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The True German
The Diary of a World War II Military Judge
By Werner Otto Müller-Hill, Jefferson Chase
Palgrave Macmillan Copyright © 2011 Michalon Editeur
All rights reserved.
MARCH 28, 1944–JUNE 7, 1945
"You could see it coming, but it still shakes you to the core."
— Journal entry, April 12, 1944
March 28, 1944
My decision to begin a diary on the day after my 59th birthday, which like the four preceding ones, I "celebrated" in uniform, was prompted by a book that I received yesterday as a gift. It's Bouhler's Napoleon, a book that does justice to one of the great pioneers of power politics, a man who — despite many seeming similarities — is not comparable to his successor, this creature possessed by a demon. The former was a far greater figure in terms of human stature and qualities, with nothing of the intolerable narrow-mindedness and small-spiritedness that is National Socialism. The book bows down before France and yet is written with vested German interests in mind. Bouhler fancies that he has uncovered the reasons that led to this titan's fall. And yet when he follows Stendhal in asserting that Napoleon was brought down "firstly by a love of mediocre people that he had maintained since his coronation and secondly by the merging of the job of an emperor with that of a general," it's impossible not to make comparisons — the difference being that H.'s military and political leadership were both disastrous.
The most obvious similarity is that in both cases the impossibility of invading England led to a campaign against Russia and that was the beginning of the end. Yet here, too, there is a fundamental difference. In the case of Napoleon, a large-scale invading army shattered into smithereens. With Hitler, the army has remained intact despite all the setbacks but at the cost of plunging half a generation of German youth into the maelstrom of all-consuming struggle. The center of the eastern front is still intact, even though the Russian has penetrated Romania. And it's anyone's guess how long the center, lacking virility and barely able to supply itself, can stay on its feet.
All of this appears so utterly hopeless to a thinking mind that you can only scratch your head when comrades in your unit speak privately of the certainty and not merely the possibility of victory. Such people talk about a quasi-mythical "weapon of retribution" that will be deployed any day now. They fantasize about a destruction of the south coast of England, in which troops that may be massing there will be "pulverized," so that we and not our enemies will be the ones planning a military landing.
Such people are living in a dreamland from which I fear they will be terribly awakened. I, on the contrary, am of the opinion that a military catastrophe will be unavoidable if the enemy launches a large-scale invasion. And our enemies have more than enough time to prepare one — no matter how eloquently General [Kurt] Dittmar may have spoken today about our defensive triumphs in Cassino.
It is impossible, of course, to broach the things I entrust to this journal in conversation without being completely certain that any given discussion partner shares my opinions — although I can indeed say that about several comrades whose names I will refrain from mentioning. Perhaps, if I should survive the war, it will be of some interest to my son to read the frank assessments of a military judge in what I am convinced is the final phase of the war.
It's impossible to estimate today how long this phase will last. Recently Dr. [Joseph] Goebbels wrote about the difficulty of making hard-and-fast predictions — before going on, for Hitler's sake — to offer a general prognosis of victory. I'm even less able to read the future than he is. My prognosis is very simple: the war will last as long as we hold out. As the situation stands, it is unthinkable that our enemies, with their vast superiority in men and matériel, might falter before we do. That would take a miracle and would presuppose that we don't capitulate, that the war will go on for so long that we are occupied by enemy forces after a series of individual defeats in the east and the west. An invasion will come sooner or later. Should our enemies not try to invade us, or should that invasion fail, it is difficult to envision how the war will end. It could take years until we capitulate — from sheer exhaustion.
March 29, 1944
Nikolayevsk-on-Amur, too, has fallen. The route to Odessa over the Bug River seems to still be partially open. But will we try to hold our ground, with the Russian barreling down the Prut River and perhaps soon reaching Yasny? How will it be possible to supply this army? What a grim situation for the Southern Army. The papers are full of articles about Cassino to divert attention from southeastern front. Around ten days ago, a military correspondent (perhaps the multitalented Dittmar himself) wrote that the Russians' concentration of strength was not great enough for them to have any hope of crossing the Bug. And where are they today?
We need to be clear that these Russian victories are by no means miracles, even if we do have a skilled and decisive military leadership. Since July 1943, we have been exhausting poorly regenerated divisions, while the Russian can always throw new divisions into battle. It's more of a miracle that the Russian hasn't yet completely broken through our lines.
The Russian can shore up weak spots wherever he wants. We don't have this capacity. The tissue of our divisions is simply too thin to hold up everywhere. A little while ago, the local newspaper — unmentionably poorly edited, but where isn't that the case? — made a charming blunder of which Dr. Goebbels would surely have been quite critical. On page one, we read the usual statement about how England only declared war to prevent Danzig from becoming German. On page three, there was a pompous speech by the local gauleiter, claiming that we had a right to Eastern European territory denied to us by the democracies. It could hardly have been any clearer what we really want: the Ukraine, the Kuban region of southern Russia, and perhaps more. After all, you only realize how hungry you are after you've started to eat.
I remember well conversations I heard as a member of the Sixth Corps back when we invaded Russia. People were talking about three months. Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch supposedly said something similar to his generals shortly before June 22, 1941. That only shows that he himself was as blind as his supreme commander.
It's also clear that we were hoping another Russian revolution would break out after the first few setbacks. That's how blind we were, but it's no accident. As the clever Count [Hermann] Keyserling convincingly noted in his Spectrum of Europe, we are the only Europeans who live as introverted thinkers in a world of ideas. That's why K. calls us "windowless monads."
Our foreign policy, insofar as one can use the word "policy" in conjunction with someone as foolhardy as H., must be understood as part of this phenomenon. We made pretty damn daring gambits in the Rhineland, Austria, and Sudetenland, all of which threatened the states hostile to us. Then we barbarically forced the issue on the Jewish question and cleverly earned ourselves the enmity of Jews all over the world. It was a miracle that the coup of [reoccupying the Rhineland in] March 1936 succeeded. Jews would have surely welcomed a defeat for Hitler and one can't blame them. We only had 18 to 20 divisions back then. They would have been obliterated if France, the Czechs, and possibly Poland had attacked. Had they done so, millions of people would not have bled to death on the eastern front! But as things were, France was too content as a state to wage war, especially as England was applying the brakes. Moreover, our demands back then were relatively moderate. But this success made Hitler bolder in his tightrope walk on the cliff's edge of war, which England and France could not bring themselves to wage for three years.
Our propaganda is very adroit in interpreting the fact that it was our claim to Danzig and the [Polish] Corridor which touched off the war, even though our invasion of Czech territory was far more provocative. And this propaganda has clouded the minds of the German to the extent that he can no longer see the lengthy chain of violated agreements: words given, then broken.
March 30, 1944
I've thought long and hard about the existing possibilities after the total defeat I expect we are facing.
1. England and America will be able to head off the Russian and occupy Germany all the way to the East. In this case the result would be partition into many small states. This would eliminate Germany as a political and economic power for the foreseeable future. For that to happen, the West would have to capitulate while the East would have to be held as long as possible. But I have the feeling that the fight against the guys in tuxedoes is more important to H. than the battle against the Russian scum. The result is that, dizzy-headed as he is, he's weakening the east in order to hold England and America in check for as long as possible. Time will tell whether my feeling is right.
2. The Russian will penetrate deep within Germany while the Englishman and the American are slower to advance so that Bolshevism will spread further to the west. This would mean the end of an elevated class, although not the end of the nation — seen in numbers and not in terms of quality. Together with Austria, we're a people of 80 million, and we've lost maybe six million people on the battlefield and in bombing raids. If four to five million "bourgeois" are eliminated, there'll still be 70 million Germans left. Even in the wake of chaos and bloodbaths, this people would still be a political entity, albeit one under the sway of Moscow. In this case, there cannot be the slightest doubt that, in time, this state would become a power together with the Red Army, which would increase Stalin's might.
We — which is to say my class of people — will not experience any of this, at least insofar as the human imagination can envision, but it's nonsense to assume in the latter case that we would become a people of fellahin, as Spengler predicted. No one would be less likely to welcome this development than England and America, even if a thinking person has to admit that it is possible ... You could even say that, were this scenario to come to pass, England and America would have waged the war in vain, since only weakening Germany for five or ten years would be historically insignificant.
It is not inconceivable that we could reach agreement with England and America if a revolution on our part pushed aside the regime. We would, however, have to give up all opportunities for exercising power such as our army and centralized economy. Thus, when one extends these thoughts to their logical conclusion, one arrives at the following result.
Anyone for whom power politics is the be-all and end-all, as we learned to think from Bismarck, would prefer the second scenario. The embarrassment of being shot in the head or expiring in a concentration camp notwithstanding, the second scenario would not remove any possibility of our remaining a power.
Moreover, if we are bolshevized, then all of Europe will be as well. So hurry up with your invasion before it's too late, you Western democracies, assuming you want to save Europe.
April 4, 1944
In the east, nothing absolutely decisive has happened, if you don't consider Army Group A's wholesale abandonment of the Ukraine as tipping the decision against us. I'm including a newspaper from April 2 that contains a speech by Dr. Goebbels and an analysis of the third phase of the war from his junior, but no less impertinent colleague [Franz] Moraller. They simply must be preserved. The great demagogue once again draws comparisons with the struggle for power before 1933 and claims that not numbers, but strength of spirit will determine the outcome of the battle. Given that tanks and planes, and not big mouths on the streets and at insane election rallies, are the determining factors, such statements are an outrage. How much more are we poor people going to have to swallow before such speeches and essays are revealed to be ridiculous soap bubbles. By the way, he also promises brilliant things to come soon from the German side. We'll just wait and see — and remember those words if the Russian offensive continues.
Mr. Moraller is equally bold when he says that "everything is still possible." Unfortunately, that's also the case for our enemies. Indeed, I fear that they will be able to achieve the very worst.
Moraller has the audacity to propose that the catastrophic phase came to an end on November 9, 1943. For my part, as a humble ethnic comrade, I would contend that it only truly got underway in 1944. But given our horrific state of the southern part of the eastern front, it will remain M.'s eternal secret how he could describe our strategic position as improving after November 9, 1943.
The only thing you can say in light of these articles, inspired as they are by higher-ups, is that the gods strike blind those whom they want to cast into damnation. At the very least, after they invaded the Czechs, our leaders were afflicted with a blindness that led them to believe they could satisfy other such desires without waging war. On the other hand, given our undeniable advantage of armaments, it seems as though our leaders strove directly for war. And the people don't notice! Although one has to be self-critical. I have to admit I didn't notice it, either, until I was alarmed by Hitler's Saarbrücken speech [on October 9, 1938]. People were mentally paralyzed by an infernal propaganda. What's more: why would rational leaders want war when, regardless of how the international community may have been rebuffed, they had achieved the lion's share of their foreign-policy aims? Any reasonable person would have thought that they wouldn't. Amidst Hitler's repeated assurances that he wanted peace, there was no reason to suspect that our leadership would be as demonically possessed as we now have, to our horror, realized.
A row of marching battalions was not able to depart from our reinforcement division for Army Group South, because those "above" couldn't decide where exactly they should be sent. I fear that in half a year, such difficulties will no longer exist. They'll simply be sent to Germany's borders, if not somewhere within Germany proper.
How long will Romania stay by our side? The Russian army has arrived there, and I fear there will be a fall which [Ion] Antonescu will be powerless to prevent. Then Hungary's fate will also be sealed.
The coming weeks will decide. If the Russian breaks through to Iasi and Chisinau and past Odessa, that could spell the end of Romanian resistance.
Then we'll read in the newspapers that all the action is happening far, far away from Germany. We'll hear about a deep flank that we've suddenly formed so that the people won't get the idea that all has been wagered and lost, and that it's now just a matter of fighting to postpone the end.
The people? They silently go about doing their duty, whether as workers or soldiers. If anyone speaks out of turn, it's off with his head. For that reason I can no longer believe — or perhaps I should say hope — for a collapse on the home front.
Six months ago I received a letter from Professor B., who served on the military tribunal in Frankfurt am Main and to whom I had written about my worries concerning North Africa. Unfortunately, I no longer have this letter. In any case, he wrote that Tunis would, as a matter of course, be held. Where Russia was concerned, in case it did not capitulate in 1943, Japan would deliver the killing blow during the course of the year.
An educated person, a beacon of knowledge, wrote that!
There's no need for any further commentary. The letter itself is evidence enough of the stupidity of which a German university professor can be capable when he ventures outside his area of expertise.
The good man has not answered two further letters from me. I hope he doesn't hold me responsible for the reversals of history or begin to construct some conspiracy legend starting with me. If they didn't make you cry, you'd have to laugh.
Excerpted from The True German by Werner Otto Müller-Hill, Jefferson Chase. Copyright © 2011 Michalon Editeur. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
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