A Tablecloth for Hitler

A rich family history of resistance and collaboration

Growing up in a German-Dutch family, historian Bas von Benda-Beckmann developed a particular interest in the Second World War. His grandmother’s sister had been married to Hitler’s most trusted general Alfred Jodl, who was hanged for war crimes at the Nuremberg Trials. Another sister, meanwhile, had turned away from Nazism when she fell in love with a half-Jewish doctor, and personally knew those involved in Hitler’s failed assassination attempt in 1944.

Original title
Het kleedje voor Hitler. Een familiegeschiedenis
Bas von Benda-Beckmann

At the centre of his family history was a mythical embroidered tablecloth, supposedly once gifted to Hitler for personally disqualifying a Jewish member of the Von Benda family tree, and apparently gifted in turn by the Fuhrer to General Franco on a state visit. In A Tablecloth for Hitler, Von Benda-Beckmann delves into the truth behind this story and the Nazi past of his grandparents and their siblings.

In charting his family’s changing fortunes – from wealthy friends of Kaizer Wilhelm II before WW1, to landed gentry fallen on hard times amid political unrest, to Nazi party members and WW2’s aftermath – he depicts his family’s political shift from liberal conservative, to conservative socialist, to national socialist.

The Von Bendas’ various functions throughout the Third Reich, and the extensive archival material they left behind, allow him to intimately reconstruct individual lives caught in the turbulent movements of History. In the end, Von Benda-Beckmann can find no evidence of there ever having been a tablecloth. Along the way, he does raise questions about family, mythology, morality and responsibility.

  • A Holocaust researcher examines his own family’s Nazi past

  • The author is from a German-Dutch family, with aristocratic roots in Germany

  • On the role of myth within families

  • A story of individual lives caught up in the turbulent movements of History

Year of publication

Page count

Martijn Prins
Sample translation available

Never does his compassion lapse into a blindness to his ancestors’ responsibility. Never do the historian and the man writing about his family get in each other's way. Add to that Bas von Benda-Beckmann’s elegantly understated pen, and you have a fascinating book.

de Volkskrant

Bas von Benda-Beckmann’s family history reads like a something out of film.


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Bas von Benda-Beckmann (b. 1976) currently works as a historian at the Anne Frank Foundation. He received his PhD from the University of Amsterdam, where he wrote his dissertation about the German historiography of the Allied bombings during the Second World War.
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