Ever since Normandy the Allies had prepared plans for the eventual collapse of the German armed forces and the prospect that they might have to deal with an unexpected surrender. It never happened. Despite the apparent hopelessness of the situation, as the nation faced ever more devastating assaults from east and west, there were still those whose near religous faith in Hitler remained strong. They might realise that they were in a minority but they still expected the so called ‘miracle weapons’ to be used to reverse the situation.
A senior NCO based in Wiesbaden was writing home during mid March. He knew that the situation was grim and that ‘they could no longer rely 100% on all their soldiers’. Yet he still believed:
that we’ll nevertheless win the war. I know that I’m laughed at by many people or thought mad. I know that there are only a few apart from me who have the courage to claim this, but I say it over and again: the Fuhrer is no scoundrel, and not so bad as to lie to an entire people and drive it to death.
Up to now the Fuhrer has always given us his love and promised us freedom and carried out all his plans. And if the Fuhrer prays to God that He may pardon him the last six weeks of this war of the nations then we know that there must and will be an awful and terrible end for our enemies.
We must firmly believe in Germany’s future — believe and ever more believe. A people that has so courageously lost so much blood for its greatness cannot perish. … Only our faith makes us strong, and I rely on the words of the Fuhrer that at the end of all the fighting there will be German victory.
This account appears in Ian Kershaw: The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1944-1945
The Nazis continued to have a grip on the youth of the nation, a generation who had spent their entire lives under constant Nazi indoctrination. It was not unknown for members of the Hitler Youth to report their own parents for disloyal remarks. Many of the young men still entering the German armed forces were as zealous as ever – and if they were not, discipline was enforced swiftly and mercilessly:
Erwin Bartmann was an Unterscharfuhrer, junior squad leader or NCO, in the SS. He was a veteran of the Eastern Front but, after having recovered from wounds, he was posted to a training regiment:
A fresh batch of recruits arrived, all members of the Hitlerjugend. Oh, they knew it all — or at least thought they did. For them it was all, ‘Hooray, we’ll win the war for Hitler, Sieg Heil.’ None of them showed the least desire to participate in the training exercises that might soon save their lives.
Well, they came to the right place to have their arses kicked into shape. At two o’clock on a rain-soaked morning, I pulled them out of their beds for marching in full kit.
As we made our way along a forest track, there were the usual complaints but one of the Hitlerjungen lads overstepped the mark. ‘Nobody gets me out of bed for nothing. I tell you, he’ll be the ﬁrst to get it’, said a boy at the front of the group without realising I was within earshot.
I caught up with the cocky youngster, grabbed him by the shoulder and swung him round to face me. Before he could utter a word, I screwed the cloth of his camouﬂage jacket with my left hand, at his chest. The ﬁst of my right hand, filled with live riﬂe ammunition, thrust at his chin. ‘Here – take this’, I growled as the rest of the squad looked on. ‘Try it.’
In a faltering voice he said, ‘I apologise Unterscharfuhrer’.
The execution of Fahnenfluchtigen (deserters) was a weekly routine that took place on Fridays, in front of a sandy hillock. To see at close range the atomised blood and guts blast out of the condemned soldier’s back as bullets shot through his body must have shocked the recruits.
Yet, even after witnessing this dreadful spectacle, a recruit from the platoon under my command went missing one night. In an act of mesmerising stupidity, he sent a postcard, stamped in Frankfurt, to his sister who lived there saying that he had deserted and wanted to meet her at the railway station.
The vigilance of the postman was the young man’s downfall. As he was about to put the card through the sister’s letterbox, he read the message and immediately alerted the police who arrested the sender as he waited on the platform.
On his return to Spreenhagen, he received the inevitable, and inescapable, sentence of death from an SS court martial. The following Friday evening at 6 pm, he faced his executioners. ‘God bless Germany,’ he said stoically as awaited his fate. The bullets ripped through his body and he slumped to the ground, his tunic smoking at the exit wounds on his back. But a flicker of life still burned in the young heart.
An officer stepped forward to aim his O8 at the young lad’s head. He pulled the trigger – the tragic end of yet another life. Seventy years later, the horror of this shooting still visits my dreams.