Declassified British intelligence papers have shed new light on the testimony of a pre-WWII German diplomat who claimed that a single document, that was once in his possession, could have changed the course of history by preventing Adolf Hitler’s consolidation of power.
A London Times report on Friday described the claims of Baron Fritz Günther von Tschirschky und Bögendorff, a confidant of Weimar-era president Paul von Hindenburg. He defected from Nazi Germany to the UK in 1935, and a file of British MI5 papers on him was declassified earlier this month.
Tschirschky claimed he helped to draft Hindenburg’s last will and testament, a document which he said blasted Hitler and called on the German people to embrace democracy.
But Hitler, whom the 84-year-old Hindenburg had begrudgingly appointed chancellor in 1933, got wind of the document upon the president’s death and gave orders to “ensure that this document comes into my possession as soon as possible,” according to the London Times account of Tschirschky’s testimony.
Hindenburg’s son, a loyal Nazi, passed the will to Hitler, who presumably destroyed it.
According to Tschirschky, the will was a powerful attack on Hitler’s ambition.
In it, Hindenburg wrote that the army should be independent of politics, and he called for the establishment of a constitutional monarchy with clear separation of powers, according to Friday’s report.
In a 1947 interview, defector Tschirschky had reportedly told The Times that the will called for abolishing all racial and religious discrimination.
He insisted that “Hitler would never have come into power, and there would have been no war, if the wishes of Hindenburg had been known to the German people.”
Two drafts of the will survived after Hindenburg’s death, according to the report. One was tracked down by the Nazis in Switzerland and destroyed, and the other was kept by Tschirschky, until he destroyed it — he claimed out of fear — before fleeing Germany.
British authorities never entirely trusted Tschirschky and he reportedly spent most of the war in an internment camp. Questions remain as to why Hindenburg would have waited until his death to launch his most bitter critique of the Nazi leader.
Within hours of Hindenburg’s death, Hitler consolidated the offices of president and chancellor, and thus tightened his grip on power. Several days later, the Nazis announced the discovery of the deceased president’s “political testament,” a possible forgery, which made complimentary references to Hitler.