Andrew Roberts: Secret recordings explode the myth Hitler's generals knew nothing about the Holocaust

Roundup: Talking About History

[Andrew Roberts is the author of A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900.]

During the latter half of World War II, the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) undertook a massive clandestine operation of which the full, extraordinary details are only now coming to light.

Between 1942 and 1945, a section of SIS - known as MI19 - secretly recorded no fewer than 64,427 conversations between captured German generals and other senior officers, all without their knowledge or even suspicion. The 167 most significant of these are about to be published for the first time.

Together, they provide us with a goldmine of information about what the German High Command privately thought of the war, Adolf Hitler, the Nazis and each other.

They also explode the post-war claim of the Wehrmacht that they did not know what the SS were doing to the Jews, Slavs, mentally disabled and others among what they termed "untermensch" (sub-humans).

The Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre (CSDIC) was based in Trent Park, a magnificent estate once owned by the Sassoon family, near Cockfosters in North London. It was here that German senior officers were brought for internment once they were captured.

Then a huge top-secret operation swung into play, involving several hundred recording technicians, stenographers, transcribers and interpreters, not to mention stool-pigeons and agents provocateurs whose job it was to stimulate conversations between German generals, brigadiers and colonels.

A number of ruses were employed to encourage the Germans to speak to one another in one of the 12 rooms in the common areas of the house that were wired for sound. Luftwaffe commanders were mixed with Wehrmacht generals; newspapers and radios were used to pass on snippets of news from the front. Occasionally, Lord Aberfaldy - a CSDIC agent posing as a welfare officer -would simply bring up subjects that might provoke debate once he had left the room.

The astonishing success of the operation can be measured in the sheer number - and the extreme candour - of the conversations that ensued. To read the transcripts today is to be reminded of some of the worst horrors of World War II.

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