Books

The madness of Nazism laid bare

14 February 2015

9:00 AM

14 February 2015

9:00 AM

‘If the war is lost, then it is of no concern to me if the people perish in it.’ Bruno Ganz, who not so much portrays Hitler as becomes him in Bernd Eichinger’s 2004 film Der Untergang (Downfall), spits the Führer’s nihilist venom so convincingly that the fundamental insanity of Nazism is at once laid bare, even to his closest collaborators. The madness of Nazism is now merely Hitler himself, and when on 30 April Ganz/Hitler, entombed in the Führerbunker, shoots himself, the film’s tension is at once gone. What follows is just rats fleeing the hole; and the rest, as it were, is silence.

But it was not. VE (Victory in Europe) Day was not celebrated in London until 8 May, and in Moscow on 9 May. What happened in those last ten days of the war, ‘after Hitler’?

The stories have long been told, beginning with Hugh Trevor-Roper’s semi-official The Last Days of Hitler, but this ambitious book attempts to draw together the many threads during the period of the empty tomb. The author is steeped in the more Wagnerian aspects of the war, though the repulse of German forces from Moscow at the end of 1941 was surely not, as he claims, ‘the Führer’s first significant defeat’, for what otherwise was the failure to subdue Britain in 1940? Michael Jones wishes to show the reason for and significance of the two VE Days — divisions which nearly caused a fatal rift between the Allies, a ‘crisis largely hidden from public view and in the event… successfully mastered’.

The Yalta conference of the ‘big three’ (Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill) in February 1945 had agreed the occupation zones in Germany, and the armies had advanced according to those arrangements, but by May mutual suspicion was gaining the upper hand, especially after Roosevelt’s death on 12 April. Truman was warier of Russia than FDR had been (his first meeting with Molotov, the foreign minister, on 23 April was confrontational), and Churchill had never had much confidence that Stalin would stick to the agreements, worried especially about Denmark, fearing the Red Army would make a sprint for the Jutland peninsula. The Russians would indeed occupy Danish territory — the easternmost island, Bornholm — but only after asking leave of the Supreme (Western) Allied Commander, Eisenhower. They stayed there until April 1946.


But the Nazis were not done yet. Hitler’s last will and testament appointed neither Göring nor Himmler as his successor, as might have been expected, but Admiral Karl Dönitz, head of the navy — though as Reichspräsident not Führer (hollow titles both). It is astonishing, perhaps, that Hitler could believe his will would be expedited, but for three weeks it was, until Dönitz and his ‘government’, never formally recognised by the Allies, were arrested by British troops, in Flensburg on the German-Danish border.

Dönitz remains to some, as one of his U-boat captains wrote, ‘a total patriot — [who] saw himself as a servant of his people and Fatherland’. The war correspondent and author of Das Boot, Lothar-Günther Buchheim, saw him differently however: ‘a harbinger of death — a party lackey, who could not have been more contemptible.’ On the convincing evidence Jones cites, not least the orders to the armed forces to continue fighting, Dönitz was lucky to escape the noose at Nuremberg. He lived until 1980, unrepentant and comfortable, in the ambivalence that was Cold War Germany.

Dönitz’s orders exploited the faultlines of Yalta but were fundamentally Nazi rather than patriotic. The admiral could not accept the Allies’ terms — unconditional surrender — nor would he in any circumstances let German troops surrender to the Red Army. He schemed to set the western Allies against the Russians — or rather, dreamed, in the way that Hitler had. Isolated pockets of German troops, in Courland (now Latvia) for example, were ordered to hold out against attack, at hideous cost to the troops and even worse to civilians (the SS exceeded themselves in the massacre of women and children). Equally costly attacks were made to recapture ‘strategically vital ground’. On 6 May, when the whole world knew that Hitler was dead, the town of Zobten, 30 miles from Breslau, south-east of Berlin (Breslau itself being held at pitiable cost in civilian casualties), was retaken in a murderous counter-attack ordered by Ferdinand Schörner. He had been promoted field marshal from the bunker in the last days — another who, inexplicably, escaped capital justice at Nuremberg.

In these last days, senior Allied generals were as much proconsuls as military commanders. There were practical humanitarian problems to confront as well as the German army, such as feeding the semi-starving population of still-occupied north-west Holland, the liberation of the concentration camps, the tide of displaced German civilians running west, as well as the nervous junctions with the Red Army. In the north, Field Marshal Montgomery had a difficult time managing the surrender of huge numbers of German troops, which involved pragmatic arrangements with Dönitz’s regime, while to the south his opposite number in the US army, Omar Bradley, had the agonising question of what to do about Prague, where the Germans were putting down a Czech revolt as brutally as they had repressed the Warsaw Rising. Patton’s Third Army could have taken the city in an afternoon, but at Yalta Roosevelt had agreed that the Russians would do so, and in this moral maze Eisenhower had perhaps his first taste of presidency.

One trivial error delighted this reviewer (though Beedle Smith, rather than Bedell, will not delight Americans). Dick (not ‘Tom’) Carver was Montgomery’s stepson, not son-in-law. To think of Monty having a daughter is to ponder on how history might have been very different.

Michael Jones has woven together the many stories of those terrible ten days in a most compelling fashion.

Available from the Spectator Bookshop, £20 Tel: 08430 600033

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Show comments
  • Enlightening review, touching lightly on some of the controversies about this period that continue to this day. And yes, good point about the Blitz – and a good reminder that Uncle Joe did keep agreements when he felt he had to. I wish that America’s current “conservatives” – who are actually right-wing radicals – could address historical issues such as these so thoughtfully.

    • Tony

      So says an American liberal – who are actually anti-American traitors, who feel a soft spot for any nation or group which hates America: Soviet Union, Vietcong, Fidel Castro, Sandinistas, Al Qaeda, ISIS, Muslim Brotherhood, etc. etc.

      • Boring cant. I would say the same thing about rote criticism of a conservative.

    • EZEEEEEEEE

      Floyd – are you referring wistfully to ‘Uncle Joe Stalin?’ Who had a higher body count that the National Socialist, Adolf Hitler?

      Your off the cuff attack on conservatives is interesting – and Tony makes an interesting point. But lets bring it forward and ignore the love shown toward Stalin (30 million dead), Mao (100 million dead), and others with “Socialist” somewhere in their party name.

      If you are talking about addressing history – why not look at Iraq? The disaster that W perpetrated! No effective plan for the aftermath! But of course, he was a moron so what could one expect?

      Now Obama, the smartest man in the world, does the exact same thing in Libya – obviously forgetting history, with no plan to rebuild. In her covert emails, I believe it was Blumenthal that told Hillary to take all credit for the Libyan leader being deposed. Then we went right in a second time (again, forgetting history) and tried to do the same thing (although incompetently and through great massacres) in Syria. Did you hear of any plan for post Assad Syria?

      But to paraphrase a great mind that I admire: “I wish that America’s current “progressives” – who are actually left-wing radicals – could address historical issues such as these so thoughtfully.”

    • Mittymo

      Uncle Joe only stuck to agreements that were to his advantage–agreements that were facilitated by secret agents of influence that infiltrated the governments of his allies. Read “Stalin’s Secret Agents,” by Evans & Romerstein.

      For how Britain got used & abused after FDR got it to declare war on Germany (at that point FDR owned Churchill because Britain was doomed with America’s intervention), read
      “FDR & Stalin,” by Robert Nisbet.

      Churchill was aware of the post-war threats to Europe & wanted the second front to go through the soft underbelly of the Nazis. That would have prevented Stalin from imposing an Iron Curtain over Eastern & parts of Central Europe. But Churchill was overruled on that by Stalin.

      FDR also forced Britain to convoy Lend-Lease war supplies for the Soviets right past the Nazis U-boat bases in the Netherlands despite loud & continuous protests from Churchill.

      Britain needed America’s aid so badly that in effect Churchill had little to say about the conduct of the War.

      • Some good points there. But in my relatively modest reading on WWII, I’ve never seen anyone say that the soft underbelly strategy was workable, nor that, where tried, it worked at all well. Too clever by half. The Germans were excellent soldiers, and only killing or imprisoning most of them, and blowing up most of their weapons, was ever going to stop them. Normandy->Berlin plus Moscow->Berlin did that. At a relatively light cost in American and British lives.

  • omgamuslim

    Churchill had, from experience, good reason to be wary of the ability of allies to stick to agreements. The British had already gone back on their agreements and stuck their Arab allies in the back after WW1. And the people in M E are still paying for it with their lives. The refugees knocking on Europe’s door today are a direct result of that.

    • Mittymo

      No, the people in the Middle East are paying for the fact that they’re stuck in a 7th Century time warp. When they decide to become civilized like the modern world, they won’t have to flee the Islamic chaos created by a madman’s dreams.

      • omgamuslim

        If you are anything to go by, the modern world is hardly a desirable place.

    • Tom M

      If you are suggesting creation the State of Israel as the reason the arabs were “stuck in the back” that might not be as simple as you imply.
      A homeland for the Jews had alrealdy been discussed amicably agreed between Chaim Weizmann (representing the Zionist Organisation) and Emir Feisel (representing the Kingdom of the Hejaz) in 1919.
      Israel wasn’t surprise to the arabs.

      • omgamuslim

        You are almost too nimble footed for me. I don’t how you manage to involve the Arabs into this. Even if you are correct, Faisal who was not the king of Hejaz at any time but generally a creature of the British, or, for that matter Weizman, is/was hardly a Palestinian and a homeland is hardly a state. What the Brits had in store for the Palestinians was indeed well known and it was not a lesson in democracy and but the Brits had all the guns. See

        Balfour and Palestine, a legacy of deceit, by Anthony Nutting.

        • Tom M

          My reference to arabs is in reply to your comment sayng the arabs were “stuck in the back”.
          Feisel was legitimately representing the Hejaz when he made the agreement. As far as the Palestinian population of the region was concerned it is well documented that Feisel wasn’t too concerned at all as to their fate. So much for arab solidarity.
          The Hejaz world certainly didn’t get exactly what they expected out of all the deals contrived before and during WW1 inasmuch as they expected, amongst other things, a Jewish homeland and not a State of Israel but that might be because it went to the UN for a decision as no sensible agreement could be found to accomodate the previously agreed homeland.
          Neither the British, the French, the Turks, the Russians or the Germans got what they were after in this region either after WW1. It all depends upon which point of view you are complaining from.
          The arabs, however, did get control of Syria, Jordan and Iraq as they had hoped for so that eventually worked for them and the evolution of that is plain to see today.

  • Mittymo

    The Nazis have been villanized & vilified in so many ways that one has to wonder why an author would decide to pile on even more vilification. It’s hard to imagine that people could hate the Nazis more than they already do.

    There are fresh untold stories about WW2 & its wicked aftermath that he could have written about. Stories about the savage atrocities that the Soviets & their satellites committed during & after the war.

    Those stories are blood chilling & dwarf any Nazi atrocities committed near the end of the war.

  • Davedeparis

    Fascism is not only a death cult but despite their worship of victory is essentially by and for losers. Thats why fascist movements flourished in Europe but floundered in Britain and the only place they made any headway at all in the US was in the deep South. Now we see it mostly in the the Middle East and the four time loser state of Pakistan. In the end though they end up like Hitler going mad in the bunker ordering the destruction of Germany or the Algerian Jihadis issuing fatwas against the entire population of Algeria and even each other.

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