Joseph Goebbels: Life and Death by Toby Thacker - review by David Cesarani

David Cesarani

The Fuhrer’s Mouthpiece

Joseph Goebbels: Life and Death

By

Palgrave Macmillan 407pp £19.99 order from our bookshop
 

The familiar image of Joseph Goebbels that has come down to us through movies, wartime anti-German propaganda and postwar memoirs of the Nazi era is of a malign dwarf, the über spin doctor who manipulated the German people with cynical brilliance, and a womaniser who was loyal only to his hero, Adolf Hitler. Most biographies have tended to confirm this perception. But the recent discovery in the KGB secret archive of the entire run of diaries that Goebbels kept between 1923 and 1945 provides ample material for a re-evaluation. Toby Thacker uses the diary extensively to challenge the established version. While he adds nuance to the Goebbels story, however, he never quite succeeds in breaking the mould. Often he ends up reiterating, in different terms, what other commentators have already noted. Nevertheless, his workmanlike, readable and sober account of a man who operated close to the centre of power in the Third Reich is a welcome addition to the burgeoning library of ‘perpetrator studies’. 

At an early stage Thacker necessarily discusses the trustworthiness of the diary as a source. He argues that it does contain an honest record of Goebbels’s inner thoughts because it was begun before he achieved fame, at a time when he was scribbling away for no one but

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