A former Nazi diplomat is claiming that changes demanded by a UK publisher to clarify his autobiography alter the sense of his memoirs. Jennie Brookman and Sian Griffiths report. A former Nazi turned German resistance member is in dispute with a respected academic publisher over the publication of his memoirs, which contain a number of controversial historical analyses, including the suggestion that the Czechoslovak government held some responsibility for the German occupation of that country.
Reinhard Spitzy's memoir - So haben wir das Reich verspielt (How we Squandered the Reich) - was first published, in German, by Munich-based publisher Langen Muller in 1986. It sold 20,000 copies, going into its fourth impression in 1994.
The London and New York-based company I. B. Tauris was due to publish a translated version of the book next month under the new title Witness to the Third Reich: Intrigues at the Court of Adolf Hitler. The memoirs were translated by Geoffrey Waddington, lecturer in international history at Leeds University. But in January the publishers said they wanted alterations made. Tauris's chairman, Iradj Bagherzade, said many of these were designed to make the book more comprehensible to an English-speaking readership.
Among more than 100 proposed changes to a 350-page book, the publishers suggested moderating or cutting flattering descriptions of Hitler and taking the sting from what some readers might regard as anti-Semitic descriptions. Examples include modifying a phrase describing Hitler as a "brilliant and extraordinary man" by adding the words "but ultimately twisted" and cutting a reference to Hitler's "beautiful" eyes. The publishers also wanted to cut a passage claiming close connections between US President Roosevelt and the Jewish establishment of America and, if it could not be authenticated, amend another in which Spitzy recalls a senior American official during the war telling him: "Do you think we like the Jews? We have a different way of dealing with such problems."
Waddington's notes of his meeting with the publisher also show that Tauris was very concerned about passages of the book which it thought suggested the Jews had brought their persecution on themselves.
In the all-day meeting with Waddington, the publishers insisted that the changes were not, in any way, an attempt to align the memoirs with standards of "political correctness", but rather were intended to maximise the value of the book as a historical document. "The business of being politically correct is a notion I do not hold with," said Bagherzade said this week. "There is such a thing as being historically correct with a small c." For instance, the memoirs suggested that Germany was provoked into attacking Poland in 1939 - not a view, said Bagherzade, that many historians would share. Likewise, any suggestion that the Jews had brought anti-Semitism upon themselves had no foundation in historical reality.
Bagherzade also drew a distinction between memoirs and diaries. If the work were a diary he would not have considered changing the writing. Moreover, he added, the meeting with Waddington presented "maximalist" suggestions for changing the manuscript; the company was expecting to negotiate and concede some of the demands.
But Spitzy - who with Waddington had already substantially cut the book at the publisher's request - strenuously objected, claiming the changes would completely alter the sense of the memoirs. In a telephone conversation with Mr Bagherzade he accused him of wanting to publish a Bahnhofsroman (the equivalent of an airport blockbuster).
The 84-year-old Spitzy said the changes would have resulted in two completely different versions of the book, one for a German readership and another book for an English-speaking audience.
As translator, Waddington also resisted further changes, arguing that memoirs are personal accounts. "They are interesting because they are the memoirs of a guy in the party who didn't pretend to be anything else. He is completely honest about once being a fully committed Nazi."
The book charts the early life of Spitzy, son of an Austrian professor of medicine, his early fervent support of Hitler, his growing disillusionment and his role in German resistance to Hitler.
Before the war Spitzy worked as a diplomat in London as a member of the personal staff of Joachim von Ribbentrop (later the Reich's foreign minister). He then worked in the German foreign office. He was with Hitler on his triumphal tour of Austria after the annexation of that country in 1938.
During the war he served under Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, whose foreign and defence department "Z" of the Wehrmacht became a centre of resistance to Hitler. After the war he became a planter in Argentina for ten years and is now a landowner in Austria.
When Spitzy's memoir was first published in Germany a reviewer in the intellectual Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote that "whatever one thinks of his statements and judgements, Spitzy's memoirs are a particularly gripping addition to the memoirs literature of the Third Reich".
But it added: "Historically informed readers will read the book critically and with interest. But the relative light-handedness with which the crimes of the Third Reich are treated may be not undangerous reading for less well-versed people and particularly younger people, especially because of its readable style."
Historians, says Waddington, always treat memoirs with utmost caution, they read between the lines rather than take what is written at face value. Some memoirs of the Third Reich have been widely used by historians, such as Inside the Third Reich by Hitler's architect Albert Speer. Waddington strongly believes Spitzy's memoirs are of historical value: "I think they show up the malignant advice being given to Hitler by his foreign ministry and the disorganisation of German resistance to Hitler."
Paul Preston, professor of international history at the London School of Economics, said he had followed Spitzy's career. "He was one of the last surviving important Nazis, he had access to Hitler, he also had close and intimate access to Ribbentrop. For that reason the memoirs are likely to be valuable," said Preston. "It is in the nature of published memoirs of people associated with dictators that they are never pleasant reading.'' Spitzy is now negotiating with an American publisher: "Otherwise I will publish it myself. I'm not writing for money. I'm doing it because before I die I would like to tell my honest impressions and English is the international language today. I don't mind criticism. When it is published I would love criticism." But in order to criticise it, people would have to have been able to read it, he says.
But I. B. Tauris says it is still interested in publishing the memoirs - if Spitzy will come and negotiate changes.