Monday, October 24, 2011

Hitler - Memoirs of a Confidant

One of the more interesting historical books to have been written in Wales during the twentieth century was Otto Wagener’s Hitler – Memoirs of a Confidant. As the book title suggests he was a former chum of Adolf Hitler. Unsurprisingly he was also a Nazi, having joined the party in 1929. By then he was already a member of the brown-shirted SA. During this period Wagener is credited with having persuaded a German cigarette company to produce Sturm cigarettes, the gasper of choice for Nazi stormtroopers.

Slowly but surely Wagener progressed through the Nazi ranks and in 1932 he was appointed personal economic advisor to the Fuhrer. From April to June, 1933, he became Reich Commissar for the Economy. His economic policies were based upon Social Darwinist principles and were formulated in hundreds of discussions he had with Hitler. Unfortunately for Wagener he fell out with various leading industrialists and Nazis (notably Hermann Goring) and was eventually ousted from his position.

He did, however, manage to avoid an even grimmer fate during the Night of the Long Knives (1934). Although briefly detained he escaped execution in Hitler’s bloody purge and returned to a low-profile business career in Saxony. In 1939 he rejoined the army (he had served in WW1) and eventually attained the rank of major general. He surrendered to British forces on the island of Rhodes in 1945.

In 1946 he found himself at Island Farm, a prisoner of war camp near Bridgend. It was there that he wrote his memoir, an account of his working relationship with Hitler during the years 1929-33. His written narrative filled 36 military exercise books (approx 2,300 pages). These notebooks weren't penned secretly - they bear the inspection stamps of the POW camp's officials. Before leaving Wales he placed his memoirs inside a suitcase and asked a Red Cross representative to send it to his wife in Germany. The suitcase eventually arrived in a battered state but the notebooks remained intact.

These days Otto Wagener's book is regarded by historians as one of the few written accounts of the era that provides genuine inside knowledge of Hitler and his rather odd personality. The memoir also sheds light on, amongst other things, Hitler’s relationship with his suicidal niece Geli Raubel (bizarrely, he attended her autopsy); his drug use (which included belladonna); and his views on homosexuals (don’t even ask). Wagener was a Hitler apologist so you’ll find nothing in his reminiscences about concentration camp atrocities.

Hitler – Memoirs of a Confidant was first published six years after Wagener’s death in Bavaria in 1977.