Cover image for Official secrets : what the Nazis planned, what the British and Americans knew
Official secrets : what the Nazis planned, what the British and Americans knew
Breitman, Richard, 1947-
Personal Author:
First paperback edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Hill and Wang, 1999.

Physical Description:
viii, 325 pages ; 21 cm
Format :


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Material Type
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D804.G4 B765 1998C Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



An important new work based on newly declassified archives.

As defeat loomed over the Third Reich in 1945, its officials tried to destroy the physical and documentary evidence about the Nazis' monstrous crimes, about their murder of millions. Great Britain already had some of the evidence, however, for its intelligence services had for years been intercepting, decoding, and analyzing German police radio messages and SS ones, too. Yet these important papers were sealed away as "Most Secret," "Never to Be Removed from This Office"-and they have only nowreappeared.Integrating this new evidence with other sources, Richard Breitman reconsiders how Germany's leaders brought about the Holocaust-and when-and reassesses Britain's and America's suppression of information about the Nazi killings. His absorbing account of the tensions between the two powers and the consequences of keeping this information secret for so long shows us the danger of continued government secrecy, which serves none of us well, and the failure to punish many known war criminals.

Author Notes

Richard Breitman , professor of history at American University, is the author of Architect of Genocide, a biography of Himmler. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The biographer of Himmler (Architect of Genocide, 1991) presents new research into the involvement of the German police in the Holocaust. Lately the role of the police has been scrutinized in some controversial histories, e.g., Ordinary Men by Christopher Browning (1992) and Hitler's Willing Executioners by Daniel Goldhagen (1996). So Breitman's contribution enters a forum primed for arguing how wide the shadow of guilt spread over German society, and what the Allies could have done about the killings. His key sources are last year's declassified German police radio messages, decoded by the British. Those messages profile an unsung villain, police chief Kurt Daluege (hanged for the Lidice atrocity), as he directed killing squads in Poland and Russia. Breitman reports the raw data of death and the conclusions British analysts drew from them, as well as the testimony of a few eyewitnesses in Poland that reached U.S. officials. What was done with the information has become a vexatious historical issue that Breitman evenly dissects. A critical addition to the subject. --Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

Breitman's important, dispassionate study adds to the already considerable body of evidence that Britain's top intelligence analysts knew, as early as September 1941, that the Germans were systematically carrying out mass murder of Jews in Nazi-occupied Soviet territories and planning their liquidation in the lands they conquered. Drawing on newly declassified British decodes of intercepted German police wireless-telegraphy messages, the author, an eminent Holocaust scholar and American University professor of history, establishes the crucial role of the battalions of the German Order Police, run by Gestapo bureaucrat Kurt Daluege, the arch-rival of Security Police chief Reinhard Heydrich. Breitman concludes that many police executioners obeyed the orders to murder Jews without compunction because they had long since internalized the pervasive anti-Semitic prejudice. In this respect, his study lends support to Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners, though Breitman qualifies this by arguing that while Jew-hatred was an integral part of 1930s Germany's political and social life, the Nazi regime had to reinforce and radicalize this prejudice in various sectors of society. Breitman also reviews the failure of both the British and Americans to rescue European Jewry and delivers a damning indictment of the U.S. news media for failing to make clear to the American people the true nature of Nazism. His meticulously documented study makes a compelling case that the Western powers could have made a significant difference in saving Jewish lives earlier, if the political will to do so had existed. Editor, Elisabeth Sifton. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved