KNAVES, FOOLS & HEROES: Europe Between the Wars by Sir John Wheeler-Bennett

KNAVES, FOOLS & HEROES: Europe Between the Wars

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Among his many titles and accomplishments Sir John is the Historical Adviser to the Royal Archives and one of those pedigreed Englishmen who in his time knew everyone who was anyone. To him foreign affairs was a sort of gentlemanly avocation in the 1920's and '30's; from his rooms in Berlin's Kaiserhof hotel he watched the Weimar Republic disintegrate. An unofficial diplomat as well as a suave horse breeder and man-about-town, Sir John polished his understanding of German politics over cocktails with the men who tried, not too hard, to stave off Hitler: Groner, Bruning, von Papen, von Schleicher, Hindenburg and the rest. He has forthright opinions on all of them: von Papen was a contemptible fool; von Schleicher an evil manipulator; Bruning a hero (""The tragedy of Bruning is the tragedy of Weimar""). Sir John does manage to paint the atmosphere of tension and dread in Berlin, 1933, and he reports faithfully the bons mots of the local wags. He also had strong reactions to top Nazis and Bolsheviks both of whom he managed to meet in the course of gathering the material for his more than twenty books. Among Hitler's entourage Goering had charm and ""the best brains of the lot"" while Ernst Rohm of the strutting S.A. was ""the most malign and dangerous of all."" Of the Old Bolsheviks Karl Radek was vastly personable and Trotsky, whom Sir John interviewed in Mexico (""ve vill spik English and yen I cannot find de voids ve vill spik Goiman"") was not unlikable. Sir John of course is an unreconstructed Tory, a crusty old chap, but also not unlikable.

Pub Date: June 4th, 1975
Publisher: St. Martin's