Advanced Search
John Lukacs
John Lukacs
The Hitler of History
ISBN: 0375701133
The Hitler of History
In this brilliant, strikingly original book, historian John Lukacs delves to the core of Adolf Hitler's life and mind by examining him through the lenses of his surprisingly diverse biographers.

Since 1945 there have been more than one hundred biographies of Hitler, and countless other books on him and the Third Reich. What happens when so many people reinterpret the life of a single individual? Dangerously, the cumulative portrait that begins to emerge can suggest the face of a mythic antihero whose crimes and errors blur behind an aura of power and conquest. By reversing the process, by making Hitler's biographers—rather than Hitler himself—the subject of inquiry, Lukacs reveals the contradictions that take us back to the true Hitler of history.

Like an attorney, Lukacs puts the biographies on trial. He gives a masterly account of all the major works and of the personalities, methods, and careers of the biographers (one cannot separate the historian from his history, particularly in this arena); he looks at what is still not known (and probably never will be) about Hitler; he considers various crucial aspects of the real Hitler; and he shows how different biographers have either advanced our understanding or gone off track. By singling out those who have been involved in, or co-opted into, an implicit "rehabilitation of Hitler," Lukacs draws powerful conclusions about Hitler's essential differences from other monsters of history, such as Napoleon, Mussolini, and Stalin, and—equally important—about Hitler's place in the history of this century and of the world.
—from the publisher's website

The Hitler of History
Program Air Date: March 1, 1998

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: John Lukacs, author of "The Hitler of History," I read more than once in your book--you said, `This is not a biography of Adolf Hitler.' Why did you keep emphasizing it?
Mr. JOHN LUKACS, AUTHOR, "THE HITLER OF HISTORY": Because it might be misinterpreted. I'm dealing with the--the accumulation of the views, the writings about Hitler in the last 50 years. Now in a way, it's a biography of biographies.
LAMB: When did you get the idea to do this?
Mr. LUKACS: I had the idea short range and long range. Short range is because I had another book for which I did not have a publisher. I thought I ought to write a book. It came to me, and I said, `All right. This is one thing I'm interested in.' That's the short-range story. The long-range story is--or, rather--rather, the long-range version is that very, very far back, in '949, I read an extraordinary book by a Dutch historian, Peter Haile, "Napoleon: For and Against." He wrote that book during the German occupation of Holland. For a while he was interred, then he was let loose toward the end of the war. Haile said in this book that--he's writing about Napoleon, the different interpretations of Napoleon during 150 years. He said the time will come when people will write about Hitler like that, too.

Now obviously, there's no sense of writing a book entitled "Hitler: For and Against." It's too touchy a subject. But, more important, unlike in the case of Napoleon, the for-Hitler book, the apologetic books, are really not very good. As a matter of fact, they're very bad from a scholarly viewpoint. I'm not only fa--everybody has the right having his own opinion, but they're not very good. And when I thought of this book, I picked up Pe--Peter Haile's book 50 years later--no, 40 years later--42 years later, early '90. And I said--I reread it, and I said, `Yes, I want to write this book.' So...
LAMB: Where is your home originally?
Mr. LUKACS: Hungary.
LAMB: When did you come to the United States?
Mr. LUKACS: Fifty-one years ago.
LAMB: Why did you come here?
Mr. LUKACS: This was after Russians occupied Hungary. The full Communist regime wasn't yet established, but I pretty much knew it was coming. I did some work for Americans and British during the war, so it wasn't very difficult for me to leave.
LAMB: How old were you when you came here?
Mr. LUKACS: Twenty-three.
LAMB: And where did you go when you came here?
Mr. LUKACS: Well, I came first to--I--I landed in Portland, Maine, oddly enough. Ther--there was a--a stevedore strike, you know, in the small ship I went--I--I--I crossed the Atlantic on and landed in Portland, and I went to New York. I did not know anyone. I had no relatives and no friends. I knew English rather well. I had my degree. Very fortunately, because of the GI Bill of Rights, they needed teachers in different universities to help out, so I got right away, very luckily, a part-time job at Columbia teaching 19th century European history. And that was not enough to pay for my everyday living, but I had some other jobs as translators. And then about eight months later I got an offer as a permanent member of faculty, small Catholic girls college in Pennsylvania. I took it and I've been there--I was there for 46 years until my retirement.
LAMB: What's the name of the school?
Mr. LUKACS: Chestnut Hill College.
LAMB: How big?
Mr. LUKACS: About 600 students. I had many visiting professorships, but for me, the most important thing has never been my academic affiliation with where I live. I like living there. I married a--not a student, you know, a--I don't do this kind of thing--you know, a Philadelphian girl, and I live there. I'm a stick in the mud. I'm living in the same place now for 43 years.
LAMB: And where is that?
Mr. LUKACS: It's fairly out in the country, but it's getting suburbanized. It's Chester County, about 35 miles from Philadelphia, west.
LAMB: Now if I calculate it right, at 23 years old, you came here in 1957?
Mr. LUKACS: No, '46.
LAMB: Oh, OK. I m--I missed a whole 10 years.
Mr. LUKACS: '46.
LAMB: '46, and you were 23 in '46.
Mr. LUKACS: Yes.
LAMB: What did you think or know of Adolf Hitler in 1946?
Mr. LUKACS: Well, a lot but certainly not in a scholarly way because I lived through the war in Hungary. And Hungary was, because of its geographical situation and so forth, a sort of ally of Germany in war. There were many Hungarians, including myself, for varied reasons, who were against this. I told you that I did some work for the British and Americans in the war--absolutely minimal and ineffective--helped me after the war. And so he was, in a way, a little close--too close to me. We were saturated with the Germans and Hitler and so forth. And I'm a historian. I be--I--my specialty is not really German history. I have different specialities. I'm somewhat of a maverick in this. I moved into different fields as time went on. And I became interested in this topic about 25 years ago.
LAMB: I--I wrote down, as I went through your book, a bunch of just--one words or--or just phrases that I picked up about Adolf Hitler...
Mr. LUKACS: Yes.
LAMB: ...that you wrote, and I'll just throw a bunch of them out and have you elaborate on them.
Mr. LUKACS: Yes.
LAMB: Loneliness and secretiveness.
Mr. LUKACS: Yes, he was a very secretive man, and even now there're important historians who don't understand this. They go ou--you know, he was very valuable. You know, his speeches were very long, although during the war, he didn't speak very much. I mean, he didn't have public speeches. Public speeches were very long. He got physically worked up during his speeches. You know, it's recorded that he left the podium in a sweat and all that. And as I told you, were--many historians, I think, don't see this very well. They say, `Well, he said everything in Mein Kampf.' You know what? Mein Kampf is just a mixture of autobiography and program, and there really we have the key to--oh, not the key--an--kind of a summary of his philosophy and ideology.
LAMB: Let me just interrupt to ask...
Mr. LUKACS: Yes.
LAMB: ...Mein Kampf means what in G--in English?
Mr. LUKACS: My struggle, my fight.
LAMB: What year did he write it?
Mr. LUKACS: He wri--he wro--he dictated it in 1924, '25.
LAMB: How old was he then?
Mr. LUKACS: He was then 36 years old.
LAMB: And in '24 and '25, he lived where?
Mr. LUKACS: He was arrested, because in 1923--in November '923 he tried to lead a nationalist uprising in Munich. It failed 'cause the army and the police did not obey him, did not go over. Then he was arrested, and he was put into a kind of confinement under rather comfortable circumstances in a castle in Bavaria. He was not there--he--he didn't stay there longer than a year. He was surrounded by his friends. Then he dictated this book. But more important than the book is that it's during that time that a great change occurred in him. He said, `No re'--he said to himself and also to others, `We're not gonna start a revolution. We're gonna get into power in Germany constitutionally, democratically, through the will of the people,' which is what he achieved.
LAMB: Go back to loneliness and secretiveness.
Mr. LUKACS: Yes, yes.
LAMB: How about loneliness? Why was that mentioned?
Mr. LUKACS: Well, I would say all important national leaders are, to some extent, lonely, and I would say the secretiveness is more telling. This is not just an interpretation of a historian. I have several instance--I mention in the book when he actually said to people, `You will never really know what I think.'
LAMB: You sa...
Mr. LUKACS: And many of his decisions he kept to himself.
LAMB: I wrote down here that you--he didn't want things written down.
Mr. LUKACS: No, he was not a--he said--even later, he said, `Mein Kampf, forget it.' He said, `Mein Kampf ought not to be read. It ought to be spoken.' He was a man of the spoken word. And unlike other leaders of the second World War, even Stalin, who made many, many, many marginal notes, Hitler didn't write very much.
LAMB: D--when was the first time you read Mein Kampf?
Mr. LUKACS: I cannot tell you. Probably during the war and certainly ha--cer--certainly didn't read it very carefully.
LAMB: You say he was close to his photographers.
Mr. LUKACS: Very much. He was very modern in this sense, also in others. He ve--he was very much--he was not a vain man, but he was very much obsessed--well, not obsessed but preoccupied with his pictorial image. He would go through photographs taken of him constantly and say, `This,' and, `Not that.' Some thing's were airbrushed out. At the normal age of 47, 48, which happened to me, happened to all people, he needed glasses. He never allowed himself to be photographed with glasses.
LAMB: Is there any photograph you've ever seen...
Mr. LUKACS: Yeah. Yes, we have a couple with the glasses. He also--as you probably know, he was very disciplined--disciplined. He was vegetarian, all that for all kind of different reasons, but he said, `I cannot allow myself to be seen with a potbelly.' So that was one element of his self-discipline, but he was very pictorially oriented.
LAMB: Say he had remarkable--remarkably little interest in literature.
Mr. LUKACS: I didn't say that.
LAMB: Somebody did.
Mr. LUKACS: No. Somebody did. No, no, he didn't. He--he was a rather avid reader in his youth, self-educated. There is now--this is after my book was done. I understand that a list of his books of his apartment exists somewhere in the National Archives in Washington. There is a room somewhere where we have his private--about 6,000 books of his private library. I--I learned this from an article after I read this book. It has nothing to do with my book. No, he was--he was quite a reader.
LAMB: A--and the reason why I said, `Somebody said it,' when I wrote this down, as you know, you've got a footnote almost on every page.
Mr. LUKACS: I had to do that, Mr. Lamb, because if I don't have a footnote, this book would have been five times that long.
LAMB: Sometimes the footnote's longer than the page itself. They kind of--what--what's...
Mr. LUKACS: They have to be, because they illustrate. You see--I mean, this--this is a book about what people have written about him; where, in my opinion, they were right; where, in my opinion, they were wrong. That belongs to a footnote.
LAMB: All right. Here's another one I wrote down. He was a thigh slapper.
Mr. LUKACS: Oh, well, that's a very minor thing, but it has something to do with something very interesting. There is a photograph of Hitler that's reproduced everywhere in history books. He's dancing a jig. When the news comes to him that the French had surrendered, capitulated, that picture is fake. Long story behind this. There was a film strip with somebody faked up, you know, and so it gives the impression--makes him ridiculous, makes him jump up and, you know--no, he did not do this. He had a habit occasionally when he was very enthusiastic, very …slapping his thigh, you know. He didn't do this very often. But that thigh s--slapping, through editing, through racing of the film, became a jig, and this enters many history books that Hitler couldn't control himself, he was dancing a jig at this news. Not true.
LAMB: Parkinson's disease with nine months to live.
Mr. LUKACS: It seems that way. I have read a fair amount of books about his illness in the last period of his life, and it seems to be--we don't have the medical records, except fagme--fragments--seems convincing that he had Parkinson's toward the end of his life.
LAMB: By the way, when did he die and how did he die?
Mr. LUKACS: He died at the very end of the war, as you know, on the 30th of April, when the first Russian patrols were about 100...
LAMB: 1945.
Mr. LUKACS: ...'945--were about 150 yards from him. And he shot himself. First, he poisoned and shot his favorite dog, then his wife, whom he had just legally married, Eva Braun, and then himself.
LAMB: And by the way, there was a footnote where--where there was some indication from somebody that he had an illegitimate child in France.
Mr. LUKACS: Not true.
LAMB: Hated his father.
Mr. LUKACS: Well, that's difficult to say. He certainly disliked him. And again, this is not Freudian psychoanalysis. We have--I'm sorry, I have found several instances to confidants where he would actually say that. He said, `I feared and disliked my father.' It's very interesting that in Mein Kampf he doesn't say that. In Mein Kampf he writes very respectfully of his father.
LAMB: It also is in your book that he was broken with grief from the death of his mother.
Mr. LUKACS: Yes. His relationship to his mother was extraordinary. He adored his mother. All witnesses say that they have seldom, if ever, seen a young man who was so devoted to his mother.
LAMB: When did his parents die?
Mr. LUKACS: His father died in 1903, his mother in 1907.
LAMB: And that was before he was 19 years old.
Mr. LUKACS: That was before he was 19 years old.
LAMB: It was said more often than o--than once in this book that he had an extraordinary memory.
Mr. LUKACS: He seems to have had that, yes.
LAMB: What's the evidence?
Mr. LUKACS: Well, he would remember extraordinary things, not just from literature. He would--I mean, his generals in the war were amazed how he remembered details about armaments, armor, projectiles, velocities, I mean, technical information.
LAMB: By the way, have you ever seen him in person?
LAMB: He's an ex-Catholic.
Mr. LUKACS: Well, he's an ex-Catholic, if you wanna put it that way. He was baptized a Catholic, didn't go to church and so forth. I wonder whether, on the base of canon law, that makes him an ex-Catholic. He was baptized.
LAMB: He had a disdain for economics.
Mr. LUKACS: He had a great disdain for economics, which worked him--worked very much to his advantage.
LAMB: How?
Mr. LUKACS: Because he had no ec--he knew that economic programs, even in a depression, do not appeal to people, you know. When--I can--I can give you many examples of this. It's very important. The Nazi Party, which had an enormous success in Germany--you know, he really came to power democratically. He had something close to the majority party. They practically had no economic program. He appealed to something else. And to give you another example, you see, he called himself, which is correct, a national socialist. He united nationalism with socialism. Socialism, which at that time and even now, is very often considered as an international thing. You know, he said, `We are--we are socialists, but we are national socialists.'

Now let me just come back to economics. So then somebody asked him '934--it was somebody--a confidant, `Well, now you're socialist. Are you gonna nationalize the industries? Are you gonna nationalize Krupp,' you know, the great arms--he says, `No. Why should I nationalize the industries? I'm nationalizing the people.' So it didn't make a damn bit of difference whether Krupp or Monasime and so forth, you know, were nationalized or not. They did what he wanted them to do.
LAMB: How tall was he?
Mr. LUKACS: He was about--I can't tell you exactly--I think 5'8" or something like--5'9". I tell you something that's not in the book. I knew two people--don't ask me who they were--who knew him rather intimately, two women. I knew other people who knew him, but they are very intelligent women. One of them's a scholar, the other's not, and don't ask me their names. Both of them said, `You know, he had very ugly feet.' This was news to me, a kind of feminine instinct. Independent of each other, they told me that.
LAMB: I also wrote down from your book, `He has--had a large, triangular nose.'
Mr. LUKACS: Yes. I must say that I noticed, as to put in my book, he had a very large angular nose. We know this. He did not mind this. There's a sketch that he drew of himself, and that's very apparent, you know, the very large nose. There's something slightly brutal in the nose. There is some reason to believe--but, of course, this we do not know--that that's why he cultivated his moustache.
LAMB: You say he was an artist.
Mr. LUKACS: Well, `was an artist'--he certainly had artistic abilities. He wanted to be an artist. If he had been accepted into Viennese academy of arts, he would not have had a political career. His art's also interesting because he wanted to be a painter and he was not that bad. But then gradually--and that's very difficult to determine when--his interest moves from painting to architecture.
LAMB: He believed in God.
Mr. LUKACS: Yes, I think so, but, you know, belief in God, Mr. Lamb, is a question of quality, how.
LAMB: At some point, I read that he w--in your book he was not a sadist.
Mr. LUKACS: That's a very important point. He certainly was one of the most brutal but, even more than brutal, hate-ridden person. He hated. He said this. He said--he would say this early in his career, `We Germans must know how to hate, hate, hate. We have to hate our enemies.' And he says this, you know, and--but this was something mental. You see, a sadist--a sadist--sadism, in my opinion and, I would say, conviction, is a weakness of the flesh. A sadist takes real physical pleasure seeing how other people are tortured or beaten and so forth. We have no evidence of this with him. He never--for--for example, you know about his hatred for Jews. He never wanted to see what happens to them. He did not even want to see statistics of how many Jews were killed.
LAMB: Who was Dr. Bloch?
Mr. LUKACS: Dr. Bloch was an extraordinary man who died here in the United States. He was the physician, the Jewish doctor who took care and tried to cure Hitler's mother. He was the man about whom Hitler several times said, `There are a few noble Jews in the world. Dr. Bloch is one of them.'
LAMB: Who is Sebastian Hafner?
Mr. LUKACS: Sebastian Hafner is an ….and I think he's dead now or very ill. He's a first-rate German journalist, very much interested in history, who wrote one of the best books about Hitler.
LAMB: If you don't mind, let me read a footnote on page 257 that might be a good stepping off point for the rest of the discussion.
Mr. LUKACS: All right.
LAMB: Profes--is he Professor Hafner?
LAMB: He's not a professor?
Mr. LUKACS: No, no.
Mr. LUKACS: He's a journalist of a very high level.
LAMB: I don't see what date this was in--in here, but you--you have him writing this, `Today's world, whether we like it or not, is the work of Hitler. Without Hitler, there would've been no partition of Germany in Europe. Without Hitler, there would've been'--I read it again--`Without Hitler, there would've been no Americans and Russians in Berlin. Without Hitler, there would be no Israel. Without Hitler, there would be no decolonization, at least not such a rapid one. There would be no Asian, Arab or black African emancipation and no diminution of European pre-eminence.' And finally he wrote, `Or, more accurately, there would be none of all of this without Hitler's mistakes. He certainly did not want any of it.'
Mr. LUKACS: That's rather evident. I certainly agree with that, yes.
LAMB: Explain more, though, why we wouldn't have the partition of Germany in Europe and...
Mr. LUKACS: Well, look, when we look at the origins of the first World War, that's a very complicated thing. It was a chain reaction. And even today, people debate: `Was the kaiser responsible?' `Is Germany responsible?' `Was France responsible,' you know. But when it comes to Hitler, no Hitler, no second World War. I mean, that is something. I mean, he caused the second World War. Perhaps there would have been a war again with Germany and Poland, but no second World War. I mean, he be--he planned and began the start of the second World War because he thought that the situation then was advantageous for Germany. There's also a deeper element there which I mention. It's--it's a very interesting thing, and this is not a--a psychological hypothesis. We know this from many others.

In the winter of '937, '938, he convinces himself that he doesn't have long to live. And this, in all probability, contributed to his belief that if war has to come, better now than later.
LAMB: Do you have any idea how many historians you studied?
Mr. LUKACS: No. I would say--I--well, some of--some of that--some, I deal with their books. Of course, there were many articles. You see, sometimes the most valuable things are not in books but in articles. I cannot give you a number. I would say certainly more than 100.
LAMB: A man named Fest.
Mr. LUKACS: Fest is--Fest wrote, in my opinion, the best long biography of Hitler. It was published in...
LAMB: A thousand one hundred eighty-four pages.
Mr. LUKACS: Yes, it is. Yes. And still very readable. He wrote this in--around 1970, published 1972, was published in this country, too. I mean, I criticize Fest here and there, so forth, but it's the best--I still--I think the best long biography of Hitler. There is coming--one is coming now by an Englishman whom I greatly respect. I mention his book. His name is--his name is Ian Kershaw. His book, I think, on Hitler will be published within the next two years. I think Kershaw's got it.
LAMB: Where is Mr. Fest from?
Mr. LUKACS: Fest is a German. He had some political in television. He was the--for a long time, the chief editor of the best German newspaper.
LAMB: Translated in English, by the way? Is this book available out here in the United States?
Mr. LUKACS: Oh, yes, yes. Yes, yes. The Fest--and it's rather successful. He writes books. He had just last year published a book, which I must say I haven't read yet, on the German resistance to Hitler.
LAMB: You say in your book that William Shirer, former Chicago Tribune reporter...
Mr. LUKACS: Yes.
LAMB: of "Rise & Fall of the Third Reich"...
Mr. LUKACS: Yeah.
LAMB: ...was superficial.
Mr. LUKACS: Very superficial. Shirer wrote one good book. He was in Berlin in 1940, '41, when the war was going on, but as you know, the United States was not yet at war with Germany. He wrote a book called "Berlin Diary," which made his fame, which is a very interesting book. You know, he was one of the few Americans left in Berlin during that time. During 1960 he wrote "The Rise & Fall of the Third Reich," which is really very superficial, doesn't tell us anything new. But there's an interesting thing about it. This--the appear--this book was very successful. And it's interesting because in the United States, it was at that time that interest in Hitler and the Third Reich began to rise again. See, the interesting thing is that after the war, for a very long time, there was no interest in Hitler. You know, books on Germany were not on the market. And about '59, '60, this interest begins again, and Shirer just hit it right. And this a little bit corresponds with Germany, too, because it's in the '60s that the first really serious books in Germany about Hitler began to appear.
LAMB: What do you think the impact is in this country of the television channels that do history, running lots of Hitler doc--documentaries and...
Mr. LUKACS: I can't tell this because I watch television very little.
LAMB: You don't get any feedback among students or images that...
Mr. LUKACS: No. Well, I'm retired from teaching now. The great trouble is--and I mentioned this in the book and I said this elsewhere, too, that the--especially in this country, but in Germany, too, there is--Hitler is regarded as a freak, as a demon, as a madman, and there are two very bad outcomes of that. First of all, if he was a madman, a freak and so forth, he's not responsible for what he did. You know, you got a madman, he's not responsible, you know, and--the second consequence is not minimal either. By thinking about him and by thinking about the entire Nazi period like this, we have brushed it under the rug. You see, we don't every think about it very much. `This was interesting, fascinating, but the man was a madman,' you know. This relieves him of responsibility. Well, the Germans like to do this, too. You know, I just came back from Germany. The book was published in Germany. And in Germany, there is--this is understandable, you know. It's not--it's not right, but it's understandable. There's a German tendency to say, `This was a crazy episode. It doesn't belong to our history.'
LAMB: How did they treat you when you were there?
Mr. LUKACS: Well, it was a mixed bag.
LAMB: What do you mean?
Mr. LUKACS: Yeah. Well, I had some very good reviews, but I had some academics who criticized the book, and I'm used to this. I've written 19 books. But their criticisms were--difficult to say, but they were kind of personal, let's--and--and not--I will say not terribly important.
LAMB: When they attack you personally, how? What--what--what do they go after?
Mr. LUKACS: Well, they--they don't--they--they just say, you know, I mean, it's--it's--it's--it's--it's only happened with academics. They say, `We've worked on this for so long. What is he doing on our turf?'
LAMB: Meaning that wor--they worked on the history.
Mr. LUKACS: Yes. Yes. Yes.
LAMB: Some other historians you write about. Alan Bullock, you say, was the most successful of all Hitler biographers.
Mr. LUKACS: Yes. He was...
LAMB: Who is he?
Mr. LUKACS: Englishman. He's still alive. He's Lord Bullock now. He's 86. He wrote the first serious English biography of Hitler in 1952. It's still pretty good and pretty readable. You know, the English write very well. You now, they don't write this academic jargon and all that. But the book is outdated and has many errors. For example, he says, `There's no use'--I mean, Hitler said everything in "Mein Kampf." You know, I mean, what he did. People should have read him because he just--he--he--he is what now, in Germany, this debate, which doesn't make much sense--he s--intended a debate in Germany now between intentionalists and functionalists.

You know, academics like big words. Intentionalists mean that Hitler had his intentions from the very beginning and he tried to fulfill them. Bullock says this. The functionalists say, `No, the machinery of the Third Reich was very complicated and Hitler'--there are some people that say Hitler was a weak dictator, which I think is nonsense because a lot of decisions were made that he really did not do well. You know, you run a country, like, 85 million, you can't decide everything.
LAMB: By the way, you used a figure a--at the early part of your book I wanted to ask you about because it was different than...
Mr. LUKACS: Yeah.
LAMB: ...what we hear a lot.
Mr. LUKACS: Yeah.
LAMB: That 4.5 million Jews died in the Holocaust?
Mr. LUKACS: Yes. I was--I was attacked for that just last week. All my American reviews have been very good, and I'm very pleased with that. I was cr--no, I wasn't attacked--I was criticized by this interview: Philadelphia Inquirer. I got this number years ago from a great historian of the Holocaust, Jewish incidentally, Gerard Reitlinger. Rite--Reitlinger and Hilberg wrote the best books on the Holocaust. That's where I got the number, you know. And it's very difficult. We do not know. And I think that's a very petty thing to criticize someone. I just mention it in passing. I don't analyze it. You know, this was a horrible thing--4.5 million or 6 million. Does--what difference it make?
LAMB: When it comes to the Holocaust, you mention in here that that word wasn't even invented until '60-something?
Mr. LUKACS: Exactly. You know, just like I--you remember we talked a few minutes ago about how interest in the Third Reich begins to revive and Hitler, '59-'60; that there was, in spite of the terrible things that have happened, especially in America, there was not great--there was no great interest of what happened to the European Jews--there was some--until about the 1960s. I mean, the very word Holocaust--somebody has to look it up. It appears here and there. I think I mentioned it appeared in an English publication that started 1944. But it becomes a usable word--you know, a frequent word--I would say, in the late '60s.
LAMB: Come back to some historians in a moment.
Mr. LUKACS: Yeah.
LAMB: I want to go back to some of the things I wrote down about Adolf Hitler...
Mr. LUKACS: Yeah.
LAMB: ...that you had in the book: that he rose late and ate late.
Mr. LUKACS: Yes, it's interesting. So did Churchill and so did Stalin, you know. Hitler--very, very rare did he get up early.
LAMB: What do you think that means?
Mr. LUKACS: Yeah. Nothing. I don't know. I'll tell you one thing that's interesting. He--I told you that he was not vain, but that he put a grade of emphasis on his appearance; you know--you know, told you about no glasses and so forth. Even his butler--you know, his footman--could not see him in his underclothes. I know this from one memoir of his secretary, not a terribly important thing. Yes, he got up late and, of course, he wore people out because he had this late conference--sometimes his conference of generals went on till 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning.
LAMB: You--I--at least I found in your book that he was a fast reader of books and had an astonishing memory.
Mr. LUKACS: Yeah.
LAMB: We talked a little bit about that earlier.
Mr. LUKACS: Yes.
LAMB: But the fast reader of books--what's the evidence on that?
Mr. LUKACS: I cannot tell you. Some people around him noticed that.
LAMB: Did you--did I--but in the reading category--and I'll see if I can find the fellow's name--is it--is it Carl May? Was that his name, the...
Mr. LUKACS: Oh, yes. That's a very interesting thing. Carl May is not very well known in America. He was a German. He's known all over Central Europe. Even I read some of his books when I was a young man--or boy. They are stories about the American wild West, and Hitler read them avidly, in his late teens, and he reread them during the war. He once actually says to Heinrich Himmler, `We should have our troops read Carl May.'

They are wild West stories, you know; I mean, cowboys, Indians and so forth. Some of them are German-Americans. He--I didn't mention his book--Carl May died when Hitler still lived in Vienna, in his 20s. He went to his funeral. And Carl May was not a Nationalist or a Nazi. The only thing we can see that--of course, you know, it's cowboys and Indians; cowboys win and all that. And some of his heroes from his wild West stories were German-Americans. But Carl May cannot be regarded as a source of Hitler's ideology. But I mention it because very few people have noticed this. Hitler knew more about the United States than people give him credit.
LAMB: Back to the historians. A.J.P. Taylor--who died just recently, I believe?
Mr. LUKACS: No, died about five, six years ago, yes.
LAMB: Yeah. Sometimes that feels like it's recently.
Mr. LUKACS: Yeah. I know. I know.
LAMB: What did you think of his work?
Mr. LUKACS: Well, he's a maverick. I had a run-in with him once--not a bad one--criticized each other many years ago. He's a good writer. Sometimes he exaggerates, has a one--what is--a one-dimensional view. He wrote a book about Hitler and the coming of the war, which is very valuable in one things but there are great errors in it, too.
LAMB: John Toland sat right there were you are sitting.
Mr. LUKACS: Yes.
LAMB: You talk about him in your book.
Mr. LUKACS: I criticized John. I knew John and--but I really think that his book on Hitler is not very good.
LAMB: Why?
Mr. LUKACS: Well, the de...
LAMB: And, by the way, he said...
Mr. LUKACS: Yeah.
LAMB: ...he sold two million copies of it.
Mr. LUKACS: Well, good for him, you know. I'll be glad if I sell 15,000. But--no, no, no, I never--I'm never envious of anyone who--who makes money writing books. Good for him. He did work a lot. The positive things about John Toland is that he did what some historians didn't do; he investigated, interviewed many people, perhaps more than 100 people, who were close to Hitler--his secretary, his cooks, aides, adjutants and so forth--and got some material out of it. The--the--the--John, however, is a little bit of a sensationalist. He had a--kind of a nagging admiration for Hitler in some ways, and that pops up here and there. And everybody has the right to admire somebody. That's human freedom. But sometimes this comes out in the text. He gives him too much benefit.
LAMB: David Irving.
Mr. LUKACS: Well, Irving is now threatening to sue me. The trouble with Irving is--Irving is also very talented. He has no leg to stand on because the only thing I tell about him that might be libelous--and that's even questionable--that he does admire Hitler. He doesn't hide it.
LAMB: Who is he?
Mr. LUKACS: He's a young Englishman who always admired the Germans, went to study in Germany, went to work in a German factory when he was very young and wrote umpteen books about the Second World War and Hitler. Now the trouble is that most people dismiss Irving. They say, `Well, Irving is a Nazi,' or a neo-Nazi and all that, but they don't look at his details. What I did in this book, I said, `I have to deal with Irving because Irving is important.' And I try to point out, again, probably in the longest footnote of the book, where Irving said things that are not provable and not documented.
LAMB: Why does he do it, do you think?
Mr. LUKACS: Well, he's not a professional historian, but he is fascinated with this and he's carried away.
LAMB: What do you think of--you know, if you've read 100 historians' books...
Mr. LUKACS: Yes.
LAMB: ...what do you think, overall, of the history of Hitler?
Mr. LUKACS: Well, I say that this is an endless story. You know, history is revisionist by nature. You know, the historian deals--I said it in a book--unlike the law, you know, legal evidence and historical evidence are very different. In law, you can't try someone twice. It would be multiple jeopardy. In history, we look back and try a person over and over, over again. And I think that, by and large--and this is mostly the merit of German historians--there are--we--we have a--not a more rounded, a more detailed knowledge of the man than we had 30 years ago, 40 years ago. It never will be complete. History cannot be complete, whether it's Hitler or an ordinary man. What goes on within him is between him and God. Only God knows.
LAMB: Where do you do your writing?
Mr. LUKACS: Oh, at home, at my desk.
LAMB: And--and what time of day do you write?
Mr. LUKACS: Oh, early--from eight to 12.
LAMB: Hard? Easy? How would you characterize your writing?
Mr. LUKACS: Oh, it's a very hard job, but I can't help it.
LAMB: Nineteen books.
Mr. LUKACS: Well, that's not so much, you know, in 50 years. And it's not the number that counts. You know, there are some people who've written 100 books and they're no good.
LAMB: Which one sold the most?
Mr. LUKACS: I don't--I cannot really tell you. None of them sold very much, but that's perfectly all right.
LAMB: The second one, I see on your list here is Tocqueville, "The European Revolution and Correspondence with Gobineau."
Mr. LUKACS: That's a funny thing you should mention it because that certainly sold least. It was a Doubleday. And just the day before yesterday I had a telephone call from somebody who wants to reprint it among the Liberty Fund books--they are conservative books--and actually offers me some money. It's funny.
LAMB: Why? Did they tell you why?
Mr. LUKACS: Well, he likes it.
LAMB: Well, I count it because we have spent a lot of time with Tocqueville over the last year.
Mr. LUKACS: Oh, well, Tocqueville is a great man.
LAMB: I--I counted in your book nine different pages...
Mr. LUKACS: Yeah.
LAMB: which you brought him up. And you use him extensively in here to describe what?
Mr. LUKACS: Well, let me tell you. Tocqueville, who is mostly known wrongly for his "Democracy in America"--it was a very great book, but he wrote many other things--was probably the Plato or the Aristotle of the Democratic age, you know, because his book even, "Democracy in America," is not about America. It is about America but only as a model of democracy. It's about democracy.

And there was a period of my life, when I did that book, when I thought that, `I'm gonna be a Tocqueville scholar.' And I did scholar the article of work on Tocqueville. But then I changed my mind, partly because Tocqueville had become, by that time, a cottage industry, you know, and I didn't want to get involved in that. And there's another thing. The most valuable--some of the most valuable things in Tocqueville are his letters. He was a tremendous correspondent, you know. And even now--there are 23 volumes of his collected works now in French, and even now we don't have all his letters. You know, ul--ultimately, there's going to be 28 or 29 volumes.
LAMB: How many languages do you speak?
Mr. LUKACS: I speak a few languages, which has something to do with the fact that I'm Hungarian. And, you see, the Hungarian language is not related to any other language. It's not a Slavic language, not Germanic, not romance, too. Hungarians have a need to know foreign languages.
LAMB: How much of your study of Hitler in German--or the German historians have you read in German? Do you read German?
Mr. LUKACS: Oh, most--yes, I read German. Most of them--most of the Germans--all of the Germans I've read in German.
LAMB: So when you have a book like this, that has a footnote on every page...
Mr. LUKACS: Yes.
LAMB: ...100 historians that you're involved in, and you sit down and write between eight and 11--noon in the morning...
Mr. LUKACS: Yeah.
LAMB: ...where do you find all that information? How do you catalog it?
Mr. LUKACS: Oh, well, I read the books, then I make notes, just what you have done. Then I type them up and then I decide--well, before that, I decide the plan of the book. The plan of the book is not about the historians. The plan of the book is seven or eight chapters: `What are still problems with Hitler?' And then I take--I don't have a laptop, I don't have a computer. Then I take a penknife or a razor, you know, and cut up these notes--snip, snip, snip, snip, snip--Fest, three; Heffner, five and so on and say, `Where am I gonna use this?' But the--but don't frighten people away, Mr. Lamb. This book has long footnotes, but at the risk of presumption, it's a rather readable book.
LAMB: Well, I've read it, so--I mean, I--I've read all those footnotes and I can--I can attest to that. I got through it.
Mr. LUKACS: But you wouldn't say otherwise.
LAMB: I--I don't know. But go to the--the basic themes. What are the six or seven questions in your mind that are left unanswered?
Mr. LUKACS: Which are still outstanding. Well, it goes chapter by chapter. The--the second chapter--you see, in the first chapter I surveyed historians in general rather the evolution of our knowledge of Hitler. You know, I dealed with them chronologically. The second chapter is very interesting, and I'm not alone in this now. Things are shifting around. The accepted view was, which Hitler very strongly emphasized in "Mein Kampf," that his main ideas had crystalized in Vienna. Doesn't seem that way.
LAMB: Where was he born?
Mr. LUKACS: He was born in an Austrian village on the German border, went to--went to Vienna when he was 17. No, it seems that the turning point in his mind happened in Munich, and this has some importance. And it's interesting because …… stuff. Let me just tell you one example. He come--he comes to live in Munich--well, he lived in Munich before the war, but for a very short time. He--at the end of the war, he goes to Munich to live. He's...
LAMB: World War I?
Mr. LUKACS: World War I. He is now 30 years old. You know, everything we know about him indicates that up to the age of 30 he was not a talkative man. He was rather tight-lipped, except here and there. Then in Munich--and this is only one element--he discovers that he has a great speaking ability and he becomes a speaker. And that's the beginning of his political career. But that's only one important--the Vienna-Munich thing is not important--not unimportant. The second chapter, for which I have been criticized--that's about the only thing where I received serious criticism in Germany. Was he a reactionary or a revolutionary?
LAMB: Chapter three.
Mr. LUKACS: And I say that he was a revolutionary, which he himself says. There's no question about it. I mean, he uses the word reaction as a bad word. He says, `Churchill is an old reactionary. Churchill'--you know, he hates reactionaries. He himself says a revolutionary. And he did achieve some revolutionary things. But, you see, the Germans don't like this because, unlike the United States, unlike France, unlike Britain, the Germans never had a successful revolution. You see, when a--Germans tried to have a democratic revolution in 1848, 1849 Frankfurt, they failed. And so in Germany, revolutionary is still a positive word, you know? When I say revolutionary, people say, `Oh, he's praising Hitler,' I don't. I don't like revolutionaries. I like reactionaries.
LAMB: Why?
Mr. LUKACS: Because you stop reacting when you're dead. Then you don't react anymore. All human thinking is, in a way, reacting. And we have to react against many accepted ideas. Right now, what the world is coming to, we have to react against the accepted idea of progress.
LAMB: Give us an example.
Mr. LUKACS: Well, you know, that technological progress, pollution, progress in pornography, technology, freedom of speech, behavior and so forth. It's not that good.
LAMB: Why?
Mr. LUKACS: Because there is no--because human nature does not change. The--the human idea of progress li--is a human invention, you know. There is no evolution in human character and in human mind.
LAMB: How do you stop the change?
Mr. LUKACS: You don't stop the change, but you have to look at the quality of the change. Is--change, in itself, is not necessarily good. Just like sta--just like stability, change can be good or bad. Stability can be good or bad. It's a question of quality. And, unfortunately, computers, quantification, numbers, technology--we emphasize, we look, we--our judgment of quality has become weaker and weaker. And all human life, everything in our life, is a problem of quality.
LAMB: Professor Lukacs, you have a footnote on page 61 about Winston Churchill, and it's the one that--where he describes Hitler in the hospital.
Mr. LUKACS: Yeah.
LAMB: And you--and later on, in--in a number of cases, you talk about Churchill having great insight into Hitler. How did he get this insight?
Mr. LUKACS: That's absolutely extraordinary. I don't want to mention my previous books, but I did--I wrote a book called "The Duel." It's out of print now. And that dealt with the Churchill-Hitler relationship, but only during 80 days in 1940 when Hitler came very close to winning the war. And Churchill and--and Churchill had one asset--was not enough to win but it was a tremendous asset--was a duel of minds. And he understood Hitler better than Hitler understood him. And Hitler understood people pretty well. He did not quite understand Churchill. Churchill had a fabulous understanding of Hitler.
LAMB: How'd he get it?
Mr. LUKACS: Some kind of genius, very early--very early. Be it--when every ri--when everyone ridicules Hitler, almost everyone, three years before Hitler became chancellor, Churchill dined at the German Embassy in London and said, `This man, Hitler, is very dangerous. He's gonna be'--and the chancellor--oh no, the secretary of the embassy thought this was interesting enough he reported it to the German foreign ministry. Yes. Yeah.
LAMB: You have a chapter--your longest chapter...
Mr. LUKACS: Yes.
LAMB: ...Statesmen and--and Strategists.
Mr. LUKACS: Yes.
LAMB: Why did that take so long to discuss?
Mr. LUKACS: Because this has been largely ignored, even by the German historians. This is--this is very easy to illustrate. See, Hitler was in power for 12 years. The first six years everything went well. Then the last six years were the war.

In the beginning of the war everything goes well, but then comes a catastrophe. The whole world turns around a--against him. And one of the shortcoming of--not all, but most German historians is they don't deal with this very much. They say, `Well, of course, then he led to the Second World War and the end was catastrophe.' You see? And now his--his mind, his acts, his decisions to the war in--during the war require or--require more interest than has been generally devoted to him. That's why it's my longest chapter.
LAMB: The Germans: Chapter or Episode? That's chapt--that's chapter seven.
Mr. LUKACS: Yes, we talked about this a little bit. I told you that it's an understandable, though--though--though not quite right, German tendency of regarding this entire Hitler period as an unnatural episode in the history of Germany.
LAMB: Now when you went over there to visit in Germany...
Mr. LUKACS: Yes.
LAMB: ...are there many Germans that are willing to admit that this was a horrible period?
Mr. LUKACS: Oh, yes. Almost everybody. Almost everybody there.
LAMB: And the--is there--and--and you say that David Irving...
Mr. LUKACS: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: an apologist for that?
Mr. LUKACS: He's an apologist. But David--no, there are always some neo-Nazis left. D--David Irving, for example, so far as I understand, is not permitted to travel to Germany.
LAMB: And, by the way, another little note on the David Irving book is that you said that John Keegan, an historian, endorsed this book?
Mr. LUKACS: Yes. He said, `This is one of the 50 most important books on the Second World War,' but he hasn't read carefully enough. Well, there is stuff in Irving which is very interesting. See, Irving is a tireless researcher. Irving got hold of materials nobody got hold of, you know.
LAMB: What do you want people to take away from your book?
Mr. LUKACS: That it's well-written. I'm a stylist. It's not my--it's not my native language, but I think history that's not well-written cannot be good history.
LAMB: OK. From a substance standpoint, what do you want them to learn?
Mr. LUKACS: That we have to look at Hitler and Stalin and every--and no matter who it is, historically. History is the fourth dimension of human nature, of the human being. We live in time. We are--we are the only living beings in the universe who are historical beings. We live in time. We know we live in time. We know that we are gonna die.
LAMB: You say that Hitler came close to winning the war in '40, '41?
Mr. LUKACS: Very close. Much closer than people think.
LAMB: What made the difference?
Mr. LUKACS: Churchill. Roosevelt and Stalin won the war, but Churchill could have lost it.
LAMB: What's the--and we only have a short amount of time--what's the Lebens Raum folly?
Mr. LUKACS: Well, it's not really a folly. That wa--Hitler was not alone in this. He had the conviction that Germany, not only in the Second World War but already before, should have expanded eastward, not westward, and then large portions of Eastern Europe could be conquered and even populated by Germans; that Germany is a overpopulated country. Lebens Raum means, `life space,' they need more space and so forth. This was a great exaggeration, but many historians also take him for granted--his words for granted. They think--and in my opinion, it's wrong--that his entire invasion of Russia was due to this obsession of his. It's more complicated than that.
LAMB: How many times was he--attempted murder--how many times did people try to knock Hitler off during the war?
Mr. LUKACS: Oh, several times. I--I cannot give you the number. Also before the war, there were--I cannot tell you how many attempts were made, which happens with dictators very often.
LAMB: So if someone's a beginner and they don't know much about Adolf Hitler, go over two or three suggestions on where they should start. Should they read "Mein Kampf"?
Mr. LUKACS: No. No. They should read a good biography of Hitler, and there are some good ones.
LAMB: And your favorites again?
Mr. LUKACS: I would say Fest is still the best. It's very big. Then I mentioned some others. Heffner is very good. Heffner is very short and--start with Heffner. There's a German historian I mentioned by the name of Dauerlein, unfortunately, not translated into English, whom I think is the best short biographer.
LAMB: Did you have anything to say about how this cover was made?
Mr. LUKACS: Yes. I said, `Please don't have a cover with his picture,' but they did nonetheless.
LAMB: And wh--what are they trying to do here with this picture?
Mr. LUKACS: I have no idea.
LAMB: So you don't like it?
Mr. LUKACS: It's all right.
LAMB: Who named this book?
Mr. LUKACS: I did--my wife.
LAMB: And what was the point?
Mr. LUKACS: Well, I thought--I thought it should be called "Hitler and the Historians" or "The History"--then during dinner, after a few drinks, she said, `Why not "The Hitler of History"?' Or maybe I said it and she said, `That's right.'
LAMB: John Lukacs, author of "The Hitler of History," thank you very much.
Mr. LUKACS: Thank you.

Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.