Friday, June 29, 2012

BC2012: Hitler: The Survival Myth by Donald M. McKale

This scholarly book examines the details surrounding the suicide of Adolf Hitler and explores how and why the myth that he survived World War II arose and persisted for so long. Obviously this is no longer an issue since he now would be 123 years old, but the original Hitler: The Survival Myth was published 30 years ago (I read the updated 2001 edition).

The Soviets created much of the doubt about Hitler's whereabouts. Although they found his charred remains only days after he died and positively identified him based on dental records, they did not immediately share this with the other Allies.* Actually, in June 1945 the Soviets held an off-the-record press conference to announce that Hitler was dead, and then they followed up three days later with an official one surmising that he could still be alive.

A British investigation led by historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, who published The Last Days of Hitler in 1947, concluded that the dictator committed suicide in his bunker, but the Russians didn't reveal their autopsy report on Hitler until 1968. In the meantime, plenty of wacky stories developed about Hitler living in Argentina under CIA protection or even in a German fortress in Antarctica!

According to many testimonies, Hitler was in poor health during the Third Reich's final days He probably wasn't well enough to escape even if he'd had the means. His shakiness due to Parkinson's Disease led to another controversy -- was he physically capable of shooting himself, or did he take poison? The distinction is important to some as a matter of honor or bravery since Hitler was the leader of the German military (poison was considered a feminine suicide method, as demonstrated by Eva Braun). Although the Soviet autopsy found shards of a glass vial in Hitler's mouth, the common belief is that he shot himself (someone testified that one of Hitler's doctors suggested pulling the trigger and biting into the vial simultaneously just to be certain -- Hitler was terrified of surviving the war to endure Russian torture and humiliation).

Hitler: The Survival Myth is a good book, but it may be too thorough for most casual readers. It could be shorter, with perhaps less repetition of previously revealed information. I got a good laugh out of the examples of "Hitler is Alive" stories, so I wish more had been included about those. I think McKale felt that repeating too many of those stories might give them credence, which obviously is the opposite of this book's intent.

* I felt sorry for the young German dental assistant whose confirmation of Hitler's identity landed her in a Soviet prison for eleven years, mostly in solitary confinement, apparently because they didn't want her to tell anyone that she had seen Hitler's remains.

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