The final months of the Second World War, as experienced by a German military judge who loathed the Nazi regime, are documented in a diary due to be published for the first time.
Written by Werner Otto Müller-Hill, who worked in Germany’s military courts between 1940 and 1945, the diary records the conflict from the perspective of an individual who fully understood the historical significance of the events unfolding before him.
Between 1933 and 1945, the military courts condemned to death as many as 33,000 German soldiers and prisoners of war. However, as an opponent of the Nazis Müller-Hill never once imposed such a sentence.
In a diary which, had it been discovered, would have sealed his death sentence, he details his disdain for Adolf Hitler, and his thoughts on the fate of the Jewish people.
Due to be published later this month under the title The True German, the diary suggests that ordinary citizens knew – or were able to deduce – a lot more about what was going on in Hitler’s Germany than many have claimed, and calls into question the idea that Germans were reduced to an unthinking mass.
Müller-Hill died in 1977.
We interviewed Benjamin Carter Hett, a former lawyer-turned-historian, who wrote the introduction to The True German.
Q: The True German seems to offer some fascinating insights. But what struck you most about the diary?
A: I am really interested in what Germans at the time thought about the war. Müller-Hill was so much more analytical than the average German, without being privy to high-level information.
He did what any smart person would do. He did not listen covertly to international media such as the BBC, because he felt it was too dangerous.
Instead he read newspapers very critically and with a shrewd eye, and was able to work out what was happening.
For example, he was sceptical about the battle of the Bulge. He knew Germany did not have a sufficient gasoline supply or the logistical strength to succeed. Not many Germans got that at the time.
He was remarkably shrewd about what was coming.
Many readers will be curious about how much he knew about the Holocaust.
By contrast, take, for example, the Iraq War 10 years ago. At that time about 70 per cent of Americans believed the Bush Administration’s claims that Iraq had played a role in the 9/11 attacks.
It’s fascinating to see a person in a much harder position than we were in who got to the truth better than 70 per cent of my fellow citizens.
Q: What, do you feel, was his motivation for writing the diaries?
A: I think he was a man smart enough to realise that he might have been in some trouble after the war, so the diary may have been partly for an alibi.
It would be interesting, if there were records on the cases he was involved in, to see how much matches up with what he is claiming.
He also wanted to leave the diary for his son. It’s a fairly common motive to leave a record for your children – it’s an understandable motive.
We can only imagine what kind of inner conflict a man like this would have had. He is clearly not a Nazi, but he was occupying his position within the ‘machine’.
I think he used the diary to vent, to balance out his soul because of what he was seeing every day.
At that point in the war if you were even heard by the wrong person telling a joke about Hitler, you would be as good as dead, as were those who listened covertly to international media – although many people still did.
Q: What, do you think, the modern-day reader should bear in mind?
A: He is an army officer during a war, and a patriotic citizen. Germany was facing an apocalyptic crisis, and he is not going to go completely over to the other side.
He does not want his country to lose, but he is torn because he does not like the regime.
He does speak out against the Holocaust, but he may have shared some anti-Semitic prejudices. He’s no lover of the British or Americans either.
He is who he is, but that to me makes his shrewd observations even more impressive.
The True German, published by Palgrave Macmillan, will go on sale on 22 October.