The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Office of Strategic Services
Hitler Source Book
Excerpts from an interview with Dr. Arnold Brecht
April 1943

[Page 1]

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 [Page 2] 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 [Page 3] 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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