The Hitler Book, compiled after the suicide of its subject, has its own strange history. Its origins lay in “Operation Myth,” conducted by the NKVD (after 1946 the MVD) for Joseph Stalin in order to confirm Hitler’s death. Soviet secret police repeatedly and sometimes brutally interrogated Hitler’s head-of-household Heinz Linge and Hitler’s personal adjutant Otto Günsche, neither of whom was released from captivity until 1955, and the latter of whom then vanished into an East German prison. The Soviets confirmed Hitler’s death in 1946, after which they further interrogated their unfortunate subjects to extract a more general analysis of the Führer. Stalin received the final report of 413 typed pages in December 1949. One copy of the original was made—at the behest of Nikita Khrushchev—and discovered in the Communist Party archives in Moscow by German historians Henrik Eberle and Matthias Uhl in 2003.
The Hitler Book represents the only known such detailed Soviet intelligence study of Hitler’s personality. A third of it concerns the final months of the Nazi regime. Since Linge and Günsche had more daily contact with Hitler than the sources used by Hugh Trevor-Roper in his study of Hitler’s death for British intelligence (published in 1947 as The Last Days of Hitler—ironically to disprove Soviet claims that Hitler was living in the West), The Hitler Book is a valuable document indeed. Linge and Günsche, the editors show, had detailed memories. Their stories, moreover, were checked and crosschecked by Soviet intelligence officers. Their discussions of meetings and briefings for which they were the only sources are especially interesting.
Still, The Hitler Book must be read cautiously. As the editors note, the portrait that emerged from Operation Myth was in many ways the picture that Stalin’s subordinates thought their boss expected: The Hitler Book is as much a record of the Soviet understanding of Hitler, Nazism, and the war, as a record of the actual Hitler. Soviet collaboration with Hitler from 1939 to 1941 is not mentioned. Nor is the Final Solution—the late 1940s witnessed Stalin’s own growing paranoia concerning the Jews. Nazism, meanwhile, is understood as a “massive capitalist concern” (p. 7), with Hitler its lackey. Rudolf Hess’s May 1941 flight to Great Britain appears as what the Soviets always understood it to be—an attempt at an alliance between German and British plutocrats, undertaken with Hitler’s approval. Predictably, Allied military campaigns against Germany are minimized. Other details—as the book’s editors show in numerous notes—are simply incorrect, particularly if the events they describe occurred before Linge and Günsche’s own knowledge. Thus Ernst Röhm did not grovel before his killers during the SA purge of June 30, 1934, and it was General Kurt von Schleicher’s maid, not his daughter, who was killed on that bloody evening. [End Page 113]
On the other hand The Hitler Book has much that confirms other sources, especially with regard to Hitler’s geopolitical outlook. It confirms that Hitler held the British in contempt rather than in admiration; that he viewed the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935 as a definitive blow against Western efforts at collective security; that he was convinced that the British were defeated after the western campaigns of 1940. Soviet interrogators also captured the dark mood in German command circles after the defeat at Stalingrad, including Hitler’s distrust of his generals, his hypochondria, his nervous irritability, and his glee in March 1943 when Werner von Braun demonstrated the destructive potential of the V-2 rocket.
Reflecting Soviet suspicions, there is a great deal in The Hitler Book regarding German expectations that the alliance between the Anglo-Americans and the Soviets would collapse from its own ideological contradictions, but again, the information is colored by Soviet suspicions that Washington and London hoped to use Germany against the USSR. Hitler...