The personality of the Nazi Führer is shrouded in mystery. The republication of two documents* reveals a man at once courteous and choleric and nurtured crazy ambitions.
A visionary who knew how to benefit from events for a long time? A tactician who came very close to winning his bet? More than seventy years after his suicide in his bunker, Hitler’s personality still raises more questions than answers.
And rightly so. Sometimes mischievously brilliant, sometimes bordering on the irrational, the man who took to power in January 1933 and led Germany to disaster in about a dozen years, was probably all of those at once. “A man like Hitler does not fit into a simple formula,” summed up André François-Poncet in his Memoirs of a French Ambassador in Berlin:1931-1938.
Published at the end of the war, these Memoirs offer, besides a comprehensive analysis of the Nazi phenomenon, a striking portrait of the hierarchs of the Reich, starting with their Führer. As head of the French representation in Berlin, François-Poncet had a lot to say and this German-speaker and a graduate of the École normale supérieure was one of the few foreign diplomats allowed to have face-to-face exchanges with the enigmatic Führer.
Their first meeting occurred on 8 April 1933: “Perfectly polite, not at all embarrassed of his character and quite at ease, though somewhat reserved and rather cold, Hitler spoke with clarity and sharpness.” Admittedly, the dictator never backed out in the face of a lie: ‘If I have an ambition it is that one day we may bring up my monument for being the man who reconciled France and Germany!’
But François-Poncet became the subject of repeated and public attention from Hitler, read Mein Kampf and Hitler’s programme of war. ‘He had faith in his star, in his genius,’ said the ambassador who describes the master of the Reich as occupied by his weltanschauung, his ‘world view’ was supposed to ‘renovate the face of Germany and the earth and to put his mark on both for a thousand years’. François-Poncet also described the ‘wild romantic imagination’ of the dictator and his ‘ability to relentlessly take sudden decisions’.
Initially François-Poncet is surprised by the ‘ vulgarity of his features,’ of ‘the insignificance of his face’. Yet everything changes when Hitler gets carried away: ‘Colorful, transported by passion, nostrils quivering with the appetite for domination, showing impatience towards all restraint, a hatred of the enemy, a cynical boldness and fierce energy, being ready for any reversal.’ Then when he relaxes, as during a lunch at Berchtes-gaden he is like any man ‘rustic, thick, vulgar, easy to amuse, laughing with a big loud laugh.’
On October 18, 1938, as the mirage of peace born out of the Munich Agreement dissipated, Francois-Poncet was sent to Rome. Hitler invited him for a ‘farewell audience’ at his residence in the Bavarian Alps. There, the Nazi leader renews his promises of peace and evokes future ‘crises’. In his report sent to the Quai d’Orsay, Francois-Poncet wrote:
‘I have certainly no illusions about the character of Adolf Hitler. I know it is ever-changing, ill-concealed, contradictory, uncertain. The same man of debonair appearance who is sensitive to the beauties of nature and explained to me, around a tea table, sound ideas about the European policy, is capable of the worst frenzies, exaltations of the wildest nature and can harbour the craziest of ambitions.’
When war is declared and France is occupied, Hitler will swiftly dispatch his murderers. His ‘delusional ambitions’ abound in Words Intimate and Political: 1941-1942, a collection of speeches delivered by Hitler before his faithfuls. Those speeches were scribbled, typed and stored in the archive of Martin Bormann, head of the Nazi Party and close among the closest to the Führer.
Already published in 1951 in a truncated version, then mistranslated, these transcriptions, which had for long been underestimated, are delivered in a crude manner as daily monologues. In it we find Hitler’s thoughts during the assault against the USSR, his state of mind in facing the British resistance or before the entry into a war with the United States, and a mass of considerations that make these speeches some kind of Mein Kampf in action.
Able to expound on architecture and the role of women, rehashing his experience of the First World War and the conquest of power achieved through ‘intuition’, Hitler here rewrites history since the antiquity. He provides economic analysis alternating with convoluted details and bogus statistics and even his belief in reincarnation.
“Implementing a historic commitment” and convinced not to have a life beyond 70 years, Hitler views himself as the ‘indispensable’ father of the nation who ‘cherishes his children’. Considering him omniscient, he offers his vision of effective justice, and floats his ideas for new academic programmes, advocates the standardization of washrooms in the Reich and does not forget to impose the ‘formula of cold buffet’ for the ‘reception of the Communists.’
Obsessed with the ‘economic outlook’ of his future empire, Hitler assures that he would ‘settle the requirements of life’ thanks to the conquest of the vast territories of the East ‘that the Germans have already won.’ The indigenous people ‘should remain illiterate’ and submit to the law of their German settlers, the ‘peasant soldiers’ joined by Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, Dutch whose country will thus disappear into the great Reich. The model for Hitler? The British and the colonization of India! ‘The disproportionate space forced them to govern millions of people with fewer men.’
‘The region will lose its character of the Asian steppe and be Europeanized! For that we are building today the major routes of entry to the southern tip of the Crimea and to the Caucasus. All along those paths, German cities would be strung like pearls on a string and all along German colonists would settle.’
And ‘in three centuries, it will be a green landscape of incredible beauty!’
Finally, ‘Berlin, as world capital, will be compared with the ancient Egypt, Babylon or Rome! In comparison what is London or Paris!’ Thus, National Socialism will radiate to the point of ’tilting towards a new order more liberal than the democracies of the west’.
*Souvenirs d’une ambassade à Berlin. 1931-1938 by André François-Poncet with Preface and Notes by Jean-Paul Bled; Pub: Perrin
*Propos intimes et politiques. 1941-1942 by Adolf Hitler; Preface, annotation and translation by François Delpa; Pub: Nouveau Monde