Ein Anderer Hitler by Hermann Giesler: Headquarters 1942
Revealing Talks at Hitler's Headquarters Wolfsschanze and Wehrwolf, 1942
Translated from Ein Anderer Hitler by Hermann Giesler,
Druffel Verlag, Leoni am Starnberger See, 6th Edition 1982
By Carolyn Yeager and Wilhelm Mann
Copyright 2008 Carolyn Yeager
Adolf Hitler and his generals. Far left, Erich von Manstein. Right, Kurt Zietzler and Ewald von Kleist.
Hermann Giesler`s talks with Hitler took place at the Führerhauptquartier (Führer’s headquarters) Wolfsschanze at Rastenburg, East Prussia and Wehrwolf near Winniza, Ukraine February through September 1942. They cover a time span of extraordinary military events.
The term Führerhauptquartier was used to denote Adolf Hitler’s whereabouts in the field, and the highest level of the German army. There were several headquarters, most located in secluded areas where they could not be seen from the ground or the air. The construction of Wolfsschanze, Hitler’s largest headquarters, began in the autumn of 1940 under the pseudonym Chemische Werke Askania. The entire complex, covering 250 hectares, was not completed until the autumn of 1944.
A pine forest about 15 km north of the town of Winniza was the location of the smaller and farthest east Führer’s Headquarters Wehrwolf. Hitler ordered the special spelling of ‘Wehr,’ which is German for ‘defense,’ as a play on words.
When Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of Soviet Russia, began in June 1941, Heeresgruppe Nord (Army Group North) was staged in East Prussia with the goal of taking Leningrad and also securing the northern flank of Army Group Centre, among other objectives. The early, extremely harsh winter caught the German advance at the North and middle fronts with all its brutality. From the western suburbs of Moscow, where German Panzergrenadiere crossed the city’s snow-covered streetcar tracks, to the icy forests of the Waldai Heights, the front collapsed. Spontaneously organized battlegroups were then created out of pieces and parts of larger military units, some multi-purpose, some hedgehog defensive formations. The unbent will of Adolf Hitler and of most of the commanding officers, together with the outstanding heroism of the German soldier, saved that part of the Eastern front, and more or less the total Eastern campaign, from a chaotic collapse.
With the coming of spring and the gradual melting of the polar deep freeze along the North and middle sector, Wolfschanze headquarters was able to regroup and reinforce its battered front lines. Encouraged by the tremendous success of clearing the Demjansk encirclement and shortening the frontline between Lake Illmen and Lake Ladoga in March 1942, in addition to General von Manstein’s conquering of the Fortress Sevastopol and gaining control over the Crimea Peninsula and the strait of Kertsch in June, a daring double thrust was planned: towards the Caucasus in the South and a cut-off move toward Oranienbaum/Leningrad in the North.
Giesler reveals Hitler’s unrelieved tension and deep disappointment about the failure of the Oranienbaum offensive … his deep-seated suspicion of betrayal and sabotage. In such a difficult environment, Adolf Hitler found relief and relaxation in the short intervals he allowed himself to spend with his pet projects: city renewal, architecture and art.
Wolfsschanze - Winter 1941/42
Minister Dr.Todt had asked me to undertake important war construction work at the Balticum (Baltic area) within the Army Group North. From December 1941 on, all of my co-workers – architects and engineers, plus the workers of the construction companies with their equipment – were working in that area. To support the supply line for the troops, we built railways and de-icing sheds for the railway engines, along with side tracks and fast lane tracks.
I arrived at the Führer Headquarters Wolfschanze for a few days of meetings. After the discussions with the officers of the army transport department, I called the adjutant’s office about reporting to Hitler. The Generals Schmundt and Scherf informed me about the situation at the front. Both pointed out how serious the situation had become during the past weeks. With elemental force, the winter attacked the hard-fighting troops. The engines of tanks and transport carriers failed under the biting cold, guns froze, MGs and automatic weapons did not work. In icy snowstorms, without winter equipment, lacking accommodations and short of supply, the German soldier fought doggedly and grimly against the massive onslaught of fresh, winter-proven units of the Red Army’s far Eastern areas and Siberia.
The frontline staggered. Russian breakthroughs shattered troops and leadership. General Schmundt told me Hitler faced very hard decisions.
“Up until now the troops successfully led attacks with confidence. But now, a sacrificing and desperate defense requested the hardest resistance from the soldiers. Many commanding generals pleaded for a withdrawal, in order to shorten the front line. The Führer had to make a very hard decision. The army had to stay tough, fight and withdraw only step by step where resistance was impossible. The front has to hold and will hold. The Führer did not loose his nerve. His strong attitude influenced the troops. The soldier understood him and recognized his decision was right and the order necessary – he stood fast and fought! The army of the East was saved because a retreat would have turned into a chaotic flight and destruction.”
Today we know that we not only missed the weeks of the unforeseen Balkan campaign, but also in the East the divisions which would have been available for the North, the West and South(1). Why did the winter equipment not reach the troops in time? I had heard that the Waffen SS and the Luftwaffe got theirs in time. I asked General Schmundt:
“That is painful, but I do not like to comment – even though I could say a lot about it. Although the winter arrived unusually early and hard, not only was winter equipment missing, but also general supplies and ammunition. We did not have front-experienced divisions at our disposal when the Russians threw fresh Siberian troops into the battle.”
I sensed restraint and evasion. Only later I received information about the true happenings. I had a chance to talk to General Jodl (Chief of Staff at OKW). He told me:
“I admired the Führer when he laid out his strategy for the West campaign, but I was much more impressed during the last weeks by his unbelievable energy and will power, his faith and suggestive strength which held the staggering Eastern front and avoided a catastrophe. A leader-personality of outstanding greatness.”
When I reported to Hitler, I told him I consider it the utmost satisfaction to serve the war tasks at the Balticum and the Army Group North with all my heart. I am the right man for that task. Already in WWI, I served as a ‘pioneer’ (sea/bee) at the front. But that was not said quite right for him. When Dr.Todt informed Hitler about my team activities, he approved. Hitler said my architects and engineers had to deploy all available manpower at the Balticum for urgently needed railway/bridge/road/port construction in order to secure the supply lines and relieve the troops. At the same time, all my co-workers – unless they were drafted by the army – remain as a unit for future peaceful tasks. “I expect you to continue to work on the city-building plans, as well as the design details for Munich and Linz,” he said. “If you need some assistance, your staff of experts from your construction team is at your disposal. Within the OT (Organization Todt)(2), you manage the activities of your team. You step in if difficulties occur, when discussions with higher military are necessary, or decisions have to be made. You are going to stay more often now at my headquarters, which suits me perfectly. The courier airplanes are at your disposal, and you can talk to your department heads anytime. That task certainly means an additional burden for you. But, Giesler, don’t take away from me the chance to get involved for a few hours in tasks which I consider so important and which are so close to my heart. Don’t take the only remaining joy away from me: peace tasks of the future!”
After the evening situation reports, Hitler talked about Europe’s future. For me, it was especially interesting to see how convincingly he presented his visionary ideas. To overcome national chauvinism, he thought it was absolutely necessary to unify Europe and thus guarantee its future. The mere threat of an Asian-Bolshevik leveling, destroying the basic fundamentals of Western culture, forces the union.
“Presently, each nation thinks egoistically for itself and not for a European condominium; that has to be our goal – a Germanic social revolution to overcome Marxism! Logically, that would lead to a league of Germanic states –not too closely knitted, but within a wise boundary – because England, for instance, is not Europe-orientated, but world-wide. We have really experienced that recently. Also, the Mediterranean states will remain outside that Germanic League, but still belonging to the New Europe.
“Already, voluntary military units are being formed – hope for that future Germanic League. Let me say it a little differently: the swastika flag flies right now as our national symbol. It will one day be a Germanic symbol and Germany the magnetic powerfield. That powerfield will draw in and win over all those who sense the aura of the time. That conviction has to rise and it will – we belong together regardless of national ties and separation throughout centuries. Nothing stops us to remain Danes, Dutch, Walloons, Flemings or Norwegians.
“A parallel example: Bismark set a historical fact by unifying separated states like Prussia, Bavaria and Würtemberg to the Reich. A new, strong and historical order always arises from struggle and war, or – we always have to be aware of that danger – chaos, splitting up of ethnic entities, degeneration of nations, rigor, loss and decline. So it happened when the Thirty Years War ended with the peace treaty of Muenster and Osnabrück – but also at the Seven Years War when the Great King’s faith did not falter and Prussia’s military and cultural-moral leadership was founded. The “war of liberation” was fought against France’s hegemony under Napoleon, causing the old reactionary forces to return. The war of 1866 and 1870-71 unified the Reich. We have to think about World War I also, when, after a sacrificing struggle, the dictates of Versailles and St. Germain plunged Germany and Austria into chaos.”
We therefore had to be always aware what this war means. Not only Germany’s existence and Lebensraum (living space) is at stake, but we defend the culture of the Abendland (Occident) against Bolshevism which, according to Lenin’s prophesy, will roll over Europe supported by Asia.
Adolf Hitler answered a question – No, he does not think about Moscow. That area will be ignored. What he considers necessary is a protection of Europe’s flanks – the Baltic Sea in the North and the Black Sea in the South. In between something like the limes of the Roman Empire has to be built, a European East wall with fortifications to protect the new European settlements. He sees the East wall in connection with a “no mans land” occupied by German-Germanic troop units. It will be a giant connected military training area which makes all former facilities within the Germanic Lebensraum unnecessary. Those areas will then be returned to cultured land and forests.
But before we can accomplish these cultural goals, we must face the battle for our existence.
The Russian campaign should have started in May. Because Serbian Air Force General Simonitsch started a putsch in Belgrade which brought down the Axis-friendly regime of Prince Paul, the German force had to spend five weeks to reach the Acropolis and pacify the Balkan region.
The Organization Todt was a civil and military engineering group named for its founder, Fritz Todt, an engineer and senior National Socialist figure. The organization was responsible for a huge range of engineering projects both in pre-WWII Germany, and in Greater Germany (GrossDeutschland) during the war.
Part 2: Wehrwolf
Late Summer/Fall 1942
It is September 1942. In the North, Fieldmarshall von Manstein is able to stop the Russian counter-offensive at MGA, south of Lake Ladoga, during Giesler’s talks with Hitler. The Führer shows his confidence in his architect as a friend and loyal party member, but also values the company of a fellow artist. We learn from Giesler just how much Adolf Hitler needed a creative outlet for his artistic nature – continuing with the re-designing of German cities and buildings in the midst of monitoring battles and the devastation of war. The scope of his vision and knowledge again impresses us. We learn, too, of Hitler’s appreciation for the local Ukrainian people and his interest in their historical roots.
Martin Bormann1 called from Hitler’s headquarters Winniza2 and requested my immediate departure for there. “Parteigenosse (party-comrade) Giesler, you are urgently needed. Bring all your Linz3 plans with you and expect to stay a few weeks. Hurry, please.”
A little later Fieldmarshal Keitel4 called and asked me to depart as soon as possible and take all architectural plans with me. An adjutant informed me which courier airplane to take for the flight out of Berlin. My alarm bells were already ringing from Bormann’s call; even more so when Fieldmarshal Keitel called.
When I reported to Hitler in Winniza, I found him changed. After the serious discord with his generals, he stayed away from routine personal contact with them and stopped attending the joint lunches and dinners. After the Lagebesprechung,5 he withdrew. At first he did not discuss the problems with me. Bormann was also silent; he only told me that Hitler wanted to talk to me about the Linz plans whenever military matters permit it. Only talks about city building and architecture can relax him, Bormann said. I found it interesting that Fieldmarshal Keitel had the same idea: only Giesler with his design plans could bring relief.
During my stay at the Winniza headquarters, most of the time I was Hitler’s only guest. We took our meals together and I spent long evenings and nights with him, not only in intense discussion of matters of architectural design. We often talked in detail about city building till early morning. Hitler went to bed only after he received the latest reports from the front and the night air bombing. When, exhausted by the tension of all those different discussions, I left for the bed site in my hut, I noticed that Bormann was still working in his office. Once we met in front of my hut, “Professor, rest now, you certainly realize how important your presence is.”
When the others assembled for the midday situation meeting, I very often walked with Dr. Brand, a friend and Hitler`s surgeon and attending physician, outside the Sperrzone (banned area) through Ukrainian sunflower fields in full bloom. We exchanged greetings with friendly natives. “They show traces of the Goths,” Brand said. “The ‘Chef’ (Hitler) believes that also. The women and girls look so strong and healthy because of their labor as farmers and their simple diet … by the way, did you notice the change of the ‘Chef’s’ face? Chin and mouth are hardened, the forehead tighter, more strongly chiseled, specifically above the eyes. Worry and willpower are very apparent. Did he talk to you already about his worries? I am curious what he is going to tell you.”
During dinner, I talked about my impressions of the country and its people during my walk with Brand, and his remark about the Ukrainian people. “Yes,” said Hitler, “as far as I can judge, some are wonderful human beings, with valuable national characteristics.” He sees it in the faces of the women and girls, and especially the children; they not only look healthy, but they are also so energetic, simple and clean – used to hard work in the fields. No nibbling on sweets – where would they get it anyway? Sunflower seeds, yes. Here and there one believes one finds features of the Goths in their faces. It is certainly more an intuitive recognition that cannot be proved. Then, again, the broad faces mirror the wide spaces and their closeness to mother earth. Anyhow, the Ukraine once belonged to the great empire of the Goth. Adolf Hitler will see that he gets more information.
After the evening situation meeting, we were again dealing with the planning of the Danube bank of Linz. Adolf Hitler talked at first about his idea for the Linz city hall. He decided that the location should be at the Urfahr6 site, upstream from the Nibelungen Bridge. The city of Linz should be represented by the mayor, not the Gauleiter from Oberdonau, as in Hamburg and Bremen7. “That’s why we plan the city hall – it should become the pride of Linz.” Full of fantasy, thinking of all details, he then developed his ideas. They proved that he had a fundamental knowledge of building sites of similar scales - he went far back into the past and pointed to the uniqueness of those buildings. He mentioned the Quirinal and the Roman Capitol, the Palace of the Senate, as well as the Palazzo Venetia and the Palace of the Doge in Venice. That was one side of his explanations. He then referred to the Kaiserpfalzen,8 the buildings of the Staufer9 in Apulia, the Rempter,10 the town houses in Flanders. He talked about the Guerzenich in Cologne and, naturally, also about the medieval city hall of Elias Halle in Augsburg, a city house not for scribes and their files. And then, in a kind of final statement, he mentioned the City Hall in Stockholm, designed by Ragmar Oestberg, as an outstanding achievement, a work created by tradition and knowledge of the proper location, built with masterly perfection. He praised specifically the tower and the “Blue Room.”
* * *
In this section, Adolf Hitler confides to Giesler his suspicions of misconduct and disloyalty among the highest level of military command, and even within his headquarters. He discusses his difficulty in ferreting it out. Along with other evidence, the massive, surprise attack by the Russians at the Wolchow Front appears to prove him right!
When we were again alone after the evening tea, he told me of the shattering situation he is confronted with. “Giesler, I want to talk to you about my worries – in confidence. I live and work with the depressing certainty that I am surrounded by treason. Who can I trust absolutely? How can I make final decisions and issue orders, how can I lead decisively when deceit, wrong reports and obvious treason causes mistrust, and uncertainty creeps into an otherwise justified caution. When right from the beginning mistrust stays with me.”
Speechless, I looked at him; my face obviously expressed alarm.
“Yet, that’s it - it starts with wrong reports and ends at sabotage. Clear, formulated orders are not executed, or fail because of stubbornness which leads to total failure. From time to time I can interfere, find the responsible people, who then use all kind of – sometimes dishonest – excuses, like: ‘but the situation demanded it … I interpreted it differently … out at the front everything looks different’.
“If I challenge them when they do not follow orders, or if they inform me incorrectly or incompletely and make excuses, they then click their heels and say, ‘I beg for my dismissal!’ Just like that! It is up to me to let you know when I let you go. The soldier at the front can also not say, ‘I don’t like it, I want to go home!’ is my answer.
“Before the Russian campaign, I was making very careful plans and thinking about the strategic possibilities and how they have to be tactically executed, like when we began the offensive in the West. Naturally, the imponderables were much greater in the East, all the more because our information about the strength and fighting power of the Russians was poor and incomplete. It’s useless to ponder about it now. But after the terribly desperate fight last winter –very close to a catastrophe – I put together an offensive thrust with the greatest care and checked every detail.
“Still, everything went wrong, or should I say, there was something fishy! Not only unauthorized actions occurred, but orders were deviated from. At fighting areas so far apart, that might have been necessary if a given situation requested it, but it must then end in success. The general who disregards my order has to have what Frederick the Great called ‘Fortune.’”
A little detail revealed his bitterness: “Instead of opening the road for the thrust to the South of the Caucasus as ordered, they climb the Elbrus11 to hoist a flag!”
Now, I know the “Elbrus conqueror,” an enthusiastic mountaineer, Major Groth, from the Sonthhofen12 regiment – a judge in his private life. For a short while I was silent, then I said, “That mountaineering adventure had a tremendous propaganda effect in the Allgäu (Groth’s home province); they were proud of Major Groth and his ‘Gebirgsjäger.’”
“Crazy climbers at best,” said Hitler. “Yet here is an exact, interconnecting timetable – but instead they climb an idiotic glacier mountain. Suchum they should have taken, and not the Elbrus. Any further comment I consider useless.
“It is not easy for me to say. Unauthorized actions and treason I can sense, but cannot understand lies that are happening – yes, they lie to me. Therefore, I am now forced to have stenographers at our situation room so that every single word regarding messages, reports and orders are recorded.
“I let Halder, Chief of the General Staff, go. It just does not work anymore. I have to control myself when I look at his face and read in it hate and an arrogance not at all justified by a seemingly higher intelligence. It gets still worse! If I said previously I feel I am surrounded by treason, I did not mean enemy intelligence agents, professional spies or political adversaries. I do not mean those crooks and high treason men who one can decode, detect and catch – those you have to reckon with all the time. No, this treason roots deeper, is inconceivable, and I have no way to tackle it. Who is the one I cannot trust; who can do something like that?
“Regardless whether basic questions of strategy are concerned or detailed tactical operations which I ordered – the enemy already has knowledge of it, as I have to find out later! Who shall I suspect? I change my young SS adjutants, so what? Shall I extend my distrust to the participants in the situation room? – an impossible situation! Or are traitors sitting at the intelligence center where all the orders are transmitted? Obviously, they are officers, maybe even high-ranked ones!”
“But that’s not possible. It can not …. !”
“Ah, Giesler, listen – a small, simple example – that’s why I could detect it fully; a small example only. You are familiar with the situation at the Army Group North? It is your area where your engineers and working force for the – my God, yes –rebuilding of cities is now involved in sea-bees work (pionierarbeit). Now, after everything went wrong, I can talk openly about that military disaster. About other events I still have to be silent. Well, at the 18th Army a thrust to the Northeast should have been executed to cut off Oranienbaum13 from Lake Ladoga. That thrust was strategically, but much more – politically, very important. Already at the beginning of the 1941 offensive, I targeted that Northeast thrust. They did not follow the order and it did not succeed – because of obstinacy, I believe. No, not because of the ‘early winter,’ but more about that later!
“Whom could I now entrust with the new offensive? Col. General von Manstein was the right man for this task. He just captured, with his courageous divisions, Kertsch and Sebastopol. I discussed with him in detail the breakthrough east of Leningrad and told him what is important: the connection with the Finnish front, to cut off the supply line of the Russian army around Leningrad and Oranienbaum, and thus to shorten the front line and, above all, pacify the Baltic Sea area and relieve our own supply roads.
“Neither the leadership of Army Group, even less the one of the 18th Army, was capable enough for a successful operation. Manstein was the right man. The glory of the Crimea and Sebastopol was identified with his name and his army.
“From the beginning on my worry was to secure the right flank, the area from the Ilmensee to the North – the Wolchow front. I took the necessary steps right away. On the maps of the divisional, regimental and battalion sectors, I marked the minefields with the barricades, supported the defense by adding heavy weapons, stationary tanks and artillery, and transferred the given orders on the enlarged aerial photos and maps. I demanded and received temporary reports and finally the ‘all done’ confirmation. A big relief. Manstein`s attacking army already moved into the area of the offensive. Then, on August the 27th the Russian offensive at the Wolchow started.
“Parts of the 18th Army which I thought secured were overrun. The Russians deployed 20 divisions, plus 5 tank brigades – alarming! Naturally, the Russians had knowledge of the troop movements of Manstein’s attack army, but that they beat us to our attack and surprised us with such a massive thrust exactly at the sector I was so worried about – strange! The Russians overran Gaitolowo and advanced close to MGA14. Well, he had therefore early knowledge of our strategic plan; that means he was able to amass his forces to counterattack before our troop movements even began. How could that Russian attack intention be hidden from us? And now, Giesler, pay attention - how did the Russian divisions cross the minefields, how did they force their way through the barricades, through the positions secured by tanks and artillery? Right away, that puzzled me. I was forced to order Manstein to at once move the army, planned for the Leningrad operation, to the Wolchow front – prepared to defend as well as attack, thus avoiding a catastrophe. Since then, severe battles are fought there. The situation is not stabilized yet.
“All our forces supposed to operate at the Leningrad front are now engaged at the Wolchow. There is no longer any chance to carry out that strategically so important operation. If there was treason involved or not, we have to leave that open. But now to the facts that I was able to discover: How were the Russian divisions able to move through the barricaded fortifications, the widespread minefield? How did they overrun the tanks and defensive weapons? As unbelievable as it may sound – there were none there, they existed only in reports of the 18th Army and the Army Group! I investigated and received hypocritical excuses only! I had no other choice but to order all officers directly involved in the Wolchow front, as they were available, to report to headquarters – regiment, battalion, and company leaders. I interviewed them thoroughly, chatted with them, laid out the maps with the marked minefields, barricaded fortifications and so on. All the officers questioned had the same answer – the minefields, barricaded fortifications and tanks were on paper only. My instructions and orders were not carried out. The reports of having carried out my orders – lies.
“Giesler, not just an isolated example – but enough for today!”
Next morning I talked to General Schmundt, Chief Adjutant of the Armed Forces (Wehrmacht). He confirmed those facts and explained to me the situation at the Wolchow, showing maps of the General staff. General Zeitzler became new Chief of the General Staff, a vivacious soldier. The adjutants characterized him aptly as “Kugelblitz” – lightning-ball. The frank character of the new Chief of the General Staff contrasted with the reserved, chilly attitude of General Halder.
* * *
We now learn about Hitler’s “retirement home” and his intention, even at that early date, to marry Eva Braun when he stepped down from power.
One late afternoon Hitler again allowed himself an hour of relaxation. On the map table, we were drawing together on the Linz city rebuilding plan. I wanted to clarify some details concerning his retirement home at the rock-plateau above the Danube. He thought my idea to develop his house from the cubic form of an Upper Austrian farm house, the “Vierkanter,”15 pleasing. Add to it the four protruding bays, which then might give him a view towards Linz and the surrounding country, and specially down towards the Danube and the new Danube-bank development. It’s solid, robust design incorporates some of the powerful, but lucid features of Frederick the 2nd’s priceless Castel del Monte. “By the way, Giesler, remember the painting of the Weimar artist – was his name Gugg? Castel del Monte, jewel of Apulia, which I ordered – find out how advanced he is with his art.”
Adolf Hitler saw it at the last art exhibit in Munich and liked it very much – praised it. We discussed further details of his house: “As far as my rooms are concerned, the ground plan is set in its final form. The great hall with the terrace, its sides framed by the bays, the proper room for an “Artus Runde” (King Arthur’s Roundtable); I like having it that way. You, as my architect, will be a member.” I tried to get some more of his design ideas, like utility rooms, garden and the roofed pergola to the tea garden. Hitler said, “No, that’s Ms. Braun’s business. All those questions you discuss first with her, she will be the lady of the house. When I designate my successor and retire, I will marry Ms. Braun.”
Soon afterwards, we were interrupted when an adjutant announced the arrival of Professor Dr. Sauerbruch, the surgeon. Hitler gave me a hand signal and asked me to stay – I witnessed the talk. First a friendly greeting, then: “I thank you very much, dear Professor, that you answered my request. As a world famous and internationally acknowledged physician and surgeon, you are at the same time also the best representative and ambassador of the nation. The task you want to take on is therefore of special importance. What I can do for your support, it will be done.
“My pilot and my aircraft are at your disposal. Naturally, your assisting physicians, the anesthetist and nurses will accompany you. Everything will be done to assist your effort. The ambassador in Ankara has been instructed accordingly. If you want to make your doctors and nurses happy, land on your return flight in Athens - the Acropolis should be of interest to all disciples of Aeskulap. For your intuitive finding (as an operating surgeon looking for the source of the sickness) I wish you a lucky hand and full success.” Adolf Hitler bid him goodbye and again turned his attention to our work. He explained quickly: a high ranked Turkish person is involved, of importance because of our rather delicate political situation.
* * *
Giesler sees a side of Dr. Sauerbruch that strikes him as pretentious. He finishes the chapter with what he personally witnessed at Wehrwolf, setting the record straight, as it were, from what Sauerbruch wrote in his memoirs That was My Life about this very visit.
As background, Geheimrat Professor Dr. Ferdinand Sauerbruch was born in 1875 and had a distinguished academic career in medicine. Between 1903 and 1905, he developed a revolutionary device for heart and lung surgery called “the under pressure chamber”. As a master surgeon, he cut into hearts, lungs, brains and bones. He treated both Lenin in Zurich and Reichs President von Hindenburg in Berlin. In 1937, he received the German National Prize for Art and Science even though he was not a fan of National Socialism. In 1942, he became Surgeon General of the Army. His friendship with the Jewish painter Lieberman and people in the Stauffenberg circle, and his increasing criticism of the regime, was tolerated because of his world-wide reputation.
However, by 1949, marred by dementia, he was dismissed and died two years later in the same year he published his book Das war mein leben. Armed with this information, the reader can judge this interesting and amusing, but possibly controversial, section for himself.
At the time of the situation room reports in the evening, I was invited to a cocktail party. Professor Sauerbruch, surrounded by the top military medical brass, was the center of the party. The mood among Aeskulap’s disciples was a rather enhanced one, as “Josef Filser”16 would have phrased it. Well, they have also been hosted by Julius Schaub,17 with a cunning look. Sauerbruch was bragging – I really can not call it otherwise –about his forthcoming Turkish mission, his tired mouth highly alcoholized: “… and how well the Fuehrer treated me, amazing personality, his airplane I get and everything that I consider necessary, he told me so … he knows quite well how useful I am.”
He shed tears … no, it was the Steinhäger18 which dripped out of his eye. He wiped it off and then said: “Who is this one here, I have seen him once before!” He pointed at me. Sure, he had seen me before, just late that afternoon. Still, I was surprised at his ability for “intuitive recognizing.” He was in such a good mood he would have removed our appendix without charge! I was thinking about my evening mission and withdrew.
Exactly ten years later at the war crimes prison in Landsberg, fall 1952, I read Sauerbruch`s book Das war mein Leben, his memoirs – first in a magazine, then in a book (an edition of 170,000 copies). The Herr Geheimrat (Secret Counselor) presented descriptions of his profound surgical art and serious scientific knowledge, garnished with gossiping untruth. He describes that visit at the Fuehrer headquarters in Winniza, what he had to go through when meeting Hitler. Well, I was present with close attention and interest at these meetings and talks because the name “Sauerbruch” was well known.
According to Sauerbruch, the headquarters were “30 meters below ground level.” He got drunk that evening when the headquarters also existed for him as wooden houses, huts and barracks! A general “hissed” at him. He does not really know who he was, but it only could have been the very courteous, amiable General Schmund, chief adjutant of the Wehrmacht. “Will you undo your belt – nobody is allowed to visit the Fuehrer with a weapon!” But Herr Geheimrat, that directive was not issued until after the assassination attempt, July 20th, 1944!
“Sixteen generals” could not have an audience with Hitler because the Herr Geheimrat was late. But the situation meeting time was long passed - Hitler and I were drawing and planning well over an hour when the Geheimrat was announced. When the Geheimrat entered the large, lavishly furnished room, a giant dog “shot” at him, barking at “his chest” with bared teeth and the snoot on his neck – that was the German shepherd bitch, Blondi, lying quietly on her blanket, her muzzle between her paws, from time to time wiggling her ears. And all of Hitler`s rooms were furnished very simply. But in the meantime, the dog expert Sauerbruch called Blondi back to order – yes, the dog “smiled friendly” at him, he writes, “when Hitler entered.” I saw it differently: the adjutant let Sauerbruch in.
“The scene now following was the most terrible one I ever experienced,” the Herr Geheimrat writes. But I stood in the same room and saw the courteous, friendly greeting. “In his eyes sparkled fury, he clenched both his fists, plunged towards me (Hitler, naturally, not Blondi) and yelled: “What have you done to my dog?!” They had nothing together, the Herr Geheimrat and the dog. “Hitler raised a wild, furious yell. ‘I want the dog shot!’” Then with a “jarring, shrill discant” which must have echoed through the whole subterraneous vaults (of the wood house), “I give you that bitch!” and “I’ll have you arrested!” And so it continues by the Geheimrat`s description. The Herr Geheimrat notes: “I was somehow flabbergasted.” Well, I, too, reading that stuff.
When walking around the center yard of the Landsberg prison, I asked the internist and scientist Dr. Beiglboeck, a very civilized and humorous Viennese: What do you think of Sauerbruch? “A super Aufschneider,” 19 he remarked ambiguously, smiling slightly.
Then I talked to the top brass of the military physicians, Generaloberstarzt Professor Dr. Handloser. Naturally, he read Sauerbruch’s memoirs. He answered with a question: Why do you ask me about Sauerbruch`s Winniza story?
“Well, I was present most of the time, from the beginning until close to the drunken end, first with the ‘Chef’ and his dog in the vault “30 meters under ground,” and then at the cocktail party, or symposium as you medicine men call it!”
“Ah, that was you. All the years here in Landsberg, I always asked myself, how do I know you?”
“Well, dear Dr. Handloser, Sauerbruch was superior to you then regarding the “intuitive recognizing” because he already had to face that question after only a few hours.”
“Well, then we might be again ‘off the dog,’”20 Dr.Handloser remarked. “I believe the medical and surgical chapters are Sauerbruch’s; everything else was written by his interviewer, and he writes as the fashion of the present time demands.”
“I see that a little differently,” I said. “It might well be that one of those dirty scribblers was at it, but he could never have mentioned all these details – fantasies – without Herr Geheimrat Sauerbruch`s authorization. I believe that a physician is bound by truth and committed to Paracelsus.”21
Dr. Handloser, an ascetic man with a sound attitude and tolerance, finally said, “Disregard the nonsense that was certainly added by another man – Sauerbruch was a great physician and a fantastic fellow.”
Well, I question neither his surgical abilities nor his fantasizing efforts to color his book according to the fashion of the time. The “Sauerbruch audience in Winniza” is for all matters symptomatic.
(1) Reischsleiter and chief of Adolf Hitler’s office at the headquarter; Hitler’s Graue Eminenz. A grey eminence is the man behind all the secret and non-secret happenings at an important office. The first Graue Eminenz was Geheimrat Holstein in Bismark’s cabinet.
(2) Located in the Ukraine, about 140 miles southwest of Kiev.
(3) The capital of Upper Austria during the Third Reich and Hitler’s hometown. Hitler and Giesler were working on great rebuilding plans for Linz.
(4) Wilhelm Keitel was chief of the OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht), Supreme Command of the Armed Forces. Hitler established that office opposite the OKH (Oberrkommando des Heeres), Supreme Command of the Army.
(5) Situation Conference. Usually three situation meetings took place - morning, noon and evening - in a large room with maps. They were attended by Keitel, Jodel, staff officers, and generals who were called in with reports.
(6) Urfahr is a suburb of Linz on the north side of the Danube.
(7) Oberdonau is now Oberoesterreich/Upper Austria. Hamburg and Bremen were both free Hansa League cities.
(8) Emperor’s seats, not palaces, in the Middle Ages. Charles the Great built several in his vast empire, and would visit and/or stay there for awhile.
(9) A German family of kings. The last one, Konradin, was decapitated in Naples by the French Anjou.
(10) Knight’s Hall in Marienburg, seat of the German Knights Order in East Prussia; now Malbork in Poland.
(11) The Elbrus is the highest mountain in the Caucasus.
(12) Hometown of the mountaineer regiment
(13) Twenty-four miles southwest of Leningrad/St. Petersburg. Today named Lomonosov, at the east end of the Baltic Sea/Gulf of Finland.
(14) MGA is a road-railway junction about 10km SSW of Gaitolowo. It
was the target of the Russian thrust.
(15) Vierkanter means four corners: a rectangular shape with a court in the center.
(16) An invented Bavarian character by the Bavarian author Ludwig Thoma, known for his down-to-earth language.
(17) One of Hitler’s oldest adjutants, from the 1923 putsch in Munich.
(18) German clear schnaps
(19) Aufschneider is one who cuts, as a surgeon cuts, but also a teller of fairy tales.
(20) Beim Hund: at the end of a problem, or at a loss for a solution
(21) Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, German-Swiss physician of the Middle Ages, whose successful but unorthodox practice caused him to be persecuted as a heretic by the medical authorities of his day.
This article was published by “The Barnes Review” in two parts in March/April 2009 and May/June 2009.