Letter: The truth about Goebbels' diaries

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The Independent Online
Sir: Amid all the brouhaha surrounding the absurd choice of so 'ideologically tainted' a historian as David Irving as mediator of the Goebbels diaries and all the backtracking, self-congratulations and rationalisations of Andrew Neil, editor of the Sunday Times, one central point seems to have been lost: Joseph Goebbels' claim to immortality rests on his having been one of the most accomplished and influential liars in human history.

Indeed, his very title, 'Minister of Propaganda', gives recognition to that fact. Clearly, his voluminous diaries were intended for publication - posthumous or otherwise - and must in no sense be seen as a reliable commentary on the Third Reich. Rather, they must be seen as a mendacious feature of the Third Reich, which the rest of us must treat with the utmost caution.

I was astonished to hear (on LBC radio yesterday) that Norman Stone attaches such credence to these diaries - the notion, for instance, that they alone could vindicate A. J. P. Taylor's view of Munich or that we must now reassess the history of the Second World War. Allow me to mention just two examples of falsification contained in the diaries.

Goebbels' description of the anti-Jewish boycott of 1 April 1933 ('Everywhere the (German) public has proclaimed its solidarity. Discipline is exemplary.') is totally at odds with all other objective accounts, and, in connection with Kristallnacht, Raul Hilberg cites the following excerpt from Himmler's memorandum:

The order was given by the Propaganda Directorate, and I suspect that Goebbels, in his craving for power, which I noticed long ago, and also in his empty-headedness, started this action just at a time when the foreign political situation is very grave. . . . When I asked the Fuhrer about it, I had the impression that he did not know anything about these events.

Within the upper echelons of the Nazi Party, Goebbels was deeply embarrassed by his own intemperate encouragement of the open, unsystematic, anti-Jewish violence of November 1938, which attracted such a welter of outraged opposition, especially overseas. Clearly, he was using his diary to exonerate himself in the eyes of posterity - that is, of course, assuming that Goebbels was any longer able to distinguish myth from fact. His role, both in Nazi Germany and in 20th-century history, is as the distorter par excellence of moral and political reality. His diaries should therefore be treated with the greatest scepticism.

Yours faithfully,

R. S. LANDAU

Head of Humanities Department

City Literary Institute

London, WC2

6 July

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