My work in Germany showed me the tremendous complexity of their intelligence service, with its spies in every corner of the world. It also showed me for the first time, some of its appalling inefficiencies. I must explain that at this time, the Nazi espionage service was in the process of reorganization. Formerly under the direction of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the service had become so hopelessly unreliable that the whole works was taken over by the SS.
EDITOR NOTE - After the bomb attempt on Hitler’s life in WOLF’S LAIR, Canaris (photo left) was arrested and held in Flossenberg Prisoner Camp until just before the camp was taken by Allied troops. Canaris was hanged by a thin piece of piano wire, actually strangling to death.
It was generally accepted that Canaris was anti-Nazi and anti-Hitler, but it remains to be learned if he was also a traitor to Germany and in the pocket of the Soviets, as some rumors states.
A laughable instance of the unreliability of the Intelligence Service under the Abwehr, I discovered for myself, when checking a file referring to Casablanca in Africa, which is the most top secret category. I had been looking for information on President Roosevelt’s residence in Washington and was amazed to find several handfuls of papers reporting the activities of Arab sympathizers. The mix-up was obvious. Reports on both subjects had come in Spanish, and Casablanca literally translated means ‘WHITE HOUSE’ but no one had troubled to question that there might not be Arabs on Roosevelt’s Washington staff!
I settled down to work in Köln but before long, ‘round the clock air raids made it almost impossible to carry on. In fact, there wasn’t a window left in our office when Willy Oberbeil told me
‘Good news, Juan. We’re getting out of this hell-hole. We’ve both been ordered to Berlin.’
and he waved a coded telegram jubilantly in front of my face.
But I did not share Willy’s joy. From what I had seen of the capital a couple of months earlier, I fancied that Berlin would be no more pleasant than Köln - and I was right. I worked out the last months of 1944 in a draughty, comfortless room behind the old Reichstag in Berlin. I cannot remember clearly Christmas day 1944; except that everyone drank a little too much. The Führer’s name was toasted in a wave of optimism, following the early success of the Ardennes offensive, which he promised would drive the Allies back to the sea.
Instead, it drove him back to Berlin, and Oberbeil and myself found ourselves summoned back to the Bunker.
Within a few days of arriving in the Bunker with Oberbeil, I was to be called into that HOLY OF HOLIES, Hitler’s private office, to be questioned by the Führer himself. All through my stay in Germany, I had been receiving a trickle of reports from our men in the United States and South America of a new American secret weapon. Although no details were forthcoming, the reports hinted at an entirely new type of bomb of devastating destructive power. At the same time, I understood that the Nazi scientists were working desperately to design a workable nuclear warhead for our V-2 rockets. However, our hopes were crushed after Allied bombers totally destroyed German atomic research laboratories in Norway and Prussia. It was becoming obvious that the Americans would win the race to perfect this hideous weapon; the first Atomic Bomb. It was in connection with one of our reports from the United States that the Führer sent for me.
One morning in the last week of January, Oberbeil burst into our office, highly excited and spoke to me so rapidly in German that I had difficulty catching what he said. When he finally ran out of breath, I asked him to repeat his message.
‘You are ordered to report to Hitler immediately’’
‘He wishes to question you personally regarding the reliability of one of our agents. Now come and follow me, quickly.’
This was not the first time I had seen Hitler face to face. Eighteen months earlier I had stood at rigid attention while he decorated me, a Spanish subject, with the IRON CROSS for my services to the NAZI cause. Yet, as I followed Oberbeil in the direction of Hitler’s office, I found myself unconsciously straightening my tie and smoothing my hair into place.
Entering this inner sanctum (Hitler’s private office and apartments in the Führerbunker) was a complicated business. One had to have an express order, signed by the Führer himself personally to get in. This was examined by an SS Sergeant of the Führer’s personal body guard before one could be admitted beyond the partitioned wall of the main conference corridor.
The fact that Oberbeil was an officer of the SS made no difference; only someone personally referred to in the Führer’s signed order could pass. Having satisfied this guard, we went through into a passage where there was a large wooden table with some 15 or 18 chairs arranged around its sides. To the left, three doors opened off the corridor.
The middle one was blocked by a huge SS guard. He too scrutinized our passes. He told us to sit down and wait, and disappeared into the room at his back. He came back a moment later and announced:
“The Führer will see you immediately.”
When I crossed the threshold of his map room, Adolf Hitler was sitting at his desk. He looked shrunken and indescribably aged. His light brown uniform jacket - the Nazi party dress he almost always wore - hung from his shoulders like a shroud. Such was the power and personality of this man that one always expected to see someone of giant proportions, but in this setting his smallness was emphasized by the size of the desk at which he sat. It was an enormous piece of furniture, littered with trays, each stacked with bundles of papers. Four telephones, all of them black, clustered within easy reach of his right hand. The walls to the left and right of the door were lined by slanting tables covered with maps.
Three high-ranking Wehrmacht officers were working on them, fixing brightly colored pins according to the instructions contained in military directives to which they referred from time to time. These men did not even glance up as Oberbeil and myself entered. Two chairs had been placed facing Hitler’s desk and the Führer motioned me to sit down while Oberbeil remained standing just inside the door.
I studied Hitler - fascinated. His head did not seem to be fixed firmly on his shoulders but wobbled alarmingly as he talked. He appeared to have little control over its movement. His left arm, which rested on the side of his leather chair throughout the interview, did not move once the whole time I was there. His right hand and arm trembled violently as he spoke of our new weapons, flying bombs and rockets, seem like nursery toys.
Hitler revealed no clue to his thoughts, but he studied the report again for a full minute before he asked:
“You are quite sure that if this information had not been correct, then our agent would not have transmitted?”
“Yes, absolutely, my Führer.” I replied.
Until that moment, his speech had been slow and without emotion; the hesitant throaty voice of an exhausted man. But now, having thought a few moments longer, he seemed to come to a decision. His manner changed abruptly. Staring wildly at me, his eyes bulging horribly from their sockets, he rasped:
“You will contact this man immediately. Find out the date of the first full scale tests and the place where they will occur.”
His voice rising with each word he went on:
“I want to know how many of these devices the enemy possesses. How am I expected to make decisions without knowing the facts?”
As he spoke, the fingers of his right hand beat a sharp tattoo on the desk top. I tried to answer calmly, but my heart was beating so hard against my ribs that I thought he must surely detect my fear of him.
“I am not sure how soon I can get this information.” I told him.
“I realize the urgency, my Führer, but even so it might take our agent several weeks to procure this kind of information.”
Even as I spoke, I wondered if I might have provoked him into one of his fits of screaming and abuse, which were the horror of anyone called in to see him. But I was fortunate. Hitler stopped his finger tapping abruptly as if making an effort to control himself. When he answered, his voice had sunk to its former low pitched level.
“I appreciate the difficulties in carrying out my order, Herr Gomez,” He said flatly, “but I cannot stress too highly the importance of receiving this information quickly. I am sure our friends in America will realize this too.”
He nodded and became absorbed in other documents on his deck. I felt a tap on my shoulder and half turning in my chair, saw Oberbeil standing beside me. He beckoned and walked towards the door. I stood up, saluted the bowed figure behind the desk, received a slight jerk of his right hand in acknowledgment - the interview was over. I turned on my heel and followed Oberbeil into the corridor.
I left that office with mixed emotions; frightened and for the first time, unsure of my leader. I was at the same time, filled with such a great feeling of affection and loyalty as not to know which of my emotions to trust. What was it about this man, I thought, which made otherwise strong willed men follow him blindly? I think it was the power of his eyes. There was something uncanny about them. He could inspire confidence in his followers and turn enemies into friends merely it seemed, by looking at them.
He was not tall, of muscular build, or even handsome. Although he could, when he chose, be charming, he was for the most part unnecessarily rude to those around him and was possessed of a cruel streak and delighted in wanton destruction when he thought it necessary - which was often. Yet when it came to his own self-destruction, Hitler failed, as only a handful of people, including myself, know.
I was glad to get out of his office without inadvertently rousing him to one of his screaming tantrums, which was always liable to erupt - with little provocation. I have known brave men utterly demolished by one of these maniac diatribes, though I have never witnessed one myself.
But I shall never forget the day when Colonel SS Rudolf Wagner, my Intelligence Chief in the Bunker, staggered into our office, pale and shaking, after attending one of the Führer’s stormy conferences.
Wagner’s face was grey with shock. He leaned on the half open door, his eyes closed;
‘God help us all.’ He gasped. ‘Hitler is mad. We are in the hands of a homicidal maniac.’
The man standing before me sobbed out the words over and over again and then sank, tears streaming down his cheeks, into a chair in front of my desk. Colonel SS Wagner, Chief of the Intelligence Department in the Berlin Bunker, had just returned from one of Hitler’s daily conferences.
It was March, 1945. I had been in the Führerbunker beneath the Berlin Reich Chancellery for just eight weeks, having been forced to flee my native Spain. In my own country, I had been Chief of the Nazi espionage ring, but left hurriedly when enemy agents tried to kidnap me. In the eight weeks I’d been in the Reich Capital, I had been reduced to a shadow of my former self, my nerves in shreds, irritable and jumpy. The ceaseless pounding of bombs on the city fifty feet above our heads, the fear that the rapidly advancing Russian Army might, at any moment, over-run us, and the knowledge that I was closeted in the bunker with a madman had undermined my physical and mental health to such an extent that I was no longer able even to sleep.
Wagner was in even worse shape. Looking at him now, slumped across my desk with his head buried in his hands; I knew that he had reached his limit. I glanced across at Willy Oberbeil, the SS Commander who was the third member of our team. The sight of Wagner had obviously upset him, and he crouched over his desk, nervously biting the backs of his knuckles. Our eyes met for a moment before he glanced away.
I waited, sick and embarrassed, until Wagner pulled himself together sufficiently to tell us what had happened in the Führer’s conference. Puffing nervously on the cigarette I had lit for him, Wagner told us simply,
‘Hitler has ordered the complete destruction of Germany and the German people. He claims the nation has proved itself weak and therefore does not deserve to survive.’
So this was it. Hitler had finally recognized that our position was hopeless. He had accepted defeat. And now, with this ‘scorched earth’ policy, meant to ensure that nothing of any value would be left to the armies now gathering for their final thrusts into the Third Reich.
‘There is no need,’ the Führer had said, ‘to consider the basis of even a most primitive existence any longer.’
I could not believe that any German would take this spiteful, lunatic order seriously. To me, as to Wagner, it seemed like the final proof that Hitler was mad.
In fact, this order was never totally carried out, thanks to the sanity of men like Albert Speer, the Reich Industrial Minister. Even though he had served the Nazi cause since the beginnings of their power, he clearly saw the catastrophic possibilities of ‘scorched earth’.
But from the babble of orders and counter-orders which flowed in and out of the bunker in those last desperate days, it was clear that there was one man at least who was determined to put the Führer’s policy into action; Martin Bormann!
Early in my days in the bunker, I’d become fascinated by this man. He seemed to move almost unnoticed among the strutting Nazi hierarchy. He was a quiet man, not given to powerful speeches or death-defying slogans like the bunker’s other powerful occupant, Josef Goebbels. And yet, there was no doubting his tremendous power. Here was Hitler’s most faithful lieutenant, his most adamant supporter - the grey eminence behind the throne.
His quietness was deceptive. Although almost unknown outside the immediate circle of Nazi rule, he had succeeded in usurping the influence of men like Himmler and even Göring, now a discredited and untrusted buffoon. Bormann’s secret of success seemed to be his constant presence. Hitler could hardly have turned around in those days without finding the attentive Bormann at his elbow. And such ready attention was to pay off for Martin Bormann. Before the end, he was to take charge, even over his old master.
When Hitler unleashed his ‘scorched earth’ policy, it was Bormann who reinforced it with a series of dreadful orders.
On March 23, he decreed that the whole population of Germany; men, women, children, slave laborers and prisoners of war were to be rounded up and force-marched to Berlin.
Had that order been carried out, the result would have been mass starvation. He must have been aware that millions would have died. But knowing Martin Bormann as I do, I doubt whether any such appeals on the grounds of humanity would have affected him.
I came into contact with this shadowy man only rarely while in the bunker. Yet on the few occasions when I did see him, I was struck by his apparent determination, his power and his dedication to the Führer. Even then it crossed my mind that if there was one man who might keep the flag of Nazism flying even after defeat in war, that man would be Martin Bormann. And events proved me right.
Now, as March slipped by, the military situation grew more and more desperate. The Red Army had smashed its way through Prussia, the British were thrusting into Northern Germany and the American armies were gathering for their thrust deep into the heart of the Reich. The messages we handled were a catalogue of gloom, with only the occasional local success to revive our sinking spirits. Days and nights became meaningless, the atmosphere among the staff in the bunker alternated between resignation and fear, and visitors to the bunker dwindled to four or five a day.
Always there was Bormann, with his own quarters and his own staff in a separate bunker under the Chancellery, but the impression I got was that fewer and fewer Nazi officials and Generals were risking a trip to Berlin and the ominous threat of the advancing Russians. They knew that above all, the Russians would exact awful retribution from the Nazis they so bitterly hated. And the hope that the remnants of our best Panzer Divisions would be able to hold off the Red Army seizing Berlin were now crumbling.
One morning, I was sitting at my overcrowded desk talking to Wagner and Oberbeil when the teleprinter began to click. Wagner rose and went over to the machine. He ripped out a two-line message, which was in code and had to be fed into the deciphering unit. Then Wagner read it. He froze for a moment, then with a sudden burst of fury, he screwed the paper into a ball and threw it into the corner.
‘Oh the bastards!’ He snarled, smashing his fist down on the table. ‘The lousy bastards!’
Oberbeil went over and picked the ball of paper off the floor and smoothed it out.
‘We shall have to communicate this to the Führer, whatever it is.’
He said as he did so.
Wagner rounded on him.
‘What do we communicate?” Everything is lost, you fool!’
and he collapsed into a chair. Oberbeil showed me the message. It told us that our defenses had been smashed and the Red Army was fighting its way into Berlin. The news, although it had been expected, stunned the bunker. We could do little - except pray that the Russians did not take us prisoner. It was like living in a mad-house. By now I was thoroughly frightened. But it was nothing to be ashamed of; everyone else around me was frightened too
Since the heavy bombardment of Berlin had begun in March, morale had sunk almost to zero. The whole bunker trembled continually. Bombing by aircraft was going on around the clock and had been for six weeks and now, as the Russians closed in, the perceptibly different noise of artillery shelling added to the general din. We could definitely tell the difference between the explosions of shells and bombs.
The shells we heard - but the bombs we could feel. During really heavy raids, it became necessary when drinking coffee to hold the cup firmly with both hands to prevent its spilling. Now and again even our emergency supply of electricity would be cut, plunging us into total darkness. It was then the urge to scream out loud became really terrible. I can think of only one reason, in fact, why I didn’t go raving mad in that bombarded rat hole. It was that we were all encouraged, often instructed, to take drugs in the form of pills which, it was claimed, would make us feel optimistic. No drug could have done that but the stimulant we took might have been the reason we carried on.
They certainly worked on Wagner for short spells, but he took them in handfuls. Willy Oberbeil and myself were more wary. Even so, when I had to do without them after being interned in a Swiss refugee camp, I found my nerves in shreds and I quickly became depressed to the point of suicide.
Perhaps the only message which brought any consolation to those in the bunker the last days, was the startling news we received on April 13. We learned that President Franklin Roosevelt had died.
Oddly enough, Wagner was instructed to contact Intelligence headquarters in the stronghold of Rottach am Egern in southern Germany, to ask if we had any hand in it. The answer came back:
‘No, it was a normal death.’
The news of the American leader’s death was seized on in the bunker both as a sign of a change in our fortunes and as an event which would lead to our salvation, even at this eleventh hour. I heard that Dr. Goebbels confidently predicted that, with Roosevelt out of the way, the Allies would now wake up to the threat of Russia dominating Europe and would quickly end hostilities against Germany and join us in the fight against the Red hordes. According to reports which had come into the bunker earlier in the year from our agents in the United States, it was Roosevelt who snuffed any hopes the Nazis had that the Russians would be kept out of Berlin. Even then it was quite clear that, had they wanted to, the Americans and British could easily have won the race to the Reich capitol.
But Roosevelt, we were told, had already had secret talks with Stalin without the knowledge or approval of the British and French in which the Americans had agreed that the Russians take the capitol. We were informed that, privately, the President regarded the Russians as the only people fit to do the dirty job of taking Berlin. The Russians, he said, were savages and he was perfectly happy to let them take Berlin. The Americans wanted no part of it. And as he further agreed with the Russians, our agents said, just how Germany would be partitioned when hostilities ended.
Accordingly, instructions were issued to the Allied Commander, General Eisenhower direct from the White House, ordering him to slow the advance of the British and American armies into Germany. The Russians must be given time to take Berlin and do their ‘dirty work’. Therefore, in contradiction of his Field Generals Patton and Montgomery, Eisenhower put on the brakes on the drive for Berlin. But now, with Roosevelt dead, Nazi hopes were rising that the Allies in the west would resume their push to the capitol. Regrettably for Germany - and as it turned out, for the rest of the world - this never happened. One effect of this American failure was to make it easier for me to escape Germany. And not only for me, but for many Nazi leaders who fled across the borders to Switzerland.
EDITOR NOTE – Thanks to critical help from the Vatican, most went to Spain then to Argentina.
Had they seized their opportunities, the Allies might well have captured the man who was destined to continue preaching our Nazi creed long after the war was over- Martin Bormann himself! But these considerations hardly worried us as we waited there in the besieged bunker in April 1945. On the 15th of that month, the bunker received one of its most interesting visitors ……Eva Braun.
Eva Braun arrived the Führerbunker coming up from Bavaria.
Eva and her Scotty at the Eagle’s Nest, Bavaria
Eva at Hitler’s Berghof on the Obersalzberg, Bavaria