by Ward Price
NOBODY will contest the claim put forward by Mr. Ward Price in his title. As a journalist, he has from the start specialised in the present dictators of Italy and Germany, and has probably interviewed them more often than any other foreign correspondent. He has driven with Herr Hitler in triumphal progress through the streets of Breslau, and was with the select company in the Palazzo Venezia on May 5th, 1936, when Signor Mussolini delivered from the balcony to tumultuous crowds below his famous speech in celebration of his Abyssinian victory.
The veil of discretion does, however, let through some gleams of illumination. Herr Hitler is being compared with his Italian prototype.
He does not lend himself so readily as Mussolini to the give-and-take of question and answer, rejoinder and comment. Intercourse with him rather resembles the Socratic form of dialogue; the enquirer propounds a theme, and Hitler enlarges upon it. When more than two people are present, even though they are of his intimate circle, there is no general discourse. Either Hitler talks and they all listen, or else they talk among themselves and Hitler sits silent.
Apart from Mr. Price’s odd conception of what a Socratic dialogue is like, that rings true and is revealing. The German dictator is a figure apart one who does not easily indulge in regular intercourse with his fellow men. Another interesting point which Mr. Price makes is the extent to which Herr Hitler, at certain stages of his career, has consciously imitated Signor Mussolini. He once told Mr. Price that the abortive Munich putsch of 1923 was planned on the lines of the Fascist coup of the preceding year and had been intended to culminate in a „march on Berlin“. But this should not be taken as a repudiation of his claim to originality. One is inclined to agree with the verdict that he is „the first demagogue in German history since Luther,“ and that the secret of his success is (in a remark attributed to Houston Stewart Chamberlain) „ a genius for simplification.“ It is alleged that he learned from British war propaganda the importance of two cardinal principles – “simplicity of statement and reiteration of ideas.“ Beside Herr Hitler, Signor Mussolini emerges from Mr. Price’s pages as a more commonplace and less fascinating figure. He is compared more than once to an adventurer of the Elizabethan period. Many stories have been told before of his passion for speed, whether on foot or in his car and his aeroplane, both of which he pilots himself. His quaint boastfulness is also well enough known.
I have a fantastically strong memory. . . . In the case of subordinates whom I have not seen for a long time, I always begin by recalling to them what I said on the last occasion and referring to some technical detail of the matter they then submitted to me. . . . This impresses them with my familiarity with their work, and they do not venture to conceal any matter connected with their department.
There was no doubt of the Italian dictator’s naive delight in assuming, in the Abyssinian affair, the role of Mussolini contra mundum. Another quality not mentioned by Mr. Price is Signor Mussolini’s gift for persuading his interlocutors, whenever he chooses, of his personal and exclusive admiration for them. How many foreign statesmen and diplomats have come away from conversations with him fondly persuaded that they, and they alone, were able to exercise some influence over him! And how seldom has this belief had any shadow of foundation!
The book contains one or two interesting side-lights on history, which may or may not have already appeared in print. Such is the story of a meeting at Dusseldorf in January, 1932, between Herr Hitler and six hundred industrial magnates.
Hitler was to speak for an hour, and had asked that there should be no smoking. His speech lasted two hours and thirty-five minutes, at the end of which his cigarless and foodless hearers cheered him to the echo while Thyssen, springing on his feet, hailed him as saviour of Germany and announced his own intention of joining the Nazi party.