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Druckversion - Ian Kershaw on the Last Days of the Third Reich: 'Hitler'... http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,druck-798377,00.html 11/18/2011 12:39 PM Ian Kershaw on the Last Days of the Third Reich 'Hitler's Influence Was Fatal' In a SPIEGEL interview, the best-selling British historian Ian Kershaw talks about the last days of the Third Reich, why the Germans persevered when it was clear that all was lost and the devastating consequences of the failed July 20, 1944 attempt t
  11/18/2011 12:39 PM Ian Kershaw on the Last Days of the Third Reich 'Hitler's Influence Was Fatal' In a SPIEGEL interview, the best-selling British historian Ian Kershaw talks about the last days of the Third Reich,why the Germans persevered when it was clear that all was lost and the devastating consequences of the failed July20, 1944 attempt to assassinate Hitler.SPIEGEL: Professor Kershaw, you have spent the last three years studying the collapse of Nazi Germany. In the end, are we left toshake our heads in amazement at the absurdity of the final phase, or do you, as a historian, also feel something akin to admirationfor the perseverance of the Germans? Kershaw: The head-shaking predominates, at any rate. I'm convinced that we English would have given up much earlier. It'scertainly unusual for a country to continue fighting to the point of complete self-destruction. It's the sort of thing we usually see incivil wars, but not in conflicts in which hostile nations are at war with one another. SPIEGEL: The question of why the Germans persevered for so long is the starting point of your new book. What would have beenthe obvious thing to do? Kershaw: In any armed conflict, there is eventually a point at which one side realizes thatit's over. If the people in power don'tgive up but instead continue to plunge the country into ruin, there is either a revolution from below, as was the case in Germany andRussia near the end of World War I, or there is a coup by the elites, who attempt to save what can still be saved. An example of thatis the overthrow of Benito Mussolini in Italy in July 1943. SPIEGEL: What is the latest point at which the Germans should have recognized that they could no longer win the war? Kershaw: I would say in the summer of 1944, after the successful landing of the Allies in Normandy and the Russians' enormousterritorial gains in the east. At that point, the war was objectively lost, even ifthe German public didn't see it that way. But startingin December 1944, after the failed Ardennes Offensive (ed's note: also known as theBattleof the Bulge) , it was also clear to thepower elite in the German Reich that there was nothing left to be gained militarily. At that point, it would have made sense to enterinto capitulation negotiations. SPIEGEL: Until the very end, the leadership of the German armed forces, the Wehrmacht, clung to the hope that the Allied coalitionwould fall apart and pave the way for a separate peace with the Western powers. Given the speedy end of the military alliance inthe Cold War, this idea doesn't sound all that absurd. Kershaw: Of course, the idea wasn't idiotic, but at that point in the war, it was completely illusory to bet on the coalition coming toan end. There were never any serious considerations on the part of the Western Allies about going it alone. The highest priority wasto defeat Hitler's Reich, and for that purpose the alliance with the Russians was indispensable. Churchill, as much as he distrustedStalin, argued this many times and turned a deaf ear to all alternatives. SPIEGEL: Your book begins with the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler in July 1944. In your view, the attempted assassinationsignificantly prolonged the war. Kershaw: The July 20 plot led to a strengthening of the regime, at least temporarily. Therewas a noticeable increase in Hitler'spopularity with the public. The shock effect of the attack was enormous, as we can see from many private records. But even moreimportant is the fact that a purge of the officer corps in the Wehrmacht ensued. Arch-loyalists replaced people who were consideredunreliable. All resistance was ruled out as a result. SPIEGEL: You note that the Hitler salute was only introduced in the Wehrmacht in the summerof 1944. Why so late? Kershaw: Hitler needed the Wehrmacht more than any other part of the Nazi regime, which is why he was relatively cautious in hisdealings with the leadership for so long. The July 20 assassination attempt prompted him to conclude that it was time to bring thearmy into line. Within the officer corps, there was a strong consensus with the Nazi state in terms of goals and mentality. But whenone considers an arch-Nazi like Field Marshall Ferdinand Schörner, we see where thedifference lies between someone like that andmost of the other senior officers, who were Nazified but were not in fact true Nazis. SPIEGEL: In the summer of 1944, most of Germany's major cities had been laid to waste, and since the defeat at Stalingrad, therehad also been no news from the front of any decisive victories. How was the mood within the population? Kershaw: Deeply concerned, anxious and oppressed. But confidence in Hitler hadn't vanished yet. It was only at the end of 1944that his standing began to fall like a stone. According to a report by the securityservice near Berchtesgaden, in March 1945, on theso-called Heldengedenktag (ed's note: a Nazi holiday to commemorate fallen heroes) , no one was willing to return the Hitler saluteanymore. SPIEGEL: How reliable were these reports, which the Nazi leadership used to gauge the mood in the country? Kershaw: The srcinal reports from the base are relatively blunt in their statements. In mid-1944, Hitler's secretary, MartinBormann, halted the further dissemination of the central summaries of these reportsfrom the Reich, arguing that they painted themood in too negative a light. The reports from the propaganda offices, which were sent to Joseph Goebbels, also reveal this declinein the general mood. There are often marks on the page where Goebbels had drawn a thick line with a green pen, because he hadexpected reports of victories. SPIEGEL: It was Goebbels who, after July 20, wanted to ask for greater sacrifices from the civilian population. Was Hitler muchmore cautious in this regard? Kershaw: Hitler always had a very sensitive ear for anything that could undermine the morale of the German people. It was alesson he had learned from World War I, namely that it was important to keep the people in good spirits, or else there would be anuprising from below, as had occurred in 1918. That's why he made sure that the Bavarian farmers continued to get their beer. Druckversion - Ian Kershaw on the Last Days of the Third Reich: 'Hitler'...http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,druck-798377,00.html1 of 320/11/2011 22:26  Goebbels saw much more clearly than Hitler that the German population was indeed prepared to accept tough measures, providedthey affected everyone equally. SPIEGEL: The system functioned until the end. Only a few months before the end of the war, applications for building permits werebeing submitted and approved, and wages were being paid. The last concert of the Berlin Philharmonic took place on April 12, 1945. Kershaw: And the Soviet offensive on the German capital began four days later. The audiencesat in the unheated auditorium of thePhilharmonic, wearing heavy coats, while (Wilhelm) Furtwängler conducted Symphony No. 4 by Bruckner. SPIEGEL: And on April 23, 1945, Bayern München defeated TSV 1860 München in the Munich football derby. Kershaw: Yes, they won 3:2. When I read that, I was so shocked that I thought the date might be wrong. But it was correct. SPIEGEL: Do you have an explanation for this eerie urge to preserve normality? Kershaw: The normality of routine, even if it's only a phony normality, is probably essential to the functioning of human order. Yougo to your workplace to check your files, even if the work you do is completely useless. And when your office no longer exists,because it was bombed, you simply set yourself up somewhere else. SPIEGEL: But that isn't enough to maintain the public order. Kershaw: It's true that this wouldn't have been possible without a well-trained civil service. The exemplary bureaucracy was thebackbone of the regime. Even the postal service was kept more or less intact. When the rail network had been destroyed, the Reichpostal minister issued the directive that motorcycles were to be used instead of trains. When there was a shortage of gasoline forthe motorcycles, they switched to bicycles. In the end, they walked across the mountains with a rucksack on their backs. It's bizarreto imagine, but it worked. SPIEGEL: Do you recognize a specific German character trait in all of this? 'There Was Something Typically German about It'Kershaw: I can't by any stretch of the imagination believe that this sort of thing would have been possible in Italy or Greece. Therewas something typically German about it. I don't mean it as a national stereotype. I'm thinking more of a cultural tradition that isimparted through education and encourages certain virtues. At one point in my book I quote Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzinger, the statesecretary in the Reich Chancellery, who, when asked during questioning why he continued working so diligently until the end, repliedin astonishment that it had been his duty. He didn't even understand the question. SPIEGEL: Do Germans lack the ability to slack off? Kershaw: One could put it that way. Of course, it's actually a very positive thing to have a sense or duty or even honor. But theNazis completely distorted these values. What does duty mean for a general in the final phase of the Reich? To keep fighting untileverything is in ruins? Or to issue the order to surrender? SPIEGEL: Perhaps there were too many committed Nazis who truly believed in the cause. Opportunism can sometimes bebeneficial. Kershaw: That's probably true. In many cases, the fate of a city was determined by whether it was being run by people who simplywanted to save their skins, or by fanatics who would order anyone who hung a white flag from their window to be shot. Take Breslau (ed's note: today'sWroclaw) , for example, where Karl Hanke, the local Gauleiter (ed's note: regional Nazi Party leader) , issued theorder to resist to the last man. The center of the city was flattened, and the unspeakable suffering endured by the population, untilBreslau finally fell into Soviet hands, was in vain. SPIEGEL: Hanke himself made sure he was flown out on the last plane. Kershaw: That was typical of these party officials, who spoke of resisting to the last bullet. But only two out of 43 Gauleiter werekilled in combat. The overwhelming number brought themselves to safety early on anddeserted the population. SPIEGEL: Many military historians emphasize the special fighting spirit of the German Wehrmacht. For the ordinary private, wouldthere have been an alternative to continuing to fight? Kershaw: The only thing I see would have been desertion, which would have meant certain death upon capture. SPIEGEL: What is your assessment of Hitler as a military commander? Kershaw: His influence, especially in the late phase of the war, was certainly fatal. But many generals made it too easy forthemselves, after the fact, by blaming him for all the wrong decisions. If you readthe reports from the briefings, you can see thatHitler rarely went against the grain. We know, for example, about the increasingly desperate attempts by Colonel-GeneralGeorg-Hans Reinhardt in East Prussia to convince Hitler to approve a tactical withdrawal of the Army Group Centre. But it wasn't justHitler alone who rejected the idea. In fact, he enjoyed the broad support of the officers in his immediate environment. SPIEGEL: I looked into his eyes and knew that everything would be all right, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz said after a briefing withHitler. Other officers said similar things. Where does this absolute faith in the Führer come from among men who were otherwise notoverly sentimental? Kershaw: You'd have to ask the psychologists. Why did Albert Speer fly back to the bunker when in fact everything was alreadyover? Apparently he was unable to disassociate himself from Hitler until the end, and many others in the entourage felt the sameway. This emotional dependency is also evident in the Gauleiter meeting on Feb. 24,1945, in which the party leaders experiencedHitler as a broken man and were completely horrified by what they saw. But then Hitler approached each man individually andlooked him in the eyes, at which point the mood suddenly lightened, as Gauleiter Rudolf Jordan writes in his memoirs. SPIEGEL: The spell was suddenly broken when Hitler committed suicide. Kershaw: Everything happened very quickly after that. Goebbels was almost the only one who stood by Hitler until death. Almosteveryone else went on the run. Even loyal (Martin) Bormann tried to escape from theworld of the bunker and go wherever he could. SPIEGEL: The bizarre sides of your book include the descriptions of the intrigues at court.German lay in ashes, and yet the paladins Druckversion - Ian Kershaw on the Last Days of the Third Reich: 'Hitler'...http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,druck-798377,00.html2 of 320/11/2011 22:26  © SPIEGEL ONLINE 2011 All Rights ReservedReproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH were grappling for power and influence. Kershaw: This too explains the persistent strength of the system. The mutual mistrust amongthose in the leadership preventedfactions from forming within the power structure that could have been dangerous to Hitler. There were short-term alliances at best,which immediately fell apart when one person discovered an advantage, such as between Goebbels and Speer. SPIEGEL: You describe Speer as the most enigmatic figure in the dictator's circle. What prompted such an intelligent and highlyrealistic person to persevere to the end? Kershaw: An unquenchable ambition, and certainly the faith in Hitler and the mission, as well. Speer remains an enigma to me tothis day. No one was more aware of what condition the Reich was in, and yet in March he wrote a memorandum in which herecommended continuing the fight at the Rhine and the Oder. Of course, he neglectedto mention that in his memoirs. SPIEGEL: You write that the German arms industry produced its largest volume of weapons in December 1944, despite thedevastating bombing war. Kershaw: Without Speer's ability to maintain arms production under the most adverse circumstances, the war would have endedmuch earlier. Until the Ardennes Offensive, he and his people performed veritable miracles when it came to producing ammunition.There is no other way of putting it. SPIEGEL: If the July 20 plotters had been successful with their bomb against Hitler, the war would have been over by the fall of 1944 at the latest. As a historian, do you wish Hitler had been killed on that day,or are you happy that the assassination attemptfailed? Kershaw: I've often asked myself that question. When one writes about these things, one feels an inner wish that they shouldsucceed. I believe this is the position of any person who is not caught up in the ideas of Nazism. In the last year of World War II, asmany people died in Europe as on all military fronts throughout all of World War I.Politically speaking, however, it is probably ablessing that the plotters failed in their attempt. Otherwise, the chances of having a democratic Germany would have beensignificantly slimmer. SPIEGEL: Professor Kershaw, thank you for this interview. Interview conducted by Jan Fleischhauer  URL: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,798377,00.html RELATED SPIEGEL ONLINE LINKS: Nazi Crimes: Diaries Reveal How Much Wartime Germans Knew (10/05/2011)http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,789900,00.htmlA Third Reich Past: Why I Cannot Answer Questions about My Grandfather (09/23 /2011)http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,784373,00.htmlGermany's WWII Occupation of Poland: 'When We Finish, Nobody Is Left Alive' (05/27 /2011)http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,759095,00.htmlRape, Murder and Genocide: Nazi War Crimes as Described by German Soldiers(04/08/2011)http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,755385,00.html Druckversion - Ian Kershaw on the Last Days of the Third Reich: 'Hitler'...http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,druck-798377,00.html3 of 320/11/2011 22:26
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