Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
The Fascist rebels, with the possible exception of Grandi, do not appear to have had any idea of going further than this. But there was a second and wider plot of certain generals and the King, which was now sprung. Mussolini himself apparently felt that he had weathered the storm— after all, decisions in Italy were not made by a majority vote in the Grand Council but by the Duce—and he was taken completely by surprise when on the evening of July 25 he was summoned to the royal palace by the King, summarily dismissed from office and carted off under arrest in an ambulance to a police station.
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As a person he was not unintelligent. He had read widely in history and thought he understood its lessons. But as dictator he had made the fatal mistake of seeking to make a martial, imperial Great Power of a country which lacked the industrial resources to become one and whose people, unlike the Germans, were too civilized, too sophisticated, too down to earth to be attracted by such false ambitions.
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The Italian people, at heart, had never, like the Germans, embraced fascism. They had merely suffered it, knowing that it was a passing phase, and Mussolini toward the end seems to have realized this. But like all dictators he was carried away by power, which, as it inevitably must, corrupted him, corroding his mind and poisoning his judgment. This led him to his second fatal mistake of tying his fortunes and those of Italy to the Third Reich.
- Highlight on Page 997 , Loc. 25231-34 , Added on Tuesday, October 13, 2015, 11:26 AM The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (William L. Shirer)
The humiliation of the vaunted officer corps of the German Army was great. It had seen three of its illustrious field marshals, Witzleben, Kluge and Rommel, implicated in a plot to overthrow the Supreme warlord, for which one of them was strangled and two forced to suicide. It had to stand idly by while scores of its highest-ranking generals were hauled off to the prisons of the Gestapo and judicially murdered after farcical trials before the People’s Court. In this unprecedented situation, despite all its proud traditions, the corps did not close ranks. Instead it sought to preserve its “honor” by what a foreign observer, at least, can only term dishonoring and degrading itself. Before the wrath of the former Austrian corporal, its frightened leaders fawned and groveled.
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In judging and selecting General Staff officers, superiors should place traits of character and spirit above the mind. A rascal may be ever so cunning but in the hour of need he will nevertheless fail because he is a rascal.
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it can be grasped if one remembers the course of German history, outlined in an earlier chapter, which made blind obedience to temporal rulers the highest virtue of Germanic man and put a premium on servility. By now the generals knew the evil of the man before whom they groveled. Guderian later recalled Hitler as he was after July 20. In his case, what had been hardness became cruelty, while a tendency to bluff became plain dishonesty. He often lied without hesitation and assumed that others lied to him. He believed no one any more. It had already been difficult enough dealing with him: it now became a torture that grew steadily worse from month to month. He frequently lost all self-control and his language grew increasingly violent. In his intimate circle he now found no restraining influence. 47 Nevertheless, it was this man alone, half mad, rapidly deteriorating in body and mind, who now, as he had done in the snowy winter of 1941 before Moscow, rallied the beaten, retreating armies and put new heart into the battered nation.
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The revolt of July 20, 1944, had failed not only because of the inexplicable ineptness of some of the ablest men in the Army and in civilian life, because of the fatal weakness of character of Fromm and Kluge and because misfortune plagued the plotters at every turn. It had flickered out because almost all the men who kept this great country running, generals and civilians, and the mass of the German people, in uniform and out, were not ready for a revolution—in fact, despite their misery and the bleak prospect of defeat and foreign occupation, did not want it. National Socialism, notwithstanding the degradation it had brought to Germany and Europe, they still accepted and indeed supported, and in Adolf Hitler they still saw the country’s savior.
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at least “one half of the civil population was shocked that the German generals had taken part in the attempt to overthrow Hitler, and felt bitterly toward them in consequence—and the same feeling was manifested in the Army itself.” 49 By a hypnotism that defies explanation—at least by a non-German—Hitler held the allegiance and trust of this remarkable people to the last.
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Later when Kluge turned against Hitler the Fuehrer told his officers at headquarters, “I personally promoted him twice, gave him the highest decorations, gave him a large estate… and a large supplement to his pay as Field Marshal…” (Gilbert, Hitler Directs His War, pp. 101–02, a stenographic account of Hitler’s conference at headquarters on August 31, 1944.)
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Not since Napoleonic times had German soldiers been forced to defend the sacred soil of the Fatherland. All the subsequent wars, Prussia’s and Germany’s, had been fought on—and had devastated—the soil of other peoples. A shower of exhortations fell upon the hard-pressed troops. SOLDIERS OF THE WESTERN FRONT! …I expect you to defend Germany’s sacred soil… to the very last!… Heil the Fuehrer! VON RUNDSTEDT, Field Marshal SOLDIERS OF THE ARMY GROUP! …None of us gives up a square foot of German soil while still alive… Whoever retreats without giving battle is a traitor to his people… Soldiers! Our homeland, the lives of our wives and children are at stake! Our Fuehrer and our loved ones have confidence in their soldiers! …Long live our Germany and our beloved Fuehrer! MODEL. Field Marshal
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Why it subsided has been a subject of dispute to this day among the Allied commanders from General Eisenhower on down; to the German generals it was incomprehensible. By the second week in September American units had reached the German border before Aachen and on the Moselle. Germany lay open to the Allied armies. Early in September Montgomery had urged Eisenhower to allot all of his supplies and reserves to the British and Canadian armies and the U.S. Ninth and First armies for a bold offensive in the north under his command that would penetrate quickly into the Ruhr, deprive the Germans of their main arsenal, open the road to Berlin and end the war. Eisenhower rejected the proposal. * He wanted to advance toward the Rhine on a “broad front.”
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But his armies had outrun their supplies. Every ton of gasoline and ammunition had to be brought in over the beaches in Normandy or through the single port of Cherbourg and transported by truck three to four hundred miles to the advancing front.
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Never in history was there a coalition like that of our enemies, composed of such heterogeneous elements with such divergent aims… Ultracapitalist states on the one hand; ultra-Marxist states on the other. On the one hand a dying Empire, Britain; on the other, a colony bent upon inheritance, the United States… Each of the partners went into this coalition with the hope of realizing his political ambitions… America tries to become England’s heir; Russia tries to gain the Balkans… England tries to hold her possessions… in the Mediterranean… Even now these states are at loggerheads, and he who, like a spider sitting in the middle of his web, can watch developments observes how these antagonisms grow stronger and stronger from hour to hour. If now we can deliver a few more blows, then at any moment this artificially bolstered common front may suddenly collapse with a gigantic clap of thunder… provided always that there is no weakening on the part of Germany.
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It is essential to deprive the enemy of his belief that victory is certain… Wars are finally decided by one side or the other recognizing that they cannot be won. We must allow no moment to pass without showing the enemy that, whatever he does, he can never reckon on [our] capitulation. Never! Never!
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On December 22, General Heinrich von Luettwitz, commander of the German XLVIIth Armored Corps, sent a written note to General A. C. McAuliffe, commanding the 101st Airborne, demanding surrender of Bastogne. He received a one-word answer which became famous: “NUTS!”
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For the Germans it now became a question of extricating their forces from the narrow corridor before they were cut off and annihilated. But Hitler would not listen to any withdrawal being made. On the evening of December 28 he held a full-dress military conference. Instead of heeding the advice of Rundstedt and Manteuffel to pull out the German forces in the Bulge in time, he ordered the offensive to be resumed, Bastogne to be stormed and the push to the Meuse renewed. Moreover, he insisted on a new offensive being started immediately to the south in Alsace, where the American line had been thinned out by the sending of several of Patton’s divisions north to the Ardennes. To the protests of the generals that they lacked sufficient forces either to continue the offensive in the Ardennes or to attack in Alsace he remained deaf.
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Gentlemen, I have been in this business for eleven years, and… I have never heard anybody report that everything was completely ready… You are never entirely ready. That is plain. He talked on and on. * It must have been obvious to the generals long before he finished that their Commander in Chief had become blinded to reality and had lost himself in the clouds.
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I hasten to add, gentlemen, that… you are not to conclude that even remotely I envisage the loss of this war… I have never learned to know the word “capitulation”… For me the situation today is nothing new. I have been in very much worse situations. I mention this only because I want you to understand why I pursue my aim with such fanaticism and why nothing can wear me down. As much as I may be tormented by worries and even physically shaken by them, nothing will make the slightest change in my decision to fight on till at last the scales tip to our side.
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On January 8 Model, whose armies were in danger of being entrapped at Houffalize, northeast of Bastogne, finally received permission to withdraw. By January 16, just a month after the beginning of the offensive on which Hitler had staked his last reserves in men and guns and ammunition, the German forces were back to the line from which they had set out. They had lost some 120,000 men, killed, wounded and missing, 600 tanks and assault guns, 1,600 planes and 6,000 vehicles. American losses were also severe—8,000 killed, 48,000 wounded, 21,000 captured or missing, and 733 tanks and tank destroyers. * But the Americans could make good their losses; the Germans could not. They had shot their last bolt. This was the last major offensive of the German Army in World War II. Its failure not only made defeat inevitable in the West, it doomed the German armies in the East, where the effect of Hitler’s throwing his last reserves into the Ardennes became immediately felt.
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Most catastrophic of all, the Russians had overrun the Silesian industrial basin. Albert Speer, in charge of armament production, drew up a memorandum to Hitler on January 30—the twelfth anniversary of Hitler’s coming to power—pointing out the significance of the loss of Silesia. “The war is lost,” his report began, and he went on in his cool and objective manner to explain why. The Silesian mines, ever since the intensive bombing of the Ruhr, had supplied 60 per cent of Germany’s coal. There was only two weeks’ supply of coal for the German railways, power plants and factories. Henceforth, now that Silesia was lost, Speer could supply, he said, only one quarter of the coal and one sixth of the steel which Germany had been producing in 1944. 14 This augured disaster for 1945.
- Highlight on Page 1097 , Loc. 27708-15 , Added on Friday, October 16, 2015, 06:15 PM The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (William L. Shirer)
A fragment of the Fuehrer conference of January 27 has preserved part of the scene. HITLER: Do you think the English are enthusiastic about all the Russian developments? GOERING: They certainly didn’t plan that we hold them off while the Russians conquer all of Germany… They had not counted on our… holding them off like madmen while the Russians drive deeper and deeper into Germany, and practically have all of Germany now… JODL: They have always regarded the Russians with suspicion. GOERING: If this goes on we will get a telegram [from the English] in a few days. 16 On such a slender thread the leaders of the Third Reich began to pin their last hopes.
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Hitler was in a fine fury. He sacked Rundstedt for the last time on March 10, replacing him with Field Marshal Kesselring, who had held out so stubbornly and long in Italy. Already in February the Fuehrer, in a fit of rage, had considered denouncing the Geneva Convention in order, he said at a conference on the nineteenth, “to make the enemy realize that we are determined to fight for our existence with all the means at our disposal.” He had been urged to take this step by Dr. Goebbels, the bloodthirsty noncombatant, who suggested that all captured airmen be shot summarily in reprisal for their terrible bombing of the German cities. When some of the officers present raised legal objections Hitler retorted angrily: To hell with that! …If I make it clear that I show no consideration for prisoners but that I treat enemy prisoners without any consideration for their rights, regardless of reprisals, then quite a few [Germans] will think twice before they desert. 17 This was one of the first indications to his followers that Hitler, his mission as world conqueror having failed, was determined to go down, like Wotan at Valhalla, in a holocaust of blood—not only the enemy’s but that of his own people.
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In the West the number of deserters, or at least of those who gave themselves up as quickly as possible in the wake of the British-American advances, became staggering. On February 12 Keitel issued an order “in the name of the Fuehrer” stating that any soldier “who deceitfully obtains leave papers, or who travels with false papers, will… be punished by death.” And on March 5 General Blaskowitz, commanding Army Group H in the West, issued this order: All soldiers… encountered away from their units… and who announce they are stragglers looking for their units will be summarily tried and shot.
- Highlight on Page 1100 , Loc. 27792-97 , Added on Friday, October 16, 2015, 09:42 PM The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (William L. Shirer)
He was fast becoming a physical wreck and this helped to poison his view. The strain of conducting the war, the shock of defeats, the unhealthy life without fresh air and exercise in the underground headquarters bunkers which he rarely left, his giving way to ever more frequent temper tantrums and, not the least, the poisonous drugs he took daily on the advice of his quack physician, Dr. Morell, had undermined his health even before the July 20, 1944, bombing. The explosion on that day had broken the tympanic membranes of both ears, which contributed to his spells of dizziness. After the bombing his doctors advised an extended vacation, but he refused. “If I leave East Prussia,” he told Keitel, “it will fall.
- Highlight on Page 1102 , Loc. 27833-38 , Added on Friday, October 16, 2015, 09:49 PM The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (William L. Shirer)
In four to eight weeks [Speer wrote] the final collapse of the German economy must be expected with certainty… After that collapse the war cannot be continued even militarily… We must do everything to maintain, even if only in a most primitive manner, a basis for the existence of the nation to the last… We have no right at this stage of the war to carry out demolitions which might affect the life of the people. If our enemies wish to destroy this nation, which has fought with unique bravery, then this historical shame shall rest exclusively upon them. We have the duty of leaving to the nation every possibility of insuring its reconstruction in the distant future… 23 But Hitler, his own personal fate sealed, was not interested in the continued existence of the German people, for whom he had always professed such boundless love.
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He told Speer: If the war is lost, the nation will also perish. This fate is inevitable. There is no necessity to take into consideration the basis which the people will need to continue a most primitive existence. On the contrary, it will be better to destroy these things ourselves because this nation will have proved to be the weaker one and the future will belong solely to the stronger eastern nation [Russia]. Besides, those who will remain after the battle are only the inferior ones, for the good ones have been killed.
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These millions of people were to be sent upon their trek on foot. No provisions for their existence had been made, nor could it be carried out in view of the situation. It would have resulted in an unimaginable hunger catastrophe. And had all the other orders of Hitler and Bormann—there were a number of supplementary directives—been carried out, millions of Germans who had escaped with their lives up to then might well have died. Speer tried to summarize for the Nuremberg court the various “scorched earth” orders. To be destroyed, he said, were all industrial plants, all important electrical facilities, water works, gas works, food stores and clothing stores; all bridges, all railway and communication installations, all waterways, all ships, all freight cars and all locomotives.
- Highlight on Page 1104 , Loc. 27880-87 , Added on Friday, October 16, 2015, 09:54 PM The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (William L. Shirer)
On April 16, the day American troops reached Nuremberg, the city of the great Nazi Party rallies, Zhukov’s Russian armies broke loose from their bridgeheads over the Oder, and on the afternoon of April 21 they reached the outskirts of Berlin. Vienna had already fallen on April 13. At 4:40 on the afternoon of April 25, patrols of the U.S. 69th Infantry Division met forward elements of the Russian 58th Guards Division at Torgau on the Elbe, some seventy-five miles south of Berlin. North and South Germany were severed. Adolf Hitler was cut off in Berlin. The last days of the Third Reich had come.
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Fortified by Carlyle and the “amazing” predictions of the stars, Goebbels on April 6 issued a ringing appeal to the retreating troops: The Fuehrer has declared that even in this very year a change of fortune shall come… The true quality of genius is its consciousness and its sure knowledge of coming change. The Fuehrer knows the exact hour of its arrival. Destiny has sent us this man so that we, in this time of great external and internal stress, shall testify to the miracle… 6 Scarcely a week later, on the night of April 12, Goebbels convinced himself that “the exact hour” of the miracle had come. It had been a day of further bad news.
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In this atmosphere of a lunatic asylum, with cabinet ministers long in power and educated in Europe’s ancient universities, as Krosigk and Goebbels were, grasping at the readings of the stars and rejoicing amidst the flames of the burning capital in the death of the American President as a sure sign that the Almighty would now rescue the Third Reich at the eleventh hour from impending catastrophe, the last act in Berlin was played out to its final curtain.
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Eva Braun had arrived in Berlin to join Hitler on April 15. Very few Germans knew of her existence and even fewer of her relationship to Adolf Hitler. For more than twelve years she had been his mistress. Now in April she had come, as Trevor-Roper says, for her wedding and her ceremonial death.
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During those three days Hanna Reitsch had ample opportunity to observe the lunatic life in the underground madhouse—indeed, she participated in it. Since she was as emotionally unstable as her distinguished host, the account she has left of it is lurid and melodramatic, and yet it is probably largely true and even fairly accurate, for it has been checked against other eyewitness reports, and is thus of importance for the closing chapter of this history.
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Goering at least had asked the Leader’s permission to take over. But the “treue” S.S. chief and Reichsfuehrer had not bothered to ask; he had treasonably contacted the enemy without saying a word. This, Hitler told his followers when he had somewhat recovered, was the worst act of treachery he had ever known. This blow—coupled with the news received a few minutes later that the Russians were nearing the Potsdamerplatz, but a block away, and would probably storm the Chancellery on the morning of April 30, thirty hours hence—was the signal for the end. It forced Hitler to make immediately the last decisions of his life. By dawn he had married Eva Braun, drawn up his last will and testament, dispatched Greim and Hanna Reitsch to rally the Luftwaffe for an all-out bombing of the Russian forces approaching the Chancellery, and ordered them also to arrest Himmler as a traitor.
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“Poor, poor Adolf,” she whimpered to Hanna Reitsch, “deserted by everyone, betrayed by all. Better that ten thousand others die than that he be lost to Germany.” He was lost to Germany but in those final hours he was won by Eva Braun. Sometime between 1 A.M. and 3 A.M. on April 29, as a crowning award for her loyalty to the end, he accorded his mistress’s wish and formally married her. He had always said that marriage would interfere with his complete dedication to leading first his party to power and then his nation to the heights. Now that there was no more leading to do and his life was at an end, he could safely enter into a marriage which could last only a few hours.
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These two documents survive, as Hitler meant them to, and like others of his papers they are significant to this narrative. They confirm that the man who had ruled over Germany with an iron hand for more than twelve years, and over most of Europe for four, had learned nothing from his experience; not even his reverses and shattering final failure had taught him anything.
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Dr. Goebbels, like Eva Braun but unlike Bormann, had no desire to live in a Germany from which his revered Fuehrer had departed. He had hitched his star to Hitler, to whom alone he owed his sensational rise in life. He had been the chief prophet and propagandist of the Nazi movement. It was he who, next to Hitler, had created its myths. To perpetuate those myths not only the Leader but his most loyal follower, the only one of the Old Guard who had not betrayed him, must die a sacrificial death. He too must give an example that would be remembered down the ages and help one day to rekindle the fires of National Socialism. Such seem to have been his thoughts when, after Hitler retired, Goebbels repaired to his little room in the bunker to write his own valedictory to present and future generations. He entitled it “Appendix to the Fuehrer’s Political Testament.”
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While the oil to provide the fire for the Viking funeral was being collected, Hitler, having done with his last meal, fetched Eva Braun for another and final farewell to his most intimate collaborators: Dr. Goebbels, Generals Krebs and Burgdorf, the secretaries and Fräulein Manzialy, the cook. Frau Goebbels did not appear. This formidable and beautiful blond woman had, like Eva Braun, found it easy to make the decision to die with her husband, but the prospect of killing her six young children, who had been playing merrily in the underground shelter these last days without an inkling of what was in store for them, unnerved her.
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“Schwaegermann,” he told him, “this is the worst treachery of all. The generals have betrayed the Fuehrer. Everything is lost. I shall die, together with my wife and family.” He did not mention, even to his adjutant, that he had just had his children murdered. “You will burn our bodies. Can you do that?” Schwaegermann assured him he could and sent two orderlies to procure the gasoline. A few minutes later, at about 8:30 P.M., just as it was getting dark outside, Dr. and Frau Goebbels walked through the bunker, bade goodbye to those who happened to be in the corridor, and mounted the stairs to the garden. There, at their request, an S.S. orderly dispatched them with two shots in the back of the head.
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The Russians found the charred bodies of the Propaganda Minister and his wife the next day and immediately identified them.
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