The letter is the very model of courtesy, expressing warm thanks for the British journalist’s “kind invitation” and speaking enthusiastically about the “truly cordial relationship” between the British and the German peoples. It is also from Adolf Hitler and yesterday was sold at auction at Bonhams for the knockdown price of £8,000.
“It was the most incredible bargain,” said the American buyer, Kenneth Rendell, owner of a Second World War museum in Massachusetts. He would, he said, have paid up to £50,000.
The letter, dated September 30, 1931, was Hitler’s response to an invitation from Sefton Delmer — one of the famous journalists of his generation, and the Daily Express’s man in Berlin — to write an article about the economic crisis facing Britain.
Although Hitler declined, the typewritten letter is revealing about the warmth of Hitler’s feelings towards the British. Writing of his hopes that a new accord would arise between Britain and Germany to replace the settlement made after the First World War, Hitler said: “I hope … that out of this crisis a new readiness will grow up in Britain to submit the last twelve years to a reappraisal. I should be happy if, as a result of this, the unhappy war-psychosis could be overcome on such a scale as to permit the realisation of the truly cordial relationship between the British and the German peoples so eagerly desired by myself and my movement.”
He went on to say that, “greatly honoured as I am by your kind invitation”, he would not write the proposed article because his views would be seen as a criticism and “part of the British public might consider it presumptuous of me”.
Recalling in his memoirs his attempt to persuade the Nazi leader to write for the Express, Delmer wrote: “What kind of fee do you think brash young reporter Delmer offered Hitler? Ten guineas! Hitler declined with an elaborately courteous letter.”
Delmer, bilingual and partly brought up in Germany, was already on such good terms with the Nazis by 1931 that the Foreign Office suspected him of being a German agent. He was the first British reporter to interview Hitler and travelled with him on his plane during the 1932 election campaign.
His most famous scoop came in 1933 when he walked through the burning Reichstag at Hitler’s side. He had actually been beaten to the fire by the Times correspondent, but managed to time his arrival so that he was able to tag along with Hitler’s party. In his book, Trail Sinister, Delmer described how Hitler lost no time in exploiting the fire for his own political ends. “In the next corridor Hitler fell back a bit and joined me. He was moved to prophesy: ‘God grant,’ he said, ‘that this be the work of the Communists. You are now witnessing the beginning of a great new epoch in German history, Herr Delmer. This fire is the beginning.’ Just then he tripped over a hosepipe.”
Mr Rendell said: “This letter shows that Hitler thinks that Britain and Germany should really work together. This is what leads to his hesitancy at Dunkirk, because he always thought Britain would make a deal.”