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A Rational German Explains His Respect for Hitler

By Laurence Rees 
Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: April 23, 2012 
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There are many people who think that there was some kind of uniquely German gene that made millions succumb to Hitler. But if, as I did, these people had the chance to meet Karl Boehm-Tettlebach, who worked for Hitler as a Luftwaffe attaché during the war, then their minds would be changed.

Karl Boehm-Tettlebach was as much American as he was German. His mother was from Oregon, his father from the Rhineland, and he spoke perfect English, tinged with an American accent. Yet this half-American man found Hitler "impressive." Moreover, he told me that he believed Hitler was "a respectable person. Charming as a host, not wild and shouting…. He was very friendly…, normal." He was particularly struck by Hitler's ability to dominate a meeting: "I never heard a conference where he did not win [the argument]. Years ago, when he started out, he had a computer memory, and if he heard something, or knew something, he registered that in his computer. So then if he saw somebody after a year he said, 'But then, last year, you said something else. You said you needed more steel—do you have enough steel?'"

Even when it was clear that Germany was losing the war, Boehm-Tettlebach marveled at Hitler's ability to inspire. In the summer of 1944, Boehm-Tettlebach escorted a German field marshal into the Wolf's Lair, Hitler's military headquarters in East Prussia. The field marshal told Boehm-Tettlebach that he was going to give Hitler "hell." Hitler, the field marshal said, "should know what's going on in France" and, according to Boehm-Tettlebach, he found some "nasty" words to criticize Hitler. Half an hour later, the field marshal emerged from Hitler's presence and said, "Boehm, excuse me. I was mad today, but I made a mistake. Hitler convinced me that I'm wrong. I didn't know what he knows. So therefore I feel sorry."

"He showed up angry and left enthusiastic and flabbergasted," Boehm-Tettlebach told me. "Very strange. But the flair Hitler had was unusual. He could [take] somebody who was ready for suicide, he could revive him and make him feel that he should carry the flag and die in battle. Very strange."

How can we understand why an intelligent man like Boehm-Tettlebach respected Hitler as he did? In part, he was grateful to Hitler for leading Germany out of recession, putting millions back to work, and restoring national pride. As for the persecution of the Jews and the horror of the concentration camps, Boehm-Tettlebach preferred to turn a blind eye to the atrocities of the regime and, as a young Luftwaffe officer, go to dances instead. More than anything, though, over time Boehm-Tettlebach simply came to set aside his rational judgment and put his trust in Hitler. Life can be much easier, Boehm-Tettlebach discovered, when you have faith in a strong leader who is certain about the right way forward.

But, of course, it's a strategy that can go badly wrong—spectacularly so in Boehm-Tettlebach's case. When I met him, in the 1990s, he still struggled to understand how he could have so misjudged Hitler. "Strange that a person can show up and talk to me, like you're talking to me," he said, "and suddenly I hear that he killed three people at night. This is something you can't grasp. This is extraordinary. This is outstanding. It's something unusual, very unusual. Well, it's the same as the French Revolution. You know the people in the French Revolution, the leaders there? They wanted to do something good and ended up killing the people."

After the war, Karl Boehm-Tettlebach had a happy and successful career working for Pan Am Airways. I asked him if his experience had taught him any life lessons. He said this about Hitler: "I met him as a normal man, and at the very end, when he was dead, he was a horrible man…. So therefore you have to judge someone very thoroughly before you throw your life into his lap."


6 Responses to “A Rational German Explains His Respect for Hitler”


  1. 1

    [...] said something else. You said you needed more steel—do you have enough steel?'" Goto: A Rational German Explains His Respect for Hitler Happy Trails, Clint. Reply With [...]

  2. 2
    Jacob says:

    krupp steel

  3. 3
    Bobe says:

    If Hitler died in 1939 he would be one of the greatest heroes for Germany but after that he took all military affairs to his own myopic views, understandable why he was not promoted to sergeant after WWI, he was just a corporal, and he brought the german military machine to complete annihilation . When we see him with Manstein over a map arguing with absolute no idea of strategy or tactics or logistics involved in military operations we understand why the germans lost the war.

    • 3.1
      Graeme says:

      If Hitler had died in 1939, one of his cronies would have continued what he'd started (perhaps Goering or Himmler) and many would still have died.

  4. 4
    JamesW. says:

    I wonder what views the victims of Napoleon Bonaparte expressed in their lifetime – in a similar time frame – as we have for this subject..

    Both being 'cult of personality' figures who inspired a following – rather than by outright intimidation – like Stalin..

    Are the Nazi-era horrors still too fresh for reasoned/rational debate?

    Will – in a century from now – Hitler be seen as another Napoleon,
    a pan-European ideologue – who bit off more than he could chew?

    Curious – how they were both finally bought down by failing to neutralize Britain & getting swamped in Russia..

  5. 5
    Bobe says:

    Today's WAR CRIMES are being committed by DEMOCRACIES mostly(google civilian casualties in Vietnam). The OIL WARS IRAQ/ LYBIA and soon IRAN, so nothing changed except propaganda hands, the Rupert Murdochs of the world publish their biased fantasied/glorified view of the wars, hardly can we get straight non censured, non distorted information, like GOEBELLS shameless distortion of truth, nothing changed . Curious is that Napoleon also had their very young soldiers(15 year old) like the german war machine in the end both were defeated by GENERAL MUD AND GENERAL WINTER and the distance of USSR and their overextended supply lines.. Napoleon was a military man, Hitler not, just a corporal meddling in military affairs firing all the generals that not supported his wrong views, general BRAUCHITSCH, GUDERIAN, HALDER(generalHUBE dared to tell Hitler to give up supreme command to a general died in a mysterious air crash) all fired because spoke of truth in front of Hitler. The logic step for Germany if had leadership was to keep alliance with USSR and finish BRITISH EMPIRE, but Hitler due to personality disorder or sickness or low IQ(STALIN had high IQ) took wrong turn in his choices.



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