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Book Review: Quote, Unquote: A Review of "Hitler and the Armenian Genocide," authored by Kevork Bardakjian - 1998

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Quote, Unquote

Book Review by C.K. Garabed


Authored by Kevork B. Bardakjian

Zoryan Institute, 1985. 81 pp.

Published in ARARAT Quarterly, Spring 1998

If you were to ask ten Armenians familiar with the subject just what Hitler said about the Armenians, you are likely to get ten different versions. And, if you point out the discrepancy in each case, you’re likely to get the response, “What difference does it make? We know what he meant!” Perhaps.

The force of these potential divergences was brought home to me recently when I read Marion Mesrobian’s article, Monsters from the Id, in the Winter 1997 issue of Ararat. Therein she writes, “When Hitler first devised his plan to massacre the Jews, his advisors said the plan would never work, the rest of the world would never stand for it. His reply: “Who remembers the Armenians?”

Is there any basis for her version of the events surrounding the Hitler remark? To get the proper view of what is on record, one would need to have recourse to various source documents, including those that were addressed by the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal. Fortunately for the scholarly-minded reader, this research has already been accomplished and ably documented by Kevork Bardakjian in the Zoryan Special Report No. 3, “Hitler and the Armenian Genocide.” In this essay, Prof. Bardakjian has done intensive research on the events surrounding the infamous remark attributed to Adolf Hitler, and its discovery, origin and fate at the International Military Tribunal. Most Armenians who have read the work, and even some who have reviewed it, have come away with a sigh of relief that, at last, someone has laid to rest all the doubts about the authenticity of the quote. However, Armenians are the least detached from the question and are mostly incapable of looking at the subject dispassionately. For that reason, after having read and repeatedly reread Bardakjian’s essay over the past dozen years, I propose to assume the distasteful mantle of Devil’s Advocate in order to set forth the questions that might occur to the detached but careful and persistent reader.

In his introduction, Bardakjian discusses his motive for looking into the matter, which was not so much the challenges presented by those who question the authenticity of Hitler’s statement, as the general lack of familiarity with pertinent documentation. Bardakjian approaches the subject by first discussing the document itself, its origin, relation to other documents, and disposition. He then discusses an antecedent that he suggests tends to corroborate the intent expressed in the document. There follows a chapter on the sequel which recounts the follow-through on the intent by means of other corroborating documentation and events. This is followed by source references, and finally, appendices reproducing the pertinent documents discussed. Bardakjian makes some attempt to validate the substance of Hitler’s remarks by relating it to official German policy, other comments of Hitler’s and actions taken by the Nazi regime that coincide with the general view expressed in the quotation.

The Document containing the Hitler remark, to which Bardakjian devotes a chapter, was purportedly a record of personal notes secretly made of Hitler’s speech to his generals at Obersalzberg on the eve of the invasion of Poland in 1939. It passed through several hands before it reached Louis Lochner, correspondent for the Associated Press, who later smuggled it out of Germany and made it public in the U.S. some days before publishing it in 1942 in his best-selling book, What About Germany? The document spurred the prosecutors at the Nuremberg Tribunal to search official German files for corroboration. The result was the discovery of another version of the speech, in two parts, also representing personal notes of anonymous attendees of the conference. However, these latter documents make no reference to the Armenians. The Lochner document was not offered in evidence by the prosecution because the identity of the originator and intermediaries who passed it on to Lochner could not be verified and because it was deemed to be a garbled version of the two-part speech. The latter two documents were accepted, over objections of the defense, because they were discovered in the German files and constituted proof that Germany planned an aggressive war against Poland (which was one of the charges lodged against the defendants).

In all three cases it is apparent that Hitler was addressing the plan for the invasion of Poland and not a program for extermination of Jews. Therefore, Marion Mesrobian’s version is not supported by the documents. Nor is her alleged quote accurate (unless she is in possession of evidence that Bardakjian and others are not aware of). But then, as the book goes on to show, Hitler’s remark when translated into English, comes in various versions. Lochner’s version as it appears in his book reads: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” which Bardakjian uses in the opening paragraph of his introduction. When Lochner published his book he neglected to state that he had previously given a copy of the document to the British Embassy in Berlin. It found its way into the publication, “Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, London,” and was translated as: “Who after all is today speaking about the destruction of the Armenians?” The same document, presumably the one acquired by the Justice Department in 1944, appeared in the publication “Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, Washington, D.C.,” and was translated as: “Who still talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians?” This translation is the one that Bardakjian uses when comparing to entries for 22 August 1939 in the notebook of chief of the General Staff of the Army Colonel General Halder by way of verifying Hitler’s intentions. But Halder’s notes, which were discovered after the Nuremberg Trials, make no reference to the Armenians. Then the back cover of the book reflects yet another translation of the remark. All of these are represented as quotations. Considering the variations that exist, it may be more judicious for English writers on the subject to paraphrase rather than try to quote; or, if quotation makes for better publicity, to agree to use Lochner’s translation, inasmuch as he surfaced the document, and considered himself adept in the use of the German language.

Bardakjian then devotes a chapter to The Antecedent, referring back to ideas that Hitler divulged to Richard Breiting, editor of a German right-wing daily newspaper, in two confidential interviews in 1931. They were not intended for publication but Hitler granted permission, it is conjectured, for the purpose of trying to persuade “the all-powerful ruler of Leipzig’s bourgeois parties” to his views. Breiting’s notes, which three years later were requested by the Gestapo to be returned, were, according to his response, destroyed. Evidently they were not destroyed if they were published in a book to which Bardakjian makes reference, and from which he extracts the information he provides to the reader.

In the first interview, Hitler discussed his plans for domestic policy, in the second, his plans for foreign policy, which included his fight against Communism and Jewry. He viewed the need for living space for a greater Germany as requiring a resettlement policy in the East. In connection with that, he fell back on historical references and precedents, Biblical deportations, massacres of the Middle Ages and finally, an exhortation to remember the extermination of the Armenians. In the next chapter, titled The Sequel, Bardakjian presents what the record allegedly shows concerning the official attitude harbored by the Germans towards the Armenians. The Army High Command shared Hitler’s utter contempt and held that the “Armenians were even worse than Jews.” Alfred Rosenberg, the ideologist of Nazism, classified the Armenians with “the people of the wastes, Jews.” Attributed to Hitler is also the following statement: “In enlightening the German people with regard to this racial legislation, we should conceive of it as having the task of protecting the German blood from contamination, not only of the Jewish but also of the Armenian blood.” And on another occasion, the following observation was also attributed to Hitler: “Nations which do not rid themselves of Jews perish. One of the most famous examples is the downfall of that people who were once so proud, the Persians, who now lead a pitiful existence as Armenians.”

Bardakjian gives the reasons for assuming that Hitler, at least, knew of the fate of the Armenians. From accounts by German missionaries, the carnage of 1915-1916 was common knowledge in Germany and Hitler, being a contemporary, would have been well aware of it. Also, Tehlirian’s trial and acquittal for gunning down Talaat would have been known to Hitler as he was in Berlin when Tehlirian’s trial took place in the early part of June, 1921. Besides, Hitler must have heard the details of the story from Scheubner-Richter, a former official stationed in Turkey during the war. Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter, one of Hitler’s closest advisors, was killed in the Munich Putsch of 1923. While German vice-consul in Erzerum in 1915, he filed numerous dispatches about the “terrible misery” and “senseless” expulsion and “anti-Armenian outrages” in the Armenian provinces. Hitler must have heard something from his closest advisor and collaborator who had personally witnessed the systematic deportation and slaughter of the Armenians. Bardakjian then cites the official German attitude to the expansionist hopes of the Turks, which seemed to divide Germany and Turkey. Apparently there were conflicting views in the war aims of the Germans. On the one hand, they opposed the Ottoman renewed attempt to penetrate into the Caucasus following the Bolshevik Revolution, in pursuit of the dream of Pan-Turanism. The Germans had their own designs for the Caucasus and Central Asia which conflicted with the Pan-Turanist dream. Also, the Germans feared (at least so they professed, according to Bardakjian) that the Turks might resume the massacre of the remnants of the Armenians. On the other hand, they encouraged the resurgence of Pan-Turanism in order to get the Turks to fight against the Soviet forces. Yet, between 1941 and 1944, Turkish leaders were arrested for the resurgence of Pan-Turanism.

Hitler affirmed to Rosenberg, who was opposed to Pan-Turanism, that in addition to the Turkestan Legion, formed from those taken prisoner, other auxiliary forces, such as the Caucasian Legions would be set up to fight on Germany’s side. Rosenberg advised Hitler, who sought his advice on the Armenians, that they would be the best bolt between Turkey and Azerbaijan, and thus could stop a Pan-Turanian movement towards the East, and that, generally speaking, the Armenian people themselves are stationary, a people of farmers who had considerable industrial skill. However, the ambivalence of the German policy produced an event of some significance, although it was never determined on whose initiative it took place. That was the return of Talaat’s body from Germany to Turkey in 1943. Bardakjian sees in this not just an inducement for the Turks to join the Germans in their battle with the Soviets but a symbolic act whereby tacit approval was given to what the Turks had done to the Armenians. Therefore, he assumes it was done on the German government’s initiative.

In the conclusion of his introduction, Bardakjian states that although he feels he was able to accomplish his limited aim of tracing the origin and subsequent fate of the document containing Hitler’s rhetorical question and to locate some additional relevant material, there are still numerous questions this preliminary investigation raises, especially with regard to the wider and inadequately explored context of the Armenian-Turkish-German relations in the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Since the publication of this book, Prof. V. Dadrian has done exactly what Bardakjian indicated needed to be done. However, that complicated subject is beyond the scope of this review. An initial reading of Bardakjian’s book leaves the reader with a notion that not only has Bardakjian illuminated the events surrounding the Hitler quote, but has added collaborating evidence of its validity. As Bardakjian acknowledges, his limited aim of tracing the origin and subsequent fate of the document is accomplished.

Comments on The Document

Any meaningful commentary on Bardakjian’s exposition, assumptions and conclusions would of necessity require one to do a great deal more intensive and extensive investigation of the sources that he has made use of. As such an approach would require a monumental amount of additional research, we must be content to compare and evaluate whatever data Bardakjian has introduced, with perhaps some additional information that may be available through the efforts of others.

Bardakjian’s reasons for justifying plausibility of the Lochner document are based on his belief that the contents of both documents agree in general and are derived from the same source. But Bardakjian does leave some questions unanswered, questions that should have been raised but weren’t, which would provide some opportunities for a more thorough address of the inherent issues concerning the documents. For example, when the prosecution at Nuremberg decided to enter in evidence the two-part speech that made no reference to the Armenians, on grounds that they were found in the official German files, defense counsel for the defendants objected on grounds that the documents contained no recordation date, no signature and not even a file symbol to justify their official nature. The prosecution countered with the statement, “If they weren’t correct records of what occurred, it surprises us that with the great thoroughness with which the Germans kept accurate records, they would have had these records that didn’t represent the truth in their own files.”

The question that should have been raised is: “Was it, indeed, common practice for files to contain those elements?” If not, then the documents were not exceptional in that regard. But if so, then the documents represent a departure from the accepted practice. Shedding light on this aspect of the documentation would have had the effect of making them either more or less reliable. There is no indication that this question was raised and addressed. Another question that should have been raised is, “If no copies of the speech were prepared beforehand, nor official stenographic notes authorized, how did personal notes secretly made by an anonymous attendee find their way into the official German files?” In his comprehensive tome, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William Shirer states that the sheer volume of captured German documents was staggering. To cite his own words, “Hundreds of thousands of captured Nazi documents were hurriedly assembled at Nuremberg as evidence in the trial of the major Nazi war criminals. For many years after the war tons of Nazi documents lay sealed in a large U.S. Army warehouse in Alexandria, Virginia, our government showing no interest in even opening the packing cases to see what of historical interest might be within them.” Looking for corroboration of Lochner’s document by searching through the captured documents would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Yet they claim to have found such a needle. Is that plausible?

There is, besides, another version of what Hitler said on that date, and that is the affidavit of General Admiral Bohm, made from notes he had made after the speech. The defense claimed that the Bohm document was closer to the spirit of Hitler’s words than the other three documents. The prosecution alleged that there were no material differences. It would have been helpful if Bardakjian had been able to include the Bohm affidavit in the Appendix along with the other documents in order to give the reader the opportunity to judge for himself. But even if the aforementioned documents were to be considered suspect, there is still the Halder notes that Bardakjian successfully compares to the others to show that the contents are similar. Assuming the notes to be legitimate, they are difficult to refute. The only problem is that they too make no mention of the Armenians. It is not easy to rationalize the absence considering its importance. How could Halder have failed to make note of such an extreme utterance?

Comments on The Antecedent

Bardakjian informs the reader that Breiting replied to the Gestapo that he had destroyed the notes of his interview with Hitler. Bardakjian then cites those notes with a reference to the source. However, he doesn’t explain the circumstances under which Breiting actually kept his notes and how they eventually were published. One would have to consult the reference to see what it had to say. This may be a minor quibble, but nonetheless, if Bardakjian had added a little comment, the reader would not have been left mystified.

Summary Comments

Adolf Hitler has been so demonized by the media that it is virtually impossible for the average reader to entertain the thought that Hitler may have possessed any redeeming qualities as a human being. Perhaps we don’t wish to entertain such contradictory thoughts; and perhaps Bardakjian is subject to the same reservations. Thus, when Bardakjian refers to Scheubner-Richter, he does so to suggest that Hitler knew who the Armenians were. However, he neglects to entertain the thought that Scheubner-Richter’s expressed concern for the Armenians may have influenced Hitler to sympathize with their plight.

These questions may not sit well with the rank and file Armenian who would prefer to cast Hitler in the role of a witness to the veracity of the Armenian Genocide, as if to say: “If Hitler said it, it must be true.”

I suppose the bottom line for most Armenians is: “Why should we question the authority of a document that up until now has served us so well?”