Hitler's Table Talk
Hitler's Table Talk (German: Tischgespräche) 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 Führerhauptquartier (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 long-windedly 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. As a result, a high level of critical awareness of its potential drawbacks as a source is advisable when using Table Talk.
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.'  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 has never been accepted by historians, including Steigmann-Gall, who despite seeing a pre-publication copy of Carrier's article accepted Kershaw's warning to use 'due caution' and elected to treat Table Talk as a viable source.
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