Hitler's Table Talk
Hitler's Table Talk (German: Tischgespräche im Führerhauptquartier) is the title given to a series of World War II conversations and monologues delivered by Adolf Hitler, which were transcribed from 1941 to 1944. Hitler's remarks were recorded by Heinrich Heim, Henry Picker, and Martin Bormann, and later published by different editors, under different titles, in three different languages.
Martin Bormann, who was serving as Hitler's private secretary, persuaded Hitler to allow a team of specially picked officers to record in shorthand his private conversations for posterity. The first notes were taken by the lawyer Heinrich Heim, starting from 5 July 1941 to mid March 1942. Taking his place, Henry Picker took notes from 21 March 1942 until 2 August 1942, after which Heinrich Heim and Martin Bormann continued appending material off and on until 1944.
The talks were recorded at the Führer Headquarters in the company of Hitler's inner circle. The talks not only dwell on war and foreign affairs, but also Hitler's characteristic attitudes on religion, culture, philosophy, personal aspirations, and his feelings towards his enemies and friends.
History of the Table Talk
The history of the document is relatively complex, as numerous individuals were involved, working at different times, collating different parts of the work. This effort spawned two distinct notebooks, which were translated into multiple languages, and covered, in some instances, non-overlapping time-frames due to ongoing legal and copyright issues.
All editions and translations are based on the two original German notebooks, one by Henry Picker, and another based on a more complete notebook by Martin Bormann (which is often called the Bormann-Vermerke, or "Bormann Notes"). Henry Picker was the first to publish the Table Talk, doing so in 1951 in the original German. This was followed by the French translation in 1952 by François Genoud, a Swiss financier. The English edition came in 1953, which was translated by R. H. Stevens and Norman Cameron and published under the editorial hand of historian Hugh Trevor-Roper. Both the French and English translations were based on the Bormann-Vermerke manuscript, while Picker's volume was based on his original notes, as well as the notes he directly acquired from Heinrich Heim spanning from 5 July 1941 to March 1942. The original German content of the Bormann-Vermerke was not published until 1980 by historian Werner Jochmann. However Jochmann's edition is not complete, as it lacks the 100 entries made by Picker between 12 March and 1 September 1942.
Albert Speer, who was the Minister of Armaments and War Production for Nazi Germany, confirmed the authenticity of Henry Picker's Table Talk in his 1976 memoirs. Speer stated that Hitler often spoke at length about his favorite subjects, while dinner guests were reduced to silent listeners. In the presence of his "superiors by birth and education" Hitler made a sincere effort to "present his thoughts in as impressive manner as possible." It is important to remember, Speer noted, "this collection includes only those passages in Hitler's monologues—they took up one to two hours every day—which struck Picker as significant. Complete transcripts would reinforce the sense of stifling boredom."
According to historian Max Domarus, Hitler insisted on absolute silence when he delivered his monologues. No one was allowed to interrupt or contradict him. Magda Goebbels reported to Galeazzo Ciano that, "It is always Hitler who talks! He can be Führer as much as he likes, but he always repeats himself and bores his guests."
Although considered authentic, contentious issues remain over particular aspects of the work, including the reliability of particular translated statements within the French and English editions, the questionable manner in which Martin Bormann may have edited his notes, and disputes over which edition is most reliable.
Hitler's comments on religion
Between 1941 and 1944, the period in which the Table Talk was being transcribed, a number of Hitler's intimates cite him expressing negative views of Christianity, including Joseph Goebbels, Albert Speer, and Martin Bormann. However Nazi General Gerhard Engel reports that in 1941 Hitler asserted, "I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so." Similarly Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber reported that Hitler "undoubtedly lives in belief in God ... He recognizes Christianity as the builder of western culture."Ian Kershaw concluded that Hitler had deceived Faulhaber, noting his "evident ability to simulate, even to potentially critical church leaders, an image of a leader keen to uphold and protect Christianity". The Table Talk indicates Hitler continued to wish for a united Christian Church of Germany for some time after 1937, in line with his earlier policy of uniting all the churches to bring them more firmly under Nazi control, so they would support Nazi policy and act as a unifying rather than divisive force in Germany, that had largely proven unsuccessful. By 1940, however, it was public knowledge that Hitler had abandoned even the syncretist idea of a positive Christianity. Instead, after 1938 Hitler began to publicly support a Nazified version of science, particularly social Darwinism, at the core of Nazi ideology in place of a religious one - a development that is reflected in private in his increasingly hostile remarks towards religion in Table Talk.
In the Table Talk, Hitler praised Julian the Apostate's Three Books Against the Galilaeans, an anti-Christian tract from AD 362. In the entry dated 21 October 1941 Hitler stated, "When one thinks of the opinions held concerning Christianity by our best minds a hundred, two hundred years ago, one is ashamed to realise how little we have since evolved. I didn't know that Julian the Apostate had passed judgment with such clear-sightedness on Christianity and Christians ... the Galilean, who later was called the Christ, intended something quite different. He must be regarded as a popular leader who took up His position against Jewry ... and it's certain that Jesus was not a Jew. The Jews, by the way, regarded Him as the son of a whore—of a whore and a Roman soldier. The decisive falsification of Jesus's doctrine was the work of St. Paul ... Paul of Tarsus (his name was Saul, before the road to Damascus) was one of those who persecuted Jesus most savagely." And author Konrad Heiden has quoted Hitler as stating, "We do not want any other god than Germany itself. It is essential to have fanatical faith and hope and love in and for Germany."
This led to a widespread consensus among historians, sustained over a long period of time following the initial work of William Shirer in the 1960s, that Hitler was anti-clerical. This continues to be the mainstream position on Hitler's religious views, and these views continue to be supported by quotations from the English translation of Table Talk. The remarks that continue to be widely accepted as genuine include such quotes as 'Christianity is the prototype of Bolshevism: the mobillization by the Jew of the masses of slaves with the object of undermining society.' Table Talk also attributes to Hitler a confidence in science over religion: "Science cannot lie ... It's Christianity that's the liar". Michael Burleigh contrasted Hitler's public pronouncements on Christianity with those in Table Talk, suggesting that Hitler's real religious views were 'a mixture of materialist biology, a faux-Nietzschean contempt for core, as distinct from secondary, Christian values, and a visceral anti-clericalism.' Richard Evans also reiterated the view that Nazism was secular, scientific and anti-religious in outlook in the last volume of his trilogy on Nazi Germany, writing, 'Hitler's hostility to Christianity reached new heights, or depths, during the war;' his source for this was the 1953 English translation of Table Talk. Ian Kershaw notes, however, that they are imperfect translations, with a tendency to miss words and leave out lines. He uses the original German sources for preference, advising 'due caution' in using the English translations.
In 2003 two challenges appeared to this consensus view. One was from Richard Steigmann-Gall. As part of a wider thesis that portrayed Hitler as at least a cultural Christian, he argued that several passages in Table Talk revealed Hitler to be a great admirer of the cultural aspects of Christianity, and somebody who held Jesus in high esteem. He also suggested that the conversations do not reveal Hitler as an atheist or an agnostic, a worldview Hitler continued to denigrate the Soviet Union for promoting. However, he admitted that they showed an 'unmistakable rupture' with Hitler's earlier religious views, which Steigmann-Gall characterised as Christian. He attributes this to Hitler's anger at his failure to exert control over the German churches, and suggests it was not anger at Christianity itself. Steigmann-Gall's views proved highly controversial, although as John S. Conway pointed out, the differences between his thesis and the earlier consensus were mostly about the 'degree and timing' of Nazi anti-clericalism.
In the same year, the historical validity of remarks in the English and French translations of Table Talk dating from the 1950s was challenged in a new partial translation by Richard Carrier and Reinhold Mittschang, who went so far as to call them 'entirely untrustworthy', suggesting they had been altered by Francois Genoud as part of a deliberate forgery to enhance Hitler's views. They put forward a new translation of twelve quotations from the text preserved at the Library of Congress which portrayed Hitler as a committed Christian, leading Carrier to the conclusion Hitler was 'a candid (and bigoted) Protestant.' 
Richard Carrier maintains that much of Trevor-Roper's English edition is actually a verbatim translation of Genoud's French, and not the original German. Carrier's thesis is that a textual analysis between Picker's original German text and Genoud's French translation reveals that Genoud's version is at best a poor translation, and in some instances fraudulent. Many of the quotations used to support arguments in favour of Hitler's anti-Christianity are derived from the Genoud–Trevor-Roper translation. Carrier argues that no one "who quotes this text is quoting what Hitler actually said."
One disputed example includes Hitler's statement that, "Our epoch will certainly see the end of the disease of Christianity." The Library of Congress manuscript, as transcribed by Carrier, reads, "Die Zeit, in der wir leben, ist die Erscheinung des Zusammenbruchs dieser Sache." Which Carrier translates (in bold) as: "I have never found pleasure in maltreating others, even if I know it isn't possible to maintain oneself in the world without force. Life is granted only to those who fight the hardest. It is the law of life: Defend yourself! The time in which we live has the appearance of the collapse of this idea. It can still take 100 or 200 years. I am sorry that, like Moses, I can only see the Promised Land from a distance."
The Trevor-Roper edition also quotes Hitler saying, "I realise that man, in his imperfection, can commit innumerable errors—but to devote myself deliberately to error, that is something I cannot do. I shall never come personally to terms with the Christian lie. In acting as I do, I'm very far from the wish to scandalise. But I rebel when I see the very idea of Providence flouted in this fashion. It's a great satisfaction for me to feel myself totally foreign to that world.' In the Library of Congress manuscript, this is written as:
Ich weiß, dass der Mensch in seiner Fehlerhaftigkeit tausend Dinge falsch machen wird. Aber entgegen dem eigenen Wissen etwas falsch tun, das kommt nicht in Frage! Man darf sich persönlich einer solchen Lüge niemals fügen. Nicht weil ich andere ärgern will, sondern weil ich darin eine Verhöhnung der ewigen Vorsehung erkenne. Ich bin froh, wenn ich mit denen keine innere Verbindung habe.
Which Carrier translates: "I know that humans in their defectiveness will do a thousand things wrong. But to do something wrong against one's own knowledge, that is out of the question! One should never personally accept such a lie. Not because I want to annoy others, but because I recognize therein a mockery of the Eternal Providence. I am glad if I have no internal connection with them."
Carrier also claims there are omissions in the English translations. In the original German Picker and Jochmann's text, Hitler had stated, "What man has over the animals, possibly the most marvellous proof of his superiority, is that he has understood there must be a Creative Power!" However this text is missing from both the Genoud and Trevor-Roper translations. The problem of omitted sentences is an issue noted by Kershaw, although he attaches less significance to it, merely advising 'due caution' when using it as a source.
Genoud (who died in 1996) had specifically denied earlier claims that he had inserted words in the manuscript, pointing out that it was close-typed apart from handwritten additions by Bormann and therefore such insertions would not have been possible. Carrier's thesis that the anti-religious quotations are solely in the English translation and should be dispensed with is rejected by Derek Hastings, who described the article as '‘an attempt to undermine the reliability of the anti-Christian statements’. It is also not accepted by Steigmann-Gall, who despite referencing the controversies raised by Carrier, ultimately presumed the Table Talk's authenticity.
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- Genoud, François (1952). Adolf Hitler: Libres Propos sur la Guerre et la Paix. Paris: Flammarion.
- Trevor-Roper, H.R. (1953). Hitler's Table Talk 1941–1944. Trans. Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. 2nd ed. 1972; 3rd ed. 2000.
- Trevor-Roper, H.R. (2000). Hitler's Table Talk 1941–1944. New York: Enigma Books, p. vii.
- Carrier, R.C. (2003). "'Hitler's Table Talk': Troubling Finds" German Studies Review 26 (3): 561-576.
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- Note, however, that Cardinal Faulhaber's quote is rather remarkable for what is, from the standpoint of a Catholic bishop, not being said: belief in God need not imply belief in the teachings of Christianity, or in organized religion at all, or acting upon such belief (Catholicism, other than general Protestantism, holds possible the existence of believers who are grevious sinners at the same time, teaching they are lacking charity, but not necessarily faith); recognizing Christianity as the builder of western culture does not mean this recognition is a happy one, it may as well be reluctant or in adversarial spirit.
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