Military history


I WENT BACK that autumn to the once proud land, where I had spent most of the brief years of the Third Reich. It was difficult to recognize. I have described that return in another place.29 It remains here merely to record the fate of the remaining characters who have figured prominently in these pages.

Doenitz’s rump government, which had been set up at Flensburg on the Danish border, was dissolved by the Allies on May 23, 1945, and all its members were arrested. Heinrich Himmler had been dismissed from the government on May 6, on the eve of the surrender at Reims, in a move which the Admiral calculated might win him favor with the Allies. The former S.S. chief, who had held so long the power of life and death over Europe’s millions, and who had often exercised it, wandered about in the vicinity of Flensburg until May 21, when he set out with eleven S.S. officers to try to pass through the British and American lines to his native Bavaria. Himmler—it must have galled him—had shaved off his mustache, tied a black patch over his left eye and donned an Army private’s uniform. The party was stopped the first day at a British control point between Hamburg and Bremerhaven. After questioning, Himmler confessed his identity to a British Army captain, who hauled him away to Second Army headquarters at Lueneburg. There he was stripped and searched and made to change into a British Army uniform to avert any possibility that he might be concealing poison in his clothes. But the search was not thorough. Himmler kept his vial of potassium cyanide concealed in a cavity of his gums. When a second British intelligence officer arrived from Montgomery’s headquarters on May 23 and instructed a medical officer to examine the prisoner’s mouth, Himmler bit on his vial and was dead in twelve minutes, despite frantic efforts to keep him alive by pumping his stomach and administering emetics.

The remaining intimate collaborators of Hitler lived a bit longer. I went down to Nuremberg to see them. I had often watched them in their hour of glory and power at the annual party rallies in this town. In the dock before the International Military Tribunal they looked different. There had been quite a metamorphosis. Attired in rather shabby clothes, slumped in their seats fidgeting nervously, they no longer resembled the arrogant leaders of old. They seemed to be a drab assortment of mediocrities. It seemed difficult to grasp that such men, when last you had seen them, had wielded such monstrous power, that such as they could conquer a great nation and most of Europe.

There were twenty-one of them* in the dock: Goering, eighty pounds lighter than when last I had seen him, in a faded Luftwaffe uniform without insignia and obviously pleased that he had been given the Number One place in the dock—a sort of belated recognition of his place in the Nazi hierarchy now that Hitler was dead; Rudolf Hess, who had been the Number Three man before his flight to England, his face now emaciated, his deep-set eyes staring vacantly into space, feigning amnesia but leaving no doubt that he was a broken man; Ribbentrop, at last shorn of his arrogance and his pompousness, looking pale, bent and beaten; Keitel, who had lost his jauntiness; Rosenberg, the muddled party “philosopher,” whom the events which had brought him to this place appeared to have awakened to reality at last.

Julius Streicher, the Jew-baiter of Nuremberg, was there. This sadist and pornographer, whom I had once seen striding through the streets of the old town brandishing a whip, seemed to have wilted. A bald, decrepit-looking old man, he sat perspiring profusely, glaring at the judges and convincing himself—so a guard later told me—that they were all Jews. There was Fritz Sauckel, the boss of slave labor in the Third Reich, his narrow little slit eyes giving him a porcine appearance. He seemed nervous, swaying to and fro. Next to him was Baldur von Schirach, the first Hitler Youth Leader and later Gauleiter of Vienna, more American by blood than German and looking like a contrite college boy who has been kicked out of school for some folly. There was Walther Funk, the shifty-eyed nonentity who had succeeded Schacht. And there was Dr. Schacht himself, who had spent the last months of the Third Reich as a prisoner of his once revered Fuehrer in a concentration camp, fearing execution any day, and who now bristled with indignation that the Allies should try him as a war criminal. Franz von Papen, more responsible than any other individual in Germany for Hitler’s coming to power, had been rounded up and made a defendant. He seemed much aged, but the look of the old fox, who had escaped from so many tight fixes, was still imprinted on his wizened face.

Neurath, Hitler’s first Foreign Minister, a German of the old school, with few convictions and little integrity, seemed utterly broken. Not Speer, who made the most straightforward impression of all and who during the long trial spoke honestly and with no attempt to shirk his responsibility and his guilt. Seyss-Inquart, the Austrian quisling, was in the dock, as were Jodl and the two Grand Admirals, Raeder and Doenitz—the latter, the successor to the Fuehrer, looking in his store suit for all the world like a shoe clerk. There was Kaltenbrunner, the bloody successor of “HangmanHeydrich,” who on the stand would deny all his crimes; and Hans Frank, the Nazi Inquisitor in Poland, who would admit some of his, having become in the end contrite and, as he said, having rediscovered God, whose forgiveness he begged; and Frick, as colorless on the brink of death as he had been in life. And finally Hans Fritzsche, who had made a career as a radio commentator because his voice resembled that of Goebbels, who had made him an official in the Propaganda Ministry. No one in the courtroom, including Fritzsche, seemed to know why he was there—he was too small a fry—unless it were as a ghost for Goebbels, and he was acquitted.

So were Schacht and Papen. All three later drew stiff prison sentences from German denazification courts though, in the end, they served very little time.

Seven defendants at Nuremberg drew prison sentences: Hess, Raeder and Funk for life, Speer and Schirach for twenty years, Neurath for fifteen, Doenitz for ten. The others were sentenced to death.

At eleven minutes past 1 A.M. on October 16, 1946, Ribbentrop mounted the gallows in the execution chamber of the Nuremberg prison, and he was followed at short intervals by Keitel, Kaltenbrunner, Rosenberg, Frank, Frick, Streicher, Seyss-Inquart, Sauckel and Jodl.

But not by Hermann Goering. He cheated the hangman. Two hours before his turn would have come he swallowed a vial of poison that had been smuggled into his cell. Like his Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler, and his rival for the succession, Heinrich Himmler, he had succeeded at the last hour in choosing the way in which he would depart this earth, on which he, like the other two, had made such a murderous impact.

* Dr. Robert Ley, head of the Arbeitsfront, who was to have been a defendant, had hanged himself in his cell before the trial began. He had made a noose from rags torn from a towel, which he had tied to a toilet pipe.

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