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Hitler: The Survival Myth Paperback – May 15, 2001
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Well written, scrupulously researched, exhaustively documented. (The New York Times)
A fascinating study. (Ron Rosenbaum, Author of Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil )
About the Author
Donald M. McKale is class of 1941 Memorial Professor of Humanities at Clemson University. Previous books of his include The Swastika Outside Germany and The Nazi Party Courts.
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The section why Stalin pushed for him being alive even though his troops confirmed him as dead and the Western allies never did confirm him as dead, is worth the price.
And with good reason. This is a sane, carefully researched and readable account of the many survival myths that have circulated since Hitler committed suicide in the Berlin bunker in 1945.
One would have thought this book would have finished them off for good. But no! Schlock authors are still peddling ridiculous stories - Hitler is Alive! they tell us. His suicide was a fake. The Fuehrer, they assure us, had a double who took his place so he could escape from his stricken capital. They're convinced Hitler fled to Tibet with Martin Bormann, or General Franco hid him Spain. One theorist claimed the Nazi leader sought refuge in the Antarctic where he built himself a Berchtesgaden-style retreat - Hitler on ice.
Deluded authors love to imagine Hitler fled to South America. I've lost count of how many believe this nonsense. They all have one thing in common. None has ever produced tangible evidence that Hitler set foot in the place.
My favourite? - 'Hitler sought in Boston'.
Professor McKale's "Hitler - the Survival Myth" cuts through this garbage and explains what really went on. It's a comprehensive account of the mythology surrounding these legends. Much as conspiracy theorists want us to believe there's some dark secret at the heart of Hitler's suicide there is no evidence Hitler escaped from his bunker in 1945. As one critic put it - Hitler never left the building.
Those who contribute to the Hitler survival industry - naïve conspiracy theorists - show little understanding of Hitler's psychology. Hitler never feared death. He won three bravery awards during the First World War and displayed constant daring during his public career. He also contemplated suicide a number of times during his life. Suicide was an escape route - a natural way out of all his problems.
There was no way Hitler could flee abroad minus his support team leaving behind his devoted followers and his doctor, valet, adjutants, etc. At the end of the war Hitler was a human wreck. Parkinson's disease was threatening him. He needed help.
Also a dramatic death and disappearance would seal the Hitler legend. The great leader had died in his capital. There would be no humiliating trial and execution by his enemies. When he died he was still the Fuhrer.
So why does this survival nonsense persist? 'Mythopoeia' - the making of myths - 'is a far more common characteristic of the human race than veracity,' observed the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper.
Then there's ignorance and stupidity. When I mentioned a recent conspiracy book to another historian he replied:- 'It's clear from the many reviews on Amazon and elsewhere that the book only appeals to the "nut cases" who, for political or other reasons praise the book. There will always be such "nut cases," no matter what is written about Hitler's death in the bunker.'
But do the myths surrounding Hitler matter?
I think they do. Hitler believed in myths. They guided his actions. He spent his political life discovering conspiracies and selling them to his swooning followers. Think where his beliefs in a worldwide Jewish conspiracy and hatred of other races led.
Conspiracy books are a baleful influence. They pollute the wells of knowledge - exploiting and patronising the poorly educated and intensifying their ignorance. They encourage readers to disbelieve works of scholarship and drag down the reputations of legitimate historians. Professor McKale attacks what he calls 'a growing assault on truth and memory' ... the 'chilling attack on the factual record...' He claims a conspiracy book 'undermines the very principles of objective scholarship that support the world's faith in historical knowledge.'
If we damage the credibility of properly researched books then we substitute myths for reality. If serious historians are wrong about Hitler's death - and he really did survive for years after 1945 - then perhaps they're wrong about everything else, including the Holocaust. Defending serious history and challenging myths that undermine it is that important.
Someone once said, 'It is better that a man should be seen, in the end, in the light of truth.'
That applies especially to Hitler. During the 1980s Hitler diaries scandal the magazine "Newsweek" suggested it almost didn't matter whether the diaries were genuine or not.
This provoked a monumental rebuke from "The New York Times" in an editorial entitled 'Heil History':- 'Almost doesn't matter? Almost doesn't matter what really drove the century's most diabolical tyranny? Almost doesn't matter whether Hitler is reincarnated, perhaps redefined, by fact or forgery?'
Exactly. Bogus history books are no joke. They do harm. They're offensive to war veterans and other victims of the Nazis, such as the Jews. To suggest Hitler was relaxing in some luxurious hideaway with the connivance of the western allies is insulting. It trivialises and negates the hard-won victory over the Nazis.
In addition to Professor McKale's book those who care about facts should study Anton Joachimsthaler's "The Last Days of Hitler - Legend, Evidence and Truth." This book, crammed with eye-witness testimonies, makes grim but fascinating reading. Hitler's suicide was a grisly affair. Joachimstaler sifts the evidence, assesses witnesses and discounts false theories.
And readers might like to look at "Selling Hitler" - Robert Harris's classic account of the Hitler diaries scandal - the biggest fraud in publishing history. It's not only entertaining, but a warning to those who publish trash. The roof will fall in and you'll excite international ridicule.
Put simply, no serious historian has challenged how Hitler ended his life. He died in the Berlin bunker on 30 April 1945. It's intellectually indecent to suggest otherwise.
If you read these books and standard biographies you'll avoid the traps laid by factually challenged conspiracy theorists and avoid becoming "nut cases" like them.
UPDATE:- Since I wrote this review Prof McKale has written a scathing review exposing the nonsense in one of the latest examples of this boneheaded genre. His review is entitled 'The Rehash of a Fantasy' and refers to "Grey Wolf - the escape of Adolf Hitler" written by Simon Dunstan and Gerrard Williams. You can read his comments here on Amazon.