• U.S.

World Battlefronts: BATTLE OF GERMANY: The Man Who Can’t Surrender

11 minute read

(See Cover)

Terror came on the cold, wet wind with the sound of Russian guns. Panic came on the heels of the milling, stumbling horde of refugees. Berlin, at last, was a battle zone.

Berlin had not been captured by a foreign invader since 1806—and there was no battle then. Headed by their mayor, the citizens came out and welcomed Napoleon’s Marshal Davout with open arms; the local press lavished praise on the French. In those days, good middle-class Prussians washed their hands of the Prussian soldiery.

Last week the citizens were part of the Army. The Volkssturm men who felled trees, dug trenches and fashioned barricades from bomb rubble were simply civilians with red arm bands. Women rode on the antiaircraft guns pulling out for the Oder front. The “mayor,” this time, was clubfooted Paul Joseph Goebbels (Gauleiter of Berlin), who screamed defiance over the radio: “Factories will be blown up and the whole capital scorched!”

Berlin would be defended stone by stone: “We cannot let Breslau and Königsberg put us to shame, much less Warsaw, Leningrad and Moscow!”

Robert Ley, the besotted labor chief, feebly paraphrased Churchill and Clemenceau: “We will fight in front of Berlin, in Berlin, behind Berlin!”

Commentator Wilfrid von Oven: “The enemy is knocking at the door of Berlin. . . . The defenders at this point are still in a state of improvisation. Nobody should lose his head when he sees tanks appear.”

“Schluss! Schlussi” The radio spewed an endless stream of exhortation to all true Germans, of threats to traitors, cowards, shirkers, defeatists. All Army “stragglers” and all males over 13 were ordered to report for Volksstürm duty. The defense of the city was laid out in three zones: 1) the suburbs, including Potsdam, Erkner, Bernau, Lankwitz; 2) the outskirts of the city proper; 3) an inner citadel based on the Potsdamer Platz and Unter den Linden. Even the zoo was fortified.

Some busses were commandeered for the refugees, and others were packed with soldiers and sent off to the front, in imitation of Gallieni’s great taxicab army which helped to save Paris in 1914. Streetcars stopped running and subway service was heavily reduced. Food cards were stretched for an extra week and the potato ration was cut.

Press wires to and from neutral capitals thrummed with high-tension drama: rumors, sensations, travelers’ tales. Police had fired on food rioters, it was said, and on demonstrators protesting the Volkssturm levies; the 55 and the Volkssturm had clashed; the Volkssturm had shot at refugee columns, mistaking them in the dark of night for Bolshevik invaders. Those long range airplanes which were to carry Nazi bigwigs to Japan had their engines turning over again. Goebbels, however, was carrying a vial of poison for use in case Berlin should be suddenly surrounded by Red paratroops. Officials at Tempelhof airdrome hysterically chattered that Russian patrols had appeared, taken a good look around, vanished.

Someone broke into a radio announcement by yelling, “Schluss! Schluss!” (“Finis! The End!”).

Inexorable Hand. Yet the panic and the terror seemed somehow to be kept in bounds. They were not yet visibly leading to chaos and revolt. One Swiss reporter admired the efficient way the refugees were handled, in the face of terrific Allied air bombardments. For lack of transportation, the workers slept in the Berlin factories—but the point was, they went on working. The radio said the Russians had slowed down, that a providential thaw had come to the rescue, that German counterattacks were imminent.

Was the immediate danger to Berlin being purposely exaggerated? Was it a propaganda trick to provide a new lift of morale if the Russians, for sound military reasons, should delay their assault? Such a trick was easily within Goebbels’ powers. In any case, Berlin and the rest of uninvaded Germany were carrying on the fight, under the inexorable hand of Heinrich Himmler.

Clearly or dimly, most Germans realized that Himmler was the new master of the Third Reich. Last October, Himmler himself had told how Germany would” be defended: “Every village, every house, every farm, every ditch, every forest and every bush.” As Adolf Hitler’s longtime chief butcher, torturer, spy and slavemaster, Heinrich Himmler is the archetype of the top Nazi who cannot surrender. Now, while keeping Hitler as the Führer symbol, Himmler does the dictator’s job of maintaining Germany at war. Around himself and his henchmen he has formed the last granite-hard core of German resistance.

Throwing Weight. Last week, according to the rumor mills in Switzerland and Sweden, Himmler went to the Führer’s headquarters and raged against the “con servatism” of the Wehrmacht generals. In the old days, it was Hitler who raged. Last week Himmler was said to have jugged or sent to the rear one field marshal, six generals and 240 other officers accused of dickering with the Moscow-sponsored Free Germany Committee.

That was a lot of weight to throw around, but Himmler had it. In the purge that followed the attempt against Hitler’s life last July, Himmler showed what he could do to Army officers who jumped the fences. There is a strange story that Himmler learned of the plot before it was hatched, and that, to smoke out the rebels, he let it go through, substituting one of Hitler’s doubles to take the physical damage. Then, after the purge, he put his own men in the rebels’ places.

This version of the affair was not corroborated by three Jesuit priests who last week reached Rome from Austria. Hitler, they said, had actually been wounded on the left side of his scalp, and had since been secluded in a small monastery near Salzburg. He was dreamy and apathetic, the priests said, and the other Nazi leaders had all they could do getting him to write and deliver a speech.

Collaboration. Heinrich Himmler seems, or seemed until recently, to be getting along well with the three generals who seem to be running the German war machine: Wilhelm Keitel, Heinz Guderian and Alfred Jodl. Gerd von Rundstedt, the genius who mounted the December offensive in the west, is apparently still under suspicion as a disdainful Junker and has little to say about overall policy.

Himmler is the creator and chief of the SS (the Schutzstaffel, or black-uniformed “Elite Guard”), as well as the infamous secret police, the Gestapo. He is also Reich Minister of the Interior, and Reich Minister of Home Defense. The Volkssturm and the Volksgrenadiere (TIME, Dec. 25) are his creations, and their members are under his control until committed to action. Although Goebbels holds the imposing title of Reich Plenipotentiary for the Total War Effort, in that role the little man is simply Himmler’s assistant, a sort of glorified collector of old clothes, hardware and bric-a-brac for the Army.

Overgrown Bodyguard. The SS, which was first formed as a bodyguard for Hitler, is the core of Nazi fanaticism. Infiltrated throughout the Army (at least eight to every company) the Black Guards serve as spies against defeatism and disloyalty.

Organized in their own units (20 or 25 divisions, at least half armored or partly armored), they constitute a formidable striking force for offense or defense. They are the most pampered, best equipped units in the German Army. Their division strength is kept up to a full 17,000, as against 10,000 or less for the average Wehrmacht division.

When SS divisions were first sent to fight in Russia, the Wehrmacht generals, who disliked both the SS and its boss, let them take some grievous losses. All that has been changed. In the battle of France the SS units were pulled back as nearly intact as possible, leaving second-rate and third-rate troops to take the beating as rearguards. The same thing happened in the battle of the Ardennes.

Professional Tool. In contrast to some Nazis who have been addicts of drink, drugs, homosexuality or women, Himmler seems almost normal. He has never paid much visible attention to the neurotic mysticism of Hitler or to the abstruse ideologies of Rosenberg. Unlike the bestial Julius Streicher, he does not appear to delight in brutality for its own sake. He simply uses terror with absolute cold-bloodedness and efficiency as his main professional tool.

Son of a Catholic schoolteacher, onetime student of agriculture, he joined the Nazis in time for the abortive Beer-Hall Putsch in 1923, and has since applied himself to furthering Heinrich Himmler’s career. The fact that he has kept ten to twelve million foreign slaves at work in Germany is a testimonial to his police ability. His continued personal rise in the last five years shows his aptness for political intrigue.

On Sept. 1, 1939, when Hitler told the Reichstag that Germany was at war, he designated Hermann Göring as his successor in case something should happen to him, and Rudolf Hess as the next leader if something happened to Göring. But Hess dropped first into insanity, then into Scotland, now broods his life away as a British captive. Göring has receded into obscurity, although he is still titular chief of the Luftwaffe. Many Gauleiter who used to hang on Göring’s coattails have switched their allegiance to Himmler. The Gestapoman showed his contempt for Göring by impressing large clumps of air-force personnel into the SS and Volksgrenadiere. Göring is said to have taken up his old drug habit once more.

Himmler and Goebbels have reached a working agreement—superficially amiable —in which Goebbels is clearly subordinate. Presumably Goebbels wants to be on the winning side in case of an intraparty fracas; presumably Himmler needs Goebbels’ propaganda talents. Goebbels’ paper, Das Reich, is full of praise for Himmler’s SS.

Useful Information. Doubtless Himmler could purge anyone in the Reich who got in his way, including Adolf Hitler, but he cannot purge the Allied armies now squeezing him on the east and west. What can he do? The answer is: hold out as long as possible, then go underground. As the policeman of occupied Europe, Himmler made a profound study of the general operations and detailed techniques of the European undergrounds. Why not put the information to good use?

That Himmler is preparing for guerrilla warfare has been vouched for by U.S. Army sources in Europe and by British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden. Last September Mr. Eden said to the House of Commons: “Himmler … is now making preparations for the organization of continued resistance during the occupation of Germany by the Allies. . . . Our reports have been pretty good on this sort of thing, and I would not say it unless I were absolutely convinced that it is right.”

There is unofficial but impressive documentation :

Himmler spends much time picking obscure but fanatical Nazis for his guerrilla army. Some have been planted in concentration camps, to pose as anti-Nazis when the Allies take over. Others have been given identity cards taken from ordinary Germans killed in air raids, and from 30,000 people associated with the old Weimar Republic who were recently purged. Thus equipped, the chosen Nazis can merge into the general population without detection. Hitler Youth are being trained in underground techniques in three schools known as Ordensburgen, and in a postgraduate institution called the Führer Schule, at Chiem See in Bavaria. The guerrilla army already numbers more than 500,000; the “general staff” has been picked.

Unknown Ingredient. But what of the top Nazis who cannot hide? With a compact army of young SS and Hitler Youth fanatics, they will retreat, behind a loyal rearguard cover of Volksgrenadiere and Volksstürmer, to the Alpine massif which reaches from southern Bavaria across western Austria to northern Italy. There immense stores of food and munitions are being laid down in prepared fortifications. If the retreat is a success, such an army might hold out for years.

Guerrilla activity carried out over the whole of Germany, under Allied occupation, will be more difficult. The European undergrounds fighting the German conquerors had three advantages: 1) support from outside; 2) hope of eventual rescue from outside; and 3) support of the local population. German partisans fighting the Allies would lack the first two altogether; the last would be doubtful.

One great unknown ingredient in this witches’ brew is the German people. Undoubtedly the Allies have underestimated their toughness, resourcefulness and will-to-win. Yet as the Germans begin to see absolutely no hope of winning, more & more of them, not so sunk in guilt as the Nazi malefactors, will want to cry quits. There will be only one way to keep them in line: terror.

Heinrich Himmler knows that, accepts it as a matter of course. Germany was the first country which the Nazis seized by terror. They seized others, they spread terror all over Europe. Now it has come home to roost.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com