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Posted Monday, May 21, 2007

Churchill said, The job of the historian is to find out what happened and why. Why do the Marxists like Richard Evans have a problem with this?

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May 19, 2007 (Saturday)
Warsaw - Mrogowo (Poland)

UP at 6:50 a.m. and I complete a claim to Ars Polona, with the attached covering note: "I regret yesterday's events, as I am sure you do too."

At 3 pm yesterday, having evidently invited television companies and reporters to witness what you were doing, you forcibly halted the display of our books at Stand A50 at the Book Fair, despite our valid agreement; and you prohibited the talk I intended to give at 5 pm, for which we had validly leased a hall and for which many visitors had announced their coming. (Fortunately we were able to post on the Internet a warning that the event was cancelled, to spare your Show inconvenience).

You are quoted in the press as making a number of defamatory statements, which were quite untrue. The Associated Press last night reports that you stated: "'I told [Mr Irving] his message was in violation of Polish law and that I would not allow him to deliver it at the book fair premises, and I asked him to leave,' Guzowski said."

Your quoted statement is quite untrue. You did not know my "message" (there is none). You admitted that you had read none of my books. My thirty books are international best-sellers published by the world's leading companies. Eight of my books have been published by companies in Poland, including Bellona. None of them breaks Polish law, nor do any statements that I may make. I invite you, in a friendly manner, to reconsider before making such statements in future.

After setting out the amounts claimed in compensation, I conclude on an amiable note.

  Today's The Scotsman reports the episode, and solemnly adds: "Irving plans to remain in the country for a few more days to visit Auschwitz . . . "

I do hope our change of plan does not inconvenience the security authorites at Auschwitz. With Alan at the wheel, we drive all day northwards across Poland, in the opposite direction, and into what used to be East Prussia. We have an eight hundred kilometer trip ahead of us. The highway is little more than a country lane.

The differences in the architecture of these former German towns are measurable. There are busloads of German visitors, and German signs, everywhere. What a relief: Polish is all consonants and accents, worse even than Hungarian.

At 6:15 pm we check into a hotel at Mrogowo, on a Masurian lake. My friend in Hungary has written: "It's strange but not too surprising that you had to leave the exhibition two days earlier than planned. They are the same all the world over and all of them afraid of men like you." I reply in similar vein, and add: "I am in northern Poland and East Prussia with Alan, we are visiting Hitler's old headquarters tomorrow. Very exciting for me."

David Irving visits Hitler's bunker at The Wolf's Lair, formerly East Prussia

May 20, 2007 (Sunday)
Mrogowo - Rastenburg - Warsaw (Poland)

A DAUGHTER has emailed from Madrid. I report: "I was evicted from the Book Fair . . . What nonsense; they will pay me compensation though. I am in northern Poland visiting Hitler's old headquarters today. A historic site, half a million people a year now come to see it."

We set out from Mrogowa at 10:30 a.m. for Rastenburg (Polish: Ke,trzyn) and arrive there after a twenty-mile drive around eleven a.m. DziennikThe parking area is already crowded with campers and cars from all over northern Europe. The signs in hotels and stores are in German. It is like Berchtesgaden in Bavaria, though less busy. (As we leave, I count seventy-two people standing around the parking lot at that instant, which suggests a visitor-total of perhaps 2,000 today, or several hundred thousands every year.)

Photo: Polish daily Dziennik frontpages the expulsion from the Book Fair and has four pages of comment

Hitler has lost none of his magnetism, it seems. I don't think many Germans would pay much to see where Richard von Weizsäcker ran his lackluster, lickspittle presidency.

Like a giant's hors d'oeuvre before the feast, we already find clumps of concrete, some ten feet tall, littering the parking lot, from where they fell during the demolitions of 1945. The Russians overran the Wolf's Lair on January 27 of that year.

There are several memorials in the forest, including the inevitable one to the assassin Claus von Stauffenberg next to the barrack ruins (above) where he killed four of Hitler's staff with his bomb, including the chief of air staff, a stenographer, a colonel, and Hitler's chief adjutant (their deaths are now seldom mentioned).

I tell Alan of Hitler's stenographer, Berger, whose legs were blown off; his widow came to visit me in East Berlin, clutching the original telegram reporting his death, and sobbed all over again.

There is also a fitting memorial to four Polish sappers who died post-war while clearing the thousands of mines from the surrounding forest.

Wolfsschanze staircaseIt is hard to guess how dense the forestation here was at the time Hitler was present, 1941-1944. It is now very dense, and the monster bunkers that are hidden around the compound are overgrown with moss and grass, and have flora growing out of the cracks. In some places trees have taken root in the crevices.

The surrounding trees are everywhere taller than the tallest bunkers, but these are twenty and even thirty feet tall. My friend Professor Peter Hoffmann of McGill University, Montreal, is credited with identifying them on the site map. Alan has been here before; he says the site maps used to credit my book Hitler's War too, but so far as I can see today those credits have now vanished into the Memory Hole.

As we approach the biggest of these constructions, the grim and forbidding building 13 -- the Hitler bunker itself -- Alan says quite rightly that they remind him of the pre-Columbian Mayan temples in the South American jungle.


I HAVE been re-reading Hitler's War in preparation for this visit. Arriving here for the last time on July 14, 1944, Hitler saw the work his engineers had done to reinforce the headquarters against the big new British ten-ton bombs.

"We got back to the Wolf's Lair yesterday," wrote Martin Bormann on July 15, 1944. "With its twenty-two-foot-thick bunkers it is now really a fortress of the most modern kind."

As Hitler's Condor touched down at Rastenburg airfield, fifteen minutes' drive away, thousands of Todt Organization laborers were still working on the strengthening of the Führer's headquarters. The old site used for "Barbarossa" was now barely recognizable: the mammoth concrete bunkers rearing up out of the trees had been expertly camouflaged against enemy reconnaissance; there was grass on the flat roofs, and both natural and artificial trees. It was an idyllic setting.

"How beautiful it is out here," one of Hitler's stenographers [Karl Thöt] noted in his diary. "The whole site is resplendent with luscious greenery. The woods breathe a magnificent tranquillity. The wooden hutments, including ours, have meantime been heavily bricked-in to afford protection against bomb-splinters. We all feel well at ease here. It's become a second home to us."

As Hitler's bunker proper was still incomplete, he moved into the former guest bunker in the heart of a top security zone compound which had been wired-off in the southwest corner of Zone I since September 1943. The noon war conferences were accordingly transferred to one of the gray-painted wood and brick hutments some forty yards west of this temporary home; at one end of the but a forty-foot-long conference room had been created by simply knocking down two partition walls. The room thus had windows on three sides -- it was light and airy and filled with the fragrances of the surrounding woods.

The over-riding colour here is bright emerald green, where the sunlight comes dappling through the tall, close-packed trees. There are several brick buildings scattered around the swampy terrain, for example the secretaries' hut. Squadrons of half-inch mosquitoes follow us everywhere, and I can hear only a solitary cuckoo in the distance.

Everything is on a far bigger scale than I had expected. The ground, which I had imagined to be level and open, is undulating, crisscrossed with ditches, and now overgrown with trees and undergrowth. Nothing has been really destroyed. In some buildings the demolition explosives have achieved just gaping fissures in the concrete.

do not enter
Warning signs plaster most of the ruins: DO NOT ENTER. Building 13, Hitler's bunker (above), is really immense -- it begins to tower over us as we approach; two tiny doors give entrance to the building (one is closed off by a wire-gate). We walk round its perimeter, following the approved path, and come across the rear side of this same Building 13, blown wide open; its interior had a depth of perhaps twenty feet too.

Hitler bunker, deep basementHow Hitler's staff hated this sinister compound! The forest was deathly silent; there was no life, no entertainment, no relaxation. The mosquitoes which infest the Masurian lakes all round must have made life hell for them.

It cannot have been pleasant to live here, for Hitler and his staff, and I wonder briefly whether building such bunkers was really the only defence against air raids: a good air-raid warning system, constantly changing abodes, and good camouflage would all seem to have been equally effective.

I have read more from Hitler's War:

"Cold and clammy bunkers," wrote one civil servant, "in which we freeze to death at night, can't sleep for the constant rattle of the electric ventilation system and its frightful draught, and wake up every morning with a headache." The whole compound was invisible from the air, concealed by camouflage netting suspended from the tree-tops.

"No doubt some government department found the land was cheapest here," sighed Hitler.

Jodl's staff diarist complained in a private letter dated June 27: "We are being plagued by the most awful mosquitoes. It would be hard to pick on a more senseless site than this -- deciduous forest with marshy pools, sandy ground, and stagnant lakes, ideal for these loathsome creatures."

One of Hitler's two private secretaries wrote on June 28, 1941: "As the air-conditioning noise bothered us and the draft went right past our heads . . . we have it switched off at night with the result that . . . we walk around with leaden limbs all next day."

I pause for a moment as I hear a Polish guide addressing one crowd in German: "In his Memoirs, which he wrote in Spandau prison, Albert Speer describes. . ." I hear, and I walk on: two untruths in one sentence. The published Memoirs were not written by Speer, as he himself admitted to me, and not in Spandau; but by Joachim Fest, Wolf-Jobst Siedler, and Annette Etienne, in the Ullstein Publishing House in Berlin. Speer merely answered their questions.

like Mayan ruins

Hermann Göring's bunker is located on one corner of the forest compound, a hundred yards or more away. "No doubt some government department found the land was cheapest here," scoffed Hitler, trying to understand why Rudolf Schmundt and Fritz Todt had settled for this unpleasant site in August 1940 for his BARBAROSSA headquarters.

Perhaps they had private reasons for coming here: history can hinge on such little things -- because here, in this unhealthy location in August 1941, Hitler contracted dysentery; because of this illness he lost the Battle of Moscow that winter, one might speculate; and hence the war.


AT MY suggestion we drive on the extra forty miles to the north-east to look for Heinrich Himmler's 1941 Feldkommandostelle (field headquarters), code-named Hochwald -- "Highwood".

In his time the road was a winding, cobbled highway, lined with heavy trees; a perfect shooting gallery for a would-be assassin, I remark. It climbs past the little villages of East Prussia, and forks at Peredzre, with the forest site only half a mile further on. Himmler built his headquarters about two hundred feet higher up than Hitler's, and the difference is at once plain: here there are no swamps, and no mosquitoes, the air is clear, the pine forest alive with birdsong.

We walk into the forest for about an hour and find nothing. It seems that the map displayed at the entrance to the forest has been deliberately wrongly drawn. Guided by a local, we retrace our steps and find the first of the monster bunkers hidden only 500 yards from a little empty parking lot.

Himmler bunker

This Himmler headquarters site (above) is far more eerie than the first. I half expect to find a weird mythical animal carved in stone as a sacrificial slab.

There are no visitors here, and we are totally alone as the aftermoon sun begins to sink. No signs along the paths or inside the forest mark the location. No signs warn us not to enter the bunkers, but we have no torch, and the camera-flash only briefly penetrates into the cavernous insides. The word speleology flickers in my mind.

Czas front coverThe bunkers here are slightly smaller than Hitler's -- there appear to have been five, all now in varying stages of demolition and decay. The first (above) is the biggest, as tall as a three-storey house. Eventually three small Polish boys come, and one clambers right up the fissures onto the top, perhaps thirty feet above the ground.

Photo: Weekly magazine Czas frontpages the expulsion from the Book Fair  

ONE thing does puzzle me, the very poor quality of the concrete actually poured to form these bunkers sixty-five years ago. Buildings far older than this survive with their concrete intact; the concrete of these constructions is brittle, friable, cracking, and decaying into weather-rounded shapeless blocks of cement and lime, like giant slabs of Weetabix.

The half-inch steel reinforcing rods appear to have been spaced at ten- or twelve-inch intervals throughout the slabs, which are ten to twenty feet thick in parts; to me this spacing seems ridiculously weak. The bars were not hooked at their ends, so the demolition explosives have simply torn walls away from corners and roofs.

The rainwater here and at Hitler's headquarters has soaked through the porous concrete and formed white calceous stalactites beneath the roofs. Here at Himmler's Feldkommandostelle Hochwald, I photograph one slab -- it seems to be a roof that has been lifted off as though by some giant hand and tossed upside down some distance away from its building -- and we can see where the water has seeped through the concrete and leached out the lime, dripping onto a white stalagmite forming beneath it. Properly mixed concrete would not wash out like that.

On the way back to Warsaw we buy a Gazeta Polska. It reports that I am visiting Auschwitz today, and it confirms that it was coincidentally the Auschwitz director who called for my expulsion from the Book Show. I expect he is not too pleased by the dubious findings on his own display that I published here after I visited his site in March.

Back to Warsaw, and I write until around two a.m. It was a long day again.


May 19, 2007 (Saturday)
Warsaw (Poland)

UP at seven. I email to an Australian graduate student who wants my comments on the post-modernism trend in historiography: "Sorry I did not answer yet, and I am not really in a hurry to, as I do not want to dignify this word, post-modern, with any kind of comment. trashed Wolfsschanze signIt is a phoney argument. It is baloney. Churchill said, The job of the historian is to find out what happened and why. Why do the Marxists like Richard Evans have a problem with this?"

[Previous Radical's Diary]



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