Alles ist kaput!

“I entered the town with my CP group, Already at least fifty German soldiers were assembled before the second house, their hands raised high above their heads and dazed, startled expressions of incredulity on their faces. Others poured from every building as eager GIs sought them out with curses and shouts of derision. Some hurried alone down the street toward the assemblage, terror written on their faces. We moved on. I looked back and saw my support platoon move into the town and join in the mop-up operations. The fifth house was a mass of flame. Two cows stood nearby, chewing their cuds and staring without expression at the scene of destruction. A grey-haired German farmer stood with his arm around his aged wife and stared at the burning house, tears streaming down both their faces. ‘Alles ist kaput! Alles ist kaput!’ they sobbed hysterically as we passed. I was not impressed; instead, I was suddenly angry at them and surprised at my own anger. What right had they to stand there sobbing and blaming us for this terror? What right did they and their kind have to any emotions at all? ‘Thank Adolf!’ I shouted. ‘Thank Hitler!’ I pointed to the burning house and said, ‘Der Führer!’ and laughed.” – Charles B. MacDonald, Company Commander

Breakfast is served

“Hitler ate a late lunch with his two secretaries and his dietician. Dressed in a uniform jacket and black trousers, he then shook hands with his staff, murmuring a few words of farewell before retreating to his study. Eva Braun, wearing a blue dress trimmed in white, joined him at 3:30 p.m. [April 30, 1945.] Only a rattle of ventilator fans and the distant grumble of artillery broke the silence. Ten minutes later, aides opened the study door to find Braun slumped on a sofa, dead from cyanide. Next to her sat the lifeless Führer, a bullet hole from a Walther PPK 7.65mm pistol in his right temple. Twelve years and four [sic] months after it began, the Thousand-Year Reich had ended. Humanity would require decades, perhaps centuries, to parse the regime’s inhumanity, and to comprehend how a narcissistic beerhall demagogue had wrecked a nation, a continent, and nearly a world. ‘Never in history has such ruination—physical and moral—been associated with the name of one man, the chief instigator of the most profound collapse of civilization in modern times,’ wrote Hitler’s biographer, Ian Kershaw. Stalin, upon hearing the news, would need but a moment to compose the Führer’s epitaph: ‘So—that’s the end of the bastard.’ Henchmen wrapped the two bodies in blankets, carried them up four flights to the shell-pocked garden, doused them in gasoline, and let them burn for three hours, a small, pleasing blaze within the larger conflagration. ‘The chief’s on fire,’ a drunk SS bodyguard called down into the bunker. ‘Do you want to come and have a look?’ A chauffeur later complained that the ventilation fans wafted a stench of seared flesh through the labyrinth. ‘We could not get away from it,’ he said. ‘It smelled like burning bacon.’ ” – Rick Atkinson, The Guns at Last Light

Yield to merging traffic

“The automobile is the world’s most effective killing machine, with victims outnumbering any war, with millions maimed, shocked, crazed by the car, half the world trashed by its production, made brutal, ugly, used up, useless, with endless highways and hospitals to maintain, most citizens in debt to their eyes for this toy . . . . Mr. Hitler’s Holocaust can’t hold a candle. After all, his is kaput. This way to the gasoline, ladies and gentlemen.” – William H. Gass, The Tunnel

Not a mensch

“Sure, Adolf Hitler knew how to play the piano (badly), how to type (slowly), how to drive a car (erratically), how to draw (inadequately), how to write (drivel), how to remember (photographically), and how to bombast (beautifully). But bombast isn’t bombing. He was in fact a petty little twerp. A man of such meager means he could only wish the way the weasel wishes it were a looker like the tiger and a lord like the lion. What I wonder about are all of those who weren’t twerps who willed what Hitler wished, who pondered and planned and organized and sacrificed in order to establish the thousand-year Reich, who donned the uniforms and fired guns and made planes and prepared food and forged those famous chains of command, who invented and connived and lied and stole and killed, because they willed what the little twerp wished; they, who idolized a loud doll, who loved the twerps-truths, who carried out the wishes of a murderous fool, an ignoble nobody, a failure so unimportant that failure seems a fulsome description of him.” – William H. Gass, The Tunnel

Business as usual

“In February 1933, soon after being named Chancellor, Adolph Hitler convened a meeting with German business leaders. The three business leaders most vital to the war industry and rearmament of the Wehrmacht were present: Baron Gustav Krupp von Bohlen, who made armaments; Karl Bosch and Georg von Schnitzler from I.G. Farben, the chemical maker; and Albert Voegler, head of the United Steel Works. They were predisposed to support the new leader because, in their minds, he stood for order. Business leaders also believed, wrongly, that they could manipulate Hitler. Hitler explained to them that he planned to stay in power indefinitely, even if he did not win future elections. Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring, also present, explained how certain ‘financial sacrifices’ were necessary and that these ‘surely would be much easier for industry to bear if it realized that the election of March 5 would surely be the last one for the next ten years, probably even for the next hundred years.’ Krupp was particularly impressed by the speech. On the spot, the Nazi inner circle was able to get promises of three million marks from the guests. Thus, from the very beginning of his regime, Hitler had enlisted the financial and political support of the major German industrialists.” – The World War II Desk Reference, Douglas Brinkley and Michael E. Haskew, eds.

Prisoners of the state

“The radio announced that Hitler had come out of his safe bomb-proof bunker to talk with the fourteen to sixteen year old boys who had ‘volunteered’ for the ‘honor’ to be accepted into the SS and to die for their Führer in the defense of Berlin. What a cruel lie! These boys did not volunteer, but had no choice, because boys who were found hiding were hanged as traitors by the SS as a warning that, ‘he who was not brave enough to fight had to die.’ When trees were not available, people were strung up on lampposts. They were hanging everywhere, military and civilian, men and women, ordinary citizens who had been executed by a small group of fanatics.” – Dorothea von Schwanenflügel, Laughter Wasn’t Rationed

Springtime in Berlin

“Through the springtime foliage of the Tiergarten the shells burst without interruption, destroying everything in their immediate vicinity, and small-arms fire erupted everywhere. Blinding sunshine lay over a gruesome scene. On the lawns of the Tiergarten under age-old but now mutilated trees, I could recognize artillery pieces, all put out of action by direct hits. The gunners who had not escaped were lying around, hardly recognizable as human remains. Everywhere in the streets, the dead were visible among the piles of dust-covered debris. Empty shoes lay here and there.” – Siegfried Knappe, “The End in the Bunker”

Apocalypse then

“By the end of April [1945], we no longer had any chance of defending Berlin. The horrible, hopeless battles in the streets continued. . . . Russian tanks were now driving around the city, German tank-hunter groups were chasing them . . . and both sides were shooting wildly in all directions.” – Siegfried Knappe, “The End in the Bunker”

l’état, il était lui

“I saluted, and Hitler walked toward me. As he neared, I was shocked by his appearance. He was stooped, and his left arm was bent and shaking. Half of his face drooped, as if he’d had a stroke, and his facial muscles on that side no longer worked. Both of his hands shook, and one was swollen. He looked like a very old man, at least twenty years older than his fifty-six years. . . . I wondered how it was possible that in only six years this idol of my whole generation could have become such a human wreck. It occurred to me then that Hitler was still the living symbol of Germany—but Germany as it was now. In the same six years, the flourishing, aspiring country had become a flaming pile of debris and ruin.” – Siegfried Knappe, “The End in the Bunker” (emphasis in original)

Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide

“Russian artillery shells were exploding everywhere, causing the earth to tremble and sending dirt, pavement, bricks, and other debris high into the air, where they became weapons dangerous to anyone under them when they fell. The roar of flames from burning buildings and the crunching sound of collapsing walls were terrifying. We dashed from doorway to doorway in short bursts to avoid not only shrapnel and other debris from the shells but also rifle and machine-gun fire.” – Siegfried Knappe, “The End in the Bunker”

Asleep at the wheel’s falling off

“There was no such thing as a typical day. Sometimes the Russians would hit us at three in the morning, sometimes at six, and the day just unfolded from there. Our time was spent responding to crises that incessantly occurred. . . . We all caught a few moments’ rest whenever work permitted. Several times I took a call that woke me, listened to the problem of the caller, gave instructions to handle the situation, and then went back to sleep. When I awoke later I had no recollection of the conversation and did not know that I had given such orders, although eventually I would remember it. After that, I learned to put the telephone far enough away that I would have to stand up to answer it.” – Siegfried Knappe, “The End in the Bunker”

A man for his times

“Hitler’s name justifiably stands for all time as that of the chief instigator of the most profound collapse of civilization in modern times. The extreme form of personal rule which an ill-educated beerhall demagogue and racist bigot, a narcissistic, megalomaniac, self-styled national saviour was allowed to acquire and exercise in a modern, economically advanced, and cultured land known for its philosophers and poets, was absolutely decisive in the unfolding of events.” – Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis

Mistakes were made

“Few of those forced to account for their actions under Hitler showed remorse or contrition, let alone guilt. With scant exception, they showed themselves, when called to book, incapable of acknowledging their own contribution to the remorseless slide into barbarism during the Nazi era. Alongside the inevitable lies, distortions, and excuses often went, it seems, a psychological block on recognizing responsibility for their actions.” – Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis

Trails of tears

“There were still over 65,000 prisoners of numerous nationalities—the majority of them Jewish—in Auschwitz and its numerous subsidiary camps in mid-January 1945, as the Red Army approached. . . . arrangements to evacuate the camps were improvised with great haste. . . . For five days, beginning on 17 January, long columns of emaciated, starving, and frozen prisoners left the camp complex and were driven westwards by SS guards in forced marches of up to 250 kilometres. . . . On 26 January, an SS unit blew up the last of the crematoria in Birkenau. The next day, the SS guards retreated in heavy fighting as Soviet troops liberated the 7,000 exhausted, skeleton-like prisoners they found in the Auschwitz camp-complex. They also found 368,820 men’s suits, 836,244 women’s coats and dresses, 5,525 pairs of women’s shoes, 13,964 carpets, large quantities of children’s clothes, toothbrushes, false teeth, pots and pans, and a vast amount of human hair.” – Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis

Tied to the tracks

“There was no way out. The failure of the conspiracy to remove Hitler took away the last opportunity of a negotiated end to the war. For the German people, it ensured the near total destruction of their country. Whatever the varied reactions to the events of 20 July [1944] and their aftermath, ordinary Germans were exposed over the next eight months to the laying waste of their cities in relentless bombing-raids against which there was as good as no defence, to the painful losses of loved ones fighting an obviously futile war against vastly superior enemy forces, to acute privations in the material conditions of their daily lives, and to intensified fear and repression at the hands of a regime that would stop at nothing. The horrors of a war which Germany had inflicted on the rest of Europe were rebounding—if, even now, in far milder form—on to the Reich itself. With internal resistance crushed, and a leadership unable to bring victory, incapable of staving off defeat, and unwilling to attempt to find peace, only total military destruction could bring a release.” – Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis

Trapped rats

“For all the continuing (and in some ways astonishing) reserves of strength of the Führer cult among outright Nazi supporters, Hitler had become for the overwhelming majority of Germans the chief hindrance to the ending of the war. Ordinary people might prefer, as they were reported to be saying, ‘an end with horror’ to ‘a horror without end’. But they had no obvious way of altering their fate. Only those who moved in the corridors of power had any possibility of removing Hitler. Some groups of officers, through conspiratorial links with certain highly-placed civil servants, were plotting precisely that. After a number of abortive attempts, their strike would come in July 1944. It would prove the last chance the Germans themselves had to put an end to the Nazi regime. The bitter rivalries of the subordinate leaders, the absence of any centralized forum (equivalent to the Fascist Grand Council in Italy) from which an internal coup could be launched, the shapelessness of the structures of Nazi rule yet the indispensability of Hitler’s authority to every facet of that rule, and, not least, the fact that the regime’s leaders had burnt their boats with the Dictator in the regime’s genocide and other untold acts of inhumanity, ruled out any further possibility of overthrow. With that, the regime had only its own collective suicide in an inexorably lost war to contemplate. But like a mortally wounded wild beast at bay, it fought with the ferocity and ruthlessness that came from desperation.” – Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis

Sick and tired and bound over for perdition

“By 1944, Hitler was a sick man—at times during the year extremely unwell. Cardiograms, the first taken in 1941, had revealed a worsening heart condition. And beyond the chronic stomach and intestinal problems that had increasingly come to plague him, Hitler had since 1942 developed symptoms, becoming more pronounced in 1944, which point with some medical certainty to the onset of Parkinson’s Syndrome. Most notably, an uncontrollable trembling of the left arm, jerking in his left leg, and a shuffling gait, were unmistakable to those who saw him at close quarters. But although the strains of the last phase of the war took their toll on him, there is no convincing evidence that his mental capacity was impaired. Hitler’s rages and violent mood-swings were inbuilt features of his character, their frequency in the final phase of the war a reflection of the stress from the rapidly deteriorating military conditions and his own inability to change them, bringing, as usual, wild lashings at his generals and any others on whom he could lay the blame that properly began at his own door.” – Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis

Checks and checkmates

“In a modern state, necessarily resting on bureaucracy and dependent upon system and regulated procedure, centring all spheres of power in the hands of one man—whose leadership style was utterly unbureaucratic and whose approach to rule was completely unsystematic, resting as it did on a combination of force and propaganda—could only produce administrative chaos amid a morass of competing authorities. But this same organizational incoherence was the very safeguard of Hitler’s power, since every strand of authority was dependent on him. Changing the ‘system’ without changing its focal point was impossible.” – Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis

Not anything that could happen here

“The German people’s bonds with Hitler were dissolving. This was no overnight phenomenon. But Stalingrad was the point at which the signs became unmistakable. . . . The mood was sullenly depressed, anxious about the present, fearful of the future, above all else weary of the war; but not rebellious. . . . [T[houghts of overthrowing the regime could scarcely be entertained. The regime was far too strong, its capacity for repression far too great, its readiness to strike down all opposition far too evident.” – Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis

A half-million here, a half-million there — it begins to add up

“If Hitler felt any personal remorse for Stalingrad or human sympathy for the dead of the 6th Army and their relatives, he did not let it show. Those in his closest proximity could detect the signs of nervous strain. He hinted privately at his worry that his health would not stand up to the pressure. His secretaries had to put up with even longer nocturnal monologues as his insomnia developed chronic proportions. The topics were much the same as ever: his youth in Vienna, the ‘time of struggle’, the history of mankind, the nature of the cosmos. There was no relief from the boredom for his secretaries, who by now knew his outpourings on all topics more or less off by heart.” – Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis

A rose by any other name

“In Munich, a group of students, together with one of their professors, whose idealism and mounting detestation of the criminal inhumanity of the regime had led them the previous year to form the ‘White Rose’ opposition-group, now openly displayed their attack on Hitler. The medical students Alexander Schmorell and Hans Scholl had formed the initial driving-force, and had soon been joined by Christoph Probst, Sophie Scholl (Hans’s sister), Willi Garf, and Kurt Huber, Professor of Philosophy. . . . All were fired by Christian beliefs and humanistic idealism. The horrors on the eastern front, experienced for a short time at first hand when Graf, Schmorell, and Hans Scholl were called up, converted the lofty idealism into an explicit political message. ‘Fellow Students!’ ran their final manifesto (composed by Professor Huber), distributed in Munich University on 18 February [1943]. ‘The nation is deeply shaken by the destruction of the men of Stalingrad. The genial strategy of the World War corporal has senselessly and irresponsibly driven three hundred and thirty thousand German men to death and ruin. Führer, we thank you!’ It was a highly courageous show of defiance. But it was suicidal. Hans and Sophie Scholl were denounced by a porter at the university (who was subsequently applauded by pro-Nazi students for his action), and quickly arrested by the Gestapo. Christoph Probst was picked up soon afterwards. . . . All three were guillotined. . . . Willi Graf, Kurt Huber, and Alexander Schmorell suffered the same fate some months later.” – Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis

Having themselves a very little Christmas

“For the German people, quite especially for the many German families with loved ones in the 6th Army, Christmas 1942 was a depressing festival. A radio broadcast linking troops on all the fighting fronts, including Stalingrad, brought tears to the eyes of many a family gathered around the Christmas tree back home, as the men at the ‘front on the Volga’ joined their comrades in singing ‘Silent Night’. The listeners at home did not know the link-up was a fake. Nor did they know that 1,280 German soldiers died at Stalingrad on that Christmas Day in 1942. They were, however, aware by then of an ominous fate hanging over the 6th Army. The triumphalist propaganda of September and October, suggesting that victory at Stalingrad was just around the corner, had given way in the weeks following the Soviet counter-offensive to little more than ominous silence. Indications of hard fighting were sufficient, however, to make plain that things were not going to plan. Rumours of the encirclement of the 6th Army—passed on through despairing letters from the soldiers entrapped there—swiftly spread. It soon became evident that the rumours were no less than the truth. As the sombre mood at home deepened by the day, the terrible struggle in the streets of Stalingrad headed towards it inexorable dénouement.” – Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis

Stundenlang

“For those in the Führer Headquarters not preoccupied with military planning, life was dull and monotonous. Hitler’s secretaries would go for a daily walk to the next village and back. Otherwise, they whiled away the hours. Chatting, a film in the evenings, and the obligatory gathering each afternoon in the Tea House and late at night again for tea made up the day. ‘Since the tea-party always consists of the same people, there is no stimulation from outside, and nobody experiences anything on a personal level,’ Christa Schroeder wrote to a friend in February 1942, ‘the conversation is often apathetic and tedious, wearying, and irksome. Talk always runs along the same lines.’ Hitler’s monologues— outlining his expansive vision of the world—were reserved for lunch or the twilight hours. At the afternoon tea-gatherings, politics were never discussed. Anything connected with the war was taboo. There was nothing but small-talk. Those present either had no independent views, or kept them to themselves. Hitler’s presence dominated. But it seldom now did much to animate. He was invariably tired, but found it hard to sleep. His insomnia made him reluctant to go to bed. His entourage often wished he would do so. The tedium for those around him seemed at times incessant.” – Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis

Cashed in, cashed out

“Elser himself was already under arrest at the customs post near Konstanz when the bomb went off. He had been picked up trying to cross the Swiss border illegally. It seemed a routine arrest. Only some hours after the explosion did the border officials begin to realize that the contents of Georg Elser’s pockets, including a postcard of the Bürgerbräukeller, linked him with the assassination attempt on Hitler. On 14 November [1939], Elser confessed. A few days later he gave a full account of his actions, and the motives behind them. He was interned in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and treated, remarkably, as a privileged prisoner. Probably Hitler, who continued to believe that Elser was the front-man of an international conspiracy, intended a post-war show-trial to incriminate the British Secret Service. At the end of 1944 or in early 1945, Elser was brough to Dachau. There was to be no show-trial. With the war as good as lost, Elser had no more value to the regime. Shortly before the Americans liberated Dachau, he was taken out and killed.” – Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis

Authorizing slaughter

“It was some time in October [1939] that Hitler had one of his secretaries type, on his own headed notepaper and backdated to 1 September 1939—the day that the war had begun—the single sentence: ‘Reichsleiter Bouhler and Dr med. Brandt are commissioned with the responsibility of extending the authority of specified doctors so that, after critical assessment of their condition, those adjudged incurably ill can be granted mercy-death.’ He took a pen and signed his name below this lapidary, open-ended death-sentence.” – Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis

The professional evaluation

“With the decision to invade the Soviet Union, confirmed in the directive of 18 December 1940, Hitler had closed off his strategic options. In his anxiety not to concede the initiative in the war, he had shifted the entire focus of the German war effort to the aim of inflicting comprehensive military defeat on the Soviet Union—and obliterating it as a political entity—within a matter of months. He was backed by his military leaders, who, even if some had private reservations, at no point raised serious objections to his proposed course of action. In retrospect, it seems sheer idiocy.” – Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis

Not like nowadays

“Hitler’s combination of bullying and blackmail could not have worked but for the fragility of the post-war European settlement. The Treaty of Versailles was ‘the blackmailer’s lucky find’. It had given Hitler the basis for his rising demands, accelerating drastically in 1938-9. It had provided the platform for ethnic unrest, that Hitler could easily exploit, in the cauldron of central and eastern Europe. Not least, it had left an uneasy guilt-complex in the West, especially in Britain. Hitler might rant and exaggerate; his methods might be repellent; but was there not some truth in what he was claiming? The western governments, though Britain more than France, backed by their war-weary populations, anxious more than all else to do everything possible to avoid a new conflagration, their traditional diplomacy no match for unprecedented techniques of lying and threatening, thought so, and went out of their way to placate Hitler. The blackmailer simply increased his demands, as blackmailers do.” – Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis