Monday, October 24, 2011

Endings in Nazi Germany

Reichstag, Berlin 1945

After the Second World War, there emerged in Germany, especially among former officers in the German Armed Forces, a lying memoir literature that sought to excuse, justify and basically explain why they were loyal to the regime to the end.

What this literature also avoided was taking any responsibility for being loyal to the Hitler regime to the last, as most of these officers were. And it was not just the military that engaged in such evasions but also much of the elite sectors of society.

For example the military memoir literature was filled with references to the oath of personal loyalty to Hitler, and about how dishonorable it would be to break their oaths, about the duty to obey and so on and so forth.1

Of course what this literature carefully avoided mentioning was the massive under the table bribes that the higher ups in the military, along with certain people in civilian positions, got in return for loyalty. And of course the massive corruption of loyal party members who got massive amounts of cash and goods in exchange for loyalty. What was also not mentioned was how easily so many of the military elite had no problems breaking their oaths to support the German Republic before the Nazis came in, or how many of them easily broke their oaths to tell the truth in post war trials. For some reason breaking their oath to Hitler was dishonorable and inconceivable but not their oaths to tell the truth in post war trials or the oaths to support the German Republic. And of course it was not mentioned in the memoirs that many of them were the recipients of massive bribes.2

In point of fact it appears that one of the reasons why Germany under Hitler fought to the last was because so many members of the elite in society were beholden to the Nazis and agreed with them. The military chose to take its oath to Hitler seriously because so many officers agreed with the Nazis and what they stood for. In other words large sections of the German elite were corrupted and co-opted into the Nazi project and stood by it to the end.3

Just how corrupted and co-opted this elite was by the regime is shown by the events of the last couple of months of the war. By then support for the regime had vanished in the great majority of the German population and it should have been obvious that surrender was the only option.4

Yet surrender the regime did not, or least not until Hitler was dead over 90% of Germany overrun and the German Armed forces almost entirely liquidated.5 It seems very clear that right to the end large elements of the political, social, economic, military etc., elites supported the regime right to end. Even has the devastation was destroying Germany and hundreds of thousands of Germans, both civilian and military were dying each month. It was simply insane.6

Since popular support had vanished by, at the latest, January 1, 1945, continuation of the war depended on the ability of the state and the elite to enforce its will.7 Thus the state enforced draconian policies and carried out terroristic measures against a population that desired capitulation with as little damage as possible. Defeatist moves or efforts were greeted with brutal coercion to enforce continued resistance.8 Thus brutality to enforce continued resistance was enforced in the armed forces and against civilians.

Just how committed large sections of the elite were to the Nazi regime and project is shown by the wave of suicides among Germans during and after the collapse of the Nazi regime.

Hitler’s suicide, (April 30, 1945) along with his new wife Eva Braun was just the most prominent among many, many suicides. The next day, (May 1, 1945), Josef Goebbels and his wife Magda committed suicide making sure to murder their six children first. Magda showed her fanatical commitment to the Nazi regime by justifying killing her children on the grounds that continuing to live without Hitler was too terrible to bear. The children weren’t asked for their opinion. At the same time Krebs and Burgdorf, both generals killed themselves, and so did Bormann. (Hitler’s chief Aide). After his trial at Nuremburg Goering killed himself before he could be hanged. Himmler killed himself shortly after capture.9

Lots and lots of Nazi officials took their lives along with many officials at the local level.10 One could list many many officials and others who killed themselves. However a few statistics might help give an overall picture.

Thus among the 41 Nazi regional leaders 8 killed themselves, out of the top 47 SS and police leaders 7 killed themselves, out of the 554 army generals 53 killed themselves, of the 98 airforce generals 14 killed themselves, out of the 53 Admirals 11 killed themselves.11

Field Marshall Model killed himself near Dusseldorf at the end of April 1945. In upper Bavaria in April / May 1945 there was 421 suicides, the majority being the suicides of those of party functionaries and others close the regime. A year earlier there had been in the same area maybe 2-3 suicides a month.12

And in the east where the Red Army was invading Germany the suicide rates went through the roof. There the population had been primed by years of propaganda to expect the worst from the “Bolshevik Hordes”. The actual behavior of the Red Army when it invaded, including mass rape, did nothing to calm the fear. The result was mass suicides. Towns in the east had in early to mid-1945 500, 700 suicides; one town had 120 suicides among a population of 10,000 in early May 1945, and in Berlin in April 1945 there were 3,881 suicides and in May 1945 977.13

However leaving aside suicides in the east occasioned by fear of the Red Army. The fact remains that many members of the elite of the Nazi state and society offed themselves during and after the closing days of the Nazi regime.

What this indicates is that many members of the elite identified themselves with the regime to such an extent that they could not see living past its demise. Such a strong identification with the regime also helps to explain why so many of this elite were willing to fight to the end and drag Germany down into the abyss with them.

So in the end the large sections of elite fought to end because they agreed with Nazi goals and aims and identified with the regime. The post war protests of many of the elite that they did not agree with the regime are so much self-serving nonsense.14

After the war it is amazing how few of those who fought to the end, especially the generals, expressed any regret for having fought tell 5 minutes past midnight, with the massive death toll and damage it caused to their fellow Germans to say nothing of the toll among the allies.

Himmler after suicide 

1. Weinburg, Gerhard L, Unexplored Questions about the German Military During World War II, The Journal of Military History, v. 62, Is. 2, (April 1998), pp. 371-380, at pp. 371-373.

2. IBID, Goda, Norman J. W, Black Marks: Hitler’s Bribery of His Senior Officers during World War II, The Journal of Modern History, v. 72, (June 2000), pp. 413-452, Weinburg, Gerhard L, Germany Hitler & World War II, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995, pp. 307-310. See also a previous posting of mine Here.

3. See Weinburg, 1995, pp. 274-286, Weiss, John, Ideology of Death, Elephant Paperbacks, Chicago, 1996, pp. 288-305, Bartov, Omer, Hitler’s Army, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1992, Wette, Wolfram, The Wehrmacht, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Mass, 2006.

4. Kershaw, Ian, The End, Penguin Books, New York, 2011, pp. 386-400.

5. IBID, pp. 362-370.

6. Kershaw’s book provides an all too detailed description of just how harrowing and destructive this last stand was.

7. IBID, pp, 247-292.

8. IBID, pp. 232-329.

9. Himmler killed himself in 1945, Goering 1946. See Evans, Richard J, The Third Reich at War, Penguin Books, London, 2008, pp. 727-729.

10. IBID, pp. 728-734, Kershaw, pp. 355-358.

11. Kershaw, p. 356, Evans, p. 730.

12. Evans, p. 732.

13. IBID, pp. 732-33.

14. The German military memoir literature is especially rich in this level of lying distortion. See for example Manstein and Guderian’s memoirs. See Guderian, Heinz, Panzer Leader, Ballantine Books, New York, 1957, von Manstein, Erich, Lost Victories, Zenith Press, New York, 2004.

Pierre Cloutier

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