Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bad Press for Joseph Goebbels

As a result of intense pressure from American Jewish groups, St Martin's Press abruptly cancelled the publication of British historian David Irving's biography of Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels earlier this month.


Irving is a controversial historian whose name has been connected with the Holocaust denial movement. He is also one of a handful of historians who are able to decipher the shorthand, Gothic script in old-fashioned German in which Goebbels wrote his diaries, which are housed in Moscow archives.


Those who are interested in reading Goebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich can still do so, however, in Irving's self-published British edition (Focal Point, ?25, or $38). Irving has also issued extracts on the World Wide Web.


The portrait of Goebbels that emerges from Irving's book is that of a relentlessly loathsome man. Petty and vindictive on a personal level, he had a journalist imprisoned for three months for beating him at cards and demanding his winnings up-front. Consistently unfaithful to his wife, he nonetheless determined to have her and their six young children commit suicide in the bunker so as to leave a heroic legend on which future German nationalism could feed.


Politically, Goebbels was possessed of a "satanic anti-Semitism." And the root of the controversy surrounding the book stems from Irving's argument that by the 1940s Goebbels' obsession with annihilating the Jews exceeded Hitler's in both degree and determination. Readers will have to judge for themselves whether the book is "repellent ... suggest[ing that] an admittedly bad man had a cause not entirely bad in itself," as Publishers Weekly maintained; or whether, as distinguished Oxford historian Norman Stone argued in the Sunday Times last week, "the book is valuable enough" as a Denis Thatcher defined the role of the modern male consort in politics.


But in Britain at least, his public image was primarily derived from the hugely popular series of satirical "Dear Bill" letters in Private Eye magazine, which cast Denis as a gin-soaked, hen-pecked, golf-playing, rugby enthusiast with reassuringly reactionary values. Carol Thatcher, the journalist and doting daughter, has sought to reveal the real man behind the parody in Below the Parapet: The Biography of Denis Thatcher (HarperCollins ?16.99, or $26).


The real Denis turns out to be an enemy of emotion; a man who rarely spoke to his children, and whose support of his ambitious wife was practical and undemonstrative. Financially, he gave Margaret security, but politically, his role was negligible. He was chiefly valued by Conservatives as the only person capable of coaxing the indefatigable Margaret to bed, thus allowing her exhausted political allies to also get some sleep.





-- Compiled from The Sunday Times, The Times, The Economist and The Financial Times.