- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 20, 2006

Soviet military intelligence faced a dilemma in the chaotic days immediately after VE Day in 1945. Two officers serving in the entourage of Adolph Hitler who were in his famed bunker as the Red Army swept into Berlin gave eye-witness testimony that the Fuehrer killed himself with a single gunshot just after his longtime girlfriend (and wife of a few hours) Eva Braun poisoned herself with cyanide. The bodies were then burned in the garden, along with those of assorted other Nazis and their family members — 11 corpses in all (plus two dogs).

But when Soviet soldiers exhumed the bodies, none showed signs of the gunshot wound. All apparently had died of poisoning. Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin immediately suspected Hitler had faked a “suicide” so that he could flee Berlin and try to regroup what remained of his shattered military. He wanted absolute proof that Hitler was dead. So the NKVD was ordered to do a full investigation of how Hitler died, through interviews with the two officers who observed the Fuehrer first-hand for years. They were Heinz Linge, his valet and personal assistant, and Otto Gunsche, a military adjutant.

Further exhumations of the charred grave site produced evidence that indeed one of the bodies showed signs of a gunshot wound, putting to rest Stalin’s lingering fear that Hitler somehow escaped. So Soviet intelligence decided to use the testimony of Linge and Gunsche (and other captives) to do a profile both of Hitler and his Third Reich.

Only a single copy was produced of the final report, 413 typewritten pages that went to Stalin in 1949 under the innocuous title “Ryelo,” the Russian word for “Report.” It was discovered in Soviet archives only two years ago and is now printed as The Hitler Book: The Secret Dossiers Prepared for Stalin from the Interrogations of Hitler’s Personal Aides (Public Affairs, $27.50, 370 pages, illus.), edited by Henrik Eberle and Matthias Uhl. Mr. Uhl works at the German Historical Institute in Moscow; it was he who found the document. Mr. Eberle teaches in a German university.

The story of Hitler’s death is an oft-told one, notably in Hugh Trevor-Roper’s classic “The Last Days of Hitler,” written in his capacity as an officer of British intelligence. Further, persons familiar with the extensive biographical studies of Hitler, especially the two-volume work by Ian Kershaw published in 1998 and 2000, will find few surprises. Nonetheless, we are presented with a trivia-laden book that is the first true “insider’s look” at Hitler over an extended period.

The writers who compiled the report knew it was intended to be read only by Stalin. Hence they took care to avoid subjects sensitive to him — for instance, why he signed the famous 1939 pact with Hitler. Raising such questions “might have had unforeseeable consequences,” surely an understatement.

Instead, they compiled a gossipy portrait — a man who required as many as four injections of stimulants a day to remain active, often appearing half-comatose and incoherent; a supposed devotee of healthy dieting who gobbled down a pound or so of pralines daily. Hitler had a morbid fear of being captured and taken to Moscow “in a cage.” Hence his strict orders that his body be burned once he was dead.

In sum: an interesting footnote to the life of a lunatic who destroyed much of Europe.

• • •

Gents with less gray in their beards than I assert that Ernest Hemingway’s muscular prose that delighted students the 1920s and 1930s is now sorely out of fashion in literary academia, and that students are seldom exposed to his work. Further, the life of Hemingway has been so notably chronicled, by Michael Reynolds, Carlos Baker and others, that only a few scraps are left for study.

Now comes the very ambitious Peter Moreira, a journalist with long experience in the Far East, who gives us Hemingway on the China Front: His WWII Spy Mission With Martha Gellhorn (Potomac Books, $26.95, 256 pages, illus.). As a “spy story” Mr. Moreira’s book is very thin (more on that point in a moment). But he does show how Hemingway was in the process of destroying a fine career as he sank deep into alcoholism.

Briefly, in 1941, Hemingway’s new wife, the ambitious war correspondent Martha Gellhorn for Collier’s Magazine, convinced her husband to travel to Asia with her to report on the Sino-Japanese conflict. Hemingway would report for the New York newspaper PM. Hemingway had just published “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and riches showered down upon him; it sold 400,000 copies immediately and the movie rights took in $136,000 — “a king’s ransom” for a writer who had earned $6,000 the previous year.

Although documentary evidence is scanty, Moreira writes that Hemingway apparently was asked by Harry Dexter White, the number-two man under Secretary Henry Morgenthau in the Treasury Department, to “spy” on the trip — that is, to report on the Communists’ clash with ruler Chiang Kai-Shek, and the possibility of war between the United States and Japan. In due course White was fingered as a Soviet spy; he vowed innocence, then dropped dead of a heart attack.

Hemingway spent much of the trip in a haze of alcohol. Mr. Moreira computes that 20 times between February 1 and May 18, his drinking or talk of drink warranted mention in either his writings or diaries of persons who saw him, and that “the number was probably higher than that.”

But he did manage to produce what Mr. Moreira considers several prescient analyses. How valuable was this “spying?” Not very, given that American diplomats made the same points in cables back to Washington (as revealed when a thousand or so pages of them appeared in the “White Book” issued by the State Department in 1948 during the “Who Lost China?” political row).

In sum: One would have to stretch reality far beyond the breaking point to consider Hemingway’s work as spying. Nonetheless, Mr. Moreira has written a splendid book about what turned out to be the first days of the collapse of a fine American novelist. The moral, if any, is that those of us who write for a living should keep the dickens away from alcohol during the work day.

• • •

If your prurient interests extend to how the teen daughter of the CIA station chief in South Korea lost her virginity in a Seoul hotel, by all means read her brother’s book, My Father the Spy (HarperCollins, $24.95, 314 pages, illus.). John H. Richardson Jr.’s book ostensibly is the story of how the author dealt with the reality that his father, Jack (or “Jocko” to colleagues) Richardson, was an intelligence officer for decades, starting with the Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps, and ending as CIA station chief in Saigon during the turbulent days of the Vietnam War.

But you will learn little of the elder Richardson’s career. What we have is one of the more thoroughly nasty father/son stories I’ve ever read. To be sure, “Langley brats,” as the offspring of CIA parents are known, are denied many features of a normal childhood. Nonetheless, when I read of the younger Richardson’s “hardship” stay at Landon School, arguably the classiest male prep school in Washington, where he shoplifted and used dope almost daily, I doubted that he would evoke sympathy from other kids who at age 16 bagged groceries to save money for college. Avoid at all costs, a true loser.

Joseph Goulden is writing a book on Cold War intelligence. His e-mail is JosephG894@ aol.com.

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