Posts Tagged ‘Adolf Hitler’

Rudolf Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff was a man with a mission.  But I suppose that, for a Colonel in the German Army, having “a mission” was pretty obvious, especially in the spring of 1943.  Hitler’s forces had just suffered devastating defeat along the Volga, and things were not going well in the African desert.  So there were plans to make, and troops to move, and battles to fight (and from this point on, mostly battles to lose).

But this specific mission was different.  For von Gersdorff, it was life-changing.  In fact, it was life-ending.

You see, von Gersdorff was a conspirator.  He was one of many involved in the numerous plots to assassinate Der Fuhrer.  Officially, he was an intelligence officer in the Abwehr and part of Army Group Center, having been transferred there for the start of Operation Barbarossa.  Army Group Center was commanded by another conspirator, Field Marshal Fedor von Bock.  One of von Bock’s officers was Lt. Fabian von Schlabrendorff, yet another conspirator who happened to be von Gersdorff’s cousin…you now see how Gersdorff ended up where he did.

These men, who correctly believed that Hitler was leading the nation to humiliation and defeat, had put together several plans to either arrest or kill Adolf Hitler.  To this point, none of them had succeeded.

On March 21, 1943 (which happened to be Germany’s Memorial Day to those killed in WWI), they tried again.  Each year, the German leader attended a memorial service.  But rather than arrest him or – what was tried on other occasions – place a bomb where Hitler would be, it was decided to carry the bombs right to the man.  Von Gersdorff volunteered to a suicide mission.  He placed bombs, each with a ten-minute fuse, in his pockets.  During Hitler’s stroll among the memorials, von Gersdorff would get close and detonate the bombs.

It was a good plan, until he arrived at the museum.  He got near Hitler, started the fuses, and waited for the bang.  Unfortunately, the German dictator was in a tremendous hurry and stayed at the museum for just eight minutes before being whisked off.  With the opportunity gone, and not wishing to blow himself to smithereens for nothing, Von Gersdorff quickly excused himself to the restroom, where he worked feverishly and successfully defused the bombs.

Freiherr von Gersdorff escaped detection and arrest.  But even more miraculous than that, he was not implicated in the famous July 20 assassination plot, which nearly succeeded.  His role in that attempt was to hide the explosives that Count von Stauffenberg eventually carried in his briefcase.

One other interesting note about Col. von Gersdorff.  Less than one month after he successfully defused the bombs in his pockets, he discovered the remnants of the Russian massacres in the Katyn Forest.

Recommended Reading: Valkyrie: An Insider’s Account of the Plot to Kill Hitler

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Happy May Day!!  It’s hard to believe we’re already beginning 2011’s fifth month.  For Today’s History Lesson, this year has been really out-of-sorts as compared to years past.  Pieces have been few and far between.  Where most months would see 15 to 20+ articles, the last 3 months have seen 10 or fewer.  A heavy workload at the office, slow progression through Madison’s biography, and maybe even a bit of burnout have all combined to create something of a writing drought.  But May is here and the big project at work is nearing completion.  I finished the year-long slog through Madison’s bio, and “refreshed” myself with a bit of fiction, so hopefully things can get back on track.

Joseph Goebbels’ tenure as Chancellor of Germany was incredibly short, easily measured in hours.  The world around him was crumbling in more than one sense.  Literally, the incredible rain of bombs, bullets, and artillery pieces were turning the heart of Berlin (and much of the rest of Germany) to dust.  Figuratively, the last vestiges of the Third Reich and its National Socialist platform were being blown to smithereens.  His boss, Adolf Hitler, was now mostly ashes outside the Chancellery, having committed suicide with his new wife.

But still, in the flickering light of May 1, 1945, Germany’s new Chancellor was able to conduct business, though there were just a couple of tasks to complete.  First, there was ordering General Krebs to take a message to Russian General Vasily Chuikov informing him that Hitler was dead and requesting a ceasefire.  That probably wouldn’t have taken too terribly long since the Russians were, at this point, just down the street.

And second, there was settling his own disposition and that of his family.  He had decided to follow Hitler’s example and commit suicide.  His wife had decided to do the same.  But their children?  The parents reasoned that, as survivors of the parents, the kids would be subject to all sorts of terrible things.  So Frau Goebbels, with help from Hitler’s doctor, injected the children with morphine as they slept and then crushed cyanide capsules in their mouths.

And then husband and wife took care of their last act.  It gets a little fuzzy here since, in the confusion of battle (and the remaining Germans attempting to escape), the true account has been lost.  But the best evidence points to Joseph Goebbels shooting himself while his wife took cyanide, duplicating the deaths of Hitler and Eva Braun.  An attempt to burn their bodies was made, but poorly executed, and they were identified within days.

But of course, the next day would see (and hear) the gunfire end at 3:00pm.  For the Allies (and the Russians in particular) however, the biggest prizes had escaped the hangman’s noose.

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Well, winter has come to Iowa with a gale.  Yesterday, it was 53°F and gorgeous.  Today, it’s about 15 with 45mph wind gusts, blowing snow, and super-icy streets.  I’m glad I got a good bike ride in yesterday…it’ll be a few days before I get another opportunity.

It’s a quickie this evening.

On December 11, 1941, Germany declared war on the United States.  But Germany didn’t necessarily have to do so.  The U.S. hadn’t declared war on Germany, nor had either country attacked the other.  And what’s more, though Germany and Japan had signed the Tripartite Pact the previous year, Germany was only obligated to come to Japan’s defense, not back her aggression against Pearl Harbor and the Pacific Rim.

Members of the German High Command also believed a declared war with America was dangerous ground.  It’s true that the U.S. was openly assisting Germany’s enemies through the Lend-Lease program, and German U-boats were clashing with the U.S. Navy in the Atlantic.  But this was a far cry from open war, where the full weight of America’s military potential would be brought to bear.

But Adolf Hitler made the declaration anyways.  With his successes to date, he believed in the might of his military and the ability of his country’s industries to fuel it.  He also believed in Japan’s ability to defeat America, even though some in Japan’s own leadership, particularly Isoroku Yamamoto, pretty much knew the score.  And he thought that America lacked the will to fight and that it would take some time for her to put her economy on a war footing…by which time Japan would have already knocked her from the conflict.

Adolf Hitler ended up being wrong on every point…

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In July of 1944, Count Claus von Stauffenberg came within an eyelash of assassinating German dictator Adolf Hitler.  His briefcase bomb was planted under the table around which Hitler and some of his military leaders were gathered, and it detonated just as planned.  But Hitler’s position at the table meant he was shielded from much of the blast.  Hitler was given another 9 months of life.  Stauffenberg?…another 9 hours or so before a firing squad ended his.

But of course, the plotters behind Stauffenberg weren’t the only ones who wanted the hated head of state gone.  Since 1921 (when Hitler’s ascendancy had barely begun), there had been plots and plans against him.  Some had stayed just plans.  Others had progressed further.  A handful were actually attempted.  And as we know, the attempt on July 20, 1944 gets the most face time because, of all the attempts, it came the closest to actually succeeding.  It also had the biggest fallout.

But other attempts nearly succeeded as well.  On November 8, 1939, Johann Georg Elser’s shot at Hitler came within minutes of success.  This young man was dismayed by the increasing influence the Nazi Party was having in daily life.  The restrictions placed on workers and businesses, the aggressive discrimination against Jewish people and others, and just the overall brutishness of the Party’s minions convinced Elser that the Nazi party was peopled largely by thugs.  He also believed that if they were capable of this kind of violence, it would take little more to drive the nation into a war with catastrophic results.

He decided to take matters into his own hands.

Hitler returned to Munich each November to commemorate the Beer Hall Putsch.  And each November Hitler gave a speech in the basement of the beer hall (the Bürgerbräukeller).  Elser’s plan was to plant a bomb in a pillar behind the rostrum where Hitler would be speaking.  For a month leading up to the celebration, Elser managed to sneak into the building and remained hidden until it closed.  He would then come out and work on hollowing out the pillar.  As the time for Hitler’s big speech neared, Elser planted the bomb in the pillar and set its timer for 9:20pm, when the Fuhrer would normally be at full rant.

But weather conditions would lay waste to all of Elser’s daring.  Hitler wanted to head straight back to Berlin that evening.  Normally he flew, but heavy fog caused him to take the train, which is much slower than an airplane.  He wrapped up his speech early and left promptly at 9:07pm.  At 9:20pm, Elser’s bomb went off exactly as planned, making a wreck of the place and causing eight deaths and dozens of injuries.  But the primary target had left the building.

Elser was arrested later that evening as he tried to cross the border into Switzerland, and pictures of the Beer Hall were found on his person.  He immediately fell under suspicion and eventually confessed to the Gestapo.  Elser was sent to prison and very nearly survived the war.  But with the Allies bearing down on Germany in 1945, the Nazis began tying up loose ends.  One of those loose ends was Johann Georg Elser, who was shot in early April.

Recommended Reading: Valkyrie: An Insider’s Account of the Plot to Kill Hitler – Though this focuses mostly on the Stauffenberg plot, Elser’s story gets some discussion time as well.

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General Student left Hitler’s presence with his mind in a blur.  Hitler’s proposal, the capture of Fort Eben Emael, was a bombshell.  To say it was a fortress was to grossly understate just how well-defended it was.  Massively thick concrete, steel-reinforced doors, and large artillery pieces made it the most impenetrable bunker on the planet.  This would not be easy, and Hitler wanted an answer quickly.

He did some good hard thinking and picked up his conversation with Hitler the next morning.  The Fuhrer had said nothing about the corresponding invasion of the Low Countries, so Student still didn’t have a very good context from which to work.  But he was ready with his answer anyways…and that answer was “yes”…with conditions.

Kurt Student told Hitler that such a difficult mission could not be done at night.  Rather, it would have to be done in daylight or (at the least) in morning twilight.  Hitler agreed quickly.  What Student had not yet voiced was his other major concern – firepower.  Eben Emael was incredibly strong.  Breaking through its outer shell would not be the work of artillery pieces, but rather of massive siege cannon, firing huge shells and point-blank range.  Siege guns couldn’t be carried on gliders, and conventional trucks or trains would immediately tip off the Belgians, ruining the surprise.

But Student didn’t have to bring it up, because Hitler already had the answer.  German munitions experts had developed an amazing new technology – the Hohladung (hollow charge).  Unlike typical shells and bombs that exploded outward, hollow charges focused their explosive potential on a central point.  The Fuhrer explained that even the super-thick concrete of Eben Emael’s cupolas could not withstand the power of these new devices.  Best of all, each one weighed just 110 pounds.  It would require the efforts of 2 or 3 men to position it, but if that could be done, it would do the job.

Kurt Student was, once again, stunned.  Here was the answer to his most pressing armaments question.  Hitler needed surprise (provided by Student’s gliders) and Student needed firepower (provided by the work of Hitler’s specialists).  Student was ready and asked, “My Fuhrer, may I now have your order?”  To which Hitler replied, “Yes.  I order you to take Fort Eben Emael!”

And so, on October 28, 1939, the plan to capture the world’s toughest military installation began.  General Student’s men would spend months in rigorous training under a blanket of utmost secrecy.  And when the time came, Adolf Hitler’s mission would be carried out in spectacular fashion.

Recommended Reading: The Fall of Eben Emael

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Kurt Student turned toward the door as it opened and glowered at the aide who entered through it.  The General, now approaching 50 years old and having just been given command of the 7th Flieger (airborne) Division, had given strict orders that no one was to disturb this meeting.  But when he read the note the aide handed him, his demeanor changed.  The single sentence read, “Marschall Goering is on the telephone about a matter of utmost urgency.”

Field Marshal Hermann Goering and General Student knew each other quite well.  The Marshal was in charge of the Luftwaffe, and Student had enjoyed a long association with aircraft as well.  In his book The Fall of Eben Emael, James Mrazek notes especially Student’s “experiments with parachuting and the transportation of units and supplies by aircraft.”  This Student was also something of a pioneer.

Anyways, Goering told Student to fly to Berlin as quickly as possible, because Adolf Hitler had requested a meeting with him at the earliest possible moment.  No, he had no idea of the subject matter, just that Student needed to get to Berlin.

And that’s how General Kurt Student found himself, twenty minutes later, in the cockpit (he was an accomplished pilot) of a plane, bound for the German capital.  And while the plane he flew was no screamer, it didn’t hold back his brain, which was probably running at warp speed in an attempt to figure out what could be so pertinent to require this kind of rapid response.

It was October 27, 1939, and the war in Poland was already over.  Things had quieted down a bit.  Was there an upcoming operation?…a clandestine mission?  Just a high-level meeting?  He had no clue…but he didn’t have long to wait.

Arriving in Berlin shortly before 2pm, he was whisked into Hitler’s presence, who dispensed with any small talk and got straight to the point.  He noted that Student had some experience with gliders and that 7th Flieger had gliders.  Student nodded in confirmation.

Hitler continued (as recorded by Mrazek), “I have a job for you.  I want to know if you can do it.  The Belgians have a fort here.”  Hitler pointed at a map.  “Do you know it?”

Student’s response:  “Yes, my Fuhrer, I know it well.  It is a tremendous fortification.”

Hitler proceeded to describe some of the particulars of the fort, and then said, “I have an idea.  I think some of your attack gliders could land on top of Fort Eben Emael and your men could storm the works.  Is that possible?”

General Student was stunned, not only by the idea’s audacity, but also by it’s almost ridiculous simplicity.  He requested a bit of time to think it over, which the Fuhrer granted.  Student returned the next day and…

Well…let’s tackle that tomorrow…

Recommended Reading: The Fall of Eben Emael

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On April 30, 1943, the battle for North Africa was winding down, and the Axis had defeat staring it in the face.  Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the tactical genius, had exited the theater in poor health nearly two months before.  In fact, the final offensive against the depleted Panzers (Operation Strike) was just a week away.  Tunis and Bizerte were certain to fall, and if they did, the Germans were facing a loss of men and equipment that could rival Stalingrad.

But on this day, Allied war planners weren’t thinking about the “here and now”.  They were looking ahead to the next target…Sicily.  The trick, however, was to get Adolf Hitler and his military leadership thinking about a place other than Sicily.

And that’s where Operation Mincemeat came in.  This involved making the German government believe that it had captured top-level, top-secret documents outlining a planned invasion of Greece and Sardinia.  But the Germans were pretty intelligent in their own right, and fooling them wouldn’t be easy.  Plus pretty much everyone knew that, after Africa, the next step would be Italy, and Sicily make the perfect stepping-off point.  This would have to be quite the ruse.

The idea was to have a body, dressed up like a mid-level officer, wash ashore on the Spanish coast.  British Intelligence believed that the Spanish, with their close ties to Germany, would immediately report the discovery, and things would progress.  So the body of a man that recently died of poisoning was found, and a stash of phonied documents of the operation in Greece was placed in a briefcase and strapped to him, along with a major’s uniform and some old receipts and a made-up wife-to-be.

The submarine HMS Seraph then carried the body in a canister filled with dry ice.  As the dry ice evaporated, the carbon dioxide consumed the oxygen and preserved the body without refrigeration (which would have been a dead giveaway to German doctors).

At 4:30am, the Seraph off-loaded the body and the intelligence services watched and waited to see if their trick worked.

To say it succeeded would be an incredible understatement.  The Germans bought it, hook, line, and sinker.  Field Marshal Rommel, now in better health, was sent to Greece and given overall command of its defenses.  Additional reinforcements were directed away from Sicily and to Greece and Sardinia instead.  A Panzer Division was moved from France and, more importantly, two Panzer Divisions were moved from the Eastern Front, a move that would have a big benefit for the Russians at Kursk.

And when Allied forces stormed the beaches of Sicily in July of 1943, Hitler and his generals still believed it to be a feint, and continued their focus on Greece.  By the time they figured out they had been tricked, Sicily was all but lost.

So I guess that just like Michael Knight, one (dead) man can make a difference.

Recommended Reading: Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory – It’s probably dangerous to recommend a book that, as of this writing, has yet to hit the presses.  But I’m anxiously awaiting getting my hands on it.

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When 1945 arrived, most rational people knew that Germany’s war of aggression in Europe was lost.  Massive gambles in Russia and Africa had failed, and a subsequent Allied onslaught of production (from the west) and tremendous manpower (from the east) overwhelmed a tottering Reich.  A last gasp in the Ardennes verified that Germany could no longer sustain any offensive action.

When 1945 arrived, Adolf Hitler was clearly not rational.  He lived in a bunker below the Chancellery, only venturing out on the rarest of occasions, cut off from the outside world and, apparently, from most forms of reality.  In his concrete fortress of delusion, he looked at maps with his now-completely-skeptical staff and he moved little flags and figurines around.  He called for attacks that couldn’t be made with forces that didn’t exist to stop a foe that wouldn’t be stopped any longer, still believing that victory was within his grasp.

Until April 22, 1945.

The day before, while meeting with his generals, he came up with Army Detachment Steiner.  The “Steiner” part was real…played by SS General Felix Steiner.  The “Detachment” part was also real, in that Steiner was in command of army forces.  But the “Army” part?…well, that was pure fiction.  Steiner’s forces in no way represented an army.  Having been stripped of his finest divisions just days before, the General was left at a serious handicap, and he knew it.

But in the Chancellery, armies looked much different on a map…more powerful, more beastly.  The Fuhrer moved some pieces around (which created a powerful force in his mind), liked what he saw, and ordered Steiner to attack…something that Steiner could no more do than he could himself into a tank.  So there was no attack.

And, of course, during the “update with the Generals” on the 22nd, Hitler asked about how the attack was progressing.  After some awkward silence and those fleeting glances that said, “You tell him…no, you tell him…I told him last time, it’s your turn…”, Hitler was informed that no attack had been made.

Adolf Hitler’s reacton was predictable.  He began yelling about how his Generals were worthless and how they always plotted behind his back and how they were the ones that cost Germany the war.  At this point, a moment of clarity came to the mostly delusional dictator, and he realized the war was indeed lost.  And it was then that he decided that there would be no escape to Bavaria or South America for him.

The bunker had been his home…it would now be his grave.

Recommended Reading: Armageddon: The Battle For Germany, 1944-1945

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Tonight, it’s a quick one.

Adolf Hitler, secure in the Wolf’s Lair, his East Prussian fortress outside of Rastenburg, was an unhappy dictator.  Just two weeks before, his forces had been forced from the outskirts of Moscow by a massive Soviet counteroffensive.  Hitler had ordered his men to hold their positions, but against the Red Army’s 60-division onslaught, there was little to do but retreat

It’s not as though they were terribly outnumbered, but the Soviets were warm, refreshed, and operating with a supply chain measured in the 10’s of miles.  The Wehrmacht, on the other hand, had equipment that wasn’t prepared to run in the cold, and the soldiers, exhausted after 6 months of constant war and 600+ miles, didn’t even have the winter clothes necessary to face temperatures that were 30 degrees below zero.

Hitler’s response?…start firing his commanders.  General Bock was shown the door in early December.  Walther von Brauchitsch, a Field Marshal, was sacked for the events around Moscow.  Gerd von Rundstedt, a very capable leader, was fired for suggesting that his armies in the southern Russia be allowed to withdraw from Rostov.

One might, at first, wonder who was left to actually run the army.  Each of these men (and numerous others) were replaced.  But on December 19, 1941, Hitler took matters into his own hands, naming himself Commander-in-Chief of the army and, for all intents and purposes, taking over day-to-day operations.

Those in the army could hardly believe it.  The Bohemian corporal, with but minimal experience in tactics or command, was now controlling their men at the most critical juncture of the war.  Those who had just been fired could only shake their heads in frustration.  And Allied leaders all over the world probably took a moment to celebrate the one single decision that most weakened their enemy.

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The last two months had been particularly unkind to the Afrika Korps.  Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s gamble at Alma el Halfa had not paid off, and early advances merely gave way to a retreat that, ten days later, found them back where they started…with a smaller force.  And that was the good news.  Two weeks later, Rommel was on his way to Germany, as the constant wear-and-tear of war and his relentless drive across North Africa left him sick and exhausted.

The British were in much the same position, bone-weary but grateful to have at least checked their enemy’s eastward advance.  There is little doubt that the narrow “fighting corridors” around El Alamein had helped General Montgomery, who had replaced Claude Auchinleck in mid-August.  Furthermore, British supply lines were much shorter and the Mediterranean Sea was becoming more “pro-British”.  So supplies destined for Rommel’s forces not only had much, much further to travel, they first had to make their way across an increasingly hostile body of water.

It was against this backdrop that General Montgomery, in early October of 1942, laid the groundwork for what would become the Second Battle of El Alamein.  It commenced on October 23rd with a massive artillery barrage by the British that, apparently, Field Marshal Rommel heard from his convalescent home in Germany.  Two days later, he was back in the theater.

But things would go very differently for the Desert Fox this time.  The vaunted Afrika Korps had been whittled down and, good as it was, the lack of consistent supply meant they simply didn’t have the firepower.  Ever the “man of attack”, Rommel tried a feeble counter-offensive, but there would be no breakthrough this time.  By November 2nd, the men under the Swastika had but 32 tanks intact.  Erwin Rommel had returned from illness to crushing defeat.

He sent word to Hitler, requesting a withdrawal.  The next day, Hitler returned a long eloquent reply that, summarized to just 3 words, said, “Stand and die.”.  On November 4th, Rommel began moving westward anyway, taking with him the 12 (12!!) tanks he had left.

And on November 5, 1942, as a massive invasion fleet closed in on the North African coasts from the west, General Montgomery began his counterattack from the east.  They immediately began capturing thousands of Germans, either too injured to escape or too exhausted to care any longer.  The westward drift would continue for both Axis and Ally until it met with the Allies coming from the west.

There would be many hard-fought battles to come, but the North African dominance of the Desert Fox ended here.

Recommended Reading:  Pendulum of War

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I think it’s kind of embarrassing, because back when I was single, it embarrassed me.  I’d go into a restaurant where there was a wait, and I put my name on the list.  And of course, I’d sit and wait.  I would look at the menu or at the aquarium.  Maybe I’d count ceiling tiles.  Before too long, I’d hear it.  “Joel, party of one, your table is ready.”  And sometimes, it was like the “naaaah nah n nah nah” we used to say as kids on the playground.  I could almost hear a snicker or two as I would get up from among the others to follow the waitress.

Party of one?  How is one a party?  Was I going to give myself a present?  Snap a photo of myself to remember the occasion?  Couldn’t they just leave the “party of one” part out?  I wasn’t trying to broadcast my singleness, so why should anyone else?  I would have felt less conspicuous dressed like Ronald McDonald.

Well, I’m glad we had this little chat to get that off my chest.

Oh yeah…history…

On July 14, 1933, Adolf Hitler decided that the idea of “just one at the table” constituted a party, so he outlawed all political parties in Germany excepting, of course, the National Socialist (Nazi) Party.  And I’ll bet he wasn’t the slightest bit embarrassed by it.

Shortly after Hitler’s assumption of power in March, the Reichstag had passed the Enabling Act, which gave all legislative power to the Nazi Party.  And very quickly, the other parties realized their days were numbered.  The Communist Party had already been banned, and the Social Democratic party was outlawed shortly after that.  Many other minority parties probably realized that being an opposition party to the Nazis wasn’t the best way to guarantee collection of their Social Security benefits.  So they began dissolving on their own.

Officially outlawing all political parties was the Nazi regime’s way removing any remaining ambiguity concerning who was in charge.  So, in just four months, Hitler had taken complete power.  His political threats outside his party were now eliminated, and the Night of the Long Knives (occurring just a couple weeks prior) had quashed the greater internal threats.  For once, “party of one” probably sounded pretty good.

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With the death of Adolf Hitler on 1945’s last day of April, the mass exodus from the massive underground bunker below the bombed out Chancellery began in earnest.  Those left with the German dictator professed their unwavering loyalty and commitment to him, but when he downed his final cocktail of cyanide (with a bullet chaser), it was as though the mice on the ship finally realized the waves were lapping the bow and the “exodus of self-preservation” began.

Some, like Joseph Goebbels, who was appointed by Hitler as the new Chancellor, chose the option of joining their now-dead leader by becoming…well…dead.  Others, like Martin Bormann, promoted to the Nazi Party’s General Secretary, chose to chance it above ground.

And then Bormann seemingly disappeared.  He exited the Chancellery with two companions, one of whom survived to say that Bormann had died.  But the lack of a body and the fact that many Nazi officials made their escapes to South America led to all kinds of speculation.

Bormann’s long-time chauffeur saw him in Berlin.  He was seen in South America years later.  He was back in Europe with a modified face.  He was a Russian spy now living in the Soviet Union.  He was piloting a UFO with Amelia Earhart.

It got to the point that serious investigations were re-opened to figure out what really happened to the man, but even those proved suspect.  Ladislas Farago, a journalist and author of some pretty solid works, wrote a book showing evidence that Martin Bormann that he had survived the war and that he was alive and well in Argentina.

And then in 1972, 27 years later, a crew of construction workers solved the mystery when they dug up Bormann’s remains…in Germany…with bits of glass in his teeth.  And the puzzle finally came together.

After leaving the Chancellery, Bormann and his companion encountered a Russian patrol early in the morning on May 2, 1945.  But rather than, as a Russian spy, running to meet his secret compatriots, he quickly bit his cyanide capsule and, seconds later, became just another dead Nazi officer laying on the ground.

Recommended Reading: The Game of the Foxes – I mentioned Farago, so here’s the book that’s on my shelf.  It’s all about German espionage in the U.S. and England.  Is it 100% accurate?…well, that’s open to a bit of debate.

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April of 1945 was not a good time to be vacationing anywhere in Germany.  In fact, being German and living in Germany at that time was just about the worst thing ever.  They were being bombed mercilessly, shelled incessantly, and shot at constantly by the Russian army.  For those that think Alexander’s day was terrible, horrible, no-good, and very bad (see the recommended reading below), these days were way worse.  It wasn’t safe to be outside in Berlin…almost.

On April 20, 1945, the city of Leipzig, less than 100 miles from Berlin, had just fallen to the U.S. 69th Infantry Division.  And the Russians were deep inside Berlin itself, pounding away.  It was at this time that German dictator Adolf Hitler chose to make his last “public” appearance above ground.  And while it was Der Fuhrer’s birthday, there was no cake, no noise-makers (well, there was plenty of noise), and no candles (there was plenty of fire however).  With the din of gunfire and artillery playing the part of “singing Happy Birthday”, the now pale and weakened head-of-state gave gifts rather than receiving them, handing out Iron Crosses to a group of Hitler Youth.  The German army had been attrited to the point of conscripting the very young and the very old to fight the dying Reich’s final battles.

And then Hitler was gone, back to the subterranean Fuhrerbunker, where he had been for some time.  He would not be seen in public again, unless by chance someone happened to be around the following week when his dead body was carried out and burned.

Recommended Reading: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day – Yep…you knew it was coming. Get this for your kids, read it once yourself, and familiarize yourself with Australia, because they’re going to ask.

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The early months of 1933, while culminating in a long national nightmare for Germany, probably seemed like a fairy-tale ride to destiny for Adolf Hitler.  As January ended, a tired and ailing President Paul von Hindenburg had named Hitler Chancellor of Germany.

And then the wheels began to turn.  First, the new Chancellor dissolved the Reichstag (Germany’s governing body) and called for new elections (to be held the first week in March).  Then, in a complete and utter coincidence, the Reichstag building caught fire just a week after Hitler’s appointment.  Hitler conveniently blamed the fire on the Communists, suspended habeas corpus, and began arresting Communist Party officials, removing them from play in the upcoming elections.

When the March 5th election counts were tallied, Hitler was still unable to win a clear majority (though a coalition with the Nationalist Party gave him a slim “on-paper” majority).  But Hitler was smart enough to know that reliance on a second party for passing legislation gave that weaker party tremendous power…power he wanted.

So he had his cabinet draw up what became the Enabling Act, an incredibly powerful tool which allowed Hitler (and his cabinet) to create and pass legislation, including changing Germany’s constitution, without the Reichstag’s consent.  But how to get this little gem of a law past the Reichstag?  Out came those wheels again.

The Catholic-led Centre Party agreed to support the measure when Chancellor Hitler made promises to them…promises he, of course, never kept.  Which left two other groups.  Most Social Democrats (the SPD Party) and Communists were expected to vote against the deal.  As mentioned, many of the Communists were now out of the picture and the Social Democrats didn’t have the votes to carry the day.  But the SPD had another weapon.  If they refused to show up for the vote, the Reichstag wouldn’t have the quorum required to even vote in the first place.  So can we see those wheels a third time?

The Reichstag President, some guy named Hermann Goering, changed the rules, giving himself the power to declare any deputy “absent without excuse” as present.  You know, this is a lot like Calvinball…just make the rules up as you go.  Anyways, the SPD Party was now cornered, and with the SA (Hitler’s merry band of enforcers, commonly referred to as “thugs”) standing outside the chambers, and the outcome was inevitable.

On March 23, 1933, the votes were cast, and the Enabling Act squeaked through by a 441-to-94 margin.  The Reichstag had just voted itself out of relevance in Germany and, in 2 months, the German Republic had become a totalitarian state under the man destined to become one of history’s greatest tyrants.

Recommended Reading: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich – A History of Nazi Germany

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Almost a year ago, we talked about how Adolf Hitler took one of his first baby-steps towards bringing back Germany’s military greatness.  In direct violation of the Versailles Treaty, he created an army, a navy, and an air force.  He then waited for a response from Britain and France…a response that never came.

With the ringing in of the New Year, Hitler set his sights on his next conquest…the Rhineland.  As you might guess, the Rhineland is that area on either side of the Rhine River, which flows through Germany.  After WWI, the Versailles Treaty stipulated that it be completely demilitarized, at least for the Germans.  The French and British were supposed to guard it until 1935, at which point they would also depart, leaving the area a permanent DMZ.  The French and British had actually left early (in 1930), and for five years all was quiet.

But Hitler had gotten away with building a military, and now it was time to test the next boundary.  Against the better judgment of his military leaders, he decided that next “step” would be to use his forces in some kind of aggressive behavior.

And so, as the sun rose on March 7, 1936, three battalions of soldiers from the army he wasn’t supposed to have (and some airplanes from the air force he wasn’t supposed to have, either) entered the Rhineland, drove to the Rhine River, and actually crossed it to the west side.

And then the French responded, massing troops on the border.  The German military held its collective breath, as did the Chancellor.  If the French moved in, there was no way three battalions would stand any chance at all.  Furthermore, a retreat would be humiliating for the German leadership.

But the French did not move further…because of money.  Military leaders presented their plan to remove the Germans, and its cost was more than France could afford with its very poor economy.  It’s quite possible that the French also lacked the stomach for a confrontation with Germany, but they definitely lacked the funds.

So the Germans stayed, and another bluff, the first of several, went unchallenged.  And Adolf Hitler looked like a genius yet again.

Recommended Reading: Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives

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When Germany signed its non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union in August of 1939, it caused a huge stir in the capital cities of many countries, not the least of which were London, Paris, and Warsaw.  There the reactions were those of shock and dismay, as the British and French had been trying to negotiate with Joseph Stalin, and the Polish now realized that their days were numbered.

But many don’t know that just four days before that, the Soviets and Germans had, with relative quiet, signed an economic aggreement as well.  The German-Soviet Commercial Aggreement, signed on August 19th, allowed the Soviets to trade raw materials (oil, rubber, manganese, and foodstuffs) to Germany and receive a couple hundred million Reichmarks worth of civilian (and military) equipment in return.

And then the war came a week later and even Poland, probably the weakest enemy Germany fought, proved a tremendous strain on Germany’s resources.  What’s more, her aggression served to cut her off from additional suppliers, and Hitler knew that expansion to the West would be very difficult without the resources of transport, particularly oil.

And so, the German dictator turned to the Soviets again.  On February 11, 1940, another aggreement was reached.  This pact was also called the German-Soviet Commercial Aggreement, but served to expand the trade between the two powers.  The numbers were increased to 650 million Reichmarks.  The Germans would send the Soviets the blueprints for the Bismarck, the unfinished cruiser Lutzow, a destroyer (in pieces), naval guns, gobs of other military equipment, and plans for airplanes, including the Me-109 fighter.  The Soviets would send to Germany oil, grains, oil, manganese, more oil, a little oil, some copper, oil, platinum, and oil.

But the catch for the Soviets was in the delivery times.  All Soviet products had to be delivered to Germany within 18 months.  From February 11, 1940, that meant a deadline of August of 1941.  Germany, on the other hand, didn’t have to fulfill its end of the deal for 27 months, or May of 1942.  And of course, you’re probably laughing, since Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union commenced in late June of 1941…just about the time of the Soviet deadline.  Who do you suppose got the better end of that deal?

Recommended Reading: Absolute War

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It’s a word that’s unfamiliar to many.  Who is it?  What is it?  How do I say it?  And what does it have to with history?  All are good questions, and we’ll address each of them this evening…we’re going to have all kinds of lessons.

First, some foreign language study.  Wannsee is pronounced von-zay, and rhymes with…well…vonzay (I’m only responsible for the quality of the history lesson).

Off to geography class, because Wannsee is a place in (as you probably guessed from the grammar lesson) Germany.  Officially, it’s a part of the Steglitz-Zehlendorf borough in southwestern Berlin, Germany’s capital.  There are also a couple of lakes right there, called Greater Wannsee and Little Wannsee.

Ok, it’s history time.  Wannsee was also the place of a conference, the Wannsee Conference, held by Reinhard Heydrich, chief deputy to Heinrich Himmler, head of the German SS.  Convened on January 20, 1942, the meeting’s purpose was to reveal “The Final Solution to the Jewish Question” to more than a dozen non-SS government leaders, including the secretaries of the Foreign Ministry and Justice.

The invasion of the Soviet Union had opened vast territories to Germany’s Nazi government, and initial successes in the war zone had given rise to the idea that millions of Jews could be transported east and essentially worked to death building the expanding Third Reich’s infrastructure.  But then came the Soviet counteroffensive at Moscow, and the entry of the United States into the war.  Prospects for a quick victory against Bolshevism began to evaporate, and Nazi leadership decided that, with the problem of potential food shortages, it would be more expedient to simply kill the Jews rather than trying to feed them as they slaved away.

But the meetings at Wannsee didn’t last more than a couple of hours, and no real important decisions were made.  All “hard-and-fast” policy on the Final Solution came from Adolf Hitler himself.  Furthermore, as we have seen, Jewish innocents were already being brutally treated and slaughtered all over eastern Europe.  So what was the Conference’s purpose?

Experts (not me) have speculated that it was held for a couple reasons.  First, Heydrich actually needed the help of these people in order to carry out Hitler’s wishes.  Second, the Conference was a way for Heydrich to assert his control over Jewish matters as they related to the ministries represented there.  Third, and just as likely, was that Heydrich needed accomplices.  Even though the war was still going pretty well for Germany, Heydrich was smart enough to know that eventually, their knowledge of the Jewish massacres could be used against them.

Recommended Reading: Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945 – The second of Friedlander’s Nazi Germany and the Jews books.

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Tonight’s topic is pretty brief, but it was a watershed event in the life of Adolf Hitler and Germany.  On July 29, 1921, the future dictator of Germany was named head of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.  Formed just before the end of World War I, the German Workers’ Party (as it was originally named) was ultra-nationalist, believed in a master Aryan race, and was strongly anti-Semitic and anti-Communist.

The party was small, but militant enough to garner the attention of the German government, who sent Hitler (still an army corporal) to observe their gatherings and report back.  Hitler went to the meetings, saw that much of their ideology matched with his own thinking and, rather than report back to the government, he joined the Party as its 55th member.

Hitler’s skill with the spoken word and magnetic personality were quickly recognized as assets and he began taking on more important roles, and his army discharge meant he could devote himself fully to the effort.  Attendence grew from dozens to hundreds as the German Workers’ Party began to garner a following.  At this point the Party added “National Socialist” to the front of the name (against Hitler’s wishes) in an effort to gain wider acceptance.  Before long, the audiences numbered in the thousands and Hitler was a headliner.

But the original executives of the Party saw Hitler as too ambitious and overbearing, and formed an alliance against their rising star.  Hitler’s response was immediate resignation from the Party, which caused an immediate uprising.  As the “main attraction”, Hitler held the power and influence to dictate his manner of return.  He wanted the party chairmanship and complete control.

The vote was taken with but one dissenting vote and, on this date in 1921, the Nazi Party had its leader for life.

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Today’s History Lesson marks an event witnessed by none, assisted by few, but celebrated by millions.  On April 30, 1945, Mr. and Mrs. Adolf Hitler (one day after tying the knot) committed suicide.  Eva took a cyanide capsule, as did Adolf, who simultaneously shot himself.  And thus was ended the life of one of history’s greatest tyrants.  Their bodies were removed from bunker deep below the Chancellery, placed in a bomb crater, doused with gasoline, and burned.

But suicide had not been the original plan for Hitler.  Many of his staunchest supporters had suggested, and even started preparing, escape before the Russians reached Berlin.  There was talk of retreat to the Bavarian mountains and a final stand in the redoubts there.  And South America offered a possible refuge and a place to start anew.

But on April 22, 1945, after yet another tirade against his Generals, Hitler decided to take his life.  So with the Russians just down the street, Hitler did just that…and the mass exodus began.  Like rats on a sinking ship, the “citizens” of the Chancellery scattered, hoping to somehow escape.  Quite a few did make their getaway, many more did not.

Recommended Reading: Hitler: A Study in Tyranny

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The thought of a wedding conjures up all sorts of images.  For some, it’s the bride’s white dress and a big church with an orchestra.  For others, it’s a sunny island beach somewhere in the Pacific with a few guests milling around in the ocean breezes.  Still others have in their mind’s eye a plateful of food, a piece (or two) of delicious cake, and that yummy carbonated punch with crushed ice or sherbet in it.  You can probably guess which image is mine…as I head up for another glass.

Whatever the pictures, it’s pretty safe to say that our idea of the “perfect wedding” doesn’t include a subterranean bunker.  The lights flickering on and off, mostly due to enemy artillery fire, isn’t generally our idea of a “Wedding of Whimsy”.  And it won’t bring tears of joy to your eyes knowing that pretty much everyone in town that’s not in the wedding party wants to kill you, your husband, and everyone that is in the wedding party.

But those were the circumstances surrounding Eva Braun’s wedding ceremony on April 29, 1945.  Soviet troops were now in the heart of Berlin, fighting just down the street from the Chancellery, and exacting their revenge.  For more than three years, the Soviets had suffered bloodshed, brutality, and horror at the hands of their German invaders in Russia, and it was payback time.  Above all else, they wanted to make sure that the one man behind it all, Eva Braun’s new husband, did not escape from his “wedding chapel”.

A white wedding dress?  Any German with one had stuck it on a pole and was looking for the nearest American soldier to wave it at.  Cake?…yeah, right.  And that tasty punch?…nowhere to be found.  I’m sure the two witnesses at the wedding, Joseph Goebbels and Martin Bormann, had a strong suspicion that some exotic location would not be the Hitlers’ honeymoon destination, though maybe someplace warm would be.

Recommended Reading: Armageddon: The Battle For Germany, 1944-1945 – Max Hastings is one of the finest writer-historians around, and this work only strengthens my claim.

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