05 September 2018

Henriette von Schirach clashes with Hitler (3)

Henriette Hoffmann published her 'memoirs' in 1956:
Henriette von Schirach, Der Preis der Herrlichkeit, Limes Verlag Wiesbaden 1956.
 and a second edition appeared in 1975:
Henriette von Schirach, Der Preis der Herrlichkeit. Erfahrene Zeitgeschichte, Herbig München-Berlin 1975.

In [H1] the 'Amsterdam protest' is buried in Chapter XI, namely on pp. 218-222. In [H2], the incident is included twice: once in the (slightly edited) Chapter XI and a second time, somewhat expanded, in the Preface. Apparently, its importance had grown in the two decades separating the two editions, and a photo taken on the day of the event is now on the cover. Here you can read the original chapter IX from [H1]. The differences with the second edition have been highlighted: blue means the text has been changed (e.g. the chapter's title), yellow that it has been cut. The Preface of [H2], including the second version of the incident, is here. The translations below are ours; for future reference, we underlined Henriette's description of the event.   


Version D. Henriette Hoffmann, 1956

 Supper on the Berghof was always served rather late, often not before midnight. (...) After the meal (...) the procession moved to the big room, where ten to twenty guests sat down around the fireplace. Blondie, the shepherd dog, was called, Hitler scratched her head, and the endless talks, which Hitler regarded as a remedy for his sleeplessness, started. Bormann brought up his favourite theme, the ceremonial of National Socialism that had to be created. (...) His fantasy sent shivers down my spine. This conversation was not a good introduction for the things I wanted to discuss with Hitler today.

During the war it was forbidden to perform works by Ravel, Debussy, Gounod, Tchaikovsky—to mention just a few. A despaired Furtwängler had asked me to do my best with Hitler in order to get them released. I agreed. (...) I told Hitler that in Vienna one could not understand a ban related to music. Willingly he agreed to my proposal to try and listen to the records. (...) When the Italian Capriccio sounded into the big space, jubilant and enchanting, he cut it short. (...) With a devilish pleasure Bormann closed the gramophone player. He smiled, but viciously. I had lost the first round. But I had something much heavier on my chest, that I wanted to tell Hitler at all price.   
The day before, I had hurried back from Amsterdam. Friends had invited me to Holland. First I stayed at the Amstel Hotel by the river. (…)

The Amstel hotel by the river
One night, I woke up by shouting, weeping and crying. I went to the window and tried to understand what was happening there in the dark. Slowly I could recognize what went on. Women were standing there with hastily grasped bundles, several hundreds of them hastily driven together. Their weeping got interrupted by a loud voice, a commanding voice. It shouted “Aryans to stay behind!” Only hesitatingly the column of women went over the bridge, and with a pitiful complaint it disappeared in the dark.

Next morning nobody wanted to explain to me, neither the porter nor the night waiter. But my friends knew. “Deportation of Jewesses,” they said. “Don’t you know that?”

The next day I was invited by Seyss-Inquart, then Reichskommissar for the occupied Netherlands. (…) But the man with his coolish-polite attorney’s face did not want to tell me either at my asking about the deportations. I was happy when the tea visit was over and I was back with my friends in the water castle. (...)

Miedl's water castle Nijenhuis.

It was a meeting place for all those who had to watch Hitler’s interventions, bitterly and without any power. Directors of the plane plant and officers who were convinced of the senselessness of their task. (…) “We make one error after the other,” an officer of the occupation force said, “ we have turned the friendly Dutchmen into bitter enemies.”

(…) “If you want to see more, come with me, I’ll fetch you tomorrow.” The SS-officer said this. Next morning, he drove me to a school. We came into a room, on the yellow desks little heaps of worn wedding rings and all kinds of precious stones were lying, sorted out in deerskin pouches after their colours. “You can buy diamonds at ridiculous prices. Do you want? Flawless stones, carefully removed from their casings by professional people. I don’t have to tell you to whom they belonged.” No, he didn’t have to tell me any more, and I was not in the least interested in stolen jewelry. (…) But on whose orders did they act? “You have to tell Hitler yourself,” M. decided, “I cannot imagine he knows this. It may be forbidden by circular to talk to him on such matters, but try it, you are a woman, and he has known you long enough.” “I pledge it to you,” I said, “I’ll tell him, the day after tomorrow even, because I leave today.” (…)

Then they accompanied me to the train. M gave me two packages—don’t open before you have left! (…) When we were underway, I opened the packages. The first contained (…) an early unsigned Italian painting that had pleased me when I had entered the house and had seen it above a table. The second package contained tissue for a suit, the light blue Luftwaffe tissue out of which Göring’s pilot’s uniforms were made, and which he obtained from Holland.  

(…) Back to the Berghof. It’s the evening of Good Friday 1943, and I have to live up to my oath. I must say that the friendly servant Wünsche [sic, for Günsche] had brought me a double brandy—which explained the overconfidence with which I faced Hitler. But he started himself. “You have arrived from Holland?” “Yes, and that’s why I’m here,” and then I told him, as I have described it, what I had experienced and seen with my own eyes, what his own officers had asked me to tell him. At first he was staggered and didn’t say a word. These seventeen men (I counted them all) didn’t speak either, and none looked at me. Then he turned his face towards me. Only now did it strike me how ravaged it was. (…) Slowly he rose. I also rose. He had grasped himself and shouted at me: ”You’re sentimental! In what way do the Jewesses in Holland concern you!” (…) “This is nothing but sentimentality! Humanitarian nonsense!” I turned away, let him shout and ran down the staircase (…) separating the big room from the hall. I didn’t look back, and I knew I would never see him again. (…)

One of the adjutants ran after me. “Why did you do such a thing,” he said, “you made him so angry. Please leave immediately, right now.” Baldur was sitting with the drivers in the canteen, where he could smoke his pipe. I told him about my disaster. We fetched the small sports car from the garage and drove off. It was five o’clock in the morning, and we drove into the valley, passing the many guards that were standing there even at this hour of the day, and who saluted us.

(…) We were serving a bad cause, yet could not pull out without dragging all our friends with us into the abyss. During the drive we didn’t speak a single word, but I felt Baldur thought like me.

Version E. Henriette Hoffmann, 1975

Good Friday 1943. Early morning. Baldur and I had just sneaked out of the Berghof and were driving down the twisting road into Berchtesgaden. In the oppressing silence about us the scene of the previous evening was pursuing me. I saw before my eyes the friend of my youth, Hitler, as I believed I had to leave him: shouting, ranting, madly angry about what I had dared to tell him. (…)

I had all started when, in April 1943, I visited friends in occupied Holland. As I was by myself and at first did not believe in air-raid alerts night after night, I had checked in at the Amstel Hotel by the river. (…)

At night I woke up by loud shouting and yelling. I rushed to the window and tried to find out in the dark what was happening. Below me, in the street, a few hundred women with bundles were standing, apparently hastily driven together, guarded by uniformed men. One heard weeping and then a loud commanding voice: “Aryans to stay behind!” After that the column slowly started moving, and disappeared over the bridge into the dark.

Next morning, nobody was willing to inform me about the secretive march, neither the porter nor the night waiter. But my friend Miedl, who came to fetch me, knew: “That’s a transport of Jewesses. The women go into a women’s camp, the men into a men’s camp.” “And the children?” He shrugged his shoulders. “The Germans are doing this?” “Who else?” “Does Hitler know?” “If he doesn’t, you can tell him!” When I informed Miedl of my unsuccessful shopping, he said laughingly: “One should know the right sources. Come on!” We drove to a school. The gym was packed to the ceiling with the most rare objects, paintings, antique furniture, oriental carpets, tapestry, richly bound bibles, old coins, jewelry. All had price tags, all for peanuts. “This is the property of… it belonged to the people that were driven away last night?” I asked Miedl upset. “Certainly…”

That same night I followed Miedl’s advice and moved to his water castle. In that house I met everything that had to fear difficulties in Germany. Engineers of the Messerschmidt factory that were moved here by Göring because of their Jewish wives, actors that had abandoned a Wehrmacht tour in Holland, journalists, crooks, men and women with false papers and false names. In our honour Miedl had a rice table in the great hall. I felt like displaced into an exotic world. (…) This was a luxury that we had long forgotten. But Will Dohm [a famous German actor—C.I.] was not satisfied at that. He insisted that the cabinets be opened for us and that the noble blue goblets that were kept there be advanced. “Perhaps we’ll be dead by morning. That’s why we want to drink today in the most beautiful glasses in the world!” By now we were talking freely about our situation, and I told him about the decision I had taken that morning after Miedl’s revelation: I would go to Hitler and talk to him, I would describe to him what I had seen. “He cannot possibly want this!”

Right after my return to Vienna I phoned to the Berghof. Baldur and I could always ask if Hitler would be happy with our visit. Either one talked with one of his adjutants or he came personally to the phone, and he said invariably “Of course, whenever you want.” Thus also this time. I had told Baldur what I had in mind, but I had no clear idea. My thoughts were all confused. I had knowledge about a crime but I was a woman without any office and my friendship with Hitler was my only legitimization. (…)

Everything that concerned the Jews was a forbidden subject with Hitler. But how could I respect this? My decision was taken, and so Baldur and I drove to Berchtesgaden.

When we got to the Berghof, we happened to find ourselves amidst a walking party, consisting of Hitler and his entourage. It was a mild spring evening with a föhn blowing. Later on, a picture was taken on the terrace, after which Hitler withdrew with his officers to have a discussion of the military situation. [Probably the head of the general staff, mentioned by Goebbels—C.I.]

The photo mentioned by Henriette, put on the cover of [H2]. Left to right: Baldur von Schirach, Henriette Hoffmann, adjutant Nicolaus von Below (hidden), Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler, adjutant Gerhard Engel.

Towards midnight he had, as usual, supper served. On this occasion Hitler barely ate anything, just some raw vegetables with oat flakes. After the meal we all changed from the narrow wooden table in the dining room to the great hall, where we threw great logs and root stocks into the fire. (…)

Orderlies brought a long sheet from the teleprinter. (...) From the way he pressed his handkerchief repeatedly against his eyes we knew that the messages were particularly terrible. (...) [Probably the massive air raid on Krefeld, mentioned by Goebbels—C.I.]
Hitler was sitting between Eva and me. As long as she was present I could not speak. After some time she rose, nodded to everybody, had Hitler kiss her hand and left the room. Blondie, Hitler’s shepherd dog, came to us. Hitler scratched her head and turned friendly towards me: “You have arrived from Holland?” “Yes, and that’s why I’m here, I wanted to talk to you. I’ve seen terrible things, I cannot believe that you want this…!” He looked at me, amazed, and said “There’s a war on.” “But they were women, I saw, like a group of women, I saw, how poor helpless women were being led away, on transport to a camp. I don’t believe they will come back, their belongings have been taken away, they have no more family…” “You are sentimental, Frau von Schirach!” Hitler rose and stood by my side. “In what way do the Jewesses in Holland concern you!” As I had jumped to my feet, he took my wrists and grasped them with both hands, as he used to do when he wanted me to concentrate on him. Then he let go and formed with his hands two scales, which he moved up and down like in a balance, while he was talking loudly and insistently to me. “You see, day after day tens of thousands of my most precious men die, men like they will never return, the very best. The balance is now no longer correct, the equilibrium in Europe has gone. Because the others do not die. Those in the camps, those inferior beings, they do live, and how will Europe look in a hundred years? And in a thousand years? I have obligations towards my people and towards no one else. They can make a bloodhound out of me once Bolshevism has won. What do I care, I don’t care for posthumous glory. You must learn to hate. I had to learn it too…”

Hitler had told me before that I had to learn to hate, and I had replied that hatred was so tiring—and unproductive. But now things were serious. I suddenly thought of Iphigenia’s words and said “I was born to share love, not hate!” Saying this I was looking him straight in the eyes; he once said to me that, to master someone, you must look into his pupils.

There were seventeen men sitting around the fire place and those had, like me, known nothing of the outrages done in Hitler’s name? (…) But they were staring stubbornly into the fire or at the floor.
Under Hitler’s piercing gaze I took hold of my tortoise-shell case. (…) “I don’t belong at your table any longer!” I said softly, he was the only one who could hear me. Then I turned around and went to the exit towards the hall. As soon as I had reached the three steps to the parlour, I started to run. One of Hitler’s men had run after me. “Why did you do that? The Führer is angry. Please leave immediately, today, right now, he doesn’t want to see you ever again!”

I asked him to fetch Baldur out of the canteen where he was sitting with the drivers. We packed our things in a hurry, fetched the car from the garage and drove off as softly as we could.


We know from Goebbels' diary that Hitler's breach with the Schirach couple occurred in the early hours of Friday 25 June 1943. This means that Henriette is mistaken as to the date. It was neither the evening nor the morning of Good Friday [=23 April] 1943, but a Friday morning some two months later.

The presence of Bormann and Eva Braun, the military conference, and the explosive character of the final incident at the fireplace are all confirmed by Goebbels. Most other elements in Henriette's account are at variance with her husband and/or Goebbels. We know she had not invited herself, that she had not arrived the day before from Holland, and that her 'Amsterdam protest' had occurred some previous night and had not triggered anything. According to Henriette however it was her story that made Hitler explode, while her husband had left for a smoke.

The events in Amsterdam may very well have occurred in April 1943, when Henriette claims she was in Holland. In her expanded account she mentions that it was a time of "air-raid alerts night after night" in Amsterdam, and April 1943 was such a month. (Read about it here, in Dutch. Among the "frequent air-raid alerts in Amsterdam" the nights of 3, 5, 8 and 9 April 1943 are described with some detail. Amsterdam was not a target at the time, but suffered from collateral damage in the air war.)

As for the event proper, there are two aspects to it:
(a) what Henriette had witnessed

(b) what made her decide to talk to Hitler about it.

What she witnessed

According to Schirach, his wife had witnessed "the deportation of Jewish women by the Gestapo". For comparison, here is how Ella Lingens-Reiner, in February 1943, was set on transport from the Gestapo prison in Vienna to Auschwitz. 
At last we were about to start. We all had some food with us; only the Jewish women had nothing whatsoever. One of the wardresses — her name was Frau Hahn — bought, with her own money, unrationed snacks and gave them to these women so that they should have some food during their journey. (…)

At three o’clock in the morning we were lined up in the prison yard. (…) Then we were driven to the station through the dark streets of Vienna : nobody was to see how many people were being dragged away. (Prisoners of Fear, p.16)
Ella's transport consisted of both Jewish and Aryan women, and they were driven ("fuhren wir", which means in a car) to the railway station in full darkness. In Henriette's case, the women go on foot. The shouted order about the "Aryans", in the middle of the night, is difficult to explain. If Henriette correctly understood the German or Dutch command, it implies that the Aryan women were somehow separated from he Jewesses, but nevertheless the whole party seems to be marched off. No details are given concerning the treatment of the women. Henriette's accounts of what she witnessed are by necessity short and superficial; after all, it was dark and she just woke up with a start. There was no artificial light whatsoever in blacked out Amsterdam. In winter times it was so dark that people had difficulties finding their own house, and, wandering about, some fell in the canals. In April Henriette must have had some twilight aiding her in observing things.

What made her decide

In Henriette's two accounts, the deportation as such is merged with her visit of the school building with the cheaply offered goods. From her words it is not clear who took her there and who (if anybody) suggested that she tell Hitler, and about what. Concentration camps were an official part of the Nazi system, and anything but secretive. In Amsterdam, Jews were supposed to give themselves up for deportation and several large-scale round-ups had already been used to enforce this. (On those occasions though, the surviving photos show that whole families were deported, not women separated from the others.) Long before 1943, everybody, in Amsterdam as elsewhere, was fully aware of this, victims and non-victims, from the hotel porter up to the highest personalities. In Vienna, where Henriette was the 'first lady' since mid 1940, it was no different, and her own husband was of course fully aware of it. (Read it here under 'Deportationen im Frühjahr 1941 aus Wien'.)

As for the stored valuables offered for sale, Henriette's friend and host Alois Miedl knew everything about it, as he was in Holland the main trader in 'inexpensively' obtained Jewish goods. He dealt intensely with Göring during the whole war, and could easily afford to give Henriette a precious painting (which—so she writes— she only discovered after she had left Holland). Miedl cannot possibly have been involved in “telling Hitler” about the Jewish bargains.

If Henriette had witnessed brutal treatment of the women, this could have been a cause for complaint, but she mentions none. The only thing left that makes some sense is to assume that an officer of the occupation force insisted on telling Hitler that deportations (perhaps daylight round-ups more than nightly deportations) were counterproductive and turned friendly people into enemies. But this she could long have learnt at home, in Vienna, from her own husband.


  continued here