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Hitler Wins

Entry updated 20 June 2022. Tagged: Theme.


For nearly three-quarters of a century it has been an enjoyable creative exercise to imagine what kind of Alternate History might have evolved had Germany won World War Two, and many novels and stories have been written to explore that assumption; these tales almost always avoid any reference to the Final Solution, and cannot stand as examples of Holocaust Fiction, even by inference, for the Final Solution cannot ethically be escaped in fictions.

Alternate-history visions of Hitler triumphant were of course not possible until after the defeat of Germany. Hopeful or ominous visions of a triumphant Reich since the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, long before the rise of Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), novels like Milo Hastings's City of Endless Night (June-November 1919 True Story as "Children of 'Kultur'"; rev 1920) – some of the imagery of which influenced Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1926) – continue in sf terms an established tradition of envisioning the Germany of the future in stridently Dystopian terms. A few years later, the first explicit Hitler-Wins tales were not exercises in the reimagining of history but Dreadful Warnings in the tradition of the Future War tale: graphic anticipations of what might actually come to pass, unless something is done. The difference between these texts and later Alternate History tales is profound. (For further discussion of the distinction between alternate history and the Future War/Future History, see bottom paragraph of text.)

The exceptionally nightmarish Swastika Night (1937) as by Murray Constantine (see Katherine Burdekin) is, therefore, not set in an alternate world, and nor are several others published 1939-1945. Other examples of Future War fictions – or, as in the case of Swastika Night, with its long Feminist perspective over several centuries, more properly Future History fictions – are Loss of Eden (1940; vt If Hitler Comes: A Cautionary Tale 1941) by Douglas Brown and Christopher Serpell, Then We Shall Hear Singing (1942) by Storm Jameson, Grand Canyon (1942) by Vita Sackville-West, If We Should Fail (1942) by Marion White, Went the Day Well? (1942) directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, I, James Blunt (1943 chap) by H V Morton, The Bells Rang (1943) by Anthony Armstrong and Bruce Graeme (1900-1982), When Adolf Came (1943) by Martin Hawkin, The Silent Village (1943) directed by Humphrey Jennings, and Erwin Lessner's Phantom Victory: The Fourth Reich 1945-1960 (1944). The only genuine Alternate History tale from these years seems to be We Band of Brothers (1939) by George Cecil Foster writing as Seaforth, in which conflict breaks out in 1938, ending a year later in the retirement of a successful Hitler and the founding of something like the United Nations. A subcategory – tales in which Hitler seems about to win, but loses an important battle or secret at the last moment – includes many borderline tales of warfare and espionage; among the serious examples are detailed fictional prognoses like Fred Allhoff's Lightning in the Night (31 August-16 November 1940 Liberty; 1979), which predicts a US readiness to use nuclear weapons against Germany as a final resort, and Invasion: Being an Eyewitness Account of the Nazi Invasion of America (1940) by Hendrik Willem Van Loon. Graham Seton's The V Plan (1941), in which derring-do defeats the Nazis before they can invade, represents a tangential pre-War mode.

The death of Hitler in 1945 marked the end of the real World War Two in Europe, but for any number of reasons – the astonishing intensity (and intoxicating vacancy) of the evil he represented; the dreadful clarity of the consequences had the Allies failed; the melodramatic intensity of the conflict itself, with the whole war seeming (then and later) to turn on linchpin decisions and events; and (shamingly) the cheap aesthetic appeal of Nazism, with its Art Deco gear, its sanserif, Babylonian architecture, its brutal elites, its autobahns and Blitzes and Panzer strikes, its extremely attractive helmets, its secrecy and Paranoia – the war very soon became a focus for speculative thought, and it was only a few months before the first alternate-world Hitler-wins tale was published (in Hungary): László Gáspár's Mi, I. Adolf ["We, Adolf 1"] (1945). After Noël Coward's play, "Peace in Our Time" (performed 1947; 1947), which is set in an Alternate History London just after the Nazis have won the Battle of Britain, the first significant example in English was Sarban's The Sound of His Horn (1952), which sinuously intertwines sadism and aesthetics into a vision of decadence with roots in Germany's mythic past. The sardonic Medieval Futurism of the book, which Sarban may have taken from Swastika Night (see above), may have influenced – and certainly served as a tonal precedent for – several works both within the field, like Keith Roberts's "Weihnachtsabend" (in New Worlds Quarterly 4, anth 1972, ed Michael Moorcock), and outside it, as in non-alternate-history fictional portrayals of Germany in faux-pastoral terms like The Birthday King (1962) by Gabriel Fielding (1916-1986) or Le Roi des Aulnes (1970; trans Barbara Bray as The Erl-King 1972) by Michel Tournier. A speculative essay of note is "If Hitler had Won World War II" (19 December 1961 Look) by William L Shirer.

The most famous single Hitler-wins sf tale is probably Philip K Dick's The Man in the High Castle (1962), where the German and Japanese victory becomes a kind of poisonous backdrop for a complex tale set in a psychically devastated America; and the most telling commentary on the moral underside of the subgenre is Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream (1972), in which the young Hitler, a failure at politics, becomes a pulp novelist whose tale Lord of the Swastika exploits, to savagely ironic effect, some of the responses of many readers to tales of "genuine" Nazi triumph.

In the twenty-first century, new Hitler-Wins stories remain surprisingly frequent, and the overall number written since the early 1950s has been remarkable. They include [for alphabetical list of Hitler-Wins novels by author, see Checklist] Andre Norton's The Crossroads of Time (1956), C M Kornbluth's "Two Dooms" (July 1958 Venture), Fritz Leiber's The Big Time (March-April 1958 Galaxy; 1961 dos), C S Forester's "If Hitler Had Invaded England" (16-30 April 1960 Saturday Evening Post), Giles Cooper's The Other Man: A Novel Based on his Play for Television (1964), Hilary Bailey's "The Fall of Frenchy Steiner" (July/August 1964 New Worlds), Otto Basil's Wenn das der Führer wüsste (1966; cut trans Thomas Weyr as The Twilight Men 1968), the film It Happened Here (1966) directed by Kevin Brownlow, Harlan Ellison's Star Trek teleplay "The City on the Edge of Forever" (shown 1967), Ewan Butler's Without Apology: The Autobiography of Sir George Maudesley, Bart (1968), Gary Gygax's and Terry Stafford's Victorious German Arms: An Alternate Military History of World War II (1973 chap), Eric Norden's The Ultimate Solution (1973), If Britain had Fallen (1974) by Norman Longmate – based on a 1972 BBC programme, Frederic Mullally's Hitler has Won (1975), Richard C Meredith's Run, Come See Jerusalem (1976), in which the Nazis do eventually lose, though only after nuking Chicago, Trevor Hoyle's Q: Through the Eye of Time (1977), Len Deighton's SS-GB (1978), Philip Mackie's Television drama An Englishman's Castle (1978 3 episodes), The Long Walk (1979) by Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman, William Overgard's The Divide (1980), Kenneth Macksey's Invasion: The German Invasion of England, July 1940 (1980), Gordon Eklund's "Red Skins" (January 1981 F&SF), Fred Saberhagen's A Century of Progress (1983); Greg Bear's "Through Road No Whither" (in Far Frontiers, anth 1985, ed Jim Baen and Jerry Pournelle), James P Hogan's The Proteus Operation (1985), David Brin's "Thor Meets Captain America" (July 1986 F&SF), David Dvorkin's Budspy (1987), Brad Linaweaver's Moon of Ice (March 1982 Amazing; exp 1988), WerewolveSS (1990) by Jerry Ahern and Jerry Ahern, "1953": A Version of Racine's Andromaque (1990 chap) by Craig Raine, Invasion: England, 1940 (1990) by Derek Slade, Leo Rutman's Clash of Eagles (1990), And All the King's Men (1990) by Gordon Stevens, Ted Mooney's Traffic and Laughter (1990), Terrance Dicks's The New Doctor Who Adventures: Timewyrm: Exodus (1991), J R Dunn's "Crux Gammata" (October 1992 Asimov's), Robert Harris's Fatherland (1992) (which, perhaps embarrassingly for Harris, is often the first Hitler Wins story to be mentioned in discussions of the form), John Bowen's No Retreat (1994), 1945 (1995) by William R Forstchen and Newt Gingrich, Stephen Fry's Making History (1996), James Herbert's '48 (1996), SS World (1998) by Terrance Dicks, J N Stroyar's The Children's War (2001), Daniel Quinn's suavely nightmarish After Dachau (2001), Murray Davies's Collaborator (2003), Harry Turtledove's In the Presence of Mine Enemies (2003), Guy Walters's The Leader (2003), Philip Roth's The Plot Against America (2004), the Axis of Time sequence from 2005 by John Birmingham (though Hitler may lose in the end), Jo Walton's three-volume sequence comprising Farthing (2006) and Ha'penny (2007) and Half a Crown (2008), Owen Sheers's Resistance (2007), Stephen Baxter's Weaver (2008) in the Time's Tapestry sequence, Robert Rankin's Retromancer (2009), Guy Saville's Burton Cole sequence comprising The Afrika Reich (2011) and The Madagaskar Plan (2015), which focus on the Holocaust, C J Sansom's Dominion (2012), D J Taylor's The Windsor Faction (2013), Tony Schumacher's John Rossett series including The Darkest Hour (2014) and The British Lion (2015), Ryan Graudin's Wolf by Wolf (2015), Julie Mayhew's The Big Lie (2015), Peter Tieryas's United States of Japan sequence (2016-2020) and C J Carey's Widowland (2021). Christopher Priest's Alternate History novel, The Separation (2002), though not technically a Hitler Wins tale, makes highly sophisticated use of the implications of the theme.

An interesting theme anthology is Hitler Victorious (anth 1986) edited by Gregory Benford and Martin H Greenberg, which contains several of the stories listed above. Peter Fleming's Invasion 1940 (1957; vt Operation Sea Lion 1957) describes in great detail the preparations Germany made to invade the UK in 1940, speculating in the last chapter on what might have happened had a successful invasion occurred. World War Two, Fleming suggests, might in that event have been won by Hitler; it is perhaps the most interesting of several similar titles in nonfiction modes (none are listed here). Despite its unsophisticated methodology, Gavriel D Rosenfeld's, The World Hitler Never Made: Alternate History and the Memory of Nazism (2005) is strong on the moral implications of the Hitler-Wins story, with specific reference to the fate of the Jews, and deals with issues (like the Final Solution) not within the purview of this entry (again, see Holocaust Fiction).

But a typical academic misunderstanding of the radical distinction between Alternate History and the Future War/Future History tale mars Rosenfeld's otherwise thorough and illuminating examination of Nazism and Hitler. By persistently describing Future War novels that predict Hitler's triumph as being examples of Alternate History, Rosenfeld seriously misrepresents (1) the Future War/Future History tale, which almost always works as a continuation of consensual history; (2) the author's presumed motives for describing something that might still be averted; and (3) the reader's range of possible responses to reading a tale about something which has not yet happened but might. As noted above, no Hitler-Wins tale published before Hitler actually lost World War Two is an Alternate History, as that term is defined (see entry) in this Encyclopedia. Rosenfeld also defines as Alternate History the large number of tales about the survival of some secret cadre of Nazis, usually in South America, though in most of these tales the history of the post-war world is otherwise unchanged. The finest of them may be The Portage to San Cristóbal of A. H. (1981) by George Steiner (1929-2020), in which Adolf Hitler, after his capture in the South American rain forest thirty years after the war, triumphs in a mock trial; but Steiner's tale is not a work of the fantastic. Tales of this sort do not deal with alternate worlds, but with the imagined exposure to public awareness of a previously unknown or hidden part of our own history. Though they do evoke a Paranoia similar to that evoked by some sf, Secret Histories and conspiracy-theory tales are, therefore, normally excluded from this entry, and from this Encyclopedia in general. [JC]

see also: Freedom Force.

Hitler Wins titles

These are listed in alphabetical order of author: see the entry above for chronological placings.

further reading


previous versions of this entry

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