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Traitor's Gate - Michael Ridpath

Sources for Traitor's Gate

This isn't a history book, so there is no need for footnotes. I did my best to ensure that the book was as accurate as possible, but where I couldn't find the answer, I made it up: see the Fact or Fiction page for more details on this. But I did consult a wide range of sources in researching this book, and for anyone who is interested in finding out more, they are discussed below.

Biographies and Memoirs – German
Biographies and Memoirs – British
The Plot
The Spanish Civil War
Jewish Persecution
The Gestapo
British Secret Intelligence Service

When I read history at university, we were encouraged to look at social and economic factors for the underlying causes of great events, and to ignore the decisions of individuals. One of the pleasures of writing Traitor's Gate has been the need to think about the motivations of the individuals involved, both the key political and military players and ordinary Germans and Britons. For this, biographies, memoirs, and diaries are invaluable.
Biographies and Memoirs – German Reich ChancelleryThe Past is Myself by Christabel Bielenberg is an extremely well written account of the experiences of an Englishwoman married to a "good German", Peter Bielenberg, who was peripherally involved with the resistance. She stayed in Germany throughout the war. A totally absorbing read.

Bounden Duty by Alexander Stahlberg. Stahlberg was a member of the extended von Kleist family. He gives a good impression of the private and family lives of a number of the members of the resistance.

To the Bitter End by Hans-Bernd Gisevius. This is a detailed account of the conspiracy from one of its most active participants. It is written from the perspective of a disillusioned Gestapo officer. It is not totally reliable, since Gisevius was a witness at the Nuremberg trials and some of his claims do not stack up, but then again, many of them do.

The Secret War Against Hitler by Fabian von Schlabrendorff. Von Schlabrendorff was an untiring opponent of Hitler who tried to assassinate him himself during the war. Although arrested for his part in the July 1944 plot he survived the war and became a member of West Germany's Supreme Court. His testimony is therefore more trustworthy than Gisevius's. However, it lacks the personal touch of some of the other memoirs.

Hitler's Spy Chief by Peter Bassett is an intriguing recently published biography of Canaris. There are older biographies by Ian Colvin and Andre Brissaud.

A Good German by Giles MacDonagh is a biography of Adam von Trott, who attended Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar in the early thirties and made many British friends.

Defying Hitler by Sebastian Haffner is a fascinating description of a young lawyer's attempts to get to grips with the Nazi accession to power in 1933. It goes a long way towards answering the question of how the ordinary Germans could put up with a Nazi government.

Blood and Banquets by Bella Fromm is the diary of a diplomatic reporter in Berlin in the 1930s. It starts full of gossip about political figures, but then becomes darker. Bella was Jewish, and despite her excellent connections, she was eventually forced out of the country and became a waitress in New York.

Wilfrid Israel by Naomi Shepherd is a biography of a wealthy Anglo-German Jew, a pacifist and an aesthete, who reluctantly became drawn into helping his fellow Jews escape Germany.

Matriarch of a Conspiracy by Jean Pesja is a biography of Ruth von Kleist, many of whose relatives became involved in the conspiracy. It is good on the importance of family loyalty, duty and religion in the consciences of the conspirators.

The Women's Camp in Moringen by Gabriele Herz is an interesting description of life in a concentration camp in 1936 and 1937 by a rather prudish Christian woman.

Biographies and Memoirs – British Foley by Michael Smith is a biography of one of the key characters in Traitor's Gate. Foley was the ultimate low-profile spy. He was virtually unknown until Smith noticed how often he cropped up while writing a history of MI6. Foley was no James Bond, nor was he Oskar Schindler, but he was a man of great integrity and courage.

Trail Sinister by Sefton Delmer is a fascinating autobiography of an Anglo-Australian journalist who was born in Berlin just before the First War, and returned there at the end of the 1920s. Delmer knew the leading Nazis well, and writes with humour about his time in Berlin and Spain.

The Nazi Connection by Peter Winterbotham is the memoir of an Air Ministry official who got himself invited to Germany by the Nazi leadership and reported back on their air strength. It might not be completely reliable, but Winterbotham has a good sense of humour.

Berlin Diaries by William Shirer was a bestseller after the war. Shirer was an American correspondent in Berlin. To my mind not as good as Trail Sinister, but his descriptions of Vienna at Anschluss and of Berlin during the last days of September 1938 are vivid.

Diana Mosley by Anne de Courcy and the Duff Cooper Diaries edited by John Julius Norwich, although not directly relevant to TRAITOR'S GATE, give excellent background on the world that Conrad de Lancey and his family inhabit, and are great fun to read.

The Parting of the Ways by Sheila Grant Duff is the memoir of an undergraduate at Oxford who was a friend and admirer of Adam von Trott. It gives an excellent idea of the crisis of conscience and loyalty that a young English intellectual felt during the 1930s as she grappled with peace, socialism and the need to stand up to Hitler.

Philby: KGB Masterspy by Philip Knightley gives another perspective on the same problem. Philby, of course, came up with a different solution.

As does Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. Orwell went to Spain an idealist and returned a cynic, like Conrad.

The Holy Fox by Andrew Roberts is a lively biography of Lord Halifax. Neville Chamberlain by Robert Self is unconvincing in its argument that Chamberlain has been misunderstood by history. Neither biography devotes more than the odd paragraph to the September 1938 plot.

Failure of a Mission by Nevile Henderson, the British Ambassador to Berlin and Extra Special Correspondent by G Ward Price, the Daily Express correspondent in Berlin and Hitler's favourite British journalist are two collections of self-justifying claptrap that should be avoided.

The Plot The best and most focussed account of the 1938 plot against Hitler is The Oster Conspiracy of 1938 by Terry Parssinen. It's writing style is more like a novel than a history, but there is strong historical scholarship underlying it. The footnotes are extensive and very useful.

The History of the German Resistance 1933-1945 by Thomas Hoffmann is a big thick book with all the facts you could want. More readable is An Honourable Defeat by Anton Gill.

Hitler and his Generals by Harold Deutsch is a detailed but fascinating study of the Fritsch case. It includes detailed information on the main characters in the case, most of whom were involved in the September plot six months later. Deutsch died before he could write a book about the plot, but Parssinen had access to his notes and made use of them.

Unfortunately, I had not read Killing Hitler by Roger Morehouse until I had finished several drafts of the novel, but it is an excellent account of the numerous attempts on Hitler's life from 1938 to the bomb that exploded a few feet from him in 1944.
Appeasement British histories of appeasement take almost no account of the conspiracy to overthrow Hitler or of the various approaches to the British government by Ewald von Kleist and others. British historians seem to go along with Chamberlain's initial dismissal of the plotters as "disgruntled Jacobites at the court of France in King William's time". John Wheeler-Bennett, the first great British historian of appeasement, doubted that the plot was real. It is clear from reading the sources above that it was.

There are a number of reasons for this denial. Most of the Germans involved were executed by the Nazis or discredited at Nuremberg. Understandably, the British politicians didn't want to dwell on the opportunity they missed to remove Hitler. Their embarrassment was increased by the Venlo Incident in November 1939, when the Gestapo managed to kidnap two British spies on the Dutch-German border using as bait a fictitious plot against Hitler. It is not exactly a cover up, but because the September 1938 plot was ignored by historians and politicians, it is still generally unknown in Britain.

The big meaty book on Munich is Munich: The Price of Peace by Telford Taylor, which had all the details I needed. I usually enjoy reading AJP Taylor, but I found his Origins of the Second World War of little use. Duff Cooper's Diaries have detailed descriptions of the Cabinet meetings in September, and Roberts's The Holy Fox is also good on that period.

The Spanish Civil War Homage to Catalonia is a very good book, but it deals with the fighting around Barcelona. Antony Beevor's The Battle for Spain has plenty of detail about the Madrid front, and Sefton Delmer's Trail Sinister has some vivid descriptions of Madrid at that time. Not all British participants in the Civil War were as disillusioned as Orwell or Conrad: The Battles of Brunete edited by Frank Graham demonstrates that many maintained their idealism sixty years later.
Jewish Persecution Star of DavidHolocaust by Martin Gilbert charts the development of persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany. Foley by Michael Smith devotes several interesting chapters to the plight of Jews trying to escape Germany in the thirties. The mayhem after the Nazi takeover of Austria is chillingly described in G.E.R. Gedye's Fallen Bastions. Gedye was the Telegraph correspondent at the time. Shirer's Berlin Diaries also contain memorable descriptions.
The Gestapo It is very hard to avoid the trap of perpetuating all the Gestapo clichés of sadists in leather coats snarling "Ve have vays of making you talk." This is especially since many of these clichés are based on truth. The Venlo Incident by Payne Best includes lengthy descriptions of Gestapo interrogation after his kidnap at Venlo in 1939 which sound hackneyed to the modern reader, but were presumably terrifying to Payne Best when he experienced them. Two books entitled Gestapo, one by Edward Crankshaw and the other by Edward Butler give an overview. A better insight can be gained from the guide to the site of the Gestapo Headquarters in Berlin, entitled Topography of Terror.
British Secret Intelligence Service I didn't find a really good book on the British Secret Intelligence Service before the war. MI6 by Nigel West and The Spying Game by Michael Smith carry the outline of events. The consensus seems to be that the British secret service in the 1930s was incompetent, this is the view taken by the official historian of military intelligence in the Second World War, FH Hinsley, but the truth seems to be covered by a layer of secrecy, and a further layer of inter-service rivalry which has not yet been penetrated.
Berlin Berlin was flattened first by the British and then again by the Russians during the war. Some of the old buildings were rebuilt, most weren't. A very few survive. It is strange walking around the city trying to ignore the breathtaking modern architecture and the remaining signs of the Cold War, and to imagine a larger, more lively, bustling metropolis, upon which was foisted monuments of Nazism.

Books help. There are a number of good descriptions of Berlin in many of those mentioned above. The novel Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood has a memorable portrayal of the city in about 1930, as does A Dance Between the Flames by Anton Gill. Berlin by Giles MacDonagh is very good on detail. There are useful photographs in two books titled Berlin Then and Now, one by Nick Gay and the other by Tony Le Tissier. Each has excellent commentary. The 1923 Baedeker's guide to Berlin is fascinating, but a nightmare to refer to while walking the streets. The small company After the Battle publishes an invaluable map of Berlin in 1945, with all the major Nazi buildings marked. The bookshop, Berlin Story, on Unter den Linden has a mass of literature on the city in German, English and many other languages.

Potsdamer PlatzThere is quite a lot of old film footage of Berlin. In particular there is the film Berlin: Symphony of a City which observes ordinary citizens going about their business over a single day in 1929. The difficulty with this and with photographs of the period is that they promote in the mind of a novelist the subconscious impression that life was lived in Berlin in the 1930s in black and white.

I was very fortunate to come across Nick Gay and his Original Berlin Walks company. They do walking tours of Berlin at the time of the Third Reich and also of Sachsenhausen. Nick himself has an amazingly detailed knowledge of which buildings were around when. Highly recommended.

A few of the buildings described in Traitor's Gate are still recognizable. Unter den Linden has been restored: the Adlon Hotel and the Stabi still exist, although the famous octagonal reading room of the library was destroyed. The Reich Chancellery and the Gestapo Headquarters on Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse have gone, although Göring's Air Ministry survives as does the War Ministry on the Bendler Strasse and the Abwehr Headquarters on the Tirpitzufer (now the Reichpietschufer).

The original Café Josty has gone, although another café bearing the same name lurks at the bottom of the Sony centre on the Potsdamer Platz. Kranzler's and Horcher's were famous haunts that no longer exist, at least on their original sites. The Scheunenviertel, once the Jewish quarter, is now a fashionable area for young professionals to live. The British Passport Control Office at 17 Tiergarten Strasse is now the site of a modern Indian Embassy.

Lastly, the stunning new Jewish Museum gives a fascinating impression of the everyday life of Jews in Berlin both before and during Nazi persecution.



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