28 August 2018

Henriette von Schirach clashes with Hitler (1)

Henriette Hoffmann was the daughter of photographer Heinrich Hoffmann, who had introduced Hitler to his then assistant Eva Braun. Henriette had married Baldur von Schirach who had become Gauleiter (district president) of Vienna. At the Nuremberg trial he was sentenced to 20 years. In 1950 the couple divorced on Henriette's demand, but she continued all her life to call herself Henriette von Schirach.

On the photo above, Henriette (right) is seen with Eva Braun (left) at the Berghof. The Schirachs counted among Hitler's personal friends, but they did not go there frequently. On one occasion though she wrote history, challenging Hitler and falling in disgrace jointly with her husband. The story is well known, that's to say, it has been retold by many people on many occasions. However, human memory being what it is (very unreliable, even with people in good faith) we had better be careful.

Both Schirach and his wife have left written accounts of the event, two each. He was officially recorded while relating it during his trial in Nuremberg (1946, three years after the facts), and he tells the whole story a second time in his 1967 memoirs. She also wrote about it in her memoirs, a first time in 1956 (thirteen years after the facts), and a second time in 1976. These four versions are different, and often contradictory.

Second-hand written information is provided by Nicolaus von Below, one of Hitler's adjutants, and third-hand information by Traudl Junge, one of his secretaries.

The most valuable source of circumstantial evidence however is Goebbels, who witnessed the last of the successive quarrels between Hitler and the Schirachs. And he kept a diary, which allows the right chronology to be unambiguously restored. The others, both Schirachs included, are mistaken in their chronology.

The conclusion is the following: the Schirachs, after a violent political quarrel with Hitler on the subject of Vienna and the Viennese, left the Berghof in the early hours of Friday 25 June 1943, never to return. Of this event we have seven written accounts (five by eyewitnesses), which we will distinguish by the letters A tot G.

Version A. Joseph Goebbels, 25 June 1943

In the course of two decades Goebbels compiled an very extensive diary, first handwritten, later dictated to a stenographer and typed on a daily base. An entry on a certain date means it was dictated on that day, relating to events of the previous day. Thus the entry of 23 June 1943 starts with the air raid on Krefeld, which is known to have happened in the early morning of the 22nd. The entries for 22 June and 25 June provide us with two crucial facts: Schirach was at the Berghof on Monday 21 June, and the Schirach couple hurried out in the early hours of Friday 25 June. Hence, they spent four nights there. (Schirach speaks of three days, Henriette of a single day and night.)

The relevant pages of Goebbels' diaries, taken from
Die Tagebücher von Joseph Goebbels, herausgegeben von Elke Fröhlich, Teil II, Diktate 1941-1945, Band 8, April-Juni 1943, K.G. Saur 1993.

are here; the translation below is ours. Goebbels' account of 25 June is twenty pages long and rather wandering, clearly the result of improvising from recent memory. The Schirach incident is somehow told twice, as if the dictation had been interrupted and carelessly resumed with some repetition. For all Goebbels tells us, the debate that night, with Henriette as much involved as her husband, was solely about Vienna. In particular, the Jewish question is not mentioned. Certainly it was not some embarrassment that withheld Goebbels, because earlier in his diaries he had written about the fate of the Jews in very direct words.

22 June 1943 (Tuesday)


(...) All day long I'm occupied by the meeting of the Gauleiter. It starts at 10 and continues to about 19hrs. (...) Unfortunately Schirach is in the impossibility to give a talk because of his stay at the Obersalzberg.

23 June 1943 (Wednesday)


During the night an extraordinarily heavy terror attack on Krefeld has taken place. The town is largely set afire.

24 June 1943 (Thursday)


(...) Early in the evening we leave for Berchtesgaden. (...) Gruppenführer Bormann, adjutant of the Führer, is also on the train. He tells me a few things of the Obersalzberg. It is not cheerful.

25 June 1943 (Friday)


(...) Early in the morning we arrive in Salzburg and have a wonderful trip through the valley towards Berchtesgaden. (...) At 11 in the morning we start right away the discussions in our three persons committee. They take place in the auxiliary branch of the Chancery. Both Lammers and Bormann are extraordinarily friendly with me.


(...) The discussion on the Ostpropaganda must be cut short because all the time there are phone calls from the Obersalzberg, that the Führer is expecting me.   


(...) The Führer is already waiting for me. (…) Unfortunately he does not look in the best of healths. Visibly, recent times have very strongly gnawed him. Only a small part is left of the physical freshness that we used to admire in him.

Goebbels and Hitler on a walk (on some other occasion).


(…) After that, I take a walk, alone with the Führer, to the tea house.


(...) At the tea house we meet Schirach and his wife, Professor Hoffmann and the other visitors to the Obersalzberg. There is some talking about art and problems concerning theatre and movie. But the Führer involves himself very little in it. It is evident that he’s presently very much occupied, also internally, with questions of a political and military nature. (…)

In the evening I’m back then at the Obersalzberg for supper. At table a whole series of talks are starting, without a real theme being addressed. Again one sees that the Führer is very much preoccupied. (...) The head of the general staff, Zeitzler, comes for an extensive conference. The Führer wants to discuss the general military situation with him. During the interval I have the opportunity to have a long talk with Eva Braun.


(...) In the evening we settle down with the Führer around the fireplace, and a series of various questions is started. (…) Schirach proves himself extremely clumsy in his stories and incites the Führer to a series of very biting replies. Again and again I try to prevent, by some witty interventions, that the conversation degenerate into a certain causticity; unfortunately Schirach does not in any way join me in this tactic.

In this context the theme ‘Vienna’ enters the debate. In his presentation of the problem the Führer is unrelenting. He repeats to Schirach the thoughts he has so often explained to me, and he starts, much to my surprise and joy, an exalting ode to Berlin.


(…) Again and again Schirach and his wife emphasize to the Führer that Vienna too is enthusiastic for national socialism, but the Führer denies this with the remark that this is Vienna’s duty. Vienna has no privileges, and what is self-evident elsewhere should also be in Vienna.

Doing so, the Führer labelled himself as the objective champion of the interests of the German Reich, and nothing else. He declares that after his death one should get him out of his grave if he had ever hurt the interests of the Reich against his own better conviction. The Führer treats these questions without any resentment, which excites Schirach and his wife all the more. Schirach’s wife is completely overcome by the unexpected declarations of the Führer, and tears come to her eyes. But the Führer is relentless. When things have become factual, he knows no compromise. He answers her with a harshness that is just amazing. Schirach on the other hand becomes very small and reticent.


(…) I am very happy with the unexpected declarations of the Führer. I had never thought that he regarded the capital of the Reich so favourably. (…) The inhabitants of Berlin, so he said, were a very zealous, optimistic and realistic people, one cannot help but admire and love their nature.

In this context the Führer becomes very excited and aggressive towards Schirach. Afterwards, the latter had not much to say any more. Again and again I try to mediate, so as not to let painful situations arise, but when the Führer has sunk his teeth into something, such an attempt is more or less hopeless.

Late that night we are informed of a heavy raid on Elberfeld. [This attack is known to have occurred in the night of 24-25 June, yet another confirmation of the date—C.I.]


(…) All in all, it is a very animated and colourful evening, touching upon the most various problems. But through the behaviour of Schirach and his wife the evening has become somewhat tense. Schirach’s wife in particular behaves like a silly cow and does not pursue the Führer’s arguments in any way. However, this does not confuse him the least. He drops all politeness and considers the facts and nothing else. Afterwards, Schirach’s wife summarizes her whole misery in the words that she’d prefer to return with her husband to Munich, and Giesler to be sent to Vienna instead. The Führer refuses this categorically, says he doesn’t think of it, and that Schirach has to carry on in Vienna with his duty towards the party and the Reich. (...)

It’s already full morning when the Führer takes leave and retires, burdened by his concerns. The sun rises as I drive back from the Obersalzberg to Berchtesgaden. (...)