Hitler’s Table Talk: An Update

New developments have been inspired by my exposing certain Hitler quotes as bogus!

It all started with a $50 research job for the Freedom from Religion Foundation at Dan Barker’s behest. Dan asked me to check the original German of three Hitler quotes Christians kept throwing at him. That sent me down an unexpected rabbit-hole that led me to publish my eventual findings in Hitler studies. Which made a significant impact on that field, and inspired a Swedish historian to continue the research I started. So FFRF really got its money’s worth.

In my book Hitler Homer Bible Christ I include my peer reviewed article published by German Studies Review in 2003, demonstrating that certain passages in the only existing English translation of Hitler’s Table Talk, passages depicting Hitler as an anti-Christian atheist, were actually translated from a French version and not the original German, and that the French translation radically altered the original meaning of the German.

Those quotes are thus effectively fraudulent.

A subsequent edition of the English translation of the Table Talk (the “new updated edition” of 2007) was thus forced to admit this in its new preface—and cites my work as having uncovered it (although it avoids mentioning the deviations the French made from the German, and it corrects none of them). My article has also been cited in other peer reviewed works that rely on the Table Talk, such as Steigmann-Gall’s The Holy Reich. And it has also inspired further intensive research by doctor Mikael Nilsson of Uppsala University in Sweden. In the HHBC reproduction of my GSR article I add a number of editorial notes on things Dr. Nilsson had already corrected or uncovered; and I add a whole appendix on many other quotes people try to cite, besides the sample of them I discussed in GSR.

Dr. Nilsson has now published his first research article on more of his findings in this matter. And it’s all very interesting indeed! Moreover, since that publication, he has uncovered even more, which discoveries he’ll publish in future. Some of that I’ll mention here as well.

When Dr. Nilsson began, inspired by my article to take up this research, I provided him with all my notes and correspondence, including the pages I retrieved from the Library of Congress that were reputedly captured by U.S. forces in Munich at the conclusion of WWII (the latest edition of the Table Talk now cites me as the first ever to reference those documents, and reproduces them in an appendix; I’m astonished no one else had made note of them before—Dr. Nilsson tells me a German historian in the 1950s was going to, but died suddenly in a car crash before he could publish anything, and his notes on the matter were forgotten until now); and also including the letter I received from Lord Dacre, a.k.a. Hugh Trevor-Roper, the original and long-time editor of the English edition—because before publishing, I had asked him what response he had to my findings. Below I discuss that, and Nilsson’s new research.

Why Did They Translate from the French and Not the German?

A common misunderstanding is that the entire English text of the Table Talk was translated from the French. That is not the case. (Or it may be the case; Nilsson’s research is ongoing.)

By the time the English translation was made, the French translation, by unrepentant Nazi, terrorism financier, and Swiss money launderer François Genoud, may have only reproduced material from the years 1941 and 1942, roughly matching the original German of Henry Picker (and, to a lesser extent, Picker’s copies of his predecessor’s notes, those of Heinrich Heim). Picker and Heim were the two original witnesses who recorded these statements while Hitler ranted over dinner or tea in the Wolf’s Lair bunker in what is now Poland. Picker published his set of notes in 1951. Genoud answered in 1952 with a French translation of, supposedly, his versions of those notes. Lawsuits resulted.

But Genoud claimed to have a more complete set of notes, including everything else by Heinrich Heim, the other stenographer, which spanned all the way to 1944. And by 1954 Genoud had published a French translation of some or all of those. But it’s not yet certain how much of that was available when the English translation was made; accordingly much of the English may have been made from the original German, and from the French only when a French translation existed. Legal battles supposedly prevented that complete set from being published in German until 1980, the first-ever full German edition to be published. Yet, as it excludes Picker’s notes due to that lawsuit, it is not actually complete; and as I pointed out in my article for GSR (and in result the new English edition also now acknowledges), no one has yet attempted a proper collated critical edition that identifies all the variants and discrepancies between the two sets of notes.

The English translation was made in 1953. Long before any of the remaining German notes were made available to the public. When Trevor-Roper sent his translators to Genoud to produce an English edition of the complete German, it now turns out, Genoud actually did insist they translate from his French instead (at least those sections he had in French by then; whether that meant all or half the entries). Nilsson has now found that those translators were never even allowed to see the original German for any of the passages Genoud insisted they use his French for instead. And no English edition (not even the latest one that admits this happened) tells the reader which passages came from the French or German. Or why the French was used at all. The new edition speculates legal issues compelled it. But Nilsson has now found that Genoud forced them to do this in the very contract their publisher signed.

The preface to the 2000 edition of the English translation does not even tell the reader any of the material was translated from the French. It only says that before there was an English translation, there was only the French translation—and then only of entries up to 1942—and that until Trevor-Roper procured an English translation of the complete notes, historians had only Picker’s limited entries and Genoud’s French translation to go by (p. ix). Trevor-Roper claimed to have fixed that by procuring an English translation of Genoud’s complete text. But even when Trevor-Roper lists problems with the text (on p. x), he does not mention that the French was used anywhere in it or that there was anything problematic about the translation process at all. Indeed, in the original preface from 1953, no mention was made even of there being a French edition, much less that one was used at any point instead of the original German—which is a remarkable thing to omit.

When I discovered that in fact the English was coming from the French, for all entries that at the time existed in French, all the leading experts I consulted were surprised by my findings: all the peer reviewers and editors at GSR; Gerhard Weinberg, author of the famous 1952 Guide to Captured German Documents (the expert I spoke to on German documents in preparing the GSR article at the advice of GSR’s editor); Richard Steigmann-Gall, historian and expert on Hitler’s religious beliefs, and author of the book that now cites me; and of course Dr. Mikael Nilsson; but even, sort of, Hugh Trevor-Roper himself.

That’s right. Even the editor of the English translation, and author of its original and subsequent prefaces, claimed to have been at one point surprised at the fact that the translation was made from Genoud’s French instead of the German. In preparing my article for GSR, I wrote to Trevor-Roper, then Lord Dacre, about this, and I still have his handwritten letter back to me. In it he claimed that I might be right, because he had started to suspect recently himself that maybe the French had been used, based on his own independent discoveries when using the text. But he never informed the public of this. Not even in the third edition preface published in 2000, a full twenty years after the complete German text had been made available for comparison.

Now the scandal is complete. Since he is now deceased, much of Lord Dacre’s correspondence is archived and historians can access it. So Dr. Nilsson did. In it he uncovered a startling fact: that the contract signed with Genoud to produce the English edition of 1953 explicitly mandated, at Genoud’s insistence, that the translation would be made from the French (at least for those passages he had a French translation for). No one should ever have agreed to that. Nor should they have concealed it in their prefaces. But worse, for Trevor-Roper to have “forgotten” this contract (and its stipulation and enforcement) when he corresponded with me years later is more than a little troubling.

Dr. Nilsson’s Research

Now we have a new article to consult on this saga: Mikael Nilsson, “Hugh Trevor-Roper and the English Editions of Hitler’s Table Talk and Testament,” Journal of Contemporary History, 10 March 2016 (electronic edition; it will be placed in a forthcoming volume of the print edition). The abstract reads:

This article examines the publication of the famous ‘Hitler’s Table Talk’ and ‘The Testament of Adolf Hitler’ as well as the role of British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper in this process, including his relationship with the Swiss banker François Genoud—the owner of the ‘original’ manuscripts. The article is based on research utilizing Trevor-Roper’s personal correspondence and papers; material that has never before been used to investigate this matter. Besides shedding light on many previously unknown details concerning the publication of these documents, the article shows how Trevor-Roper consistently failed to enlighten his readers about central source-critical problems connected to the documents he was validating. He did so on numerous occasions and through several editions of the sources, even though his personal correspondence shows that he was well aware of the problems. The article argues that Trevor-Roper chose not to reveal these problems in public so as not to upset his business relationship with Genoud so that he would gain access to further documents in Genoud’s possession.

Among the findings Nilsson reveals or confirms is of course that, “In his introduction to Table Talk in 1953 Trevor-Roper stated that it had been translated from the original German manuscript,” and yet, “this was not true.”

Nilsson combines this with a study of the “Last Testament” of Adolf Hilter, also “procured” by Genoud somehow, who contracted again with Trevor-Roper for an English translation. This document has famously been suspected a forgery by most experts. Like the Hitler Diaries, also “authenticated” by Trevor-Roper but subsequently declared a forgery, which remained a black mark on Trevor-Roper’s career. All this casts a lot of suspicion on the reliability or authenticity of the Table Talk documents as well. If Genoud forged the Testament (and, Dr. Nilsson is finding, possibly other Nazi documents he collaborated with Trevor-Roper on), did he also forge or alter passages in the Table Talk? We know he did this when he produced a French translation of some of those passages. Could he hardly have scrupled against simply doctoring up some of the German, too?

Nilsson has since uncovered an answer to that question, which I’ll get to. But in the present article, Nilsson notes that “it is not clear who the real author” of the material in the Table Talk is. “We simply do not know how much of it is Hitler’s words as they were spoken, and how much is a product of the later recollection and editing process.” Points I also raised in my article for GSR. As Nilsson says:

Historian Richard C. Carrier is the only scholar to date to have critically compared these texts and published the results. He has shown that the translations into English and French are highly questionable, at least if one starts from the assumption that they were translations from a text identical to Monologe [the 1980 German edition reproducing Genoud’s manuscript]. He has also demonstrated that the English translation was at least partly based on Genoud’s French edition…and that both the English and French editions contain additions to, and mistranslations of, the German texts that they are supposedly based on.

Nilsson gives three more examples demonstrating the same conclusion, that the English translation is a direct and close translation of the French and not the German. Just as I found.

But Nilsson can also now add to that his findings from Lord Dacre’s papers. Most scandalously, Nilsson observes:

The fact that Genoud’s French edition was to be the basis for the translation was no secret to Trevor-Roper at any stage of the translation process. It was clearly laid out in the contract concluded between Genoud and Weidenfeld in late 1952. In October 1952 Trevor-Roper received two copies of the contract, which included everything they had agreed upon. The key paragraph stated:

“III. The translation into English will be made on the basis of the French version by François Genoud and it is agreed that the licensor will permit the translator appointed by the licensee to examine at any time in Switzerland the original German version insofar as this is required by the work of translation.”

Trevor-Roper also acknowledged that he had received the contracts and stated that he would get back to Weidenfeld regarding his views on the text. Unfortunately, however, these comments are nowhere to be found in his papers so it is not known what he thought about this part of the agreement, or if he ever questioned the motive behind it.

But we do know that he did not mention any of this to his readers. Trevor-Roper did not utter a single syllable about any of these facts in his preface to Table Talk dated 16 March 1953. Instead he unequivocally stated that: “The text used for this edition of Hitler’s Table-Talk is the text of the original Bormann-Vermerke.”

Curiously, that note on the text was deleted from all subsequent editions.

Nilsson also found a letter written, by a translation supervisor, to Trevor-Roper during this process that says:

We are now engaged in re-checking the first half of the translation, which as you know had to be made from the French, but was subsequently revised by the second translator, who worked from the original German.

But as Nilsson points out, “We know that [this] version [of events] is inaccurate because Carrier has proven (as does any other comparison of the English, French and Monologe) that the English text was not ‘subsequently revised’.” Nilsson suspects “the translation was not checked against Genoud’s original manuscript but against a different German text, one that Genoud most likely had re-translated into German from his French version,” because that’s “the only conceivable way that the text could have been translated from, and checked against, a German ‘original’ even though it agrees completely with Genoud’s French edition.” Although there is another way: that this “checking against the German” never in fact occurred.

Either way, Nilsson believes Trevor-Roper and his team had been “hoodwinked.” As evidence, Nilsson shows that Genoud also created a German version of the Testament by back-translating it again from a French version. So he was prone to just this sort of hoodwinkery. There is also ample evidence of Genoud lying (as Nilsson is now discovering from reading the court records of the various legal trials over this material). He may well have misled the Trevor-Roper team to believe one of the translators had checked the French material against the German.

Curiously, in his letter to me, Trevor-Roper claimed he had discovered that the translation might have come from the French after the publication in 1980 of the full German text that he could check the English by. But Nilsson found that to the contrary, Trevor-Roper wrote letters already in 1973 stating that in preparing the second edition he had discovered the English translation contained mistakes that could only be explained by it having been translated from the French and not the German (the very thing I myself demonstrated in GSR), and that he wished he could ask the translator how that could be (yet he thought that translator was then deceased). He also asked to see the original contracts again, and then wrote that they thus confirmed his suspicions, that the translation had been made from the French (though he had read and referenced those contracts at their inception, so he does not come across as entirely honest in his correspondence; could someone be this absent-minded?). Notably, he never said anything about any of this in the preface for that resulting second edition. Nor in the third. Nor ever.

Nilsson goes on to accumulate more evidence that casts suspicion even on the authenticity of the German text eventually published in 1980. And he shows the evidence for this is almost identical to what exposes the Testament as likewise Genoud’s forgery. I confess I find that evidence troubling. Although I have more to say about that in a moment. Nilsson also presents evidence that “Trevor-Roper was prepared, on occasion, to cut corners in order to make Genoud’s texts seem more trustworthy than they actually were,” and had “a tendency” to conceal damning facts from the public about the reliability of his publications associated with Genoud. Nilsson also presents evidence of Genoud lying about the authentication process for pertinent documents (and, I can report, has found more evidence recently, from his ongoing study of court documents).

Research in Progress

Dr. Nilsson has made a great deal more progress since this publication. We discussed the state of things so far by Skype. This includes his ongoing collation of versions, and examination of court records, and the notes and archives of other people involved in all this (including Werner Jochmann, who edited the Monologe published in 1980, the first and only [nearly] complete German version ever published). What appears now to be the case is that the entire text of Hitler’s Table Talk, all the notes of Picker and Heim, are “authentic” in the sense that they actually do come from Picker and Heim (the only material forged by Genoud appears to be French entries and paragraphs that have no matching counterpart in the German). But they are not what everyone has been claiming. Including me.

Due to a comical telephone game, it turns out (and this is based on testimony in court), none of the material in the Table Talk consists of the words of Hitler. No one was stenographically recording what he said as he said it. Rather, Heim and Picker, separately, simply hung out with Hitler during these rants, and then the next day wrote down their own thoughts about what he had said (as if in Hitler’s voice). So these are actually the words of Picker and Heim—not Hitler. (And in some cases of Martin Bormann, as the Monologe explicitly shows some entries and alterations were made by him.) Worse, after Heim wrote down his thoughts a day later based on his loose memory of what he thought Hitler said (which means in Heim’s own words, not actually Hitler’s), and had them typed out, he then went back and hand-wrote lengthy and elaborate changes and additions. Those revisions appear in the Monologe, but not in Picker’s edition.

Clearly, those changes and additions were not the words of Hitler. They were just more things in afterthought, sometimes days or weeks later, Heim wanted to add. But even the original drafts were not literally the words of Hitler. Picker thought Heim had been transcribing live dictation because Picker found (and used for his edition) Heim’s stenographic notes. But Heim testified in court that he only wrote his notes down in steno the next day, from memory (and sometimes some scribbled notes to himself on the occasion of a rant). Picker never knew that Heim had then typed them out (producing a slightly different German text even where Picker and Monologe agree, thus explaining those deviations) and then revised them further from his own handwritten notes—producing a more final edition under the also-meddling hand of Martin Bormann. It is that latter that came into Genoud’s possession, and was eventually published as the Monologe. Thus, more or less, all the discrepancies are now explained.

This means we now know that the pages that were recovered by U.S. forces in Munich and ended up in the Library of Congress are (or were; the originals have been returned to Germany) the actual papers of Heinrich Heim, and the handwriting his. They represent the middle stage, between his original day-later stenograph “recollections,” and the final Bormann edit, procured by Genoud. Heim’s office was, in fact, in the very building where these pages were recovered (the same building used by the Allies at war’s end to warehouse and catalog vast piles of stolen Nazi art and loot). Quite likely, his desk and cabinets were emptied and their contents catalogued and shipped to the LOC, thus explaining how these came to us.

Dr. Nilsson will eventually publish all of these findings as well. I’ll report on that when it hits the press.

Conclusion

The only English version of the Table Talk that exists is now confirmed to be unreliable by two separate experts in two peer reviewed research articles. You should never trust quotes of it. Even when they might accurately reflect the German, they still often omit crucial context, as I also showed in my article for GSR, with more examples in the appendix to my reproduction of that in Hitler Homer Bible Christ. But also quite often, the English translation simply doesn’t agree with the German, deviating more than trivially. And when that happens, it matches exactly the French. But Dr. Nilsson has also now presented evidence casting doubt on the reliability of even the German text of the Table Talk. The actual words of Hitler are not actually in it. How much it reflects what Hitler actually said or in what precise words he actually said it, is probably impossible to know.

Dr. Nilsson remarked to me how similar this was to the “oral transmission” theory of the sayings of Jesus. Here we have, within literally just days, the actual words of Hitler being distorted and filtered through the faulty memories, wishes and interpretations, and deliberate alterations, of several parties. And this was not even oral transmission, but in writing! Picker relayed slightly different memories than Heim’s, and even relayed the incomplete memories of Heim, who was continuing to “alter the text” after transmitting an earlier version of it to Picker. And then, within mere years, less than a decade in fact, these distorted texts were altered even further, when they were translated into other languages. (Sound familiar? We have not a single text of anything Jesus ever said in the original language he would have said it in.) By then, Hitler was in many cases being made to say things completely the opposite of what the original texts remembered him saying. And even those “original texts” are not the words of Hitler. They are the words of other people, describing their recollections of things they thought he said.

If this could happen, so rapidly and egregiously, even in a written culture, what hope can there be for trusting any of the sayings of a historical Jesus? (If there even was one.)

5 comments

  1. Margaret deVelden August 27, 2016, 9:09 pm

    Richard – you’re making history so interesting and fun ☺ (many many months ago I listened to HHBC). It really is exciting that your work was cited and now the research continued by Dr. Nilsson! I’ll be looking forward to the next update. Margaret

    Reply
  2. Chuck Messenger August 27, 2016, 9:46 pm

    Richard,
    Great work! You allude to alterations having been made by Trevor-Roper to the original text – in particular, “passages depicting Hitler as an anti-Christian atheist”. What does it appear that Hitler _really_ said, and what did Trevor-Roper change it to?

    Reply
  3. Marc Miller August 28, 2016, 7:45 am

    Very interesting! I’ve been a WWII buff for most of my life ( I was building Panzer models when all my friends were building hot rods ), and have read dozens of books about the war. I was never aware that there was a controversy regarding Hitler’s religious beliefs until recently! I just thought that everybody knew he was a Catholic… But, I can understand how Catholics might want to disown him… They already had a long line of mass murders on the books before Hitler came along!

    Thanks for the interesting post!

    Reply
  4. Corrections (28 August 2016):

    1. “occupied Poland” = “what is now Poland.” Germany already controlled regions within the borders of Poland before the War, and the Wolf’s Lair was within those regions.

    2. The original LOC documents have been returned to Germany and reside at the Bundesarchiv in Berlin-Lichterfeld. So their location is known. The Bormann-Vermerke (the complete German draft procured by Genoud, which in his possession may have always been a photocopy and never an original) and Picker’s notes (and the stenographs of Heim that he collected and worked from as well) are lost.

    3. Dr. Nilsson is a postdoc researcher at Uppsala, not a professor.

    4. Nilsson is finding that even the later years in the English appear to be translated from the French (with some few exceptions), so possibly Genoud did in fact have all of it then and little to none of the English was ever based on seeing the real German. Nilsson is also finding evidence that the translators might never have seen even the French text but had to translate from Genoud’s dictation (producing peculiar errors only explicable if that were the case). This evidence may be surveyed in forthcoming publications!

    Reply
  5. Peter August 30, 2016, 3:22 pm

    Wow. Good work! So the whole table talk is third hand information based on hearsay, recorded well after the fact, subject to deliberate editing and interpolations, and being (mis)translated into other languages. We might as well call it a Gospel!

    Reply

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