David Irving


Clearing the Decks

Whether or not Hitler’s often expressed fears that time was working against Germany were a purely tactical device to spur his wary generals is uncertain.  Until the spring of 1940, although delay after delay postponed the launching date of “Yellow”—his campaign in the west—time certainly worked in his favor :  lifeblood was being pumped into his armies massing in the west far faster than the enemy could strengthen their own forces.  Indeed, Hitler not only had time to remold the strategy of his campaign—he now prepared and sent an expedition to Scandinavia.  This was something he had not even been contemplating in the autumn of 1939.  True, the Wehrmacht had not yet reached that peak of perfection he had hoped to attain by 1944, but he was sure that this was to be only a short war ;  the armies that had defeated Poland would carve up France with equal facility.  It was also true that there was no popular, jingoistic support for this war :  on the very first day of the Polish campaign Dr. Goebbels had come to the Chancellery with a fast public-opinion poll his agencies had just conducted in Berlin ;  sitting on a table, dangling his legs, the propaganda minister had complacently revealed a complete lack of enthusiasm or patriotic exuberance among the Berliners—they were resigned to the coming of fresh tribulations, but it would not be a popular war, he told the F¸hrer.

Hitler knew that his pact with Stalin was misunderstood.  In his November 1939 speech to the generals he had laid bare his own suspicions about Stalin.  “Russia is at present harmless,” he assured them—and more than one of them noted the emphasis he laid on “at present.”  Pacts were respected only until they no longer served a purpose.  “Russia will abide by the pact only as long as she considers it to her advantage.”  Stalin had far-reaching goals, and among them were the strengthening of Russia’s position in the Baltic—which Germany could only oppose once she was unencumbered in the west—the expansion of Russian influence in the Balkans, and a drive toward the Persian Gulf.  It was the aim of German foreign policy that Russia should be deflected toward the Persian Gulf, as this would bring her into conflict with Britain ;  but she must be kept out of the Balkans.  Hitler hoped the present situation between Germany and Russia would prevail for two or three more years, but if Stalin were to die, there might be a rapid and ugly volte face in the Kremlin.  There was clear evidence of a Russian military buildup that could be unleashed against Germany.  Blaskowitz reported from Poland that four military airfields were being built, and two to three hundred Russian bombers had been counted, around Bialystock.  In addition, wrote Blaskowitz, Russian propaganda was making plain that this was nothing less than a war against fascism :  “Germany is said [in the USSR] to be planning an attack on Russia as soon as she is victorious in the west.  Therefore Russia must be on guard and exploit Germany’s weakness at the right moment.”  Blaskowitz described Russian infantry as poor, but the armored troops were considered good (if badly equipped), and the general’s command had clearly identified Russian espionage and Communist subversive activity behind German lines in Poland.  Moreover, he reported, the Russians were doing all they could to help the Poles establish a Polish Legion in France.  In short, Hitler must conclude that war with Russia was inevitable—and that victory would go to the side which was ready first.

To strengthen her position in the Baltic, Russia now made of Finland demands similar to those she had successfully pressed against the three other Baltic states two months before.  When Finland snubbed the Russians, the Red Army attacked on the last day of November 1939 ;  Hitler was extremely embarrassed vis-a-vis his Italian ally, who was unaware that Finland had been abandoned to Soviet influence in a secret codicil to the August pact with Stalin.  Russia had justified her demands on Finland as necessary to safeguard her communications to the far north and the Baltic approaches to Leningrad ;  but who could menace those communications if not Germany ?  Berlin regarded the invasion of Finland as a further token of Stalin’s mistrust of Hitler.  But even though German sympathy was solidly for Finland, Hitler instructed his foreign missions to adhere to an anti-Finnish line, for the integrity of his brittle pact with Stalin was to be his most powerful weapon in the attack on France.  This loyalty to Stalin further tarnished Hitler’s image with his allies, for Mussolini openly supplied Finland with arms and recalled his ambassador from Moscow.  The Kremlin’s gratitude to Hitler was expressed in a November revolutionary Comintern proclamation which lumped Germany with the other capitalist plunderers and not inaccurately predicted that once victory in the west had become clear for one side or the other, Italy would join in like a battlefield hyena.

But the Finnish war thrust the Russians further into Hitler’s arms.  They needed military supplies and aid.  The F¸hrer even agreed to a Russian request for the transfer of fuel and provisions from German steamships to Soviet submarines blockading Finland.  (This did not prevent the Russians from torpedoing a German vessel steaming out of a Finnish port a few days later ;  the survivors were abandoned to their fate.)

Soviet compliance was the economic key to Hitler’s continued war-making capacity.  Under the economic treaty signed between the two powers on August 19, Russia was to supply Germany with such raw materials as grain, oil cake, phosphates, platinum, and petroleum ;  it was also to act as a safe channel to Germany for goods exported by Japan, Manchuria, Afghanistan, Iran, and Romania but subject to British naval blockade.  The Soviet Union imported rubber and zinc from Britain and cotton from the United States and immediately reexported them to Germany.  Hitler also needed the oil produced in Russia and Soviet-occupied Poland (where two-thirds of Poland’s oil resources were located), and he knew that Stalin could exert pressure to control the supply of Romanian oil to Germany.  It thus behooved him to behave like a proverbial friend in need ;  and throughout the winter he was a Soviet friend indeed as he instructed his military and economic authorities to do their utmost to meet the Russian demands.  An additional trade treaty with the USSR was signed in December, and this was supplemented by a far-reaching commercial agreement in Moscow on February 11, 1940.

Russia’s list of requirements was not easy to fulfill.  The Russians wanted the half-built cruiser L¸tzow and the aircraft carrier Graf Zeppelin ;  they also wanted the blueprints of these and even more up-to-date German warships including the Bismarck and the Tirpitz.  They asked for sets of the heaviest ship’s armament, and for the 57,000 blueprints prepared for the new Krupp 406-millimeter triple-turret guns, the fire-control sets, and the ammunition that went with them.  The Soviet navy wanted samples of accumulators and periscopes for submarines, they wanted a supply of top-grade German armorplate for a cruiser to be built in Russia, and they wanted hydroacoustical gear, torpedoes, and mines as well.  The German air force was to supply the Soviet Union with prototypes of its most modern equipment—fighters and bombers, high-performance aircraft engines, antiaircraft artillery, control gear, and bombs.  The army was to hand over field artillery, samples of modern explosives, tanks, engineer corps equipment, radio gear, and chemicals.  Hitler sided with Ribbentrop and urged on his service commanders complete acceptance of almost all these demands.  Such delays in delivery as he did propose were clearly the result of his country’s own pressing arms requirements and shortages of raw materials, rather than of any ulterior plotting for the future.  During negotiation for the commercial agreement, he told Keitel he wanted it signed as rapidly as possible.  He told Raeder that his only anxiety in handing over the blueprints of the battleship Bismarck to the Russians was that these revealed that the vessel had been planned on a far larger scale than was permitted by the international agreements binding on Germany at the time.  Raeder assured him it would take the Russians six years to copy the Bismarck ;  however, he conceded that it would be unfortunate if the blueprints fell into British hands.

Hitler attentively followed the course of the Russian invasion of Finland.  He had been alerted by the navy to the danger that the Soviet attack might bring the western powers to Finland’s aid.  Such a course of action would give the Allies a foothold in Scandinavia, and this would have immense consequences for Germany.  For the first time, the strategic importance of Norway was forcibly brought home to Hitler.

So far, he had assigned his navy a largely passive role in the war.  Raeder’s small force had supported the land operations against Poland in a modest way, while the pocket battleships Admiral Graf Spee and Deutschland dispatched in August into the south and north Atlantics, respectively, had for many weeks lain low in remote waters to avoid incidents.  Hitler initially forbade his submarines to attack even Anglo-French naval forces, but as the enemy’s attitude hardened toward Germany he gradually stripped away these irksome restrictions until eventually all-out and unrestricted submarine warfare was the order of the day.  Raeder’s navy was vastly inferior to the combined Anglo-French force.  Its major expansion plan had been due for completion in 1944 ;  Raeder had canceled that and made his production capacity available for submarine and surface vessel construction.  During the first year of the war, the German navy had on average only a dozen submarines with which to blockade the British Isles.  Since the Luftwaffe was given priority in raw materials, the navy’s steadily reduced steel allocation further limited its expansion.

In one respect, however, Raeder had an advantage over Brauchitsch and G–ring :  he had discouraged Hitler from interfering with naval strategy and operations, and within the broad directives which the F¸hrer now began to issue, the navy had a free hand to dispose of its fleet as it thought best.  To Hitler the sea was an unwholesome element, an area of uncertainty he did not understand, and he was relieved to trust Grand Admiral Raeder to act as he saw fit.  Raeder in turn committed his crews wholeheartedly to the war effort, with none of the carping that characterized the army generals.  His destroyers executed bold sorties into the very jaws of the enemy, laying magnetic minefields in the estuaries of the principal British rivers.  A U-boat sank the aircraft carrier Courageous ;  another U-boat penetrated Scapa Flow and torpedoed the battleship Royal Oak.  Toward the end of November, the German fleet attacked the British northern patrol and sank the ill-armed merchant cruiser Rawalpindi.  Hitler had a faulty understanding of the strategy of cruiser warfare and of the long-term benefits to be drawn from such costly fleet operations, but the sinking of the Royal Oak by Lieutenant Guenther Prien brought scenes of wild enthusiasm to the streets of Berlin for the first time.  The F¸hrer saw the huge crowds that packed the Wilhelmstrasse when he invited Prien’s crew to the Chancellery, and this was a language he understood.

In the South Atlantic the Graf Spee had now begun raiding enemy convoys, but the Luftwaffe—and G–ring particularly—wanted to bring the war closer to Britain’s shores :  when on November 28, in reprisal for the German mining of the coastal waters, Britain issued an Order-in-Council blockading Germany’s export shipments, Raeder advised Hitler the British order was a triple violation of the Paris Declaration of 1856.  G–ring and his deputy, General Erhard Milch, hurried to Hitler that same afternoon with proposals for a crushing Luftwaffe offensive against British shipyards, docks, and ports.  It was suggested that the Luftwaffe attack shipping west of Britain, while the German navy dealt with the shipping off the east coast.  Hitler turned down the Luftwaffe’s idea, but he did issue a new directive specifying that the best way to defeat Britain would be to paralyze her trade.  The German navy and the Luftwaffe were to turn to this task, in conjunction with the more tenebrous forces of German sabotage and fifth-column organizations, as soon as “Yellow” had been successfully completed.  Since Hitler would then control the Channel coast, the Luftwaffe really could attack on the lines G–ring had proposed.

Afraid lest Britain secure a foothold in northern Norway, in December 1939 Hitler issued the first secret instructions for a German operation against Norway to be studied.  In October, Raeder had left him in no doubt as to Germany’s grim strategic position should the British occupy Norway :  in winter all Germany’s Swedish iron-ore requirements passed through the ice-free port at Narvik ;  German merchant ships and warships would no longer be able to traverse the neutral Norwegian waters ;  the British air force could dominate northern Germany from Norwegian bases ;  and the Royal Navy would command the Baltic.  Though he had realistically advised Hitler that a Norwegian campaign might end in a massacre of the German fleet, Raeder saw no alternative to such a campaign if the strategic dangers inherent in a British occupation of Norway were to be obviated.

Raeder’s view took Hitler by surprise.  His own strategy had always envisaged respecting and preserving Norway’s neutrality, but neither his political nor his naval advisers gave him respite once the Russo-Finnish war broke out.  At noon on December 11, Alfred Rosenberg, head of the Party’s foreign policy department, briefed Hitler on an idea that had originated with one of his Norwegian contacts :  the Norwegian would use his organization to create disturbances in Norway, and he would then appeal to the German forces to occupy key Norwegian bases.

In the event, a different plan was adopted, but room was still found in it for Rosenberg’s contact man—Major Vidkun Quisling.  Quisling had been Norway’s defense minister until 1933, after which he had founded his own party, the anti-Jewish Nasjonal Samling.  He was a convinced anti-Communist.  After World War I he had for many years been a military attachÈ in Moscow, and had afterward come to regard bolshevism as the greatest danger confronting Europe and, more immediately, Scandinavia.  He now dreamt of a common alliance of the Germanic peoples, and he was concerned about anti-German sentiments provoked in Norway by Germany’s acquiescence in the Russian assault on Finland.  Rosenberg told Hitler that Quisling’s idea was that Germany should invade Norway at the request of a government he would himself set up.  For once Ribbentrop and his state secretary, Weizs”cker, were unanimous in warning Hitler against even agreeing to see this Norwegian.  But Quisling had hard evidence that Britain had designs on Norway.  Hitler thought the matter over and the next day told Rosenberg he was willing to meet Quisling and form a personal impression of him.  Quisling brought the Norwegian businessman Viljam Hagelin with him.  “In this conversation,” Rosenberg’s office recorded, “the F¸hrer repeatedly emphasized that what he most preferred politically would be for Norway and, for that matter, all Scandinavia to remain absolutely neutral.  He had no intention of enlarging the theaters of war by dragging still more countries into the conflict.  But if the other side was planning such an enlargement of the war with the object of forcing a further constriction and threat upon the German Reich, then he must obviously feel compelled to take steps against the move.  In an effort to offset the increasing enemy propaganda activity, the F¸hrer then promised Quisling financial aid for his Pan-Germanic movement.”  Quisling had claimed that the Norwegian press was under British control and that Carl Hambro—the Jewish president of the Norwegian Storting, or parliament—had allowed the British secret service to infiltrate Norway’s Intelligence service (of which he was also head) from stem to stern.  Quisling said he had two hundred thousand followers, many in key positions in Norway.  Since constitutionally the Hambro government—which had prolonged its tenure—would be in office illegally as of January 10, Quisling suggested that his movement overthrow it after that date and then appeal to Hitler to move troops into Oslo.

Hitler was not convinced that Quisling’s following was so large, and he privately asked the OKW to draft two alternative operations, one following Quisling’s suggestions, but the other projecting an occupation of Norway by force.  Through foreign ministry channels, Hitler initiated inquiries into Quisling’s background.  The replies were not wholly satisfactory, and Hitler shortly decided not to rely on him for any assistance beyond the kind of subversive operations that Konrad Henlein, the Sudeten German leader, had undertaken within Czechoslovakia in 1938.  Before they returned to Oslo, Quisling and Hagelin met Hewel and Schmundt, who instructed them to commence operations designed to cause economic unrest in Norway by ruining the country’s shipping, foreign trade, and fisheries industries.  A number of handpicked Norwegians would undergo secret guerrilla-warfare training in Germany ;  when Norway was invaded, they were to seize key buildings in Oslo and elsewhere, and thus present the king with a fait accompli.  The military details of the invasion would be drawn up by a special OKW study group.  No date for the operation was set.

Though Admiral Raeder had not raised the related problem of Denmark, which lay across the access route to Norway, Hitler was without compunction in ordering this little country to be occupied at the same time as Norway.  He had signed a nonaggression treaty with Denmark as recently as August.

The General Staff continued their open hostility to Hitler.  After his unequivocal speech to the generals in the Chancellery on November 23, General Guderian privately taxed Hitler with his astonishing attitude toward the leaders of an army that had just won such a victory for him in Poland.  Hitler retorted that it was the army’s Commander in Chief himself who displeased him, adding with an expression of extreme distaste that there was unfortunately no suitable replacement for the general.  Brauchitsch’s chief of Intelligence noted :  “There is as little contact between Br. and the F¸hrer as ever.  A changeover is planned.”

When Jodl toured the western front and returned to Berlin on the December 12, he confirmed that the military airfields in the west were largely waterlogged.  Hitler postponed a decision on “Yellow” until after Christmas so that his troops could get some leave.  He suspected the hand of the General Staff against him everywhere.  When the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung published a sensational and sloppy article on the “Great Headquarters,” Hitler was furious at an implicit suggestion that history was being made by the General Staff and not himself ;  Keitel was obliged to admonish Halder on that score.  But the F¸hrer was hard to please, for when at Christmas the Essener National-Zeitung ventured a seasonal comparison between Adolf Hitler and the Messiah, Goebbels confidentially informed the entire German press that the F¸hrer would prefer them to abstain from such comparisons in the future.  Through Colonel Schmundt Hitler also arranged for the suppression of General von Rabenau’s biography of General Hans von Seeckt—Brauchitsch’s great predecessor.  It was in Seeckt’s own interest, as Hitler put it.  He exercised this personal censorship with increasing arbitrariness :  when—evidently from telephone-tapping reports—he learned that the editor of the General Staffs Military Weekly had privately questioned the veracity of the OKW war communiques, he demanded the general’s immediate resignation.  As a military commander, however, Hitler was still only flexing his muscles.

Indeed, in moments of military crisis, Hitler was to display an indecisiveness and lack of precision that was otherwise wholly out of character.  This contributed to the loss of the Graf Spee.

On December 13 the pocket battleship fell foul of three British cruisers off the coast of neutral Uruguay.  During the following night a series of disjointed radio messages reached Berlin.  The first read :  “Action with Exeter, Ajax, and Achilles.  Damaged Exeter and light cruiser.”  Five hours later, the battleship signaled her attendant supply ship Altmark :  “On your own.”  Obviously, things were not going well, but it was not until the small hours of the fourteenth that the first details reached the Berlin admiralty.  “I have taken fifteen hits, food stores and galleys destroyed, I am making for Montevideo.”  To those familiar with the political stance of Uruguay it was clear the battleship’s fighting days were probably over :  the country had a pro-British president, a pro-French foreign minister, and a rich and powerful British embassy ;  it was also a hotbed of British secret service activity.  Graf Spee could hardly have run for a more hostile haven.  It would take many days for the damage to be repaired.  The government at Montevideo granted only three days.  Meanwhile British naval forces began to mass in uncertain strength at the mouth of the Plate River, waiting for the lame warship to leave the neutral waters.

At 1 P.M. on the sixteenth, Raeder arrived at the Chancellery with the latest cable from the battleship.  Captain Hans Langsdorff had signaled :

1.  Military situation off Montevideo :  apart from cruisers and destroyers [there are also] Ark Royal and Renown.  Tightly blocked at night.  No prospect of breakout into open sea or reaching home.

2.  Propose emerging as far as neutral waters limit.  Should it be possible to fight through to Buenos Aires using remaining ammunition, this will be attempted.

3.  In event that breakout would result in certain destruction of Spee with no chance of damaging enemy, I request decision whether to scuttle despite inadequate depth of water ?  Estuary of the Plate ? Or internment ?

4.  Please radio decision.

The German admiralty was puzzled :  its Intelligence had—accurately, as we now know—ascertained from the radio emissions of the aircraft carrier Ark Royal and the battle cruiser Renown that both ships were still many days to the north of Montevideo ;  they could not arrive before the nineteenth.  But Langsdorff’s signal breathed despair.

Even before he read it, Hitler met Admiral Raeder at the door of his study with a demand that Graf Spee must attempt to break through to the open sea ;  if she must go down, at least she could take some of the enemy with her.  He put a hand on the admiral’s shoulder.  “Herr Grossadmiral, I can well understand how you feel.  Believe me, the fate of this ship and her crew is as painful to me as to you.  But this is war, and when the need is there, one must know how to be harsh.”  But he followed this firm speech with an inexplicable act.  Raeder showed him the admiralty’s draft reply to Captain Langsdorff :  Graf Spee was to stay at Montevideo as long as the authorities would allow ;  a “breakout” to Buenos Aires would be “approved,” internment in Uruguay would not.  “If scuttling, thoroughly destroy everything first.”  Although this reply was wholly out of keeping with Hitler’s heroic demand, he nonetheless allowed Raeder to transmit it around the world to Montevideo at once.  Hitler’s naval adjutant was perplexed.

Hitler eagerly awaited the news of Graf Spee’s last battle.  During the seventeenth, however, the stunning news arrived that the battleship had sailed out of Montevideo, discharged her crew onto a waiting steamer which had borne them safely to a friendly Buenos Aires, and then gently settled down onto the shallow bed of the river’s estuary.(1)  In a savage mood, that evening Hitler pondered the damage Langsdorff had done to Germany’s fighting image.  At three in the morning he ordered the official announcement of the battleship’s loss altered to read :  “Under these circumstances the F¸hrer ordered Captain Langsdorff to destroy the ship by blowing her up.”  The neutral press appraised the episode with reserve and even respect ;  but Germany’s enemies responded with shrieks of spiteful glee, and this exposed a further weakness in the F¸hrer—his inability to accept misfortune with equanimity.  He developed an aversion to cruiser warfare, with its doctrine of hit-and-run ;  out of this aversion grew a hostility toward the maturer officers of the German navy, which contrasted with his admiration of the dashing destroyer and submarine commanders.  Langsdorff himself had been an officer on Jodl’s staff ;  he had been given the Graf Spee, it transpired, almost as a cure for his chairbound attitudes.  But the cure had apparently not worked—perhaps the injuries he had suffered when a shell hit the bridge earlier had affected the captain’s judgment.  He shot himself on reaching Buenos Aires.

When the Deutschland, sister ship of the ill-fated Graf Spee, returned to Germany, Hitler—fearful of the loss of prestige Germany would suffer should a “Deutschland” ever go under—ordered her renamed.  Spee’s supply ship Altmark, laden with prisoners plucked from the decks of the battleship’s victims, was ordered to return home to Germany.

Hermann G–ring did what he could to use this incident to impugn the honor of the navy’s big ships.  His Luftwaffe’s prestige was running high.  With insignificant loss to the German fighter defenses, a marauding squadron of RAF bombers attacking Wilhelmshaven in broad daylight on the eighteenth was virtually wiped out.  The British realized their attempts at visual daylight bombing raids were fraught with perils and decided to convert to a night-bomber force.

Hitler left Berlin for a brief respite at the Berghof.  Passing through Munich, he paid his annual Christmas visit to his friends and patrons, the Bruckmanns ;  without Else Bruckmann’s salon twenty years before, he might never have got this far.  He stayed two hours, chatting about his plans to conquer Britain, to force her to her knees over the next eight months by using magnetic mines and other fabulous weaponry.  In private circles such as these, Hitler had no sense of security precautions but would happily ramble on about his future strategy, revealing all.  Warsaw, he said, was a desolate heap of rubble thanks to the intransigence of its defenders.  Only a small area was worth rebuilding.  But when peace came, he would turn to the magnificent reconstruction of the new Reich—whose Nordic dimensions he hinted at in his entry in the Bruckmanns’ guest book :  “In the year of the fight for the creation of the great German-Teutonic Reich !”

For three days Hitler toured the western front, joining the Christmas celebrations of Luftwaffe squadrons, antiaircraft batteries, infantry, and SS regiments.  It was clear that the French were not making any move to attack.  In the autumn the army’s cryptographers had broken the main French codes, and the ability to decode the flood of signals transmitted by the French war ministry more than compensated for the shortcomings of Canaris’s Abwehr organization.  The signals revealed that the French were having problems in manufacturing antitank weapons and in activating new units in the interior ;  the weakness of the French Ninth Army between Sedan and Mauberge was also evident.  At Spichern, near Saarb¸cken, the French had fallen back under local German pressure and Hitler was able to cross the French frontier for the first time since 1918.  Here the famous frontier battles of 1870 had been fought.

On his return to Berlin, Hitler again postponed “Yellow,” this time to mid-January.  The long-range weather forecast predicted a period of cold, clear wintry weather for then ;  failing that, the F¸hrer resolved, he would call off “Yellow” until the spring.

As in years past, he retreated to the Berghof to await the New Year.  Here Eva Braun and her friends brought a relatively civilized touch to his surroundings, but the photographs in her albums show that even when the F¸hrer sat faintly smiling at the delight of the offspring of Speer, Goebbels, and Martin Bormann at a Berghof children’s party, he still wore the field-gray army tunic, with its solitary Iron Cross, that he had emotionally donned on the day his troops attacked Poland.  In one photograph, however, Hitler is shown in somber evening dress, spooning molten lead into a bowl of water—a New Year’s Eve tradition.  Some believe that a man’s future can be predicted from the contorted shapes the solidifying metal assumes.  Hitler’s face betrays a certain lack of confidence in this procedure.

At the Berghof he received a long, angry, and frightened letter from Benito Mussolini.  It broke the months of silence which followed a mid-December speech in which Foreign Minister Ciano had revealed that Rome had not been consulted at the time of Hitler’s pact with Stalin and that the F¸hrer had broken promises given to the Italians about the imminence of war.  Mussolini’s letter marked the lowest point in Axis relations, which had been soured by Hitler’s continued flirting with Moscow.  As recently as December 22, Hitler had on Stalin’s sixtieth birthday cabled him greetings coupled with his best wishes for the Soviet peoples ;  Stalin had cordially replied.  In Mussolini’s eyes Hitler was a traitor to the Fascist revolution ;  he had sacrificed the principles of that revolution to the tactical requirements of one given moment.

You cannot abandon the anti-Semitic and anti-Bolshevist banners which you have flown for twenty years and for which so many of your comrades died ;  you cannot abjure your gospel, which the German people have blindly believed. ... The solution for your Lebensraum is in Russia and nowhere else.  Russia has twenty-one million square kilometers and nine inhabitants per square kilometer.  It is outside Europe, in Asia—and this is not just some theory of Spengler’s.

Not until they, the Axis leaders, had jointly demolished bolshevism would they have kept faith with their revolutions.  “It will then be the turn of the great democracies....” wrote Mussolini.

In this letter—which Hitler deliberately left unanswered for two months—Mussolini also voiced concern about rumors reaching him on German treatment of the Poles.  He proposed that Hitler should take steps to restore some kind of Polish state.

Hitler’s policy in Poland had undergone a radical change in the autumn of 1939.  Initially he had regarded a future “Polish state” as a bargaining counter against the western powers.  But as the prospects of an armistice receded, his attitude hardened—although he lagged perceptibly behind the SS and Party in degree.  Early in October he had indicated to Governor General Frank that the Generalgouvernement was to be a kind of Polish reservation, but in November he bluntly told Frank :  “We are going to keep the Generalgouvernement.  We will never give it back.”  Although Hitler’s long-standing personal friend, Frank was only a verbose and pettifogging lawyer.  He did not have the F¸hrer’s confidence to the inexplicable extent that SS Reichsf¸hrer Himmler had—and it was Himmler’s SS and police agencies that wielded the executive power in German-occupied Poland.

Himmler’s rule in the east derived its authority from an official commission granted to him by Hitler in September.  Though the Reichsf¸hrer made much of it in his public and private speeches, this commission did not exist in writing, and its limits became increasingly ill-defined.  Basically, Himmler’s job was the Germanization of the new provinces of West Prussia and Posen.  On this Hitler and Himmler agreed, but thereafter their opinions differed.  Hitler saw no great urgency about the matter and had himself told Himmler :  “I don’t want these eastern Gauleiters in a frantic race to be the first to report to me after two or three years, ‘Mein F¸hrer, my Gau is fully Germanized.’  I want the population to be racially flawless, and I’ll be quite satisfied if a Gauleiter can report that in ten years.”  (In March, Hitler even told Mussolini that he expected it would take forty or fifty years to develop these regained provinces.)  Himmler, however, wanted greater urgency.  Acting on a cruel directive he had issued at the end of October, the two Gauleiters concerned—Forster and Greiser—and SS Generals Kr¸ger and Odilo Globocnik, police commanders based in Cracow and Lublin, respectively, began the ruthless midwinter expulsion from their domains of the 550,000 Jews, the post-1919 Polish settlers, and the principal anti-German and intellectual elements ;  they used Frank’s Generalgouvernement as a dumping ground.

Himmler gave them until February 1940 to complete the job.  Long forced marches took a heavy toll of these unwanted human beings.  Early in January, both G–ring and Lammers took protests about this impossible state of affairs to Himmler and evidently to Hitler as well—but to no avail.  Yet in some respects Hitler did act as a brake.  From Himmler’s scrawled notes on his private confrontations with the F¸hrer we know that he was obliged to report in person on the “shooting of 380 Jews at Ostro” on November 19 ;  and that when at the end of November the archbishop and suffragan bishop of Lublin were condemned to death along with 13 priests for the possession of arms and subversive literature, Hitler ordered their reprieve and deportation to Germany instead.

What Himmler did not include in his notes was the fact that Heydrich—blithely disregarding Frank’s authority in the Generalgouvernement—had found his own ways of simplifying the midwinter population movements.  In January 1940 he converted a remote camp at Soldau, near the East Prussian border, to a liquidation center for Poles who survived the day-to-day brutalities.  A ripple of protest disturbed the German armies poised in the west to unleash “Yellow.” Hitler learned that on January 22, Major General Friedrich Mieth, Chief of Staff of the First Army, had told his assembled officers about atrocities in Poland :  “The SS has carried out mass executions without proper trials.  There have been disturbances.  There have been certain incidents between the SS and regular forces. ... The SS has besmirched the Wehrmacht’s honor.”  Mieth was dismissed.  Soon after, the army’s Commander in Chief East, General Johannes Blaskowitz, sent to Berlin a formal list of specific SS and police atrocities in Poland—including murder, looting, and general bestiality.  He challenged the very basis of the occupation policies :  “The view that the Polish people can be intimidated and kept down by terrorism will definitely be proven wrong.  They are far too resilient a people for that.”  Blaskowitz added that the atrocities would provide the enemy with powerful ammunition throughout the world.

When Frank next came to the Reich Chancellery, he criticized Blaskowitz’s unhelpful attitude.  One of Hitler’s adjutants wrote :  “Reichsminister Frank ... described the programs for the rounding-up and resettlement of the Jews.  He bitterly attacked the army’s Supreme Commander [Blaskowitz] and the field-administration officers.  They are interfering with the work of ‘pacification’;  the officers ‘have no instinct’ and are getting in the way of his agencies.  He asked the F¸hrer to tell the army not to interfere, particularly in political matters, as it is flatly opposed to the Party line.  The F¸hrer had a fit of anger, which lasted until the war conference began.”

The wording of this note, which talks of “resettlement,” may mean that at this point the real fate of the Jews was being withheld from Hitler ;  he does, however, appear to have issued orders to Hans Frank for regular prophylactic massacres of the Polish intelligentsia, cruelly and cynically justifying this step as a security measure.  The first two thousand Poles were to die as soon as “Yellow” began to cause sufficient diversion in the west.  How else can Frank’s confidential remarks at the end of May 1940 to his police authorities in Poland be interpreted ?  “The F¸hrer has said to me, ‘The problem of dealing with and safeguarding German interests in the Generalgouvernement is a matter for the men in charge of the Generalgouvernement and for them alone.’  And he used these words :  ‘The ruling class that we have already unearthed in Poland is to be exterminated.  We must keep close watch on whatever grows up in its place, and dispose of that too after a suitable time has elapsed’.”  And Frank hastened to recommend to his minions :  “There’s no need for us to burden the Reich or its police bodies with all this.  There’s no need for us to cart off all these elements to concentration camps in the Reich first.  That’ll just result in a lot of bother and unnecessary correspondence with next-of-kin.  No—we’ll liquidate this business here, on the spot.”

It was General von Brauchitsch who quelled the rumors along the western front.  He of course had long ceased to cavil at the SS operations.  Indeed, he arranged for Himmler to explain and justify them to the troubled army generals in the west, in a speech at Koblenz on March 13.  When Blaskowitz submitted two further thick dossiers on SS atrocities in April, Berlin handled them as gingerly as nitroglycerine :  Keitel refused to sign for their receipt ;  the Luftwaffe’s General Milch locked his copy in a safe and threatened Blaskowitz’s courier with arrest.  Blaskowitz was relieved of his command in May, and when his successor wrote still more reports on the atrocities in Poland in July, Keitel abruptly instructed him to stop meddling in matters which did not concern him.

The directive issued by the Eighteenth Army on its transfer to Poland in August 1940 is an eloquent statement of the army’s surrender to the Party.  It forbids any criticism of the struggle being waged there against minorities, Jews, and the clergy.  “For centuries an ethnological struggle has raged along our eastern frontier.  To put an end to it once and for all has called for a short, sharp solution.  Specific Party and government agencies have been put in charge of waging this ethnological war in the east.  This is why our soldiers must keep their noses out of what these units are doing.  We are not to make their job more difficult by criticizing them.”

Under Party sponsorship, lawlessness flourished in the east.  Hitler turned a blind eye on the excesses.  An army major procured the arrest of eight Polish whores and did four of them clumsily to death in prison that evening ;  a fifth survived a bullet in the brain and escaped.  Gauleiter Forster made representations to Hitler against executing this major for one drunken offense and—contrary to the recommendations of Brauchitsch, Keitel, and Schmundt—Hitler commuted the sentence to a prison term.  In another case, one of the innumerable young SA officers appointed magistrate in Poland ordered fifty-five Polish prisoners out of their cells and shot them all in a drunken orgy.  Here too the local Gauleiter, Greiser, begged the ministry of justice not to blight the young officer’s promising career, and Hitler—learning that the man had a clean Party record—granted him a reprieve.  In later years, it fell to Hitler’s naval adjutant, Karl-Jesko von Puttkamer, to brief him on the court-martial sentences requiring confirmation by him as Supreme Commander.  A level-headed and incorruptible ex-destroyer commander, Puttkamer succeeded in influencing Hitler to the necessary degree so that what were considered the most deserving cases did not escape the firing squad or, sometimes, the hangman’s rope.

Within Germany itself, Himmler’s police agencies were now acting as a law unto themselves.  When the first German citizen was summarily shot for refusing to work on a defense project, the Gestapo quieted all criticism by informing the ministry of justice that before leaving for the Polish front on September 3 the F¸hrer had instructed Himmler to maintain order in the interior “as he saw fit.” More executions followed, although G–ring warned Heydrich that no Germans were to be executed without formal sentencing.  At the end of September, the minister of justice submitted to Hitler a file on summary executions of Germans ;  Hitler replied that he had not given Himmler any general instruction but that he had ordered certain executions himself, as the regular military and civil courts were not adjusting themselves to the special war conditions.  “This is why he has now ordered the Teltow bank robbers to be put before a firing squad,” his staff explained.  But the files also show that Hitler drew much of his information on civilian crime from casual references in the newspapers.  A thoughtless editor had only to headline a story MAN SWINDLED SOLDIERS’ WIVES for the F¸hrer to send Schaub scurrying to a telephone with instructions that the modest prison sentence passed on the defendant was incomprehensible and that the F¸hrer wanted the man to be shot.

Hitler’s attitude to the Party’s own courts was even more ambivalent, as his reaction to the trial of Julius Streicher showed.  Streicher, the stocky, balding Gauleiter of Franconia, was an insensitive and rigid member of Hitler’s “Old Guard” with an obsession against the Jews and accepted morality.  His enemies were legion—the armed forces as a whole, Nuremberg’s mayor and police president, and above all Rudolf Hess and his bustling deputy Martin Bormann.  Hitler saw in Streicher an idealist and a true revolutionary, but when the clamor against the Gauleiter reached its climax at the end of 1939 he yielded and permitted Streicher—one of the very few men allowed to address the F¸hrer by the familiar du—to be put on trial by the Party’s Supreme Court.  The actual charges against him seem uncertain.  Treason may have been among them ;  four days after Hitler’s speech to the Gauleiters in October, Streicher had revealed Hitler’s military plans to local Party members in a speech, and he had repeated this imprudent step in a larger assembly a few days later.  Speaking of Hitler’s decision to invade neutral Belgium, Streicher had explained, “We need the coast for our attack on Britain.”  His recent speeches—of which the police president privately showed a dossier to the local military authorities—included blasphemous attacks on the clergy, libelous references to the generals of the Great War, and an address to a young female audience in November in which he exhorted them to find nothing improper in the desire to seduce married men.  “Any woman or lady who gets worked up about this is in my eyes just a pig.”  According to Major Walther Buch, the Party’s chief judge, Streicher was indicted for dishonest monetary dealings in the confiscation of Jewish property ;  for libeling G–ring over the true paternity of his daughter Edda ;  for brutality and improper relations with a very young girl.  Streicher himself said he was accused of having called war widows “silly geese,” but was acquitted of this charge.

Whatever the charges, the Supreme Court—six Gauleiters and three Party judges—met in February and on the sixteenth decided on a verdict against Streicher.  Hitler suspended Streicher from office and forbade him to make further public speeches ;  but he was not ejected from the Party, as Hess had demanded, and he was allowed to continue publishing his newspapers—including the despicable St¸rmer.  To Hitler the trial smacked of a kangaroo court, and he told other Party leaders like Ley that he felt an injustice had been done to Streicher :  the legalists had paid too little attention to Streicher’s Party record in the past.  After all, Streicher had won Nuremberg, the stronghold of the Marxists, for the Nazi party just as Goebbels had won Berlin.

On January 6, 1940 the F¸hrer had returned from Munich to Berlin.

Over the following days he submitted to a series of medical examinations by his corpulent physician, Dr. Theodor Morell—blood-serum and sedimentation-rate tests, urinalyses, and fecal examinations.  The records of these have survived, and are unremarkable except that the urine was alkaline, as was to be expected of a vegetarian, and that a routine series of tests for syphilis all proved negative.  Morell’s heart examination on January 9 revealed a normal pulse and blood pressure for a man of Hitler’s age, and there is as yet no reference to the rapidly progressive coronary sclerosis that seems to have first been detected in mid-1941.

1 Her vital equipment was undestroyed, and some time later British Intelligence officers were able to examine her radar gear.  Shortage of explosives was the probable reason for this.


p. 60   Goebbels’s memorandum—“Thoughts on the Outbreak of War 1939”—is in BA file NS-10/37.  It described the public’s mood in the first September days as very grave but calm :  “There is thus nothing of the bravo-spirit of 1914.”

p. 65   I have been unable to resolve the conflict of evidence on Quisling’s two meetings with Hitler in December 1939.  Jodl’s diary dates one the 13th ;  Raeder’s note on Rosenberg’s memo dates it the 14th ;  Rosenberg’s diary dates it the 15th ;  the otherwise very informative survey drawn up by his Aussenpolitisches Amt (NS-43/25) states with equal confidence “Quisling was received for a personal audience by the F¸hrer on the 16th and again on the 18th.”

p. 68   Raeder’s adjutant (Freiwald) recalls that as they left the Chancellery he hinted to Raeder they might at least add to the vague and indecisive signal the words, “I wish you a safe further voyage.”  Raeder refused however to tie Langsdorff’s hands in any way.

p. 69   The then chief of Foreign Armies West, Ulrich Liss, wrote a bitter criticism of Canaris’s Intelligence failure in 1940 in WR, 1958, pages 208 et seq.

p. 70   Professor Broszat covers some of the ground on Hitler’s Polish policies (see my note to pages 8-9).  I also used the Groscurth, Halder, and Milch diaries ;  Frank’s verbatim remarks at a police conference on May 30, 1940 (2233-PS);  an SS investigation of Soldau (NO-1073);  testimony of General von Gienanth—Blaskowitz’s successor—and Karl Wolff ;  and documents in Chancellery files R 4311/1332 and /1411a.  Himmler’s notes are on NA microfilm T175/94.  As early as November 1, 1935, incidentally, they show that he had to explain “deaths in concentration camps.”

p. 72   Without explanation, Professor Broszat omits the first sentence I quote from the adjutant Gerhard Engel’s note.

p. 73   For the case of the magistrate—Otto Christian von Hirschfeld—see the Reich justice ministry file R 22/4087 and Lammer’s memo in file R 4311/1411a.