Hitler at Heathrow

E.S. Shaffer

  • The Memoirs of Bridget Hitler edited by Michael Unger
    Duckworth, 192 pp, £4.95, March 1979, ISBN 0 7156 1356 1
  • The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H. by George Steiner
    Granta, 66 pp, £1.50
  • Young Adolf by Beryl Bainbridge
    Duckworth, 174 pp, £6.95, November 1978, ISBN 0 7156 1323 5

As the unwary traveller hurries into Heathrow’s international bookstall hoping to light on a good read for the plane, his eye is assaulted by a thwacking array of swastikas on black, gold and blood-red fields. Approaching them at random but with a certain circumspection, he finds, for example, Philippe van Rindt’s The Trial of Adolf Hitler, in which it is revealed that Hitler survived his attempts at suicide in the bunker; The Murder of Rudolf Hess, by Hess’s Spandau doctor, demonstrating that the prisoner who the other day celebrated his 85th birthday is not Hess at all, but a small Nazi only too glad to avoid vengeance from his fellows by impersonating the great in perpetual concealment; James Pool and Suzanne Pool’s Who financed Hitler?, which opens with a luxurious gathering of bankers and party ‘higher-ups’ with their sleek women, just a shade less exotic than the gathering in a Japanese restaurant of Spanish-speaking kameraden that begins The Boys from Brazil. He finds Isser Harel’s deadpan account of the tracking and capture of Eichmann in The House on Garibaldi Street; Richard Deacon, The Israeli Secret Service, which tells the story, among others, of Wolfgang Lotz, the Israeli spy with unassailably Aryan looks who infiltrated Egyptian government circles to get plans for rocket sites and the names of German technicians: a story familiar from The Odessa File, where the private dick with the black and yellow-striped Mercedes is obliged to display his uncircumcised penis to the Odessa chief as bona fides.

Here, too, is The Murderers Among Us, Simon Wiesenthal’s account of the escaped Nazis whom he has been tracing for so long from the Vienna Documentation Centre, together with a child’s biography of that world-famous, heroic and kindly old Jewish detective with a penchant for postage stamps. Here, again, impeccably jacketed in black with red swastika’d armband on white ground, is Albert Speer’s Inside the Third Reich: The Definitive Account of Nazi Germany by Hitler’s Armaments Minister. After a few minutes spent considering this Berlin Wall of travellers’ dulce et utile, one would hardly be surprised to find a comic book of the filmscript of Syberberg’s Hitler, or a bag of (used) truncheons for sale.

Once ensconced in the plane, a smiling hostess hands one a copy of Esquire for April featuring ‘The Hitler Formula: Out of the Ashes of World War Two and onto the Best-Seller List in 14 Easy Steps’, which in a two-page spread sums up the rules of the genre. Step One: arrange any six of the elements below in a six-inch-by-nine-inch space and red, black and white decor: Nazi flag, eagle, swastika, iron cross, whip, hypodermic etc. Step Two: to obtain title, take one word from each of three columns: Column A – The; Colume B – Hitler, Jackboot, Führer, Gestapo etc; Column C – Testament, Conspiracy, Manifesto, Gambit, Mission, Mandate etc. Other useful suggestions include: ‘Insert actual Nazis to lend authenticity. Hot Nazis: Hitler, Bormann. Avoid Albert Speer, who is rehabilitated, and Rudolf Hess, who is funny.’ ‘Now check plot to make sure it starts reader thinking to himself: Nazi nightmare not over after all! Evil fiends not dead after 35 years but scheming to rise again! Brrr!’ ‘Change story setting every seven pages to a new location, making sure to include some or all of the following: Alpine resort, luxury hotel, KGB headquarters, South America, Paris/London, East Berlin.’ ‘Be sure there’s a World War Two flashback, preferably to a camp.’ In the final scene: ‘Overlook the ruins of something,’ possibly backlit by flames.

One of the most painful aspects of the history of this century is that a man like Adolf Hitler should have been so vital to its forging. His most authoritative German biographer, Joachim Fest, discussing ‘Hitler and Historical Greatness’, while acknowledging with Hegel that world history is not played out on ‘the true site of morality’, and with Burkhardt that we grant ‘a strange exemption from the ordinary moral code to great individuals’, yet holds that the absolute crime of mass extermination planned and committed by Hitler is ‘of an utterly different nature, overstepping the bounds of the moral context recognised by Hegel and Burkhardt’. Moreover, if the phenomenon of the great man is very rarely moral in nature, but rather aesthetic, Hitler’s vulgarity is so fundamental as to disqualify him.

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