The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H. is a 1981 literary novella written by literary critic George Steiner, in which Jewish Nazi hunters find Adolf Hitler (A.H.) alive in the Amazon jungle thirty years after the end of World War II. The book generated considerable controversy after its publication because in it, Steiner, who is Jewish, allows Hitler to defend himself when he is put on trial in the jungle by his captors. There Hitler maintains that Israel owes its existence to the Holocaust and that he is the "benefactor of the Jews".
The 120-page work was written by Steiner in 1975 and 1976 in Geneva, Switzerland, and originally appeared in the Spring 1979 issue of the United States literary magazine, The Kenyon Review. Its first publication in book form, with minor revisions by Steiner, was as a paperback original in May 1981 by Faber and Faber in the United Kingdom. The first United States edition was published in hardcover in April 1982 by Simon & Schuster. The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H. was a 1983 finalist in the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
The New York Times described the book as "an improbable cross between The Boys From Brazil, Ira Levin's fantasy about the cloning of Hitler, and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which portrays an inward journey toward a confrontation with evil."
Meanwhile, broken and incoherent radio messages between Lieber and the search party are intercepted by intelligence agents tracking their progress, and rumours begin to spread across the world of Hitler's capture. Debates flare up over his impending trial, where it will be held and under whose jurisdiction. Orosso is identified as the nearest airfield to the last known location of the search party, and aircraft begin arriving at the hitherto unknown town. But when the search party's radio fails and communication with Lieber is lost, the party must make a decision: do they sit out the storms and deliver their captive to Lieber later, or do they try Hitler here and now in the jungle before their prize is snatched from them and Israel by the world at large who they know will be waiting for them? Their decision is the latter, and against Lieber's advice ("You must not let him speak ... his tongue is like no other) they prepare for a trial with a judge, prosecution and defence "attorneys" selected from the search party, and Teku, a local Indian tracker, who had earlier burst in on their camp, as an independent witness.
The attention Hitler is receiving, however, renews his strength, and when the trial begins, he brushes aside his "defence attorney" and begins a long speech in four parts in his own defence:
At the end of his speech, Teku is the first to react and jumps up shouting "Proven", only to be drowned out by the appearance of a helicopter over the clearing.
This book is the only work of fiction by Steiner to have been adapted for the stage.
Hitler's speech at the end of the book disturbed many readers and critics. Steiner not only lets Hitler justify his past, he allows him the (almost) last word before the outside world invades. John Leonard, also of The New York Times said that the passage in which Hitler claims that the Jews gave him his best ideas, and in return, Hitler gave them Israel, "is obscene".. The fact that Steiner is Jewish made this speech in particular even more contentious. One critic, while acknowledging that Steiner always saw Hitler as "the incarnation of unprecedented and unparalleled evil", felt that there was no clear distinction in the book between Steiner’s own views and those of his fictional Hitler, even going so far as to accuse Steiner, who rejects Jewish nationalism and is a critic of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, of anti-Semitism.
In contrast, a Time magazine article at the time felt that Steiner's intention for the Hitler speech was to use it to explore his previously stated belief "that Hitler wielded language as an almost supernatural force", drawing attention to Nazi hunter Emmanuel Lieber's warning from the book regarding Hitler: "'There shall come a man who ... will know the grammar of hell and teach it to others. He will know the sounds of madness and loathing and make them seem music.'"
Steiner responded to criticism that Hitler's speech in this book is unchallenged by saying that it had been done before: for example Satan's speech in Milton's Paradise Lost (1667), and The Grand Inquisitor's speech in Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov (1880). He also reminded the reader that Hitler's speech is balanced out earlier in the book by Lieber's long monologue on the horrors of the Holocaust. Finally, Steiner said that it is not Hitler who has the last word, but Teku, the Indian tracker, who shouts "Proven". Teku is also the Hebrew word used to indicate that "there are issues here beyond our wisdom to answer or decide."