Rommel is invited to commit suicide

Rommel with his aides in the Libyan desert in the spring of 1942.
Rommel with his aides in the Libyan desert in the spring of 1942.
Hitler shaking hands with Field Marshal Erwin Rommel after the latter's return from Africa.
Hitler shaking hands with Field Marshal Erwin Rommel after the latter’s return from Africa.
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel inspecting one of the U-Boat bunkers during his tour of the 'Atlantic Wall' in February 1944.
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel inspecting one of the U-Boat bunkers during his tour of the ‘Atlantic Wall’ in February 1944.

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had achieved worldwide fame as the ‘Desert Fox’, after the Wehrmacht ‘Afrika Korps’ were sent to save the Italian forces on the brink of defeat in North Africa in 1941. He had then taken a leading role in building the Atlantic Wall across occupied France, and had played his part in the Normandy battle against the D-day landings, before being seriously wounded in an Allied air strike on 17th July 1944..

He had long been outspoken and Nazi spies were well aware that he could be critical of Hitler. The Wehrmacht members of the 20 July bomb plot against Hitler saw him as a potential German leader if they succeeded in overthrowing the Nazi regime. When they approached Rommel to support them he had been sympathetic, like many senior members of the Wehrmacht he could see the way the war was going. Nevertheless he had opposed the killing of Hitler, believing that this would lead to civil war.

The Gestapo interrogation and torture of the conspirators soon revealed Rommel’s involvement. However Hitler wanted to avoid putting someone of his stature on public trial. There were other ways that he could be dealt with.

His son Manfred Rommel saw his father on this fateful day:

..I arrived at Herrlingen at 7:00 a.m. My father was at breakfast. A cup was quickly brought for me and we breakfasted together, afterwards taking a stroll in the garden.

‘At twelve o’clock to-day two Generals are coming to discuss my future employment,’ my father started the conversation. ‘So today will decide what is planned for me; whether a People’s Court or a new command in the East.’

‘Would you accept such a command,’ I asked.

He took me by the arm, and replied: ‘My dear boy, our enemy in the East is so terrible that every other consideration has to give way before it. If he succeeds in overrunning Europe, even only temporarily, it will be the end of everything which has made life appear worth living. Of course I would go.’

Shortly before twelve o’clock, my father went to his room on the first floor and changed from the brown civilian jacket which he usually wore over riding-breeches, to his Africa tunic, which was his favorite uniform on account of its open collar.

At about twelve o’clock a dark-green car with a Berlin number stopped in front of our garden gate. The only men in the house apart from my father, were Captain Aldinger [ Rommel’s aide] , a badly wounded war-veteran corporal and myself. Two generals – Burgdorf, a powerful florid man, and Maisel, small and slender – alighted from the car and entered the house. They were respectful and courteous and asked my father’s permission to speak to him alone. Aldinger and I left the room. ‘So they are not going to arrest him,’ I thought with relief, as I went upstairs to find myself a book.

A few minutes later I heard my father come upstairs and go into my mother’s room. Anxious to know what was afoot, I got up and followed him. He was standing in the middle of the room, his face pale. ‘Come outside with me,’ he said in a tight voice.

We went into my room. ‘I have just had to tell your mother,’ he began slowly, ‘that I shall be dead in a quarter of an hour.’ He was calm as he continued: ‘To die by the hand of one’s own people is hard. But the house is surrounded and Hitler is charging me with high treason.’

‘ “In view of my services in Africa,” ‘ he quoted sarcastically, ‘I am to have the chance of dying by poison. The two generals have brought it with them. It’s fatal in three seconds. If I accept, none of the usual steps will be taken against my family, that is against you. They will also leave my staff alone.’

‘Do you believe it?’ I interrupted. ‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘I believe it. It is very much in their interest to see that the affair does not come out into the open. By the way, I have been charged to put you under a promise of the strictest silence. If a single word of this comes out, they will no longer feel themselves bound by the agreement.’

I tried again. ‘Can’t we defend ourselves…’ He cut me off short. ‘There’s no point,’ he said. ‘It’s better for one to die than for all of us to be killed in a shooting affray. Anyway, we’ve practically no ammunition.’ We briefly took leave of each other. ‘Call Aldinger, please,’ he said.

Aldinger had meanwhile been engaged in conversation by the General’s escort to keep him away from my father. At my call, he came running upstairs. He, too, was struck cold when he heard what was happening. My father now spoke more quickly.

He again said how useless it was to attempt to defend ourselves. ‘It’s all been prepared to the last detail. I’m to be given a state funeral. I have asked that it should take place in Ulm. [a town near Rommel’s home] In a quarter of an hour, you, Aldinger, will receive a telephone call from the Wagnerschule reserve hospital in Ulm to say that I’ve had a brain seizure on the way to a conference.’ He looked at his watch. ‘I must go, they’ve only given me ten minutes.’ He quickly took leave of us again. Then we went downstairs together.

We helped my father into his leather coat. Suddenly he pulled out his wallet. ‘There’s still 150 marks in there,’ he said. ‘Shall I take the money with me?’

‘That doesn’t matter now, Herr Field Marshal,’ said Aldinger.

My father put his wallet carefully back in his pocket. As he went into the hall, his little dachshund which he had been given as a puppy a few months before in France, jumped up at him with a whine of joy. ‘Shut the dog in the study, Manfred,’ he said, and waited in the hall with Aldinger while I removed the excited dog and pushed it through the study door. Then we walked out of the house together. The two generals were standing at the garden gate. We walked slowly down the path, the crunch of the gravel sounding unusually loud.

As we approached the generals they raised their right hands in salute. ‘Herr Field Marshal,’ Burgdorf said shortly and stood aside for my father to pass through the gate. A knot of villagers stood outside the drive…

The car stood ready. The S.S. driver swung the door open and stood to attention. My father pushed his Marshal’s baton under his left arm, and with his face calm, gave Aldinger and me his hand once more before getting in the car.

The two generals climbed quickly into their seats and the doors were slammed. My father did not turn again as the car drove quickly off up the hill and disappeared round a bend in the road. When it had gone Aldinger and I turned and walked silently back into the house…

Twenty minutes later the telephone rang. Aldinger lifted the receiver and my father’s death was duly reported.

It was not then entirely clear, what had happened to him after he left us. Later we learned that the car had halted a few hundred yards up the hill from our house in an open space at the edge of the wood.

Gestapo men, who had appeared in force from Berlin that morning, were watching the area with instructions to shoot my father down and storm the house if he offered resistance.

Maisel and the driver got out of the car, leaving my father and Burgdorf inside. When the driver was permitted to return ten minutes or so later, he saw my father sunk forward with his cap off and the marshal’s baton fallen from his hand.”

See The Rommel Papers.

Field Marshal Rundstedt delivers the eulogy at Rommel's funeral in Ulm. At the time he was not aware of the true circumstances of his death, believing the Nazi version that he had died from his wounds.
Field Marshal Rundstedt delivers the eulogy at Rommel’s funeral in Ulm. At the time he was not aware of the true circumstances of his death, believing the Nazi version that he had died from his wounds.
Rommel had asked for a plain military funeral but the Nazis masterminded the occasion and the Swastika was prominent.
Rommel had asked for a plain military funeral but the Nazis masterminded the occasion and the Swastika was prominent.

Adolf Hitler survives another assassination attempt


19 July 1944: Last stand of the Wehrmacht in St Lo

Look at my burns! When I reflect on all this I must say that to me it is obvious that nothing is going to happen to me; undoubtedly it is my fate to continue on my way and to bring my task to completion. It is not the first time that I have escaped death miraculously. First there were times in the first war, and then during my political career there were a series of marvellous escapes. What happened here today is the climax! And having now escaped death in such an extraordinary way I am more than ever convinced that the great cause which I serve will be brought through its present perils and that everything can be brought to a good end.

Stauffenberg, left, with Hitler (centre) and Wilhelm Keitel, right,   at Rastenburg on 15 July 1944, when he aborted an assassination attempt.
Stauffenberg, left, with Hitler (centre) and Wilhelm Keitel, right, in an aborted assassination attempt at Rastenburg on 15 July 1944.

By the middle of July 1944 Germany’s war situation had gone from bad to worse. The collapse of the Eastern Front and the evident strength of the Allies in Normandy meant that many senior German officers believed that the war was lost. A relatively small group of them chose to take action. It was obvious that only the removal of Hitler could bring the war to an end.

After several abortive attempts Claus von Stauffenberg, a Staff Officer with access to Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair HQ Conference room came very close to succeeding. Several things went wrong. Stauffenberg only had one eye and three fingers on his left hand so could only arm one of the two bombs, then, because of the hot day the meeting was transferred from an underground bunker to a wooden hut. Finally after depositing his briefcase bomb as close to Hitler as possible and making an excuse to leave, Staffenberg’s briefcase was moved by another officer. It was placed on the other side of a solid wooden trestle table leg, yet still only feet away from Hitler.

Heinrich Bucholz was one of the stenographers present, recording the discussions at the conference:

I remember it as a clap of thunder coupled with a bright yellow flash and clouds of thick smoke. Glass and wood splintered through the air. The large table on which all the situation maps had been spread out and around which the participants were standing — only we stenographers were sitting — collapsed. After a few seconds of silence I heard a voice, probably Field Marshal Keitel, shouting: “Where is the Fuhrer?” Then further shouts and screams of pain arose.

The wrecked conference room at the "Wolfsschanze" near Rastenburg in East Prussia after the explosion on 20th July.
The wrecked conference room at the “Wolfsschanze” near Rastenburg in East Prussia after the explosion on 20th July.

Paul Schmidt, Hitler’s interpreter, was one of the first people to see Hitler after the explosion. He arrived to be present for Hitler’s meeting with Mussolini that had previously been arranged. Because of the heightened security he had difficult getting into the private railway station nearby, where Mussolini was due to arrive:

I did finally succeed in getting past the sentries, and reached this station, where I was to meet Mussolini on his arrival early in the afternoon. At the station I heard what had actually happened from Hitler’s physician, Professor Morell, who had not himself fully recovered from the shock of the explosion.

He told me that Hitler had, miraculously, escaped practically unhurt, whereas other people in the room had been severely wounded. He expressed great admiration for Hitler’s complete calm; he had found his pulse quite normal when examining him for injuries.

While the doctor was telling me this, Hitler himself suddenly appeared on the platform to welcome Mussolini. There was no evidence of what had happened, except that his right arm was rather stiff. When the train came in, I noticed that he held out his left hand to Mussolini, and that he moved much more slowly than usual; it was as though one were watching him in a slow-motion film.

During the three-minute drive to his quarters Hitler told Mussolini what had just happened, quietly and almost in a monotone as though he had had no part in it. Mussolini’s naturally prominent eyes seemed to start out of his head with horror.

We went straight to the conference room, which looked like a bombed house after an air-raid. For a while the two men looked round in silence, and then Hitler related some of the details. He showed Mussolini how he had been bending over the table to see something on the map, and was leaning on his right elbow, when the explosion occurred, almost exactly beneath his arm.

The top of the table had been blown off and it was this which had hurt his right arm. In a corner of the room was the uniform which Hitler had been wearing that morning, and he showed Mussolini the tattered trousers and the slightly torn tunic, and also showed the back of his head, where his hair was singed.

Mussolini was absolutely horried; he could not understand how such a thing could happen at Headquarters; his face expressed utter dismay. In the ruins of this office, the nerve centre of the Italo-German partnership, he must have seen the ruins of the whole political structure of the Rome-Berlin Axis.

At first he could only think of the event as a bad omen, and some time elapsed before he pulled himself together enough to congratulate Hitler on his escape.
Hitler’s reaction was completely different.

“I was standing here by this table; the bomb went off just
in front of my feet. Over there in the corner of the room colleagues of mine were severely injured; just opposite me an officer was literally blown through the window and lay outside severely injured. Look at my uniform!

Look at my burns! When I reflect on all this I must say that to me it is obvious that nothing is going to happen to me; undoubtedly it is my fate to continue on my way and to bring my task to completion. It is not the first time that I have escaped death miraculously. First there were times in the first war, and then during my political career there were a series of marvellous escapes.

What happened here today is the climax! And having now escaped death in such an extraordinary way I am more than ever convinced that the great cause which I serve will be brought through its present perils and that everything can be brought to a good end.”

Hitler had talked himself with these words into a state of fine enthusiasm, as he was always able to do; he had passed from the quiet reporting tone in which he had related the details of the event, into that kind of rhetoric which seldom failed of its effect on the man to whom he was talking. It was something quite different from the raging and ranting of his public speeches. Outbursts of rage like those which occurred in the speeches, which he has often been credited with in private conversations, never took place at any conversation where I was present as interpreter.

See Paul Schmidt: Hitler’s Interpreter

Another account comes from Hitler’s masseur, A. J. Weinert, who was tracked down by Wolfe Frank, employed by the New York Herald Tribune after the war:

I was at Hitler’s Rastenburg headquarters at the time of the attempted assassination of 20 July 1944.

I must say I haven’t much respect for the people who bungled that affair. If you plan to pull off something like that, you should go ahead boldly, prepared to go down the drain yourself. But Graf von Stauffenbergg wouldn’t have it that way. He simply plonked the briefcase containing the bomb down on a chair in Hitler’s conference room, and beat it.

What happened next was miraculously lucky for Adolf. He somehow pushed the chair with the loaded briefcase on it under the heavy conference table and stood behind the chair while talking to the assembled group.

At the moment the bomb exploded, Hitler’s hand was outstretched over the table, making a gesture. The top of the table was blown upward, against his arm, which was badly sprained and bruised. But that was just about his only injury.

By some freak, the main force of the explosion was directed away from Hitler and blew the legs off some of the people who were standing on the other side of the table. Four people were killed in the explosion.

I saw Adolf less than five minutes after it happened. His trousers hung in shreds. In fact, all the horizontal threads seemed to have been blown away, leaving only the vertical ones hanging down. He controlled himself pretty well, I must admit, under the circumstance. He sat on the couch and laughed and laughed for quite a long time. And he kept slapping his thigh with his uninjured arm as he laughed. All his entourage crowded around to tell him he had been saved by an act of God. He seemed to believe it…

See The Undercover Nazi Hunter: Exposing Subterfuge and Unmasking Evil in Post-War Germany

Shortly afterwards Hitler made a radio broadcast to the German nation to confirm to all that the coup had failed and that he lived:

At the very moment when the German armies are engaged in a most difficult struggle, a small group formed in Germany, as happened in Italy, which thought that as in 1918 it could now deliver the stab in the back. However, this time they totally miscalculated.

The claim by these usurpers that I am no longer alive, is at this very moment proven false, for here I am talking to you, my dear fellow countrymen.

The circle which these usurpers represent is very small. It has nothing to do with the German armed forces, and above all nothing to do with the German army. It is a very small clique composed of criminal elements which will now be mercilessly exterminated.

An aide holds up Hitler's trousers to show how close he was to the explosion.
An aide holds up Hitler’s trousers to show how close he was to the explosion.
Hitler shows Benito Mussolini the scene of his narrow escape.
Hitler shows Benito Mussolini the scene of his narrow escape.

0945: Hitler has not yet been told


6 June 1944: 0945: Hitler has not yet been told

At the situation conference in the Berghof salon a few hours later Hitler seemed more set than ever on his preconceived idea that the enemy was only trying to mislead him. “Do you recall? Among the many reports we’ve received there was one that exactly predicted the landing site and the day and hour. That only confirms my opinion that this is not the real invasion yet.”

Albert Speer with Hitler and  Hermann Goring in August 1943.
Albert Speer with Hitler and Hermann Goring in August 1943.

The accounts of when Hitler was informed about the invasion vary slightly about the exact time, yet all agree that he was not woken early. This is the account of Albert Speer, his Armaments Minister:

On June 6, I was at the Berghof about ten o’clock in the morning when one of Hitler’s military adjutants told me that the invasion had begun early that morning.

“Has the Fuehrer been awakened?” I asked.

He shook his head. “No, he receives the news after he has eaten breakfast.”

In recent days Hitler had kept on saying that the enemy would probably begin with a feigned attack in order to draw our troops away from the ultimate invasion site. So no one wanted to awaken Hitler and be ranted at for having judged the situation wrongly.

At the situation conference in the Berghof salon a few hours later Hitler seemed more set than ever on his preconceived idea that the enemy was only trying to mislead him. “Do you recall? Among the many reports we’ve received there was one that exactly predicted the landing site and the day and hour. That only confirms my opinion that this is not the real invasion yet.”

See Inside the Third Reich.

For a full illustrated story of D-Day and the Normandy campaign explore hundreds of contemporary images in the iPad App Overlord. The free iBook US Forces on D-Day provides a sample.

Hitler calls for “iron will” and permits no retreats


16 February 1944: Hitler calls for “iron will” and permits no retreats

Hitler had pointed out many times that Nikopol manganese was particularly important in the making of stainless steel. That was why sources of raw materials had to be retained at all com. For that reason the Nikopol area had to be turned into a fortress that could not be taken by the Russians.

A German soldier with a 'Raketenpanzerbüchse' anti tank weapon.
A German soldier with a ‘Raketenpanzerbüchse’ anti tank weapon.
Shock troops of the 'Grossdeutschland' Division  making counterattack at village in Russia.
Shock troops of the ‘Grossdeutschland’ Division making a counterattack in village in Russia.

On the Eastern Front German forces had suffered significant reverses since Red Army offensive at the beginning of the year. Rationally they had suffered significant defeats from which there was no real prospect of recovering. Yet Hitler managed to maintain morale in his army and keep them fighting despite everything.

Hitlers attitude to these defeats was only discovered from his personal aides after the war, when his personal valet, Heinz Linge, and his SS adjutant, Otto Guensche became prisoners of the Soviets. Interrogation of these two men provided a picture of Hitler in his private moments and when when making key decisions – this material was collated into what became known as “The Hitler Book”. This remained a Soviet state secret for a long time, a personal entertainment for Stalin.

Only recently published in the west, it throws light on Hitlers attitude when facing defeat:

In the middle of February 1944 Zeitzler [Chief of Staff] briefed Hitler on the situation on the Eastern Front, He had long ceased to be the bundle of energy he had once been. He still spoke as quickly as ever, but now he gave the impression of wanting to finish the briefing as quickly as possible. As always in recent times, he began with the situation of Army Group South.

He reported that the position of German troops on the lower reaches of the Dnieper had got so bad that they would have to withdraw from the industrial area of Nikopol, and in this connection he said that the Army Group High Command wanted to retreat a few kilometres westwards in order to straighten out the line.

At these words Hitler leaped up, threw himself across the table, screwed up the map in his left hand and screamed, ‘If only the generals could finally understand why I cling to this area so much! We urgently need Nikopol manganese! They simply don’t want to understand this. And as soon as they are a few tanks short, they go immediately to their radios and say; “Without tanks we can`t hold on. We ask for permission to retreat!”

Hitler had pointed out many times that Nikopol manganese was particularly important in the making of stainless steel. That was why sources of raw materials had to be retained at all com. For that reason the Nikopol area had to be turned into a fortress that could not be taken by the Russians.

Hitler fell into an armchair. He stared at Zeitzler with wide-open eyes as if he wanted his support. Zeitzler, however, said nothing. He knew that to be the best policy at such moments. When Hitler’s wrath had abated a little, Zeitzler continued.

When Zeitzler had finished, Hitler ordered that the map of the southern sector be opened again. He studied it excitedly.

Then, in a calmer voice, he declared that the war against Russia had entered a phase that would decide its outcome – victory or defeat. Any army can lose and be repulsed, but there is irrefutably a moment when all these blows come together to create a catastrophe. This was the current position on the German Eastern Front.

As a result it was absolutely vital to demonstrate an iron will. Any further withdrawal ultimately meant defeat for Germany. From now on a general or officer who suggested to him that there should be further retreat he would punish severely or simply shoot.

It was not primarily about operational experience any more, but about the firmness and steadfastness of commanders. As a result he would give the post of commander to young generals and officers who possessed these qualities. Officers of this sort he would promote by two or three grades.

See The Hitler Book: The Secret Dossier Prepared for Stalin from the Interrogations of Otto Guensche and Heinze Linge, Hitler’s Closest Personal Aides.

A 7,5cm Pak anti tank gun position somewhere in Russia.
A 7,5cm Pak anti tank gun position somewhere in Russia.

Hitler’s plans for a post war breeding programme


29 January 1944: Hitler’s plans for a post war breeding programme

We cannot now call on the women whose husbands will probably still get killed and we cannot begin the education campaign out of consideration for our soldiers because, beforehand, we would have to get our men who are now soldiers used to these ideas: not every soldier will necessarily want his wife or fiancée to have children by another man after he has been killed.

German troops on the Eastern front, January 1944. The Nazis expected many more of them would soon make their final sacrifice.
German troops on the Eastern front, January 1944. The Nazis expected many more of them would soon make their final sacrifice.
The SS already had Lebensborn institutions which cared for the children of SS troops including many unmarried mothers, provided that they were 'racially valuable'.
The SS already had Lebensborn institutions which cared for the children of SS troops including many unmarried mothers, provided that they were ‘racially valuable’.
A child's 'baptism' ceremony/ritual; conducted by members of the SS at a "Lebensborn e.V." maternity care home in Rheinhessen somewhere between 1936-1944.
A child’s ‘baptism’ ceremony/ritual; conducted by members of the SS at a “Lebensborn e.V.” maternity care home in Rheinhessen somewhere between 1936-1944.

The superiority of ‘Aryan’ Germanic blood was never in doubt for the Nazis. So many ‘good German men’ were being lost, especially on the Eastern Front, that they had to make plans to replace it. The German home front was now being regularly combed for more men to throw into the maw.

But Hitler had no doubt about the outcome of the war, he was concerned about the lack of German blood in the long term. German women would have to have a lot more children after the war. Logic dictated that there would be a shortage of men. Therefore many more children would have to borne to unmarried women. The Nazis would create the conditions to encourage this.

Martin Borman, Hitlers loyal deputy, pictured in 1939.
Martin Borman, Hitlers loyal deputy, pictured in 1939.

Martin Borman, his Nazi party deputy, took it all very seriously and wrote the following memorandum. There seems very little doubt that, given the opportunity, they would have carried out this plan. For the moment they did not want to say anything in public, for fear of upsetting the German married men who were ‘yet to die’ for their country – whose wives would be expected to have more children with another man after the war:

Führer Headquarters, 29 January 1944

Note
Re: Safeguarding the Future of the German People

After the war our national position will be catastrophic, for our nation is experiencing the second enormous loss of blood within a thirty-year period. We shall undoubtedly win the war militarily but lose it in national terms if we do not decisively transform all our previous views and the attitudes which have resulted from them. For the loss of blood is not a one-off event but rather its effects will go on year after year into the distant future.

3. The Führer pointed out that after this war we shall have 3 to 4 million women who have no husbands or cannot get them. Think how many divisions we would be lacking in twenty to forty-five years time, said the Führer.

4. The greater the number of births in a nation, the more secure will its future be. The calculation made by many parents, namely that they have to limit the number of their children to secure the future of the ones who have been born is thus completely wrong; the opposite is true!

Thus, if they thought about it properly, all women who have one child ought to be particularly concerned to see that not only they themselves but all other women have as many children as possible, because the more children that are born the more secure their children’s future will be. That is a very sober assessment of the situation.

5. Now the women who after this tremendous war are not married to a man or do not get married cannot get their children from the Holy Ghost but only from the German men who are left.

Increased procreation by individual men is of course only desirable from a national point of view in the case of some of these men. The decent, physically and psychologically healthy men of character should increase their procreation but not those who are physically and mentally deformed.

12. [ . . . ] At first many women will accept the general principle but – a lack of logic is after all innate in women – reject it in the personal circumstances of their particular case.

13. For obvious reasons, public, i.e. general education can only begin after the war. Let me just give one reason for this. We cannot now call on the women whose husbands will probably still get killed and we cannot begin the education campaign out of consideration for our soldiers because, beforehand, we would have to get our men who are now soldiers used to these ideas: not every soldier will necessarily want his wife or fiancée to have children by another man after he has been killed.

15. Right now we must remove all undesirable barriers to our goal. In particular, we must involve our poets and writers. New novels, stories, and plays which equate ‘marriage drama’ with ‘adultery’ will no longer be permitted. Nor will poems, writings or films which treat illegitimate children as inferior.

17. The upshot of all this is: we must hope that women who after the war do not have or get a husband will have a relationship with a man similar to marriage which produces as many children as possible.

Read the whole memorandum at Documents from German History

German Pak anti tank gun on the eastern front.
German Pak anti tank gun on the eastern front.
The reality was that in many places the Wehrmacht was on the retreat.
The reality was that in many places the Wehrmacht was on the retreat.

Hitler rejects a defensive strategy in the East


14 January 1944: Hitler rejects a defensive strategy in the East

Only his sheepdog bitch, Blondi, was there. Hitler fed her from time to time with pieces of dry bread. Linge, the servant who waited on us, came and went silently. The rare occasion had arisen on which it would be possible to tackle and perhaps to solve thorny problems. After a few opening remarks the conversation turned on the military situation.

Heinz Guderian pictured on the Eastern Front in 1941.
Heinz Guderian pictured on the Eastern Front in 1941.

It was now becoming increasingly likely that Germany would be fighting on yet another front in 1944, already they faced the Allies in Italy. With the looming prospect of a two front war German Generals, or those that dared, were becoming more outspoken in their criticism of Hitler’s strategies on the Eastern Front.

Heinz Guderian had been one of the principal architects of mobile tank warfare that led to the ‘blitzkrieg’ strategies that had served Germany so well early in the war. He had fallen out with Hitler during the campaign for Moscow, after that he had been sidelines from operational roles.

In 1943 Guderian had been brought back into the High Command as Inspector General of Armoured Troops and promoted to the rank of Generaloberst. He continued to argue with Hitler however:

In January 1944 Hitler invited me to breakfast with the words: ‘Somebody’s sent me a teal. You know I’m vegetarian. Would you like to have breakfast with me and eat the teal?’ We were alone together at a small round table in a rather dark room, since the only light came from one window.

Only his sheepdog bitch, Blondi, was there. Hitler fed her from time to time with pieces of dry bread. Linge, the servant who waited on us, came and went silently. The rare occasion had arisen on which it would be possible to tackle and perhaps to solve thorny problems. After a few opening remarks the conversation turned on the military situation.

I brought up the matter of the Allied landings in the West which were to be expected for the coming spring, and remarked that our reserves at present available to meet them were insufficient. In order to free more forces it was essential that a stronger defence be established on the Eastern Front.

I expressed my astonishment that apparently no thought had been given to providing our front there with a backbone in the form of field fortications and a defensive zone in our rear.

Specifically it seemed to me that the reconstruction of the old German and Russian frontier fortications would offer us better defensive possibilities than did the system of declaring open towns as ‘strong points’- which declarations, incidentally, usually came at the last moment when it was too late to take measures which would justify the phrase. With these remarks I soon saw that I had stirred up a hornet’s nest.

‘Believe me! I am the greatest builder of fortications of all time. I built the West Wall; I built the Atlantic Wall. I have used so and so many tons of concrete. I know what the building of fortications involves.

On the Eastern Front we are short of labour, materials and transport. Even now the railways cannot carry enough supplies to satisfy the demands of the front. Therefore I cannot send trains to the East full of building materials.’

He had the figures at his finger-tips and, as usual, bluffed by reeling off exact statistics which his listener was not for the moment in a position to contradict.

All the same, I disagreed strongly. I knew that the railway bottle-neck only began beyond Brest-Litovsk and I tried to make clear to him that the building I had in mind would not affect transports travelling to the front, but only those going to the line of the Bug and the Niemen: that the railways were quite capable of shouldering this burden: that there could scarcely be a shortage of local building materials and local labour: and finally that it was only possible to wage war on two fronts with success if at least temporary inactivity could be assured on one front while the other was being stabilized. Since he had made such excellent preparations for the West there was no reason why he should not do likewise for the East.

Thus cornered, Hitler proceeded to bring out his much-repeated thesis, namely, that our generals in the East would think of nothing save withdrawal if he permitted the building of defensive positions or fortications in their rear. He had made up his mind on this point, and nothing could bring him to change it.

See Heinz Guderian: Panzer Leader

Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun with his German Shepherd dog Blondi, in 1942.
Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun with his German Shepherd dog Blondi, in 1942.

Hitler defiant in last Beer Hall speech to Nazis


8th November 1943: Hitler defiant in last Beer Hall speech to Nazis

And I would like to add a third item: the opinion of our adversaries that their air terror can decrease the intensity of the German military resolve is based on a fallacy. After all, whoever has already lost all his belongings can only have one desire: that the war will never be lost, since only a victorious war can help him get his things back. And so the hundreds of thousands of the bombedout are the vanguard of revenge.

Hitler in 1923, the year his 'Beer Hall Putsch' failed,  for which he was later imprisoned.
Hitler in 1923, the year his ‘Beer Hall Putsch’ failed, for which he was later imprisoned.

Ever year Hitler come to Munich for the annual Party Rally, in which the Nazis celebrated the anniversary of the ‘Beer Hall Putsch’, when they had first attempted to grab power 1923.

Hitler always addressed the most ardent party members in the Löwenbräukeller. He had narrowly avoided an assassination attempt here in 1939. Every year he made boasts about how the Germans were the master race, about to dominate the world. This time there was not much to boast about.

Nevertheless Hitler was as defiant as ever. He was addressing the Nazi Party faithful, they did not need to be persuaded of anything. They just needed to be reminded that the Fuhrer was still in command and had hopes for the future.

Bizarrely he was to claim, despite all the major setbacks that Germany had suffered in the past year, that Germany was in a better position than at the start of the war.

He made no mention of the major reverses in the past year, at Stalingrad, at Kursk, North Africa, Sicily and now Italy. The devastating Allied bombing campaign, which had unsettled so many Germans since Hamburg, was just a reason why Germans should be seeking vengeance:

We are fighting the fifth year of the greatest war of all time. As it began, the enemy in the east was barely a hundred fifty kilometers away from Berlin. In the west, his fortresses threatened the Rhine; the Saar region was under fire from his artillery.

And now, my party comrades, this National Socialist state has crushed this ring of encirclement in historically unique blows. The heroism of its soldiers pushed the fronts nearly everywhere over a thousand kilometers from the borders of the Reich.

The Americans and the English are right now planning the rebuilding of the world. I am right now planning the rebuilding of Germany! There will, however, be a difference: while the rebuilding of the world through the Americans and the English will not take place, the rebuilding of Germany through National Socialism will be carried out with precision and according to plan!

Our mass organizations, from the Todt organization to the Reich labor service embracing the entire German economy, will be roped in for the job, along with the war criminals. For the first time in their lives, the war criminals will do something useful there. This is the first thing I have to say.

The second thing is this: whether or not the gentlemen believe it, the hour of retribution will come! If we cannot reach America at the moment, one state is within our reach, thank God, and we will hold on to it.

And I would like to add a third item: the opinion of our adversaries that their air terror can decrease the intensity of the German military resolve is based on a fallacy. After all, whoever has already lost all his belongings can only have one desire: that the war will never be lost, since only a victorious war can help him get his things back. And so the hundreds of thousands of the bombedout are the vanguard of revenge.

I have come here for a few hours in order to speak to you, my old followers. I am going back tomorrow and I will take with me the beautiful memory of my old comrades in arms and our time of struggle together.

You shall also leave here with fanatical confidence and the fanatical faith that there can be nothing other than our victory. We fight for this. Many have already fallen for this, and many will still have to make the same sacrifice.

Generations will live because of this, not only now, but also in the future. The blood we spill will one day bring rich rewards for our Volk. Millions of human beings will be granted an existence in new homes.

Thus, we commemorate all our comrades who, as National Socialist fighters, led the way, which can only be a way toward greatness for our fatherland, greatness for our German Volk.

Our National Socialist Party, our German Reich:

Sieg Heil!

This was to prove to be Hitler’s last appearance in the Löwenbräukeller. All rational thought would have suggested that conditions in a years’s time would be a great deal worse for Germany. As it happened they were so bad that he chose not to even come to Munich to celebrate the anniversary in 1944.

Contemporary footage of another event the following day:

Hitler in his Headquarters, the  "Wolfsschanze" - "Wolf's Lair" - where he presented medals in September 1943.
Hitler in his Headquarters, the “Wolfsschanze” – “Wolf’s Lair” – where he presented medals in September 1943.

Mussolini is rescued in daring Fallschirmjäger raid


12th September 1943: Mussolini is rescued in daring Fallschirmjäger raid

Liberation in the Apennines was undertaken with gliders. One of these landed fifty feet in front of the hostelry in which the Duce was staying. Within a few minutes he was free. He was of course deeply touched at being rescued from captivity by German soldiers. Our soldiers proceeded pretty brutally and thereby kept the Italian Carabinieri guards in check. A few hours later the Duce was in Vienna. Just before calling me the Fuehrer had had a telephone conversation with him.

A view of the remote hotel on Gran Sasso where Mussolini was being detained by the new Badoglio regime, as seen by the German glider rescue force.
A view of the remote hotel on Gran Sasso where Mussolini was being detained by the new Badoglio regime, as seen by the German glider rescue force.
One of the gliders on the mountainside, illustrating the tight landing area.
One of the gliders on the mountainside, illustrating the tight landing area.
Fallschirmjäger leave their glider and make for the hotel.
Fallschirmjäger leave their glider and make for the hotel.
One of the Gliders that landed close to the Hotel Campo Imperatore.
One of the Gliders that landed close to the Hotel Campo Imperatore.
Para troopers with one of the gliders that landed on the mountainside.
Paratroopers with one of the gliders that landed on the mountainside.
One of the gliders that crashed during the landing.
One of the gliders that crashed during the landing.
Fallschirmjäger who were injured when their glider crashed.
Fallschirmjäger who were injured when their glider crashed.
Parachute troops with one of the light artillery pieces that they took with them.
Parachute troops with one of the light artillery pieces that they took with them.

Hitler had been incensed by capitulation of the ‘traitorous’ Italians and German forces swiftly took control of the country. The prospect of the Allies moving easily up the ‘soft underbelly of Europe’, as Churchill had once imagined, proved to be quite false. Mountainous Italy, with nearly all its rivers running across the path of the Allied advance northwards, was soon revealed to be almost perfect terrain for the slow defensive war that the Germans now chose to fight.

The political situation was more complicated, with the new Italian government eventually declaring war against Germany. Hitler wanted a pro German regime. The first step was restoring Mussolini to power. Hitler was very keen to rescue Mussolini, who he regarded as a personal friend, from imprisonment. The daring raid of the 12th September attracted world wide attention.

Hitler’s Propaganda Chief, Josef Goebbels welcomed the publicity. He was rather less sure that restoring Mussolini to power, even in a puppet regime, was a good idea:

Liberation in the Apennines was undertaken with gliders. One of these landed fifty feet in front of the hostelry in which the Duce was staying. Within a few minutes he was free. He was of course deeply touched at being rescued from captivity by German soldiers.

Our soldiers proceeded pretty brutally and thereby kept the Italian Carabinieri guards in check. A few hours later the Duce was in Vienna. Just before calling me the Fuehrer had had a telephone conversation with him.

He told me that the Duce was deeply shaken by developments. He informed the Fuehrer that he was tired and sick and would first of all like to have a long sleep. On Monday he wanted to visit his family in Munich. We shall soon see whether he is still capable of large-scale political activity. The Fuehrer thinks so. At any rate he will meet Mussolini at G.H.Q. on Tuesday.

However much I may be touched on the human side by the Duce’s liberation, I am nevertheless sceptical about its political advantages. With the Duce out of the way, we had a chance to wipe the slate clean in Italy.

Without any restraint, and basing our action on the grandiose treachery of the Badoglio regime, we could force a solution of all our problems regarding Italy.

See Joseph Goebbels: The Goebbels Diaries

Mussolini poses with SS-Hauptsturmführer Otto Skorzeny.
Mussolini poses with SS-Hauptsturmführer Otto Skorzeny.
Mussolini is escorted by the rescue party.
Mussolini is escorted by the rescue party.
The Fiesler Storch light aircraft that carried Mussolini and Skorzeny off the mountain, the landing strip was very short.
The Fiesler Storch light aircraft that carried Mussolini and Skorzeny off the mountain, the landing strip was very short.
German troops salute Mussolini on his departure from Gran Sasso.
German troops salute Mussolini on his departure from Gran Sasso.
Mussolini embarks in the Fiesler Storch, about to take off  from a perilously short landing strip.
Mussolini embarks in the Fiesler Storch, about to take off from a perilously short landing strip.

Hitler is treated for flatulence and constipation


18th July 1943: Hitler is treated for flatulence and constipation

During the actual flight Hitler let off wind, which resulted in some improvement. Upon reaching the Berghof I gave him another body massage, with more Euflat followed by the Luizym I have been giving him now repeatedly for some time. In the evening he had some quite easily digestible nutrition and went to bed around twelve-thirty, after taking a Phanodorm-Calc and half a Quadronox tablet.

Theodor Morell was Hitlers personal physician, but many of his treatments were unorthodox.
Theodor Morell was Hitlers personal physician, but many of his treatments were unorthodox.

Hitler suffered from a number of illnesses during the war, mainly related to nervous exhaustion and abdominal complaints. These were undoubtedly exacerbated when the war was going badly and he himself was under stress. Many people regarded him as something of a hypochondriac. His readiness to try alternative therapies probably led him to put his trust in Dr Theodor Morell as his personal doctor. Morell indulged him with a wide variety of patent medicines that may actually have done Hitler more harm than good.

Theodor Morell may have been implicitly trusted by Hitler but he was regarded as a fraud by many others. A Wehrmacht doctor, Dr Giesing, tried the little black ‘anti-gas pills’ that Morell was issuing, in an attempt to discover what effect they had. He experienced ‘irritability, photophobia and stomach cramps’ – they contained strychnine. Nevertheless Hitler continued with Morell who was always ready with an injection when he felt tired, or a herbal tea enema for his gastric problems. He saw him on an almost daily basis.

On the 18th July Hitler was under a lot of stress. The problems on the Eastern front could now only get worse, and he was now faced with the Allies in Sicily, threatening invasions elsewhere. His Italian ally could be seen to be readily buckling, so he flew off to confront Mussolini. Before he went he called for Morell who recorded:

Fuhrer had me sent for at ten-thirty A.M., said he has had the most violent stomach pains since three A.M. and hasn’t slept a wink. His abdomen is as taut as a board, full of gas, with no palpation pains anywhere. Looking very pale and exceptionally jumpy: facing a vital conference with the Duce in Italy tomorrow.

Diagnosis: Spastic constipation caused by overwork over the last few days — three days with virtually no sleep, one conference after another and working far into the night. Last night he ate white cheese and roll-ups (Rolladen) with spinach and peas.

As he can’t duck out of some important conferences and decisions before his departure at three-thirty P.M., no narcotics can be given him; I can only give him an intravenous injection of one ampoule of Eupaverin, some gentle stomach massage, two Euflat pills and three spoons of olive oil. Last night he took five Leo pills.

Before leaving for the aireld I gave him an intramuscular injection of an ampoule of Eukodal. He was looking very bad and rather faint.

In the Condor airplane Reichsmarschall Goring wanted to give me a few final tips (Ondarza was standing just behind him): ‘You must give him Euflat. That once helped me a lot.’ ‘Yes, two tablets three times a day. I’m doing it already.’ ‘But you’ve got to keep doing it over a long period. I took them for eighteen months. And then you must give him Luizym too!’

We’re already doing that too!’ (He got the name wrong at first but Ondarza corrected him.)

During the actual flight Hitler let off wind, which resulted in some improvement. Upon reaching the Berghof I gave him another body massage, with more Euflat followed by the Luizym I have been giving him now repeatedly for some time.

In the evening he had some quite easily digestible nutrition and went to bed around twelve-thirty, after taking a Phanodorm-Calc and half a Quadronox tablet.

See D. Irving (ed.) Theodor Morell: The Secret Diaries of Hitlers Doctor, London Grafton, 1990

For a medical commentary on the treatments offered by Morrell see Royal College of Physicians.

Hitler had long been an admirer of Mussolini,  their personal friendship went back to 1936. It was now a very unequal relationship.
Hitler had long been an admirer of Mussolini, their personal friendship went back to 1936. It was now a very unequal relationship.

Hitler gives the go ahead for the V-2 programme


7th July 1943: Hitler gives the go ahead for the V-2 programme

The A-4 is a measure that can decide the war. And what encouragement to the home front when we attack the English with it! This is the decisive weapon of the war, and what is more it can be produced with relatively small resources. Speer, you must push the A-4 as hard as you can! Whatever labor and materials they need must be supplied instantly. You know I was going to sign the decree for the tank program. But my conclusion now is: Change it around and phrase it so that A-4 is put on a par with tank production.

Launch of a V2 in Peenemünde; photo taken four seconds after taking off from test stand, Summer 1943
Launch of a V2 in Peenemünde; photo taken four seconds after taking off from test stand, Summer 1943

Hitlers favourite architect and perhaps the closest person who might be called his ‘friend’, his Armaments Minister Albert Speer, was only too happy to gain favour by proposing new projects. The Nazi rocket research was now showing promising results and the scientists were now claiming that they could move into full production in the near future.

For Hitler this was a genuine new opportunity. He was already limiting the expectations as to what might be achieved with the new offensive in the east. Amongst Germans many people were drawing up realistic expectations of their own, about what the outcome of the war might be for Germany.

The prospect of ‘wonder weapons’ that would transform the war for Germany not only gave him hope, but could be used to bolster up morale. Soon the Nazi Party faithful would be asked to continue believing in Hitler despite all the evidence around them that the war was lost. The Fuhrer had ‘secret war winning weapons’ at his disposal:

On the moming of July 7, 1943, I invited Dornberger and von Braun to headquarters at Hitler’s request. The Fuehrer wanted to be informed on the details of the V-2 project.

After Hitler had finished with one of his conferences, we went together over to the movie hall, where some of Wernher von Braun’s assistants were ready. After a brief introduction the room was darkened and a color film shown. For the first time Hitler saw the majestic spectacle of a great rocket rising from its pad and disappearing into the stratosphere.

Without a trace of timidity and with a boyish sounding enthusiasm, von Braun explained his theory. There could be no question about it: From that moment on, Hitler had been totally won over. Dornberger explained a number of organizational questions, while I proposed to Hitler that von Braun be appointed a professor. “Yes, arrange that at once with Meissner,” Hitler said impulsively. “I’ll even sign the document in person.”

Hitler bade the Peenemunde men an exceedingly cordial good-bye. He was greatly impressed, and his imagination had been kindled. Back in his bunker he became quite ecstatic about the possibilities of this project.

“The A-4 is a measure that can decide the war. And what encouragement to the home front when we attack the English with it! This is the decisive weapon of the war, and what is more it can be produced with relatively small resources. Speer, you must push the A-4 as hard as you can! Whatever labor and materials they need must be supplied instantly. You know I was going to sign the decree for the tank program. But my conclusion now is: Change it around and phrase it so that A-4 is put on a par with tank production.

But,” Hitler added in conclusion, “in this project we can use only Germans. God help us if the enemy finds out about the business.”

There was only one point on which he pressed me, when we were alone again. “Weren’t you mistaken? You say this young man is thirty-one? I would have thought him even younger!” He thought it astonishing that so young a man could already have helped to bring about a technical breakthrough which would change the face of the future.

From then on he would sometimes expatiate on his thesis that in our century people squandered the best years of their lives on useless things. In past eras an Alexander the Great had conquered a vast empire at the age of twenty-three and Napoleon had won his brilliant victories at thirty. In connection with this he would often allude, as if casually, to Wernher von Braun, who at so young an age had created a technical marvel at Peenemunde.

The German missile testing site at Peenemunde: left to right: Colonel Walter Dornberger, General Friedrich Olbricht (with Knight's Cross), Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb, in civilian clothes Wernher von Braun, spring 1941.
The German missile testing site at Peenemunde: left to right: Colonel Walter Dornberger, General Friedrich Olbricht (with Knight’s Cross), Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb, in civilian clothes Wernher von Braun, spring 1941.

Wernher von Braun was young enough to go on the have a successful second career with the United States rocket programme after the war.

For Speer there was soon another factor to be taken into account. In his memoirs he glides over the contribution that slave labourers made to the project, claiming that this was entirely a matter imposed by Himmler.

After Hitler had become excited over the V-2 project, Himmler entered the picture. Six weeks later he came to Hitler to propose the simplest way to guarantee secrecy for this vital program. If the entire work force were concentration camp prisoners, all contact with the outside world would be eliminated. Such prisoners did not even have any mail, Himmler said. Along with this, he offered to provide all necessary technicians from the ranks of the prisoners. All industry would have to furnish would be the management and the engineers.

Hitler agreed to this plan. And Saur and I had no choice, especially since we could not offer a more persuasive arrangement.

The result was that we had to work out guidelines for a joint undertaking with the SS leadership — what was to be called the Central Works. My assistants went into it reluctantly, and their fears were soon confirmed. Formally speaking, we remained in charge of the manufacturing; but in cases of doubt we had to yield to the superior power of the SS leadership. Thus, Himmler had put a foot in our door, and we ourselves had helped him do it.

See Albert Speer: Inside the Third Reich