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PostWhen a Historian Gets "Hoodwinked" (Angel Vinas, Belgium, 12/11/12 5:59 am)
I thank John Eipper for his follow-up query to my post of 10 December. He raises an important question. When I realized that Johannes Bernhardt had hoodwinked me, I tried to set the record straight and published a new version of Franco's fateful mission to Berlin. Obviously I didn´t disguise the previous account. It wouldn´t have been right. I must say that Bernhardt´s version squarely fit into then available documentary evidence. He was a very clever man, and rose from nothingness to becoming Göring´s representative in Spain during the Civil War and the post-war period, always gravitating towards the center of power. As SS-Standartenführer, he also got into Himmler´s good graces.
From the operational point of view, the experience with Bernhardt made me suspicious of oral sources. I turned to documentary evidence as the mainstay for any further analyses. Obviously not all the past is encapsulated in documents, but historians have long mastered the technique of how to critically handle documentary evidence.
This is not to deny, however, the importance of oral sources altogether. There are fields of inquiry in which such sources are literally invaluable. In the Spanish case, many instances of brutal repression and killing wouldn´t have come to light if oral information hadn´t become available.
JE comments: A historian's integrity is only enhanced if s/he acknowledges getting "taken for a ride" by an informant. I thank Angel Viñas for sharing this valuable lesson.