‘A Ramble of Banalities’: Hitler’s Table-Talk

In his review of Heike B. Görtemaker’s biography of Eva Braun (Eva Braun: Life with Hitler, Knopf, translated by Damion Searls, reviewed in The New York Review of Books, April 26 2012, Vol LIX, Number 7), Anthony Beevor notes:

Hitler’s “table-talk,” a ramble of banalities and crassly sweeping judgments on history and art, recorded as if he were a latter-day Goethe by a would-be Eckermann, revealed his hatreds quite plainly.

Two notes:

1. The Goethe-Eckermann reference is, of course, to Conversations with Goethe by Johann Peter Eckermann, the book famously referred to by Nietzsche in the following section (#109) from The Wanderer and his Shadow:

The Treasure of German Prose.  Apart from Goethe’s writings and especially Goethe’s conversations with Eckermann (the best German book in existence), what German prose literature remains that is worth reading over and over again?  Lichtenberg’s Aphorisms, the first book of Jung Stilling’s Story of My Life, Adalbert Stifter’s St.  Martin’s Summer and Gottfried Keller’s People of Seldwyla — and there, for the time being, it comes to an end.

2. I’ve never read anything by Hitler, but I have seen videos of his speeches, where he does not seem to ramble.  But in The Mask of Command, John Keegan does us all a service by providing us a sample of Hitler’s “table-talk.” As Keegan notes, these transcripts were recorded by a note-maker, Heinrich Heim, who was ordered to do so by Martin Bormann. Here is an excerpt:

When all’s said, we should be grateful to the Jesuits. Who knows if, but for them, we might have abandoned Gothic architecture for the light, airy, bright architecture of the Counter-Reformation? In the face of Luther’s efforts to lead an upper clergy that had acquired profane habits back to mysticism, the Jesuits restored to the world the joy of the senses….Fanaticism is a matter of climate—for Protestantism, too, has burnt its witches. Nothing of that sort in Italy, The Southerner has a lighter attitude towards matters of faith….It’s remarkable to observe the resemblances between the evolution of Germany and that of Italy. The creators of the language, Dante and Luther, rose against the ecumenical desires of the papacy….I must say, I always enjoy meeting the Duce. He’s a great personality. It’s curious to think that, at the same period as myself, he was working in the building trade in Germany. Our programme was worked out in 1919, and at that time I knew nothing about him….If the Duce were to die, it would be a great misfortune for Italy. As I walked with him in the gardens of the Villa Borghese, I could easily compare his profile with that of the Roman busts, and I realised he was one of the Caesars….Italy is the country where intelligence created the notion of the State. The Roman Empire is a great political creation, the greatest of all. The Italian people’s musical sense, its liking for harmonious proportions, the beauty of its race! The Renaissance was the dawn of a new era, in which Aryan man found himself anew.

And on and on and on. Albert Speer notes, ‘[T]he collection includes only those thought significant. Complete transcripts would reinforce the sense of stifling boredom’. Phew.

Incidentally, I’ve only just discovered Hitler’s Table-Talk 1941-44: His Private Conversations (Translated by Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens, Introduced and with a new Preface by H.R. Trevor-Roper, Enigma Books 2000). I certainly don’t have the time or the inclination to read the whole thing, but there is plenty of material in there to strike us numb.

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