Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Thursday, March 5, 2015

From the Archives: What If Hitler Had Been Assassinated in 1939?

So what if Philip K. Dick was right?

In his 1978 essay, “How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later,” Dick wrote that “professional fiction writer[s]...do not know how much of their content is true....Speaking for myself, I do not know how much of my writing is true, or which parts (if any) are true....It is an eerie experience to write something into a novel, believing it is pure fiction, and to learn later on—perhaps years later—that it is true.”
Today, I experienced something similar.
A year ago, as part of my editorial work on my forthcoming volume of Jewish alternate histories, “If Only We Had Died In Egypt!” What Ifs of Jewish History from Abraham to Zionism, I wrote a counterfactual essay on the consequences of Georg Elser succeeding in his assassination attempt against Adolf Hitler in Munich’s Bürgerbräukeller on November 8th, 1939. 

As readers will see in more detail when the book is published later this year, I posit that Hermann Goering replaces Hitler as leader of Nazi Germany and swiftly takes Germany out of the Second World War, thereby interrupting the Holocaust.  My reasoning was informed by my knowledge of the Nazi period, but it was admittedly speculative.
I was struck, therefore, by a newspaper article that I found today while conducting research on a new book project.  It appeared in the Australian newspaper, the Sydney Morning Herald on November 15, 1939 (a week after the failed assassination attempt) and posited a counterfactual that was eerily similar to what I had imagined a year ago.
The article quoted a French journalist, M. Jean Thouvenin, who speculated that “if the Munich attempt on Herr Hitler’s life had succeeded, Field Marshal Goering, as Herr Hitler’s successor, would have formed a temporary government and then asked the Allies to stop the war in order to facilitate the task of reorganizing the fourth Reich.”
“Field Marshal Goering’s proposals, he added, would have included a plebiscite in Austria and the liberation of Czechoslovakia and Poland.  Field Marshal Goering would have asked Russia to give up the territory which she has occupied in Poland.”
Perhaps this was the common belief of people at the time.  Perhaps many similar counterfactuals were imagined in 1939.  (Perhaps I need to pursue this question further). 
In the meantime, I can confirm that it is, indeed, eerie to read something that confirms the likelihood of a hypothetical scenario one has imagined one’s self.

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