Four months after Adolph Hitler committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin, a 28-year-old Hearst newspaper war correspondent visited the Fuhrer’s Bavarian Berghof residence and Eagle’s Nest mountain retreat—both which had been decimated by bombs. John F. Kennedy, fresh out of the U.S. Navy, was touring Europe, travelling first with Prime Minister Winston Churchill and then to the Potsdam Conference with Navy Secretary James Forrestal.
During his travels, he recorded his thoughts and musings on what he saw in what historians believe to be the only diary the 35th president of the United States ever kept. The 61 pages—12 in long-hand and 49 typed—reveal a unique look into his inner thoughts, two decades before he would famously address a West Berlin crowd.
Referring to Hitler as “the stuff of which legends are made,” JFK wrote that, “You can easily understand how that within a few years Hitler will emerge from the hatred that surrounds him now as one of the most significant figures who ever lived.”
While some have described these entries as glorifying, or even sympathizing, with Hitler, Deirdre Henderson, the owner of the diary, thinks differently. Kennedy gave the diary to Henderson, his research assistant, when he was in the U.S. Senate. Henderson believes the entries on Hitler show JFK’s fascination with where Hitler fit in the greater context of history. She explains to People magazine, “Remember this diary shows—everything about JFK shows—that he was someone who was educated at an early age. He was interested in history from an early age.”
The executive vice president of RR Auction, Bobby Livingston, also put his two cents in saying, “I think…he’s writing his understanding of Hitler’s place in history.”
Kennedy was such an avid historian that he had already written his Harvard thesis several years earlier on British appeasement of Germany and the rise of the Nazis. The thesis was eventually published as Kennedy’s first book, “Why England Slept.”
Kennedy’s later entries note that Hitler “had boundless ambition for his country which rendered him a menace to the peace of the world, but he had a mystery about him in the way he lived and in the manner of his death that will live and grow after him.” It also describes war-torn Berlin, setting the scene of the destruction he witnessed firsthand as he traveled across Europe’s bomb-ridden countries.
Henderson originally published the diary in 1995 in book form titled, “A Prelude to Leadership.” After much thought, Henderson recently decided to auction off the original manuscript in honor of the 100th anniversary of JFK’s birth (which is May 29).
The diary ended up selling at auction for $718,750.