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Posted Friday, August 17, 2007

From David Irving's draft memoirs

François Genoud and Hitler's Table Talk


IrvingONE of the earliest books that I read about Adolf Hitler was Hitler's Table Talk, published in about 1949 by George Weidenfeld. I must have been about fourteen or fifteen when I read it. Nicky, my twin brother, had bought a copy, I don't know why, and I acquisitioned it and read it at night in secret, one meal at a time, so to speak.

It struck me as a particularly insightful work, as it related -- and in the first person too -- Hitler's private thoughts about every fashionable topic under the sun: labour relations, women, the feud between the confessions, Christianity, the Jewish Problem, and much else.

The German leader had the habit of expatiating and digressing to the circle seated around his lunch or dinner table. After the war, of course, most of his listeners professed to have been bored with his monologues, but if the record is to be believed, they were fascinated at the time, and his dialogues often displayed a commanding logic. They were a departure from the orthodoxy which deeply intrigued me as a boy.


TWENTY years later, in about 1970, I found myself interviewing the mild-mannered, mouse-like little man who had actually written these compelling documents. Heinrich Heim had been the adjutant of Martin Bormann, who was the Führer's Secretary and much-feared leader of the Nazi Party. When I interviewed Heim, I found that he had the disconcerting habit of not looking at me directly, but affixing his eyes on a point roughly "11 o'clock high," and to one side.

He said that he had sat at a table next to Hitler's, writing discreet notes throughout the meal, and had typed them up immediately afterwards; Bormann, his chief, had signed each record.

At the end of the war they filled half a dozen ring binders, several thousand pages. These ring binders had been rescued by Bormann's widow (cornered by Russian troops in Berlin, he had killed himself on May 2, 1945) and they came into the hands of a remarkable little Swiss entrepreneur, François Genoud.

I interviewed Genoud many years later, in about 1971. I had visited Geneva and Lausanne, where he lived, with Elke Fröhlich, to see if we couldn't persuade Genoud to make available the original German texts, both of these "table talks" and of the no less important letters which Bormann had written to his wife.Hugh-Trevow All had been published in English, with introductions by Hugh Trevor-Roper (left).

Genoud explained to me with unconcealed glee how he had done the final deal with publisher George Weidenfeld. Weidenfeld was an affluent Austrian refugee who had migrated to England, and set up the successful publishing house of Weidenfeld & Nicholson (in fact they published some of my works, including the Rommel biography). A price had been agreed to between Genoud and Weidenfeld for the English rights to Hitler's table talk. The price was, if I remember, £40,000 -- a very considerable sum of money in the 1940s. Weidenfeld asked to whom he should make the cheque payable, and Genoud replied smiling, "Not cheque, George, cheques -- £20,000 payable to me, and £20,000 payable to Paula Hitler."

Hitler's sister, still alive at that time, was living in very reduced circumstances, and it was characteristic of Genoud to look after all these victims of their own Nazi relationship. Genoud saw the publisher scowl, but he did as he was asked. Thus Weidenfeld paid a small fortune to the sister of Adolf Hitler, or so Genoud maintains. Weidenfeld swore Genoud to secrecy, he said; telling me this, Genoud equally swore me to secrecy, and I must pass this injunction on to all of the readers of my memoirs, too.


DESPITE our best endeavours, I was unable to persuade Genoud to part with the German text of the Bormann Letters. He was "very willing to oblige in principle," but that was as far as he ever went with these remarkable documents that he had acquired. He did provide me with the original German texts of the several Table Talks that I used in Hitler's War (see the example at left). This enabled me to retranslate some of them into English, when I considered the translation to be inaccurate. This in turn led to an allegation from the late Professor Martin Broszat that I had misquoted Hitler's Table Talk, because my quotations differed from those contained in the Weidenfeld volume.

As fate showed, where I stuck slavishly to the original Weidenfeld translation it did in fact cause even more serious condemnation; Weidenfeld's translator had taken liberties with his otherwise excellent translation, though not very serious ones in my view, to make it readable. But here and there he had put in little explanatory phrases and even sentences which did not exist in the original transcript; and he had translated one passage, "terror is a salutary thing" in a way which met with the disapproval of the Court in the Deborah Lipstadt trial.

Judges and Queen's Counsel, who have probably never faced the basic dilemma of translating a literary work -- whether to produce a wooden, exact translation of the German words, or to produce a readable text which fully conveys the author's sense, will not understand how angry I was, at this kind of nit-picking which was used by Lipstadt in her defence.


Relevant items on this website:

Hitler index
Eric Yankovich asks if it is worth spending time reading Hitler's Table Talk
Hitler's Table Talk - How Reliable is Henry Picker's version?
His 1945 Bunkergespräche (Table Talk,"testament") are a post-war fake
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