“He was pleasant, interested in things, enjoyed a joke”, Nikolay Ponomariev, Stalin’s personal telegraphist, recalled of his boss.
In my view, he was … kind. Attentive. In five years, not once did I hear him raise his voice to anyone or offend anyone or behave in an unpleasant way – not once. That’s why I respected him, and I’ll say it straight, I loved him for his poise, which made it easy for me to handle the talks and get along [with him], so to speak, to feel at home with and close to him.
Laurence Rees has interviewed more people who knew Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin than anyone alive today. As the former head of BBC TV History Programming, and now the author of seven books on the Second World War, he is expert at tracking down survivors and doing long-form filmed interviews, listening to many hours of their reminiscences. This book of only 400 pages of text, examining what the two dictators had in common and what divided them, boasts no fewer than 164 citations of “Previously unpublished testimony”, all obtained from the programmes about Nazism, Stalinism and the Second World War that Rees has produced over the past thirty years. Although Hitler and Stalin uses all the significant sources one would expect in a scholarly work, time and again it is the brand new personal testimony that has never appeared before in print that rivets the reader.