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I was Hitler's Chauffeur
Reviewed by
David Robert
on
I was Hitler's Chauffeur Book Review. It’s an impressive and immaculately-presented edition, and a worthwhile account of the final weeks of Hitler’s life from one of the few men who lived to tell the tale. 
Rating:
3.5
I Was Hitler's Chauffeur
Erich Kempka
 
 

Review Information

Reviewer: David Robert
Review Date: Mar 2012

Book Information

Publisher: Frontline Books
RRP: $39.95

7

out of 10

 

 

Having served as Hitler’s personal driver from 1934 until the final days of the Third Reich in 1945, Erich Kempka was granted unique access to the Nazi dictator and was one of the mere handful of people who could go so far as to call Adolf Hitler a friend. 

His candid memoirs, first published in German in 1951 and appearing here in English for the first time, trace his early years in the Nazi party through to his desperate breakout from the Führerbunker in the aftermath of Hitler’s suicide.  Having eluded the seemingly insurmountable Russian encirclement, Kempka was eventually captured by American troops and called to testify at the Nuremburg trials, though unlike many of his contemporaries was able to live out the rest of his days a free man.

Kempka’s immediacy to the Führer outstripped that of almost any other Third Reich luminary, with the possible exception of Hitler’s ceaselessly conniving secretary Martin Bormann.  Unsurprisingly Kempka is scathing in his assessment of his main rival for Hitler’s attentions, describing him, not entirely without justification, as ‘the most hated and dictatorial person in Hitler’s immediate circle.’  Though it focuses largely on the final months of the war, I Was Hitler’s Chauffeur comprises a series of frequently insightful vignettes from throughout Hitler’s 12-year Chancellorship, offering a unique, if at times cursory, glimpse into the daily life of Hitler’s inner circle.

The end result sees the most vilified human being in recent history humanised to some extent, the tone as regards the Nazi leader by turns intimate and confessional.  Kempka writes of Hitler’s many ‘kindnesses’ and includes numerous examples of the warmongering Chief taking a personal hand in ensuring the health and comfort of his closest staff members.  In the early section of Kempka’s reminiscences, in fact, he paints a picture of Hitler as little more than a hardworking, fastidious and single-minded politician of the sort that proliferated throughout Europe during the tempestuous decade following the Great War. 

Kempka is also at pains to emphasise his longstanding proximity to Hitler, the ultimate prize in a regime whose paladins desired nothing more fervently than to be in the presence of their master.  His recollections do occasionally, however, bring to mind a certain phrase involving cake and the having and eating thereof.  Kempka clearly relishes reliving his role as Hitler’s friend and confidant, his acquaintance with several European Heads of State and the part he is alleged to have played in acts of greater or lesser historical significance, which included carrying Eva Braun’s body to the bomb crater in which she and Hitler were cremated and setting the two bodies ablaze. 

 Yet like all former Nazis he also goes to some lengths to paint himself apart from the regime’s worst excesses, at one point claiming to have brought to Hitler’s attention the wartime food shortage in Finland, an act which he says resulted in the immediate Führer order that 50,000 tonnes of raw cereals be delivered to the country, and numerous times throughout describing himself as a ‘simple’ man, a non-political mechanic and driver happy merely to be spending time with ‘the man whom all Germany was talking about.’ 

Self-serving asides and the occasional dubious recollection notwithstanding, Kempka’s memoirs do comprise a genuinely important narrative riddled throughout with interesting personal titbits as regards Hitler, Bormann, the physician Borrell and others, and Frontline have further complemented the main text with some exceedingly well-chosen supplementary material.  In addition to an incisive introduction by Roger Moorhouse there are three lengthy appendices, which together comprise some 40% of the current edition.  These include selections from the book’s contentious 1975 forward penned by former SS Major and right wing extremist Erich Kern,  as well as a 20-page postscript on the dramatic bunker breakout and excerpts from Christa Schroeder’s ‘companion’ chronicle He Was My Chief: The Memoirs of Hitler’s Secretary

It’s an impressive and immaculately-presented edition, and a worthwhile account of the final weeks of Hitler’s life from one of the few men who lived to tell the tale. 






 
 



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