Two very different Germans consider the future

Two old members of the Volksturm seem relieved to have surrendered to British troops in Bocholt, 28 March 1945.

Two old members of the Volksturm seem relieved to have surrendered to British troops in Bocholt, 28 March 1945.

Displaced German civilians cooking a meal in the town of Rees, 28 March 1945.

Displaced German civilians cooking a meal in the town of Rees, 28 March 1945.

In Laubach in western Germany one man had maintained a small act of resistance against the Nazis throughout the war. A mid level civil servant, Friedrich Kellner deliberately set out to record every detail and nuance of Nazism as it affected ordinary Germans.

I could not fight the Nazis in the present, as they had the power to still my voice, so I decided to fight them in the future. I would give the coming generations a weapon against any resurgence of such evil. My eyewitness account would record the barbarous acts, and also show the way to stop them.

In doing so he took an extremely perilous course. So many other like minded Germans had ended up in concentration camps, which few survived. His diary reveals what many Germans knew about the war, including a widespread understanding of various aspects the Holocaust, based on first hand accounts from troops returning from the east.

On 27th March he had written about the imminent collapse of the front near him:

The German army is fleeing!

Since yesterday evening, March 26, 1945, cars heading toward the direction of the east have been racing past our building. We could not sleep the whole night because of the noise. The “best army of the world” (as it was so often called) is fleeing back.

To Where? To the Weser? God, you fools, you were not able to defend the Atlantic and Siegfried Line, as well as the Rhine. What do you think you can do inside Germany? Despite what those who would prolong the war might still invent, the dissolution is complete–and it is but a short time before the war machine itself comes to a stop.

Then an uncommonly serious and extremely heavy time of the reconstruction begins after this worst of all wars. And there are very few people who are in the clear; the war affected everyone’s thinking and actions completely until the war was at its end. The hangover will last longer than the greatest pessimist can imagine.

Then on the 29th March the Allies finally arrived:

Shortly after 3 p.m. there are noises on the street. In the cellar of our building are gathered those wounded in the name of Goebbel’s propaganda, and some neighbors, all overawed. Among them, naturally, are the Party members, who do not have a clear conscience. These believe the approaching Allied soldiers will behave like the German soldiers did in Poland, etc. This sheepish fear gives me pleasure. I do not pass up the chance to make scornful remarks.

We go outside to the courtyard entrance and see the advance guard drive by: tanks, armored cars, trucks, and jeeps. For the first time we behold Americans. The soldiers are outstandingly equipped. Their appearance is remarkably good, well-fed. There is no comparison between the Germans’ material and the Americans’. Anyhow, the American army makes an impression of excellent, disciplined troops. I want to hope that this good impression will continue to remain in the future.

Read more of his diary entries in English at Friedrich Kellner: Selected Diary Entries

German civilians pass burning buildings in Bocholt, 29 March 1945.

German civilians pass burning buildings in Bocholt, 29 March 1945.

Meanwhile in Berlin the senior Nazis continued to delude themselves that the situation was in some way salvageable. Propaganda Minister Jozef Goebbels was also an assiduous diary keeper throughout the war. His diaries give no hint of impending doom, let alone any sense of panic. He continued to write long detailed, daily analyses of the international scene and the war situation right up until the 9th of April.

On the 29th March he surveyed the eastern front, and considered a confidential report on the war in western Germany. He was still making plans for resistance to occupying Allies:

The report starts by saying that large-scale demoralisation has set in in the West, that a vast army of stragglers is on the move eastwards, that east-bound trains are crammed with armed men, that there is no longer any question of firm cohesion anywhere, and that in places detachments of Volkssturm can be seen marching westwards while the regular troops set off towards the east.

This is, of course, extraordinarily menacing and gives rise to the greatest anxiety. I am convinced that we shall succeed in re-establishing some sort of order in this wildly milling mob. But, the war having moved so far onto German territory, we can no longer afford to abandon large areas as is usually associated with such proceedings.

The Americans are already saying that they are only 150 miles from Berlin. This is not true but I believe that they are trying to divert our attention in a false direction …

Hannover was raided yesterday in addition to Berlin. The two raids were described as medium to heavy. Reich territory was clear of enemy aircraft during the night. For the first time for 35 days Berlin was not given the compliment of its Mosquito raid. Among the inhabitants of the Reich capital this produced a sort of definite disappointment. When the Mosquitos did not arrive in the evening, everyone naturally expected that they would come during the night. They probably stayed away for reasons of weather.

I am now very busy with the so-called Werwolf organisation. Werwolf is intended to activate partisan activity in enemy-occupied districts. This partisan activity has by no means got off to a good start.

Here and there certain noticeable actions have been reported such as, for example, the shooting of the Burgomaster installed by the Americans in Aachen; for the moment, however, no systematic activity is visible.

I would like to take over direction of this partisan activity myself and I shall possibly ask the Fuhrer to give me the necessary powers. I shall set up a newspaper for Werwolf and also make available a radio transmitter with powerful beam facilities; both will carry the same name. Announcements both in the news- paper and over the radio will be in definitely revolutionary terms without any external or internal political restraints.

In the present war situation Werwolf should be what the Angriff [ Nazi newspaper – ‘The Attack’] was during our struggle period [before the Nazis came to power] when we were fighting not only for Berlin but for the Reich; in fact it should be a rallying point for all activists who are not prepared to adopt the course of compromise.

See Final Entries 1945: The Diaries of Joseph Goebbels

Displaced German civilians queue for water rations, 28 March 1945.

Displaced German civilians queue for water rations, 28 March 1945.

Rations being handed out to displaced German civilians, 28 March 1945.

Rations being handed out to displaced German civilians, 28 March 1945.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: