Ein Anderer Hitler by Hermann Giesler: Valkyrie! part one
Valkyrie! The Last Plot against Hitler
Part One – The Bomb
Translation and Commentary by Carolyn Yeager and Wilhelm Mann
Copyright 2009 Carolyn Yeager
With the release of the Hollywood blockbuster movie starring Tom Cruise, the public has been given a dramatization of the historic confrontation between two visions of Germany during a time of total war – that of the old military-industrial aristocracy versus the new National Socialist. While media mavens have made heroes of the members of the Valkyrie conspiracy, Herman Giesler points out the substantial damage their plotting and communicating with the enemy did to the German war effort, costing many thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of German lives. In this and following articles in this "Valkyrie" series, you're shown the view from the other side – from the very commanding center of the struggle for the life of a nation.
Many of the same men were involved in earlier assassination attempts in November 1939 and March 1943; there was even a plot in 1938 led by Lt Colonel Hans Oster to prevent a military invasion of Czechoslovakia. Contacts with the British Foreign Office at that time led Undersecretary Vansittart to comment: “But that is treachery!” After the war, publication of an account of those contacts was forbidden in England.
In 1939, Georg Elser planted a bomb near the lectern at the November 8th, 1923 Putsch Anniversary dinner in Munich, but Hitler left early, escaping the explosion that left several dead and injured.
In 1942 and ’43, resistance member Helmuth von Moltke persisted in trying to arrange meetings in Stockholm with the British Political Warfare Executive. It was blocked by Churchill. In this regard, it should be remembered that beginning in 1939 the Hitler government was itself sponsoring secret peace feelers, and even detailed proposals, to high British government officials. All were rejected.
March 1943 saw two attempts to kill Hitler masterminded by General Henning von Tresckow. The first was a bomb placed on Hitler’s plane that failed to detonate [see Inside Secret Headquarters, Part Two, TBR May/June]; a week later Tresckow got Colonel Freiherr von Gersdorff to act as a suicide bomber at an exhibition Hitler would be attending. With two10-minute fuse bombs in his coat pockets, he was to get near to Hitler before they went off. But Hitler stayed only 8 minutes, leaving Gersdorff to run to the lavatory to defuse his bombs!
Hitler repeatedly escaped harm, making it seem that fate was on his side.
Much has been made of Hitler’s supposed “rage” against his generals and other military staff – for example, over the Elbrus affair (see TBR, May/June) and Halder’s dismissal. But Giesler reports nothing like that. Adolf Hitler didn’t chew the carpet or throw chairs around, but he did get angry. He seemed to have a reliable sense for loyalty or lack of it around him. It turns out that leading generals like Beck, von Kluge, von Hammerstein and Witzleben, and even von Brauchitsch, were already in the mid-thirties expressing cynical remarks and doubts within their old Reichswehr circles.
These men were often from old, aristocratic families with long military service; they felt resentment toward Hitler’s strategic and tactical directives, often disagreed with his decisions, considered them interference with general staff’s established knowledge and wisdom. It should be noted that most of the conspirators were from the general staff, not commanding officers in the field.
What makes Giesler a rare source is his close relationship to Adolf Hitler. As someone whose company Hitler enjoyed, Giesler was often called to Führer Headquarters to spend long evenings in discussion and drawing of city building projects. This time he arrived at Wolf’s Lair in East Prussia at the beginning of August; to keep Giesler from asking questions of the Führer, Martin Bormann made all the investigatory reports of the conspiracy available to him.
Giesler’s account begins in Munich on that fateful day.
On the late afternoon of July 20, 1944 my brother called me. “Close your office; organize all your co-workers who have military training and form a guard unit – if necessary, supply them with weapons. Send the rest home and stay by your telephone.
“After you give the necessary orders, drive immediately to my office and by no means allow yourself to be stopped on your way, even by military police. Do you have a weapon? No? It may be better I send a car and driver to pick you up. Your place now should be at my office.”
“Assassination of the Führer and the military is alarmed; Valkyrie has been unloosed in Berlin; the situation is still unclear.”
My brother, as an experienced company commander, secured his post and the immediate surrounding area. We then waited tensely for further news from Führer headquarters via the telegraph, from telephones, from the liaison office of the Wehrkreis (military district), for messages from the Party office, from the SS and the Gau1. It was with great relief when finally, in the late evening, we heard the Führer’s voice. In Munich and the whole Wehrkreis VII, everything was quiet; it remained that way, as far as we could judge, during the night.
A week later, architect and Minister of Armaments Albert Speer, under time pressure, picked up Giesler on his way to Stuttgart so they could discuss war construction, the labor force and steel quotas.
We then talked about July 20th ... Speer had been at Führerheadquarters and gave me his impressions of the fuller extent of the conspiracy. Worried, he said: “Even now, after the assassination, the Führer is still very much involved with the military and political consequences … he needs some distance from the assassination and all the disappointments. I believe that it’s time that you arrive at headquarters, Giesler, as you are the only one who can distract him, even for a few hours a day. Present him with city building plans – Linz and the Danube Bank construction; that will still be of interest and lead him out of permanent worrying.”
After a few days, the call came from Führer headquarters. Bormann was short: “Please come as soon as possible; the Führer is expecting you. Please bring along all the plans that might interest him; naturally everything that refers to Linz!”
Full of excitement to see Adolf Hitler and talk to him, I arrived at Hitler Headquarters Wolfsschanze. But what he told me confidentially during the following week, and what I found out, as ordered by him, from others; what I was reading in documents and protocols, and what I saw around me – shattered me deeply. All that I learned I would have thought impossible; it felt as unreal as spooks in the night.
Now that controls had been introduced, I entered Sperrkreis (restricted zone) I to report to Adolf Hitler; I met him in front of his bunker talking to his adjutant. Actually, Adolf Hitler made a few steps toward me: “I expected you and I’m glad to see you.” He shook my hand, guarding his right arm which was bent and held in a sling, and his right leg also, obviously hurting. The side of his face that was toward the explosion was slightly swollen; he had cotton in his ears. But I was surprised by his posture – I thought it would be worse.
At tea time, to which he invited me, he mentioned the assassination only briefly and spoke little about his injuries. Linge (his servant) showed me Hitler’s coat and the torn trousers which were split lengthwise like the ones worn by medieval mercenary soldiers. “They did check you, Giesler – understand that. It is an order for the time being, caused by the assassination – in future it will not be done with you.”
I didn’t agree. After all that happened here, I thought the control was naturally necessary – it could have been that someone put something into my briefcase. “No,” Hitler said, “you check for yourself before you cross the checkpoints.” Apparently, he must have given the orders because any checking in the future didn’t happen – as in late autumn, as well as January/February 1945 in the command bunker at the Reich Chancellery. I always, however, checked my briefcase and blueprints.
On the first evening we talked about city construction in Linz and Munich. For me, it was an unexpected and rare conversation during days of turbulent military and political events. At the beginning, Adolf Hitler looked deflated; in the course of our discussion he became visibly more energetic and open-minded.
The Kaltenbrunner Reports
The next morning Bormann asked me to see him, giving me this advice: “Please don’t put any questions to the Führer about July 20th and all that was connected with it, unless he himself talks about it. Try, however, to distract him – talk with him primarily about Linz. That’s what interests him most. On the other hand, I think it proper that you be informed correctly about all the happenings of July 20th. I will see to it that you will be informed about every detail of the deep web.” After a short pause –
"One happening is under absolute secrecy – the Führer will decide if you are to have knowledge about it. But I urgently ask, don’t approach Hitler on that matter!”
However, I could see all the supporting documents and interview protocols delivered by Kaltenbrunner to Bormann’s office. By getting an overview of the total network of the clique of traitors and the larger circle of people involved, I would be more likely to refrain from asking Hitler about the affair during our discussions.
Only later was it clear to me what Bormann really meant by that. From then on, in the morning hours and during the “Lage2” meetings, I was primarily in Bormann’s office. At those times, he pulled out of the vault the reports, the interview protocols, and lists of persons and investigations which are known today as the Kaltenbrunner Reports. But those documents were only a part – even though a very important one – of the entire web of high treason.
I sat down in the corner of his office and began reading the sober reports of conspiracy which already began pre-war and gradually increased in strength until it developed into a perfect form – betraying, above all, the struggling frontline and killing hundreds of thousands of soldiers.
The often dissonant-sounding remarks of Adolf Hitler since 1939: “I have the feeling of being surrounded by treason” – his former hints, as on November 6, 1939; middle January 1940; then, during “Weseruebung” (Norway campaign) at the end of the French campaign; adding in the partly depressing, partly angry reactions as I experienced them at Winniza in 1942 and Wolfsschanze in 1943 – now, by these reports and protocols, his suspicion was confirmed. But far more than that: happenings up to now unexplainable became transparent and finally made sense, worse than ever imagined.
I began with the reading of the (prepared) appeals to the Armed Forces and the German people. Gördeler 3 to the Armed Forces: “... something additional threatens to deprive you of the success of your victories which you gained from a leadership of educated and experienced men: Hitler's ‘strategic genius,’ which he claimed in an irrational delusion, and was disgustingly idolized by his lackeys. ‘Who wants to sole a boot has to learn it4.’”
Another appeal still better: “The Führer is dead! An immoral clique of battle-ignorant Party leaders, misusing the present situation, is trying to take over the government for selfish reasons, stabbing the fighting troops in their back ...” With that, (Field Marshal) von Witzleben wanted to address the German people and the Armed Forces, to introduce himself as the new Supreme Commander. I knew him – then still fresh from the glory of crossed marshal batons5. At the People’s Court they took pictures when he denied having any knowledge of the assassination and the military conspiracy, which was immediately refuted. When questioned: Well, what were your thoughts then, what was going to happen if the assassination would have succeeded? – he answered: “I am a military, I don't know anything about political and civilian matters.” In the second part of the sentence he sounded absolutely convincing.
The next documents were photocopies: kind of an operational plan of the putsch-government and a list of the ministers selected for the Reichskanzler (Federal Chancellor) Gördeler. On both documents ‘Speer’ was listed as minister – with a question mark, however. Surprised, I jumped up and went to Bormann, “What does that mean? – that's not possible!” Bormann looked up, “Comrade Giesler, on that matter everything is possible.”
Slowly he stood up, went to the vault, took out a voluminous file, opened it and showed me the top sheet – there was the name ‘Speer.’ Only that. “For your personal information,” he said, and returned the file to the vault. “You keep silent about all that,” he said, sitting down at his desk. That was enough for that day; I could not continue reading!
Giesler reflects on the role of Albert Speer
My thoughts went back to a talk with (Karl) Hanke, Gauleiter of Silesia. A war construction site in lower Silesia caused me to meet him several times in March 1944. In my judgment, he was a man full of character, with wise, attentive eyes and a well-shaped head. Hanke proved himself during the political battles in Berlin, and later as a soldier at the front. His clear formulations corresponded with his long activities as an under-secretary of state at Dr. Goebbels’ office.
One evening in Salzbrunn, Hanke asked me to advise him after the war with his plans for city rebuilding and solutions for traffic problems in Breslau, the capitol of Silesia. “Well,” I said to him, “aren't you closely associated with Speer? If I agree to fulfill your request, apart from being overloaded with my own work, it would be an affront against him which I don't want to happen.” Up till then, Speer could not even overlook the fact that I got the Munich assignment, and then in addition Linz. My job as an architect included, with the exception of Weimar, most of the Southwestern region of Germany.
"But, you also advise Mayor Freyberg in Leipzig."
"Yes," I answered, "but only because of the Führer's order when problems at the fair (Leipzig's annual International Trade Fair) arose in connection with the planned extension of the railway system.”
That was one more reason for him to talk to the Führer. For various reasons, he wanted me and not Speer as an advisor for Breslau. He had a very clear opinion of Speer's goals, knowing what's going on in his office. That worried him and did not sit well – the Führer should know about it. His particular mistrust extended to two of Speer's closest co-workers. Hanke mentioned the names – I knew both of them, one highly-ranked in the SA, the other in the SS.
"Do you know that Speer is after succeeding Hitler?” Yes, I had heard about it, but I considered it gossip – as an incorrect and overbearing opinion of Speer's personality by his staff. Here, wish might be the father of the thought.
"No,” contradicted Hanke, “there is more to it.” He doesn’t want to burden me with that stuff, but the Führer should know about it. He, however, cannot get an appointment; Bormann is completely shielding Hitler, isolates him from everything – that worries him also. I could ...”
"The protection by Bormann is Hitler's order,” I interrupted him. “And Adolf Hitler considers me only as his architect and would strongly object if I would dare to get mixed up in matters which are none of my business. Please understand that.”
"You’re right – I have to try by myself to talk to the Führer."
Remembering that talk with Hanke, his critique of Speer and Speer’s two co-workers, made me pensive. But how was Speer's attitude after the July 20th assassination to be explained, when he expressed to me his deep worry about Adolf Hitler, and when he asked me to take the Linz plans with me to the Führer headquarters? Other small events before the assassination, unimportant as they were then, seemed to me now rather strange.
At the end of June 1944, for instance, Speer called the leaders of the defense industry, the armament industry and the directors of the building industry to Linz and urged their utmost effort to increase the production of the armament industry. That "Linzer convention" ended with Adolf Hitler's speech at the Platterhof at the Obersalzberg.
Speer and I were Hitler's guests that evening at the Berghof. After dinner, Speer said with urgency, "Giesler, by all means, find a moment to tell Hitler about the Linz convention and let him know that I ended it with the performance of Bruckner's 4th Symphony at the aula of the St. Florian Abbey.” Speer knew how much Hitler liked that symphony. Late that evening, he suggested, “My Führer, I propose that Giesler should tell some funny anecdotes.”
With Speer, everything was practical and calculated – even as a ‘friend’ I considered him a stranger and full of riddles. Now his name appeared, though with a question mark, on the list of ministers of the traitors.
In the evening, Hitler talked to me about his successor. Was it a coincidence or was it a hint by Bormann, caused by my reaction in the morning? Adolf Hitler said, "After this terrible war, the only one who is privileged to appear in front of the nation is he who, as a soldier, risked his life, and justified it with his bravery and willingness to sacrifice. Naturally, he has to show the quality of a leader and charisma; he has to be wise and think logically – above all, however, he has to have character. Only a brave soldier of that war has the right to lead the Nation!”
Then he was silent for a long time. Next morning, I was sitting again in the corner of Bormann’s office and reading more messages, reports, documents. No further mention of Speer
* * *
(See Giesler’s long passage about Bormann that we cut out from here at the end of this article.)
* * *
The People’s Court
The reports and interrogations got more and more complicated. One peculiar incident of the interrogation of Theodor Strünck 6, for instance, impressed me quite a bit. He called Admiral Canaris shameless because, at Strünck’s interrogation, Canaris requested that he put everything on Oster and Dohnanyi 7.
During the evening hours, primarily around the time the “Lage” took place, the first film clips of the trial at the People's Court were shown. I did not want to miss anything and looked at the film for a while. Some of the accused I knew personally; of the others, I had formed impressions from reading the protocols, which the films now completed. Höpner, von Witzleben, Stieff – how much they differed from the young officers like Klausing and Bernardis! These admitted their deeds with military composure and yet still wanted to distance themselves. Well, if the younger ones would only have known what a miserable attitude dominated the plotter's heads.
I saw the counter-position of Major Von Leonrod with his confessor-priest, Father Wehrle 8, and listened to their terrifying discussion – I felt my way to the door and avoided further films.
On one evening, for one reason or another, Adolf Hitler talked about the 20th July. I told him I had seen some films of the trials at the People’s Court and I was shattered. Adolf Hitler remarked:
"I don’t want to see anything of that; it is enough that I have to read the reports. The assassination revealed very clearly to me that not only high treason – but also the ugly “Landesverrat”9 lost it’s disguise. For a long time I had already suspected treason; in Winniza I felt it directly – often I thought I felt physically furtive glances. But much more, far beyond what has been reported, I have now learned. After a sober consideration, I think it’s proper to be silent – for the sake of the fighting troops and the unity of the nation.
"That reactionary clique plotted since 1938, if not earlier, for my fall by revolt or assassination. But it was not in accordance with their character to confront me openly with a weapon. How they must have hated me, and National Socialism, when they betrayed without scruple, and so miserably, even the fighting troops. The whole scope of that shameful plot one can now see – it is so revolting! Rattenhuber and Högl will tell you some of it; however, keep it confidant. I’ve bound everyone who knew about it to silence; that also includes you.”
1) Gau is a Party District. It usually covered the same territory as the state administration, but the Gauleiter was the NSDAP head of the Gau, while the Reichstatthalter was the chief administrator for the State.
2) Short for Lagebesprechung, a military situation meeting held twice a day with all the Führer’s close advisors, and field commanders called in as needed.
3) Carl Friedrich Gördeler was mayor of Liepzig from 1930 until his resignation in 1937. He then became director of the overseas sales department at the firm of Robert Bosch GmbH and used the "cover" of his job to travel abroad promoting an anti-Nazi position. He was the leading instigator in several planned putsches against Hitler and was to be the new federal chancellor upon the success of the Valkyrie plot.
4) A popular saying of German shoemakers.
5) Under Hitler, Col. Generals received the new rank of Fieldmarshal, in a ceremony in which they were given ornate gold and ivory batons.
6) An insurance executive who also worked in Canaris’ Abwehr; clandestinely active with the heads of the conspiracy.
7) Hans Oster was a general and deputy of Admiral Canaris at the Abwehr. Hans von Dohnanyi was a civil servant, a high-ranked lawyer recruited by Oster for the Abwehr.
8) Leonrod, a member of Bavaria’s old nobility, was designated in the Valkyrie plans as liaison officer in military district VII (Munich). He said in his defense that he consulted his “father confessor” Chaplain Hermann Wehrle, who did not take him into the confessional, but advised him to stay away from treasonable enterprises. Thus Wehrle was implicated and both were executed.
9) Landesverrat is a kind of treason of passing domestic or military secrets to a foreign power.