Sunday, November 23, 2008


Guderian, von Rundstedt, Manstein

One of the curses of the historiography of World War II, is the prevalence of the use of the German memoir literature. It is amazing how much our understanding of the period is dependent on this literature. To quote one author:

The single most difficult task all those working on World War II in Europe and North Africa face is the need to penetrate the fog of distortion and confusion generated by the vast German Memoir literature, especially that of generals like Heinz Guderian and Erich Von Manstein. Long the basic staple on which the secondary literature was based, closer examination of these works with reference to contemporary evidence has shown the memoirs to be almost invariably inaccurate, distorted, and in some instances, simply faked.1
Here I will merely go into two areas very little discussed in the literature - bribery and oaths.The image many German Generals after the war liked to provide of themselves was of "Honourable Men" who fought a clean war untainted by the crimes of the regime, honour bound to observe their oath of loyalty to the regime and Hitler sworn in 1934 to the bitter end.2 A little story not told in this copious literature about "honour" is one of simple bribery. It is not mentioned that Hitler bribed his Generals on a massive and systematic basis in return for their loyalty otherwise the cash would dry up. The payments were secret and not subject to tax. To quote:
Since bribery has been seen as a dirty practice since antiquity, and since Nazi Germany practiced the most horrific of human crimes. It is not surprising that those involved in bribery in Nazi Germany have offered no confessions, particularly because German military officers worked especially hard to recoup the image of honourable, apolitical professionals after the war.3

These tax exempt amounts were quite generous. Field Marshals and Grand Admirals received 4000 RM, (Reich Marks), per month. Generals and General Admirals received 2000 RM per month. Civilians also benefited from these very generous "gifts".4 Further it was made very clear that these "gifts" were in return for services too and loyalty too the regime.5

Other "gifts" came in the form of "bequests" which came sometime in the form of "bequests" for individual soldiers birthdays. Thus Grand Admiral Raeder got 250.000 RM, Field Marshall Milch the same amount and so did so many others although some got less.6

Hitler also gave to his officers extensive landed property. Heinz Guderian was allowed to make a selection of a estate in occupied Poland, (c. 4000 acres), the fact that someones else, (Poles), owned these estates was deemed irrelevant. In effect a estate was to be stolen for Guderian. Guderian made numerous visits to narrow down his choice. He eventually selected an estate that was not on the Nazi short list. Eventually Guderian was given a estate, although not the one he wanted, and the Polish officer owning it evicted.7 Guderian complained quite heatedly that what he got wasn't good enough.8 Afterwards many of Hitler's generals tried with state support to create or expand their landed properties.9

To quote:

Those who are interested in the cohesion of the German army into the last weeks of World War II will want to reexamine the impact of large-scale bribery. They will also want to consider the effect of the terror exercised by the so-called "military justice" system of the German armed forces which by latest estimates had well over 25,000 German soldiers, sailors, and airman shot! Huge bribes for many at the top and bullets for thousands at the bottom; not the picture of the German army projected by much of the literature.10

The next area is oaths. Since many of German military men swore that their oath of loyalty to Hitler "Honour" bound them to be loyal to the end it is important to see what they think of oaths in general.

During the Weimer republic These soldiers swore oaths to uphold, support the Weimer republic and its laws which included various treaties under taken by the state. Lets just say they broke these oaths right and left, repeatedly and often, and under the Nazis described such oath breaking in positive tones.11

When for example The government of Prussia was overthrown in 1932, by von Papen, General Rundstedt complied with the request, although it broke his oath. After the war von Rundstedt swore under oath that he had not seen a notorious order explaining the mass murder of Jews and calling for German soldiers to support it. The reality is that Rundstedt gave it his endorsement and signed directives to other commanders suggesting similar directives.12

Manstein in his own trial for war crimes similarly, and outrageously lied. Violating his oath to the court.13

To conclude:

Both Before and after his oath to Hitler, von Rundstedt, like so many others, did not take his oaths particularly seriously. Why just that one?14

The conclusion is obvious The Generals picked what oaths to obey.

No doubt the massive bribery engaged by Hitler "helped" the Generals in feeling bound by their oath to Hitler. Perhaps we would have all been better off if Weimer politicians had done something similar. So much for "Honour".

1. Germany, Hitler & World War II, Gerhard L. Weinberg, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995, p. 307.

2, See The Other Side of the Hill, Basil Liddell Hart, Pan Books, London, 1999. (Originally published 1948) among many.
3. Black Marks: Hitler's Bribery of his Senior Officers during World War II, Norman J. W. Goda, Journal of Modern History, v. 72 No. 2, June 2000, University of Chicago, Chicago, pp. 413-452, p. 414.
4. Ibid. pp. 421-422.
5.Ibid. pp. 423-428.
6. Ibid. pp. 432-433.
7. Ibid. pp. 437-438.
8. Germany, Hitler & World War II, Weinberg, pp. 308-309.
9. Goda, pp. 439-440.
10. Germany, Hitler & World War II, Weinberg, p. 309.
11. Unexplored Questions about the German Military during World War II, Gerhard L. Weinberg, Journal of Military History, v. 62 Iss. 2, April 1998, pp. 371-380, p. 372.
12. Ibid. pp. 372-373.
13 For a brief overview of the Manstein trial see Blind Eye to Murder, Tom Bower, Warner Books, London, 1995, pp. 292-299.
14. Unexplored Questions about the German Military during World War II, Weinberg, p. 373.
Pierre Cloutier

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