Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Stephen H. Roberts' the House That Hitler Built as a Source on Nazi Germany

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Stephen H. Roberts' the House That Hitler Built as a Source on Nazi Germany

Article excerpt

Many pre-war visitors to Nazi Germany published contemporary eyewitness accounts of their impressions of the "Third Reich"; a recent study by Angela Schwarz identifies sixty-two book-length accounts published before 1945 by British and British Dominion authors alone.(1) One could also add to the list similar works appearing in English by American writers and Europeans, including German exiles from Nazism. One of the most successful contemporary accounts of Nazi Germany published in the pre-war period was The House that Hitler Built (1937) by Sydney University's Challis Professor of History, Stephen H. Roberts, a work which ran through numerous editions, and which was translated into several foreign languages.

Roberts occupies a significant place in the history of the historical profession in Australia, not only by virtue of his tenure of the Challis Professorship at Sydney from 1929 to 1947, during which time he became something of a "second founder" of Australia's oldest history department,(2) but also by virtue of his several books: a study of French colonial policy (his LSE doctorate, published in 1929), Population Problems of the Pacific (1927), two influential works on Australian colonial history, a History of Australian Land Settlement (1788-1820) (1924) and The Squatting Age in Australia, 1835-1847 (1935), both of which were reprinted and remained standard references into the 1960s, and a History of Modern Europe (1933) which was the standard textbook in New South Wales schools for decades. The success of The House that Hitler Built made Roberts, whose professional salary had been temporarily reduced during the Depression, an affluent man, enabling him to move to a residence (dubbed "The House that Hitler really built") in harbourside Point Piper.(3) In the following years Roberts was to become a pillar of the Sydney establishment and, in 1947, Vice Chancellor of the University of Sydney. The following article represents an attempt to evaluate this work as an example of the genre of eyewitness accounts of Nazi Germany. This requires an examination of Roberts' 1936 visits to Germany as well as an analysis of the book's merits as both a primary source and a scholarly treatment of the subject matter. Consideration will also be given to aspects of the book's reception.

Stephen Roberts visited Germany in 1936, partly for study purposes, and partly on an assignment from the then New South Wales Premier, Bertram Stevens, who furnished Roberts with a letter of recommendation, stating that Roberts was "visiting Germany on my behalf with a desire to obtain an understanding of the economic problems, policy and progress of Germany".(4) Stevens, the conservative United Australia Party Premier who had replaced Labor's Jack Lang after the latter's dismissal by the State Governor in 1932, was particularly interested in obtaining information on "industrial conditions in Germany", "Travel Organization for employees", the Nazi "Labour Army" and "marriage loans".(5) Roberts subsequently accompanied Stevens when the latter visited Berlin in July 1936, meeting with representatives of the Internationale Handelskammer (International Chamber of Commerce).(6) In his book proposal to the publishers Methuen & Co. in London at the end of October 1936, Roberts described himself as "the salaried adviser to the Government of New South Wales on international questions, especially economic", going on to claim that he had received special privileges from the German Foreign Office and the Ribbentrop Bureau (the Nazi Party's own foreign affairs office) in order to prepare a 60,000 word report for the New South Wales government on "The Economics of Hitlerism".(7) Subsequently, however, Roberts asked Methuen not to mention his "Government work" in their publicity.(8)

In the Preface to The House that Hitler Built, Roberts confined himself to saying that: "Owing to a fortunate conjunction of circumstances, I was afforded unusual facilities in Germany". …

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