A day before his death in his beleaguered command center in central Berlin, Adolf Hitler summoned Traudl Junge, his youngest secretary, for an important task. Standing at a large table in the conference room of the cramped underground concrete bunker complex, he paused a bit before he began dictating “My Political Testament,” a declaration that would be his final words to the German people, as well as a statement for coming generations.
It was about two a.m. on Sunday morning, April 29, 1945, when the 25-year-old secretary began taking down his words in shorthand. Hitler made almost no editing changes before she went to work typing out three copies of the historic document, as well as an accompanying “Private Testament” he had also issued. It took her about two hours to complete the task.
Above them was raging the Battle of Berlin, one of the greatest military clashes of all time. The German capital was now encircled by enemy forces, and some Soviet troops were advancing into the city center. Hitler’s underground command center was under direct and heavy artillery shellfire, while above ground the Reich Chancellery building was already in ruins.
Just nine days earlier Hitler had marked his 56th birthday. He had been Germany’s chief executive for twelve years – six and half years of peace, and five and half years of war. Months of irregular and inadequate sleep, oppressive nervous tension, no exercise, bouts of terrible pain, and the after-effects of an assassin’s bomb blast nine months earlier, had all taken a severe toll on his health. Although physically he was a wreck, his will, resolve and mental powers were still intact. All those who were with him during the final weeks of his life later testified that Hitler remained mentally alert until the end.
The phrasing, tone and rhetorical style of the Testament – which is unquestionably authentic — are entirely characteristic of Hitler’s speeches and writings throughout his career.
In this final declaration, Hitler expresses gratitude to all those who had given him their trust and support, especially during the terrifying ordeal of war. He also explains why he had decided to end his life in his Berlin command post.
In Hitler’s view, military commanders who order soldiers to defend a given position to the death are ethically obliged to set an example themselves, either by dying in battle or by taking their own lives. Following the calamitous conclusion of the Battle of Stalingrad, he had expressed contempt for the behavior of the German commander, von Paulus, who surrendered (and then later served as a Soviet propagandist). Von Paulus should have taken his own life, said Hitler, thereby showing the same level of manly resolve that dozens of Soviet commanders in similar situations had already exhibited.
Hitler rejected repeated pleas to flee from the beleaguered German capital. “I will never leave Berlin,” he vowed. “I’ll defend the city to my last breath!” He added: “I should already have made this decision, the most important in my life, in November 1944, and should never have left the headquarters in East Prussia.” And even if he did break out from the encircled city, he pointed out, “We would merely flee from one frying pan to another. Am I, the Führer, supposed to sleep in any open field or in a farmhouse, and just wait for the end?”
Hitler also made it clear that although he was willing to die in battle, he feared that he might only be wounded and then taken prisoner, which would mean humiliating captivity and execution. Strengthening his decision to die by his own hand was the news of the fate of his friend and ally, Benito Mussolini. Shortly after being taken prisoner, the Italian leader was simply murdered, and his battered corpse was then put on public display to gratify a hysterical mob.
Moreover, Hitler felt responsible to Eva Braun who, in spite of his pleadings, insisted on sharing her fate with his. The two had loved each other for years, and he consented to marry just before their deaths. As they both knew, countless German women taken captive by Soviet troops were being brutally raped and murdered.
In his Testament, Hitler also sought to explain why things had turned out so calamitously, and he anticipated accusations that would be made against him in the years ahead.
With regard to the charge that he had launched the most destructive military conflict in modern history, Hitler insisted that neither he nor anyone else in Germany wanted war in 1939 – and certainly not a general or global conflict. He recalled his proposals for a peaceful resolution of the dispute with Poland, which was the immediate cause of conflict. The sincerity of his desire for peace in 1939, and his fear of another world war, has been affirmed by a number of scholars, including the eminent British historian A. J. P. Taylor. (It was, of course, the declarations of war against Germany by Britain and France on Sept. 3, 1939, with secret encouragement by US President Roosevelt, that transformed the limited German-Polish clash into a larger, continent- wide war.)
Hitler also referred in his Testament to his numerous proposals for peace and mutual limitations of armaments, which the leaders of France, Britain and other powers had rejected. Among the offers spurned by London and Paris was, for example, the German leader’s comprehensive plan of March 31, 1936, that proposed demilitarization of the entire Rhineland region, a western Europe security agreement, and mutual prohibition of incendiary bombs, poison gas, heavy tanks and heavy artillery.
In his Testament, Hitler also seems to anticipate the accusation that he was responsible for mass killings of European Jews. He did not try to deny or whitewash what has become known as “the Holocaust,” but – to the contrary – took responsibility for the grim undertaking, and sought to justify it.
He insisted that “international Jewry” bore a collective responsibility for inciting and provoking the Second World War, a cataclysm in which, he emphasized, millions of Germans and other Europeans had suffered and perished, many in the most painful and horrific ways. He pointedly recalled the stern warning made in his Reichstag address of Jan. 30, 1939. “Today, I will once again be a prophet,” he said on that occasion. “If international finance Jewry inside and outside Europe should once again succeed in plunging the nations of the world into a world war, then the result will not be the bolshevization of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.”
So important did he regard that “prophecy” that he referred to it later in several major speeches during the war years. In his address of Nov. 8, 1942, for example, he said: “Another power, too, which was very strong in Germany has meanwhile been able to learn from experience that the National Socialist prophecies are no mere phrases; it is the main power to which we owe all this misfortune: international Jewry. You will recall the Reichstag session at which I declared: If Jewry imagines by any chance that it can bring about an international world war for the extermination of the European races, the result will not be the extermination of the European races, but the extermination of Jewry in Europe. They have always derided me as a prophet. Today countless numbers of those who laughed at that time, laugh no longer.”
In light of all that, Hitler suggests in his Testament, he had decided that Jews living in lands under his control would not be permitted to “sit out” the terrible global conflagration, but instead – and as he had repeatedly and publicly warned — would be made to atone for their collective guilt, “even if by more humane means.” Although he does not explain this ambiguous phrase, understandably it has been regarded as an indirect reference to large scale killings of Jews by poison gas or perhaps by shooting.
Hitler concludes with a call for “merciless resistance” to “international Jewry,” which, he warns, is a grave danger for all humanity.
One indication that he addressed his Testament not just to the Germans of his own era, but to people of all nations many years in the future, is the absence of any criticism or even specific mention of any enemy leader or nation (except “international Jewry”). Hitler makes no mention by name of Stalin, Roosevelt, Churchill, the Soviet Union or the United States, as if anticipating an era many years ahead when those men, as well as the USSR and the USA, would no longer exist.
— Mark Weber, June 2013
This translation of Hitler’s “Political Testament” is by Mark Weber. The German text, as well as various English-language translations (not always entirely accurate), have been published in many books and posted on many websites.
An authoritative text of the German original is published, for example, in the official 42-volume record of the Nuremberg Tribunal (IMT “blue series”), Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal, Volume 41, pages 547-554. (Document Streicher-9)
For Further Reading
Joachim Hoffmann, Stalins Vernichtungskrieg, 1941-1945: Planung, Ausführung und Dokumentation. München: Herbig, 1999.
J. F. C. Fuller, A Military History of the Western World. New York: 1987. Vol. 3, esp. pp. 372-375, 411-419.
Hess, Rudolf. Speech of July 8, 1934. “A Veterans Plea for Peace”
( http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v13/v13n4p38_Hess.html )
David L. Hoggan. The Forced War: When Peaceful Revision Failed. IHR, 1989.
Friedrich Stieve. Was die Welt nicht wollte: Hitlers Friedensangebote 1933- 1939. Berlin: 1940.
( http://de.metapedia.org/wiki/Was_die_Welt_nicht_wollte:_Hitlers_Friedensangebote_1933-1939 )
Viktor Suvorov (pseud.), The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2008
A.J.P. Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War. New York: 1983.
John Toland, Adolf Hitler. Doubleday & Co., 1976.