The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Interview with Dr. Arnold Brecht - New York City, 
April 23, 1943

       Dr. Brecht represented Prussia in the Reichsrat 
and as such was the most powerful member. It was the 
custom in Germany for a new Chancellor to make his 
first official visit to the Reichsrat in order to meet its 
members and make a short address on his views and the 
policies he expected to pursue. After the Chancellor got 
through speaking the senior member of the Reichsrat 
made a few routine remarks concerning the Constitution 
and the obligation of the Chancellor to observe its 
limitations and outlined the functions of the Reichsrat 
to the Chancellor. Hitler observed this custom and two 
days after his appointment as Chancellor he appeared 
before the Reichsrat. His address was perfectly innocuous. 
It was very short and he did not commit himself to any 
concrete policy. He was very self-contained, spoke in an 
ordinary tone of voice and tried to be pleasant end agreeable.

Before the meeting the members of the Reichsrat stood 
around in an informal manner waiting for Hitler to arrive. 
He was then introduced to each of the members individually. 
He conducted himself very well during this performance 
and said a few pleasant words to each member. When he 
was introduced to Dr. Brecht he said that he had met him 
before. Dr. Brecht said that he thought Hitler was mistaken 
since he could not recall having had the pleasure previously 
Hitler told him that they had met in Munich in 1923 when 
Brecht was making some official visit there and Hitler 
was present at a meeting. Dr. Brecht remembered being 
in Munich but could not recall Hitler. Hitler appeared 
somewhat hurt that Dr. Brecht failed to remember him.

After Hitler got through speaking it fell to Dr. Brecht to 
make the usual remarks about the Constitution, etc. While 
he was speaking he noticed that Hitler, who sat at his right, 
became somewhat agitated and wormed around in his chair. 
Brecht paid no particular attention to this since his remarks 
were the usual ones but as soon as he finished speaking 
Hitler arose, shook hands with the members very briefly 
and departed. A very short time after the meeting Brecht 
received a telephone call from Hitler's adjutant informing 
him that Hitler was furious at Brecht's remarks and 
demanded to know by what right thought he could tell 
Hitler what his duties and obligations to Germany were. 
He added that it was only due to Hitler's remarkable 
self-restraint that he did not disband the Reichsrat on 
the spot.

Brecht was also at this time a Social Democrat member 
in the Reichstag. When Hitler summoned the first meeting 
of this body there was some controversy among the Social 
Democrats concerning the wisdom of their appearing since they

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were reasonably sure that their appearance would be the 
signal for some form of violence. It was finally decided 
that since it was their duty, and for the sake of appearances, 
they would attend. In order to avoid giving any provocation 
for a riot before the meeting started they decided that the 
eighteen of them would wait in one of the anterooms until 
the meeting was called to order and then they would file 
in in a body. Word reached Hitler that the Social Democrats 
were waiting in the anteroom. He, with some of his staff, 
suddenly appeared at the door. The Social Democrats were 
standing around the room in groups of twos and threes. 
Hitler strode into the room, stopped before each of them 
and examined each individual with great care. At the 
conclusion of each such silent examination, he condemned 
the individual member with the word "~unworthy." When 
he had condemned each one individually, he and his staff 
left the room and shortly afterwards the meeting was called.

While Brecht was trying to wind up the affairs of office, 
which he knew he could not keep, he was warned that he 
had better leave Germany. He appealed to von Papen for 
protection but von Papen said that the best he could do to 
protect him was to give him a room in his home. When Brecht 
pointed out that this would not enable him to put his official 
affairs in order for his successor von Papen said that this 
was of no consequence and if he persisted in remaining in 
office he would do so at his own risk.

Although Dr. Brecht's official connection with the Nazis 
ended at this time he continued to obtain information 
concerning them from some of his former colleagues and 
subordinates. Some of these men had worked under him 
for years and although in the beginning they espoused the 
Nazi Party as a matter of discretion, many of them were 
finally won over wholeheartedly. He told of some of his 
former assistants who came to him secretly and confessed 
that they had succumbed even while tears rolled down their 
cheeks and they condemned themselves for their foolhardiness. 
Some of them were firmly convinced that everything Hitler 
stood for was wrong and that he would finally bring about 
the destruction of Germany and yet they felt themselves 
utterly helpless to resist Hitler or any of his demands. 
Brecht insists that these were not fundamentally weak 
characters but honest men with a great deal of loyalty 
and personal integrity. These reactions on the part of his 
former associates utterly amazed Brecht, particularly 
since he, himself, regarded Hitler as an absolute non-entity. 
As far as he could see, Hitler had not a bit of character in 
his face or in his manner; he was just like a million other 
petty bourgeois Germans that one passes in the street every 
day and who leave no personal impression. Brecht contends 
that if Hitler had any outstanding personal qualities 
whatever he would have remembered him when he met 
him again after the Munich episode since he has a very 
good memory for faces. However, when he met Hitler again at

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the meeting of the Reichsrat he had no feeling whatever of 
having met the man before or a feeling of recognition 
beyond what one would expect after having seen pictures 
in the newspapers. He described Hitler as a dead average 
to whom one pays about as much attention as to a waiter 
in any German restaurant.

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