Following Stalingrad, doubt begins to grow in Germany

German graves somewhere in Russia. Few who died at Stalingrad got a decent burial.

German graves somewhere in Russia. Few who died at Stalingrad got a decent burial.

For a generation that had known little other than Hitler, faith in his abilities ran deep. Nazi propaganda was all pervasive. Belief in the ‘German destiny’ and all the associated Nazi ideas had a pseudo religious aspect. But for more and more people in Germany cracks began to develop in their faith.

In Berlin Else Wendel was a housewife trying to live as ordinary a life as possible for her children, with her husband away at the front. Her circle of friends, most also with husbands at the front, tried to avoid talking about the war. But now one of her friends had just learnt that her husband had died at Stalingrad. She had received the official notification and her husbands last letter:

In the lounge she showed me her husband’s last letter from Stalingrad.

He asked her to forgive him for anything he might ever have done to hurt her. He had never at any time wanted to hurt her. It was for her alone that he was now living and he loved her more than his life. This was no empty phrase he wrote, because they were now facing death, and it would only be a matter of days or weeks. But as long as he felt his death served a purpose he would be willing to give his life for the Fatherland. He implored her never to give up, no matter what might come, and to bring up their children-the youngest only two months old»in the spirit they had agreed upon.

I was utterly shaken. I could see him standing before me in his officer’s uniform, so proud and with the Iron Cross on his chest and the stars of a Hauptmann. He had been a strong and virile man, honest as the day.

‘Was he wounded when he wrote this letter?’ I asked Edith. ‘No,’ she said quickly. ‘I have been told he was not wounded. He met his death with open eyes. He was perfectly well and strong.’

I looked down at the carpet. What kind of death then had he met? As if Edith could guess my thoughts, she said, ‘They have written that death came instantaneously. He got a bullet through the head as he came round the corner of a house.’

While I was searching desperately for the right words, Edith spoke again. ‘There is one thing that haunts me. I have heard a rumour that they could have escaped, but that Hitler forbade it!’

I was frightened. I had not heard that rumour myself at the time. ‘No! Impossible!’ I said. ‘It would be plain murder. Hitler would never do such a thing. You know that, surely ?’

Very slowly Edith lifted her head. ‘I am not so sure,’ she said in a low voice. ‘I keep re-reading that sentence in Albert’s letter (“as long as I feel my death serves a purpose”), that doesn’t sound a bit like Albert. It sounds as though his confidence was waning, and he was beginning to doubt.”

See Else Wendel: Hausfrau at War, currently only available in the UK.

At home in Germany civilians had to become accustomed to air raid shelters, which German propaganda boasted were well equipped.

At home in Germany civilians had to become accustomed to air raid shelters, which German propaganda boasted were well equipped.

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