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Book Review: He Was My Chief: The Memoirs of Adolph Hitler’s Secretary (Pen and Sword Books, 2009; 2

Discussion in 'Biographies and Everything Else' started by dgmitchell, Jul 6, 2009.

  1. dgmitchell

    dgmitchell Ace

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    Under most circumstances, Christa Schroeder (1908-1984) should have lived out her life in anonymity. An unremarkable woman, she was born in central Germany to a single mother with whom she was never close. Orphaned at age 18, she studied stenography and made her way in the world on her own. Had events not intervened, she probably would have married, raised children and perhaps died or lost a husband during World War II.

    When, in 1930, Christa Schroeder answered a tiny advertisement for a stenographer, however, she unwittingly ensured that she would be more than anonymous for the remainder of her life and that in her own small way; she would become a minor footnote to history. The advertisement to which Ms. Schroeder had responded had been placed by the Nazi party, and by 1933, she would be one of Adolf Hitler’s personal secretaries.

    In He Was My Chief: The Memoirs of Adolf Hitler’s Secretary (Pen and Sword Books, 2009; 208 pages), Christa Schroeder’s 1985 autobiography which has been translated and republished this year, Ms. Schroeder shares her personal reminisce of her life from 1930 to 1945 and what it was like to be witness to Hitler’s daily life and his interaction with his inner circle. Although Ms. Schroeder does offer her reflections on political and military events, such as the 1934 Röhm Purge and the 1944 attempt on Hitler’s life, it is in her retelling of the private side of her interaction with Hitler that makes He Was My Chief compelling reading.

    For example, as Ms. Schroeder relates, Hitler liked to take his afternoon tea with his secretaries in a rather sparsely furnished room at the Radziwill Palace. Hitler would reminisce about his childhood and how much he used to love to go shopping before his fame made that impossible. He also shared some of the pranks that he would play on his teachers when he had been in school, as when he tricked a rather unhygienic teacher into demonstrating to the rest of the faculty his filth.

    Ms. Schroeder also offers insight into Hitler’s methods of persuasion and argument. She notes that everyone thought that Hitler was a profound thinker and that he tried to make everyone believe that his thoughts were all his own. Ms. Schroeder, however, suspected otherwise and actually manage to catch him in a moment of mental plagiarism. One day, as she relates the story, Hitler launched into a philosophical dissertation on a theme that was dear to him. Ms. Schroeder, who had been reading Schopenhauer at the time, realized that Hitler was quoting an entire page from the Schopenhauer work that she was reading. She bravely noted that Hitler was actually quoting Schopenhauer and Hitler responded (in “fatherly tones”): “Do not forget, my child, that all knowledge comes from others and that every person only contributes a minute piece to the whole.”

    He Was My Chief is full of such personal anecdotes about the private life of Adolph Hitler and, although such anecdotes are both intriguing and provocative, they are also interspersed with many reflections that are not nearly as compelling. Ms. Schroeder was not a gifted writer and her prose is at times very difficult to follow. One might compare it to the ramblings of an ancient spinster aunt who remembers everything that she has witnessed over the years and is convinced that her audience wants to hear all that she recalls. Excerpts such as the following are common, and demonstrate the nature of her writing style:

    “Kannenberg actually came from an old Berlin family of gourmets. His father had owned a licensed restaurant of renown in the capital, and in the 1920’s his son became the proprietor of the popular and well-loved eating house on the outskirts of Berlin known as ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’. I never went there myself, but Frau Magdalene Haberstock, a Berliner and widow of art-dealer Karl Haberstock, whom Hitler employed to buy antique paintings, told me once. ‘You took tram 76 to Hundekehle and then made a pilgrimage on foot . . . .” (pp 31-32)

    Ms. Schroeder’s writing style notwithstanding, He Was My Chief gives its readers a remarkable personal study of Adolf Hitler and his interaction with his entourage. It is wonderful for English speaking readers to now have the opportunity to read He Was My Chief after so many years since its original publication. Students of the German high command and those interested in biographical sketches of world leaders during the Second World War will, in particular, appreciate this book, but so too will anyone who wants to know about the experiences that might have shaped Adolph Hitler’s madness. Ms. Schroeder does not ultimately portray Hitler as a sympathetic personality, but at times, it seems, she did feel that Hitler was in over his head!
     
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  2. bob7708

    bob7708 recruit

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    Dgmitchell. Of all of the books on Hitler that you have read, which ones stand out as the best? I mean by this, which ones give the best insites into his personality?
    With the possible exception of Stalin, Hitler was the most damaging and evil personality that has ever befallen humanity. Hitler is an enigma and a very facinating one at that. Stalin was a brutal bastard even with his own children and wives. I've never read an account of where Hitler physically abused Eva Braun but did put her down in front of others at times. He seemed to act fairly normal among his staff, secretaries, cooks and so on but then there is that very dark side to his personality. He is, to me any way, one of the most facinating personalities in history to try and understand.
     
  3. dgmitchell

    dgmitchell Ace

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    Bob ~ Pen and Sword has published the memoirs of Hitler's Secretary and Valet. I like both of those. The memoirs of his chauffeur will be out next month I believe. Of course, to really get inside his head, you would need to study Mein Kampf.
     
  4. airborneyellow

    airborneyellow recruit

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    Bob
    Here are my thoughts on your question. There isn't any single book that would give the full picture, perhaps not least because Hitler didn't reveal every aspect of himself to any single person. However, you could divide books written by people who met & worked with him into two categories.

    1. Military commanders: the autobiographies of Kesselring, Manstein, etc, and the memoirs of Keitel offer useful some insights to Hitler as a military leader

    2. Personal staff, including military adjutants & aides: eg 'At Hitler's Side' by von Below, 'In the bunker with Hitler' von Lorinhoven, etc, together with non-military staff such as those quoted in this thread, Press Secretary Otto Dietrich's 'The Hitler I Knew', Traudl Junge's well-known memoir, and even the earlier 'Memoirs of a Confidant' by Otto Wagener (SA Chief of Staff before Rohm)

    In addition, some of the general works (by Fest, etc) cite many reminiscences from people who knew him - particularly David Irving's 'Hitler's War'.

    However, in my view the best overall is Speer's 'Inside the Third Reich', for several reasons; the author knew him well, wrote well & in-depth, and was analytically thoughtful in interpreting various aspects of Hitler's character, backed up by illustrative examples.
    Hope that helps.
     
  5. bob7708

    bob7708 recruit

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    I just ordered David Irving's 'Hitler's War' at Amazon.com, airborneyellow, and can't wait to get it. I am going to order "The Memoirs of Hitler's Secretary and Valet" next week, Dgmitchel and am going to re-read Mein Kampf. It's been a few decades but am going to tackle it again.
    Much thanks to both of you for your suggestions and if you can think of some more let me know. I will post a reply here as soon as I have read 'Hitlers War' and the book from Hitler's Secretary and his Valet as soon as I have read them.
    Hitler was an evil monster but there is something facinating about Hitler that keeps me reading about him.
    Well, Cheers for now and can't wait to read those books!!!! :cheers:
     

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