02 September 2018

Henriette von Schirach clashes with Hitler (2)

Chronologically, Baldur von Schirach is the first one after Goebbels to speak about the clash with Hitler. He did so on the 138th day of the Nuremberg trial, on 24 May 1946, some tree years after the event. (Here the official English transcription of his testimony; for the time being I have no access to the German text or recording.) We know from Goebbels' diary that Schirach was at the Berghof on Monday 21 June 1943, and that he left in the early hours of Friday 25 June. Schirach's account covers his whole stay, and starts with a first clash 'a few weeks' earlier, also at the Berghof. Hitler was very displeased with the soft 'Austrian' way in which Schirach handled the halfhearted town of Vienna. (If the exhibition 'Junge Kunst im Deutschen Reich' in Vienna was closed as a result, this visit to the Berghof must have been before 7 March.)

February 1943: 
Schirach invites his Viennese to an exhibition 
of Gustav Klimt (N.B. not one of the 'degenerate' artists)

Version B. Baldur von Schirach, 24 May 1946 (under oath)
(...) The breach between Hitler and myself in 1943 was in the beginning the result of differences of opinion over the cultural policy. In 1943 I was ordered to the Berghof where Hitler, in the presence of Bormann, criticized me violently on account of my cultural work and literally said that I was leading the cultural opposition against him in Germany.(...) He offered me the alternative, either to end this kind of oppositional work immediately (...) or he would stop all Government subsidies for Vienna. (...)
A few weeks after I had received this order, if I may call it so, I received a strange invitation for myself and my wife to spend some time on the Berghof. At that time I innocently believed that Hitler wished to bridge the gap between us and to let me know, in one way or another, that he had gone too far. In any case, at the end of a 3 days' visit—I cut my stay short—I discovered that this was a fundamental error on my part. Here I will limit myself to a few points only. I had intended—and I also carried out my intention—to mention at least three points during my visit. One was the policy toward Russia, the second was the Jewish question, and the third was Hitler's attitude toward Vienna.

(...) Bormann had issued a decree addressed to me, and probably to all the other Gauleiter, prohibiting any intervention on our part in the Jewish question. That is to say, we could not intervene with Hitler in favor of any Jew or half-Jew. (...)

On the first evening of my stay at the Berghof, on what appeared to me a propitious occasion, I told Hitler that I was of the opinion that a free and autonomous Ukraine would serve the Reich better than a Ukraine ruled by the violence of Herr Koch. That was all I said, nothing more, nothing less. Knowing Hitler as I did, it was extremely difficult even to hazard such a remark. Hitler answered comparatively quietly but with pronounced sharpness.
On the same evening, or possibly the next one, the Jewish question was broached according to a plan I made with my wife. Since I was forbidden to mention these things even in conversation, my wife gave the Führer a description of an experience she had had in Holland. She had witnessed one night, from the bedroom of her hotel, the deportation of Jewish women by the Gestapo. We were both of the opinion that this experience during her journey and the description of it might possibly result in a change of Hitler's attitude toward the entire Jewish question and in the treatment of the Jews. My wife gave a very drastic description, a description such as we can now read in the papers. Hitler was silent. All the other witnesses to this conversation, including my own father-in-law, Professor Hoffmann, were also silent. The silence was icy, and after a short time Hitler merely said, "This is pure sentimentality." That was all. No further conversation took place that evening. Hitler retired earlier than usual. (...)
I endeavored to get away from the Berghof as quickly as possible without letting matters come to an open break, but I did not succeed.

Then Goebbels arrived on the next evening and there, in my presence and without my starting it, the subject of Vienna was broached. I was naturally compelled to protest against the statements which Goebbels at first made about the Viennese. Then the Fuehrer began with I might say, incredible and unlimited hatred, to speak against the people of Vienna. (...) During that discussion, I, in accordance with my duty and my feelings, spoke in favor of the people under my authority in Vienna. (...)
So total a break resulted from that discussion—or, rather explosion—of Hitler's that on that very night at about 04:30 I took my leave and left the Berghof a few hours later. Since then I had no further conversations with Hitler. (...)
I believe that the conversation on the Berghof was in the spring, and that the letter [a letter mentioned by Goering—C.I.], though I cannot tell you precisely when, was written in the summer. (...) Yes, 1943; but I could not say precisely when the letter was written.

According to this testimony by Schirach, he and his wife were invited to the Berghof, at a time of Hitler's choosing and as a sequel to a previous political quarrel about Vienna. (Henriette claims otherwise.) Their stay included four nights (21 to 24 June) and was cut short, so it may have been intended for a whole week. Schirach went there with a program of three subjects in mind, which were indeed discussed: Russia, more particularly Ukraine, on "the first evening"; the Jewish question, including Henriette's intervention, "on the same evening, or possibly the next one"; Vienna, in the presence of Goebbels, "the next evening" (which we know was the evening of 24 June). Hitler's reaction the first two times was very restrained, but "explosive" the third time, as confirmed by Goebbels. Then and only then did the Schirachs leave the Berghof, not after Henriette's intervention, which had displeased Hitler but hadn't triggered anything beyond a few cool words.

Note that Bormann's circular to the Gauleiter prohibited "to intervene with Hitler in favour of any Jew or half-Jew". Possibly not the Jewish question as such was taboo (Hitler himself talked freely about it with guests at his headquarters table) but rather the interventions in favour of people affected.

Schirach claims to have had "no further conversations" with Hitler after leaving the Berghof. This is not true. He was present at the very last meeting of the Gauleiter with Hitler in Berlin, on 24 February 1945. Hitler asked him "Will the Viennese see it through, Schirach?" and he replied "They have done their duty so far, and will continue to do so." [Baldur von Schirach, Ich glaubte an Hitler, p.305 and p.308.] In a way, this was even a continuation of the discussion at the Berghof, which was about Vienna and the Viennese not engaging as they should.


Version C. Baldur von Schirach, 1967


Baldur von Schirach, Ich glaubte an Hitler, Mosaik Verlag Hamburg 1967. 

(Relevant pages here.) The translation is ours.


In April 1943 the phone rang in our house in the Hohe Warte in Vienna. My wife answered. It was Eva Braun on the phone. She said Hitler would be pleased if we came to the Berghof to spend the Easter days. To me this invitation was not very convenient. Knut Hamsun and his wife had been announced. Since my first youth I was fond of Hamsun’s books and I was fully focused on meeting him. But Hitler’s invitation took priority, all the more since the chances to meet him had become scarce. Nonetheless, there was every reason to look forward to this meeting with mixed feelings. (...)


In January 1943 we had openend in the Art House in Vienna the exhibition ‘Young Art in the Third Reich’. A week after its openening this exhibition was closed by Hitler. He had called me to the Berghof. It was to receive an order. Hitler did not offer me a chair and sat not down either. Bormann posted himself a pace behind him. Soft and icy, as I had never seen him in the eighteen years that I had known him, Hitler said: ‘Mister von Schirach, I don’t want such exhibitions. This is sabotage.’
Bormann gave him an open issue of our Hitler Youth journal ‘Wille und Macht’. Hitler pointed to a picture out of the Viennese Art exhibition. ‘Look at this picture—a green dog! And such a thing you have printed in a quarter of a million copies. Doing so you mobilize all culture Bolsheviks and reactionaries against me. This is not educating youth, but learning them opposition!’ 

He did not let me speak.

‘Once and for all, this is to stop immediately! If not I’ll cut off all financial aid for Vienna.’ Upon that he had left me standing there.

What was he meaning of this new invitation to the Berghof? Was it an offer for reconciliation? Would everything become as it had been before? (…)

The reception at the Berghof was cool. (…) Hitler was nowhere to be seen. That didn’t look like reconciliation. Henriette was to him not just the wife of one of his people. He had led her by the hand as a child, he was a friend of her father. Henriette could afford things with him that no one else easily could.

When we drove to Berchtesgaden she had told me that she wanted to tell Hitler what she had experienced in Amsterdam. Out of her window in the ‘Amstel’ hotel she had seen how Jewish women were driven together and deported. And an SS-Führer she knew had even offered her to cheaply buy gold and jewels out of the depot where jewish valuables were stored. Her voice trembled with dismay when she talked about it.

‘Control yourself,’ I said, ‘you know how unpredictable he is, and you can’t change anything no matter how.’ (…)

The company at the Berghof was numerous as always: Hitler’s shadow, Martin Bormann, and his wife, Eva Braun’s sister and her best friend, Hertha Schneider, Hitler’s military adjutants and their wives, the doctors Brandt and Morell. Albert Speer, minister of Armament, was also there. (…)

When at last Hitler appeared, he was all kindness. At supper, he conducted my wife to the table. My table neighbour was Eva Braun. After the meal we all sat around the fireplace in the huge hall. (…) I said: ‘Don’t you believe, mein Führer, that a free Ukraine under a Ukrainian Governor would be more useful to us than a subjected Reichskommissariat?’ Immediately the expression of Hitler’s face changed. ‘Don’t talk about things that don’t concern you, Schirach. These Slavs are definitely not capable of ruling themselves.’ The tone of his voice made clear that the subject was closed for him. The talks by the fireplace died out.

Next day, the company moved to the tea house after dinner. (…)


In the evening, by the fireplace in the hall, the mood was low. My wife was sitting next to Hitler and I saw her hands moving nervously. She was working on Hitler, at first softly and with restrain. It looked as if Hitler was paying attention. But then he rose abruptly and started to walk back and forth. ‘That’s the last thing I need,’ he shouted, ‘that you come to me with that sentimental nonsense. How on earth are these Jewish women your concern.’ Apparently, against my expectation, Henriette had told him about her experience in Amsterdam. A deadly silence fell. One heard the logs crackling in the fire. All were staring aimlessly, embarrassed. 

The company did not revive before, after midnight, a new guest arrived, Dr. Joseph Goebbels. With the fine sense of smell the minister of propaganda had for Hitler’s moods he started attacking me (…) ‘In Vienna you practice an Austrian policy’. Extremely excited Hitler took up Goebbels’ reference.’It was a mistake of mine to send you to Vienna. It was a mistake that I even admitted those Viennese into the Great German Reich. I know these people. I passed my youth among them. They are Germany’s enemies.’ Hitler’s face was torn with hatred. (…) I tried to moderate things: ‘But the Viennese are devoted to you, mein Führer!’ Hitler now shouted: ‘I’m not in the least interested in what those people think. I reject them.' I rose and said: ‘In those circumstances, mein Führer, I return my assignment to you.’ Hitler stared at me icily: ‘That’s not for you to decide. You stay where you are.’

It was four o’clock in the morning. Without any goodbye we drove back to Vienna.


This account of Schirach's is very sloppy. The exposition in Vienna was not called 'Junge Kunst im Dritten Reich' but 'Junge Kunst im Deutschen Reich', it was not 'opened in January 1943 and closed after a week', but opened on 2 February and closed on 7 March. It had been scheduled to close on 28 March anyway, and the official reason given for the closure was the congestion of the railway system. (Here the catalog.)

Schirach said he had been looking forward to meeting Knut Hamsun, but the latter was not in Vienna in April 1943. He did come to the II. Tagung der Union nationaler Journalistenverbände, an international meeting of journalists, when it was held in Vienna from 22 to 26 June 1943. He was the most distinguished guest there, and spoke on 23 June. Ironically, if Schirach had stayed in the Berghof one day longer, he would have met Hamsun after all, when he came there on Hitler's invitation. (Unique colour photo below.)

Both Schirach and his wife are strangely but consistently mistaken in their dating of the events. Hamsun's schedule confirms Goebbels's diaries: it was June, not April.

In this second version, Henriette's talk with Hitler is more of a private whispering, and nobody appears to hear what is being said. Hitler's reaction is much more violent now. In the first version he's very restrained, but now he's excited, walks back and forth and shouts. (Henriette claims Schirach was not present, but had gone for a smoke.) In the first version Hitler retired early, while now he stays and joins Goebbels in his attack. Goebbels now arrives on 'Henriette's day', while this was the next day in the first account. Both versions agree though that Goebbels was not (yet) there when Henriette made Hitler angry. In the first account, Schirach had planned the 'Amsterdam protest' together with his wife; in the second version, he heard of it shortly before arriving, and tried to talk her out of it.


continued here