JFK Calls Adolf Hitler — Murderer of Millions — a Legend in Private Diary

Mar 22, 2017 at 12:13 p.m. ET
Image: Universal History Archive/Getty Images

It's been quite a week for learning surprising new things about historical figures.

First, rediscovered letters from Princess Diana to her secretary provided some intimate insight into the life of a royal in the 1980s.

And now, just before John F. Kennedy's diary goes up for auction, we're learning his private thoughts about Adolf Hitler. Brace yourself, because you didn't see this one coming.

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Kennedy toured Germany in 1945, just after WWII ended, as a war correspondent for a newspaper. Included in the tour were several of Hitler's homes and retreats. Just four months after the German dictator killed himself in a bunker in Berlin, Kennedy wrote about him in his diary.

"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," he wrote. "He 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. He had in him the stuff of which legends are made."

Yeah. He seriously said that about the dude who murdered literally millions of people and was responsible for the war that killed tens of millions more.

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Deirdre Henderson, who was JFK's research assistant when he was in the Senate and who is the current owner of the diary, added a note in the auction listing attempting to explain the former president's shocking entries about Hitler.

"When JFK said that Hitler 'had in him the stuff of which legends are made,' he was speaking to the mystery surrounding him, not the evil he demonstrated to the world," she wrote. "Nowhere in this diary, or in any of his writings, is there any indication of sympathy for Nazi crimes or cause."

And she told People magazine in a follow-up interview that it's important to note Kennedy's lifelong passion for history as context for his words.

"Remember this diary shows — everything about JFK shows — that he was someone who was educated at an early age," she said. "He began reading [Churchill’s memoirs of World War I, The World Crisis] when he was about 12. He was interested in history from an early age."

She added, "Hitler was driven by ambition and he was a very dangerous person. And these young men had fought him in the war — well, JFK was [serving in the U.S. Navy] in the South Pacific — but he understood Hitler. And it’s the mystery surrounding Hitler — why did he do what he did? I don’t think anyone will ever know. But JFK was analyzing it and saying Hitler was a legend — and Hitler is a legend. But he’s not a good legend. You can’t translate that as meaning he had admiration for him."

More: Carole Radziwill Was Closer to John F. Kennedy Jr.'s Death Than You Realize

JFK's diary goes up for auction next month.

Before you go, check out our slideshow below.

jackie kennedy slideshow
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