LONDON — Adolf Hitler did not wish to confront the reality of the Final Solution, a documentary on British television claimed on Monday night.
The program alleged the Nazi dictator never visited an extermination camp and pulled down the blinds of his Fuhrer train when a train carrying Jews to their deaths stopped on an adjacent platform.
It also stated that the origins of the Holocaust lay in remarks made by Hitler at a private dinner and noted the lack of a “paper trail” linking him directly to its instigation.
“When it came to the extermination of Jews, Hitler was very hands off,” presenter Dr. Tracy Borman stated in the documentary, entitled “Private Lives,” which aired on Britain’s Yesterday channel.
But doubt was immediately cast on the implication of some of the program’s claims by one of Britain’s leading experts on Nazi Germany, Prof. Sir Richard Evans.
In the show, Borman, the chief curator of the Historic Royal Palaces, examined Hitler’s private life, attempting to show how it related to his public actions. Historic Royal Palaces is a charity which looks after some of the UK’s most famous public buildings, including the Tower of London and Kensington Palace.
“While atrocities were being carried out in his name, he never visited an extermination camp,” Borman said in the program. “When a train carrying Jews to the camps stopped on an adjacent platform to his Fuhrer train, he pulled down the blinds… Hitler never wanted to be confronted with the brutal reality of what was going on. He just wanted to know that it was being done.”
However, Evans, former Regius Professor of History at the University of Cambridge and the author of a number of books on the Third Reich, urged caution about some of these claims.
“It is true that Hitler did not visit any extermination camps, but he was sent, and read, the regular reports of the SS task forces who shot hundreds of thousands of Jews in pits behind the Eastern Front during the war,” he noted.
“The incident recorded by [Albert] Speer in which Hitler had the blinds on his train windows pulled down was prompted by a trainload of German war wounded,” Evans said. “Jews were transported for the most part in cattle trucks and would not have been visible from outside.”
Evans was the principal expert witness against Holocaust denier David Irving in Irving’s unsuccessful 2000 libel suit against American historian Deborah Lipstadt. That case would be dramatized in the 2016 Hollywood movie “Denial,” starring Rachel Weisz as Lipstadt.
The Yesterday channel documentary highlighted the lack of documents linking Hitler to the decision to order the Final Solution.
“When it comes to the instigation of the Holocaust, there is no paper trail leading directly to Hitler himself,” Borman said. “Quite typically, these horrifying plans seems to have grown out of one of the Fuhrer’s private chats at the dinner table.”
Hitler is said to have told SS head Heinrich Himmler and Hans Lammer, Chief of the Reich Chancellery, over a dinner that he had been “extraordinarily merciful to the Jews,” but he was coming to see that “the only solution was extermination.”
A transcript of the conversation, historian Nigel Jones told the program, was “the only actual written link that we have that Hitler ordered the policy of the Holocaust.”
Holocaust scholar Evans said, however, “There are many documents attesting to Hitler’s knowledge of the extermination of the Jews, including the diaries of his propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels.”
Goebbels confided in his diaries that Hitler was “pitiless” when it came to the “Jewish Question.” Hitler believed that “The Jews must get out of Europe, if need be through [the] use of the most brutal means,” the minister wrote on one occasion. On another, he argued that “the Fuhrer is the unswerving champion and spokesman of a radical solution.”
The one ‘noble Jew’
The program noted that Hitler had, in fact, shown mercy to only one Jew, Eduard Bloch. A Linz-based doctor, Bloch treated Hitler’s mother, Klara, when she was dying of breast cancer. When Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Hitler awarded him special protection and he was allowed to emigrate to the United States in 1940.
Hitler called Bloch “the noble Jew,” according to the documentary, and said, “If all Jews were like him, there would be no Jewish question.”
“Hitler’s very private act of mercy towards Dr. Bloch was not to be repeated,” Borman said.
The program also claimed that, as a child, Hitler was beaten by his father, Alois.
“His father had been a brutal, tyrannical man who tyrannized his entire family and beat Adolf [on a] fairly regular basis,” Jones stated.
However, Evans argued: “The claim that [Hitler] had an abusive childhood is based on speculation; there is no evidence to suggest that his father was more violent than other fathers of the time.”
The documentary painted a picture of Hitler as a lazy and arrogant student, who was embittered by his rejection by the prestigious Vienna Academy of Arts. It suggested that as a resentful vagrant living on the streets of Vienna he sold paintings, postcards and drawings, frequently through Jewish middlemen.
Decades later, Hitler’s desire to rebuild German cities according to his own neo-classical architectural tastes were a “key driver of the concentration camp networks, the persecution of Jews and peoples of occupied territory and even of the course of war itself,” Borman said in the program.
According to historian Jones, “Camps like Mauthausen in Austria and Flossenburg in Germany were built next to quarries where the stonework that would go into the building projects was actually dug out.”
“We can draw a connection between Hitler’s own love of architecture and his desire to build these grandiose constructions with the work that went on in concentration camps,” said Jones.