouraged officials to make deals with devils who had once taken part in the deaths of thousands of prisoners in concentration camps across Europe as the Final Solution began to take shape and German soldiers embarked on a rampage across the continent.

Here, the focus is on a select few former Nazis of high importance. And while there were probably hundreds of former guards and Wehrmacht soldiers who entered the United States, it would have been impossible for the author to have included all of their stories here. However, the select group of figures that we do learn of, are a fitting representation of the true horrors that came about through Nazi terror. The list is short but the story of each brings the past to life when Jews and other ethnic groups were being systematically murdered in mass numbers. Of the more prominent names, there is Dr. Hubertus Strughold (1898-1986) who was appointed Chief Scientist at the Aerospace Medical Division of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The former nightmare to imprisoned Jews was given passage to America where he lived out a comfortable life and evaded Nazi hunters determined to see him face justice. We also learn of Hermine Braunsteiner (1919-1999) who slipped out of Germany and eventually settled in my hometown of New York City in Maspeth, Queens. Their names and places of residence are largely forgotten today and had it not been for zealous federal investigators, their former lives may have never been revealed, allowing them to live the quiet and peaceful life they denied to thousands of others as they inflicted death and destruction of those they deemed undesirable.

The amount of research that it took to complete this book is undoubtedly staggering. It is an incredible story chock full of crucial information that remains relevant even today, seven decades after the war. Further, although much time has passed since Germany’s surrender, there may be some former Nazis still living on American soil, having blended into society with their Nazi past carefully hidden. However, those in power in the CIA and even the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were fully aware of the Nazis coming into America. But the coming war against Moscow outweighed any concerns about former Nazi death dealers. The brazen willingness to accept these dark figures is on display in the book and the statements made by even the most revered heroes in American history might cause the mouths of readers to drop in amazement. In particular, the words of former Gen. George S. Patton (1885-1945) sent a chill down my spine and made me question if the goal was to eradicate Hitler and his group of racists demons or simply to prove that America could win against Germany while turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism.

I have no doubt that many readers will find themselves stewing over the incredulous deals made with the Nazis. These secrets initially remained carefully hidden from the public light but eventually word got out and when it did, red-faced officials in the government knew they had a problem. A young independent hunter of Nazis named Charles R. Allen, Jr. (1924-2004) kick-started the movement to cleanse America of Third Reich conspirators. And while he was not a law enforcement officer or prosecutor, his actions which are covered here in the book highlight the intense passion with which he and others would employ in tracking down the enforcers of death. As the shock over America’s recruitment of Nazis began to dissipate and the truth about these figures came to light, the movement to hunt them down grew far more intense. And as the story here moves forward, prosecutors and politicians join together in the search for the former Nazis. Former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman enters the story and takes charge against the Nazi menace lurking under the surface. She is joined by crusaders from the Justice Department who make it their life’s mission to track the former murderers down. And the result is an account that is riveting for its highs and also for its lows as the Justice Deparment scores victories and suffers a humiliating defeat as in the case of John Demjanjuk (1920-2012). The story is contained within and it is sure to leave readers speechless.

Just when you think the story is done, the author has even more to provide. And in addition to the stories of Nazis in America, Lichtblau also sheds light on the close working relationship between American intelligence and former Nazis still living on Germany soil whom the U.S. felt could be useful in gathering intelligence on the growing Soviet threat. The Nazi hunters left no stone unturned including many in other countries, even as far away as Lithuania as Justice Department investigator searched for any evidence he could find on Aleksandras Lileikis (1907-2000) who was eventually deported to Lithuania in 1996. It was clear to all who were paying attention, that Nazis were not safe anywhere and the Justice Department’s Nazi division was determined to see their targets face justice. Incredibly, not all in Washington were on board and the Nazi hunters faced opposition sometimes in the most unexpected places. Former Assistant to the President for Communications Pat Buchanan, served in the administration of Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) and his actions that are highlighted in the story should leave any upstanding American hot under the collar. As I read the book, I found myself staring in disbelief at what I was reading. It makes one wonder just how committed some were in seeing the Nazis pay for their past crimes. And Buchanan was not alone. The Nazis even garnered support in their neighborhoods from other immigrants displaced from Europe and others in high positions of power. The truth is dark, disturbing and ugly, and will surely leave readers with more questions than answers.

We may never know how many former Nazis found a new life in America. Some may still be alive and living right under our noses. They will more than likely pass on quietly with the truth of their former lives and occupations carefully guarded secrets. But the truth about how many of them came to America is discussed here in a book that everyone can find value in. It is a painful reminder of the lengths to which America was willing to go in the Cold War against the Soviet Union and global domination.

ASIN : B00HK3LRKW

He Was My Chief: The Memoirs of Adolf Hitler’s Secretary – Christa Schroeder

Christa Recently, I reviewed the memoir of Traudl Junge (1920-2002) who served as one of Adolf Hitler’s (1889-1945) secretaries during World War II.  Her book, Hitler’s Last Secretary is highly regarded as an intimate account of what Hitler was like behind closed doors. Hers is not the only book written by those who knew Hitler personally but it is undoubtedly one of the most interesting. Another secretary, Christa Schroeder (1908-1984), compiled this memoir about her life under Hitler during the war.  And although the book does not reveal anything groundbreaking, it is interesting in its own right. 

In comparison to Junge’s account, Schroeder’s also focuses on Hitler but takes a slightly different path in discussions about his association with various women whether friends or more intimate such as the case with Eva Braun (1912-1945). Some may be tempted to write off what she says about Braun as irrelevant gossip but I think she included it because of how Braun eventually became part of Hitler’s story. Schroeder points out in the book that before the end of the war, most people had no idea who Braun was. Hitler never publicly acknowledge being acquainted with any woman and always said that he belonged to Germany. His destiny as he saw it, was to lead the nation on a path of domination over Europe and if possible, the rest of the world. However, even Hitler had a softer side and it is clearly evident here. One subject that does come up which is still not completely understood is the suicide of his niece Angela Maria “Geli” Raubal (1908-1931). Her death just might be the critical piece of the puzzle in understanding Hitler’s future interactions with the opposite sex.

We do learn from Schroeder, that Hitler had a quite unusual relationship with his family. Today we would call it estranged and the author elaborates on the matter as follows:

“Hitler had no sense of family. His sister Paula was quite a few years younger than he was. She was a quiet, shy child and he had no great opinion of her. It may have been for the difference in their ages that he shut her out of his life. Paula lived in Vienna until the end of the Second World War, and then in Berchtesgaden until her death.”

I took notice of the irony that the most powerful man in Nazi Germany who professed never ending love for the fatherland, barely associated with his own family members. The revelation sets the stage for a Wizard of Oz type scenario in which we see the man behind the curtain. And the picture that is formed is of a person who was often at odds with nearly everything in society except his dog Blondie, beloved apple pie desserts and world domination.

Traudl Junge’s memoir is far more extensive mainly for the reason that she decided to include her life before Hitler in the book. Schroeder takes a different approach and makes no mention of childhood or life in Germany prior to joining Hitler. Readers that might be expecting a discussion of the rise of the Nazi party and Germany life prior to 1933, will not find much of it here. However, she does keep the narrative streamlined and the focus remains of the man who was her chief. She points of notable descriptions of his physique and mannerisms, some of which have been discusses elsewhere. Hitler’s trembling left hand enters the story as well as the role of the physician Theodor Morell (1886-1948). High-ranking members of the Reich and physicians were leery of Morrell and even went as far to advise Hitler of his physician’s ineptitude. Schroeder points out that:

“Dr. Brandt and Dr. Hasselbach explained to Hitler that the trembling of his left hand and gradual loss of vision were the result of the poisons in the anti-flatulence pills and that it was irresponsible of Dr. Morell to have made them freely available to be eaten like sweets.”

The subject of Hitler’s reliance on drugs is well-documented and it is widely known that before his famous meeting with Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) on July 20, 1944, Hitler had received one of Morrell’s “cocktails”. It is reported that Hitler raved non-stop for several hours. The chief was a physical and nervous wreck but remained determined to see a German victory even in the face of a clear defeat. Schroeder makes note of his changing mood and the atmosphere as the tide of the war changed and the Allies made steady progress towards Berlin. And in what could be described as surreal, the band played on.

Schroeder was given orders by Hitler to leave the bunker on April 20, 1945, and did not see what transpired in the bunker as the situation became dire and those who could leave did. Hitler refused to leave and Schroeder recalls Hitler phoning the secretaries as they were packing to depart. In the twelve years she worked for him, this was the only time that she recalled him ever using the phone to contact his secretaries. It was clear at this point that Berlin was beyond hope. Schroeder did not make it out of Germany but was instead taken into custody by Allied forces in May, 1945. On May 22, 1945, she was interviewed by Erich Albrecht, an officer of the US Counter-Intelligence Corp and the transcript is provided at the end of the book. There are no smoking guns in her answers but what I did notice was missing from the entire book was a discussion about the infamous Final Solution.

Christa Schroeder makes no mention of the Final Solution. There are no references to any camps. Unlike Traudl Junge who does acknowledge that they should have known what happening to the Jews, Schroeder says nothing. I do find it incredibly hard to believe that as Hitler’s secretary, she was unaware of what was happening to the Jews across Germany. While her position at one of Hitler’s secretaries would have isolated her from many things, the Final Solution was not a state secret. There were those who knew and many of them indeed. We will never know exactly how much she knew as she took with her to the grave, all knowledge she had about her years working for Hitler. Had she made a statement on the Final Solution and showed remorse, I believe that this book would be of more value. Sure, the book reveals a lot about Hitler but it stays completely away from his darkest fantasy, the idea of racial purity and the removal of all non-Aryan people from German society. It seems as if Germany’s darkest deed during the war was not important enough to merit even a comment in the author’s words. Schroeder is long gone but I am inclined to believe that she knew far more than she was willing to admit to and preferred to keep things close to the chest.

The number of books written about Adolf Hitler are numerous with some having much higher value than others naturally. Christa Schroeder’s account joins that group and while there is much value in what she says, there are also many questions regarding what she did not say.

ASIN : B00CBJXZA0

 

 

Hitler’s Last Secretary: A Firsthand Account of Life with Hitler -Traudl Junge with Melissa Muller

TraudlOn April 30, 1945, the Soviet Union Red Army, had reached within several blocks of the Reich Chancellory.  Realizing that their fates were sealed, Reich Chancellery Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) and Eva Braun (1912-1945) took their own lives instead of risking capture by Allied forces.  Over the next two days, those who had chosen to remain with them in the underground bunker made their way to surface and attempted to flee Berlin.  Among them was one of Hitler’s personal secretaries, Gertraud “Traudl” Junge (1920-2002).  As a close assistant to the Führer, she found herself in a unique position to observe the daily routine of one of the most powerful men in world history.   This is her memoir of the time she spent with the man who lit the spark for the second world war.

Traudl Junge was one of several people close to Hitler who wrote about their time with him at different points in his life.  Two memoirs that stand out in particular are The Young Hitler I Knew by August Kubizek (1888-1956) and I Was Hitler’s Pilot by Hans Baur (1897-1993).  Both are very good books and show Hitler’s life in different time periods.  Neither discuss the Final Solution in detail and I do not believe that Kubizek was a member of the Nazi Party.  However he was a close friend of the teenage Adolf Hitler and in his book, recalls many memories of their time together during their teen years.  Junge’s account is just as appealing and confirms much of what has been written about the cast of characters that formed the leadership of the Third Reich.

The information she reveals here is not anything groundbreaking nor are there any “smoking guns”.   In fact, there is very little discussion of the war or the Final Solution.  In regards to the war, Junge was assigned to stay close to Hitler and rarely left his side.  Her knowledge and exposure to the war comes largely from dictation that she is asked to type, military figures who arrive to converse with Hitler and the fate of her husband Hans Herman Junge (1914-1944).  The atrocities against Germany’s Jews also receives very little discussion.  But there is a scene in which the wife of a high-ranking official brings up the deportation of Jews.  The matter is not discussed further and Junge does not see her come around again.  As to how much she knew about the extermination camps will always be a mystery.  She did reveal some things here but any other information she may have kept close to the chest went with her to the grave when she died on February 10, 2002.  In 1973, she sat for an interview which was later included in a documentary called World at War, which aired on British television.  It is one of several interviews she gave about her time as Hitler’s secretary.  The program is available on YouTube and can be found here.  And to my surprise she speaks in fluenty English while recalling the memories she had with vivid clarity.  Of course, more than thirty years had passed since war ended and her once brown hair had by then, turned completely white.  But what she says in the interview closely matches what is written in the book.

What is really good about this story is that Junge observes many things about everyone who comes in and out of Hitler’s circle.  What becomes clear throughout the book is that Hitler is without a doubt the pupeteer and those under his command, who are entranced by his aura, go above and beyond to gain his admiration and sabotage competitors.  Rivalries, infidelity, gluttony and even drunkeness are all on the table as Junge gives her descriptions of the many faces she meets in just a few very short years.  And at times, the events that take place make it seem as if Hitler and his suboordinates lived in an alternate reality.

Hitler is by far the star of the show and Junge’s account of his daily activites provides an intimate look at the Führer. And in an almost Wizard of Oz like setting, we go behind the curtains and observe the contradiction between Hitler the leader and Hitler the person who cunningly presents himself as a benevolent father like figure, only concerned with Germany and its people.  Junge easily admits that his charm and personality blinded her to the evil lurking under the surface.  And that side of him is what kept Junge and others arround him largely unaware of major events that were spelling doom for Germany.  Admittedly, the picture she shows of Hitler does give the impression of a harmless older gentleman who many of us would love to have around. However, the cracks in the facade began to appear and she sums the point up perfectly in this quote:

Hitler lived, worked, played with his dog, ranted and raged at his generals, ate meals with his secretaries, and drove Europe towards its fate – and we hardly noticed. Germany was echoing with the wail of sirens and the roar of enemy aircraft engines. Fierce battles were being fought in the East.

This climate of insulation kept Hitler partially blind to his own egomania and the reality on the front lines.  News reports painting a grim picture for Germany’s success do come in and Junge vividly recalls those moments where Hitler literally flew into rages.  And at one point, even as the Russians are steadily advancing on Berlin, he still remains committed to defeating the Red Army.  Perhaps it was delusion or refusal to accept that the destiny he planned for Germany would never come to fruition.  By the time Hitler has decided to take his own life, it is clear to all involved that Germany is doomed. The reality of living in a post-war Germany as a Reich conspirator and the fear of Soviet capture, induced others to follow Hitler’s path including the Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945), his wife Magda Goebbels (1901-1945) and their six children. Today it might seem extreme that they chose death but Junge recalls a comment by Madga that explains the thoughts of those in the bunker:

“Frau Goebbels talked to me about it. There were no differences of class or rank any more, we were all bound together by fate. Frau Goebbels was in greater torment than any of us. She was facing six deaths, while the rest of us had only to face one. ‘I would rather have my children die than live in disgrace, jeered at. Our children have no place in Germany as it will be after the war.” 

Yet even as Hitler was planning his own demise, there were still others were carrying out their duties even if the Führer would not.  The efforts to achieve a negotiated surrender by Heinrich Himmler(1900-1945) and the attempt to seize control of the Reich by Hermann Goering (1893-1946) are both discussed, providing us with a look into the fragmented and substance riddled mind of the Führer, partly due to years of the injections by the Reich “Spritzenmeister”, Dr. Theodor Morrell (1886-1948).  The doctor makes an appearance as well and it is clear that Junge held the same opinion as many others about Hitler’s favorite doctor.

At less than three hundred pages, the book is slightly on the shorter side. But I do feel that Junge and Muller produced a very good memoir that will remain a welcomed addition to my library.  Some readers might expect more from her but what she did leave for us adds another level of authenticity to history’s record of Adolf Hitler’s last days.

ASIN: B005V2EEG8

I Was Hitler’s Pilot: The Memoirs of Hans Baur – Hans Baur

baurA 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.

ASIN: B00FOGG0ZE