Ein Anderer Hitler by Hermann Giesler: Valkyrie! part three
Valkyrie! The Last Plot against Hitler
Part Three – The Last Circle
Translation and commentary by Carolyn Yeager and Wilhelm Mann
from Hermann Giesler’s memoir, Ein Anderer Hitler, Druffel Verlag, Leoni am Starnberger,6th edition, 1982.
Copyright 2009 Carolyn Yeager
General Helmuth Stieff faces the People's Court in 1944 after confessing his role in the July 20th assassination plot.
"They asked for the death sentence and it cannot be anything else. It is just. I erred and did wrong. It was not right to arrogantly interfere as a little human being with God’s doing.”
Those were the last lines written by General Helmuth Stieff to his wife immediately after being sentenced to death by the People’s Court on the afternoon of August 8, 1944 – going to the gallows the same day.1 As Chief of Operations at Army High Command (OKH), Stieff was in a prime position to help the conspiracy – he had regular access to Hitler; he hid the bombs in his office at the OKH headquarters in Mauerwald, East Prussia, not far from Wolfsschanze.
Stieff’s first contact was with Army Group Center Chief Henning von Tresckow; together they met with Generals Friedrich Olbricht and Ludwig Beck in Berlin in August 1943. They approached General Guderian and General Kluge, but neither one would commit. In October, Stauffenberg asked Stieff outright to kill Hitler and Stieff refused. But Stieff put the bombs into the uniforms to be displayed to Hitler at Klessheim Castle, as described by Giesler in this chapter. Stieff was in charge of the event at Klessheim, and after this failure, it was decided that Stauffenberg was the only one who could complete the job.
General Stieff was on the plane with Stauffenberg and his aide Lt. Haeften on their flight to Wolf’s Lair July 20th. He was arrested that night at the OKH headquarters, interrogated by SS investigator Hans Rattenhuber, and held from then on.
In this third segment of our Valkyrie series from Herman Giesler, the final reaches of the multiple conspiracies and related treasons and betrayals are probed. You will feel, in their anger and arguments against these men and their methods, the sharp pain and deep sadness felt by Hitler and Giesler at the inestimable damage done to the war effort.
Giesler and Bormann review past assassination attempts
The hard and sober Kaltenbrunner reports about the interrogations and confessions of the conspirators continued to come in. I had a backlog of reading. For quite a while in my off hours I was busy with design sketches – partly as supporting material for new discussions, partly due to the ideas and suggestions Adolf Hitler brought to our nightly talks. Moreover, I needed time in order to absorb and gain some distance from what Rattenhuber and Hoegl had told me.
One morning as I visited Bormann again, he handed me the reports about the interrogation of Major General [Helmuth] Stieff. One could get the impression that instead of working for the tasks they were supposed to perform, the plotters spent most of their time brooding about set-ups and ways to kill their supreme commander – by means of the least danger for themselves. They must stay alive.
According to Stieff, Stauffenberg, at least for awhile, thought to let his adjutant, Lt. [Werner von] Haeften, attempt to shoot the Führer; that would be possible at the “Führer-Lage” or at a weapons demonstration. Then, however, they thought that might not be secure enough.
After that much hesitation, Stieff himself – so he said – wanted to take over the assassination on the occasion of a weapons demonstration at the Klessheim Castle near Salzburg, built by Fischer von Erlach2. I had participated in redesigning it into a guesthouse of the Reich. After the heavy weapons demonstration, the Führer was to be shown the new assault uniform for the attack units: backpack, assault rifle, hand grenades. Three sergeants and non-commissioned officers, highly decorated with the Gold Ranger Bar (Nahkampf-spange)3, were selected. Major General Stieff intended to have the packs loaded with English explosives and a time igniter – to be sure to keep his self at a proper distance from the explosion. But because of a time lapse and a predetermined appointment, the Führer cancelled the presentation of the new assault equipment after the weapons demonstration and we returned to the Berghof.
During the demonstration, a little general kept my attention: nervously busy, he stood out amongst the rest of the military staff. “Who is that little one here?” I had asked the SS adjutant. “That is Major General Stieff.” I recalled that particular moment as I continued to read the Rattenhuber report: “….true horror among the population, especially amidst soldiers and low ranked leaders, caused by the fact that the traitors planned to lay the bomb into the knapsacks of three battle-proven soldiers who would demonstrate the new uniforms for the Fuehrer….”
I looked at Bormann and said, “If what Stieff admitted is correct, then he is really a special jewel of this conspiracy clique! Do you judge Stauffenberg, who carries out the assassination without consideration for his co-conspirator Brandt, whom he blows into the air, as the better one? For me, the over-all picture is very clear: when Stauffenberg landed at Berlin-Rangsdorf and reported the – what he thought successful – assassination to those waiting at Bendlerstrasse, didn’t he say then: ‘General Stauffenberg speaking here!’ Look at that, he had promoted himself to a general. By the way, do you remember the report of the ordnance officer about the strange behavior of Stauffenberg at the Berghof on July 11?”
"The ‘Lage’ held in the large living room at the Berghof was not yet over. Stauffenberg was no longer needed and asked for permission to be absent – it happened not so long ago. We were both chatting at the back of the hall towards the small living room when the orderly appeared and reported: ‘I just looked over the dining room to make sure that everything is ready for lunch, and there in the middle, behind the Führer’s chair, stands the Colonel with the one arm. I told him: The room is private, may I ask you ….? He interrupted me: Pardon, I only wanted to have a look at it!’”
"Yes,” I said to Bormann, “I remember that the Colonel with the one arm also said to the orderly: Very neat here, beautiful, especially with the bay window – before the orderly asked him to leave the dining room.”
Bormann said, “I then questioned the orderly further – I found out he (Stauffenberg) had a briefcase with him. What do you think was in it?”
"Turnip salad and pudding – in order to contribute something for lunch?” was my joking remark.
Bormann grimaced. “Today we know that nobody could have noticed the briefcase under the broad, long table with the low-hanging tablecloth. At that time, you were the honored guest, sitting across from the Führer – sometime you might thank that Corporal!”
The Berghof dining room, with its decorative cembra pine paneling (Swiss stone pine). The dining room was located in the eastern extension of the Berghof building. Hitler sat in the middle of the table on the right, facing the windows and the view of the Untersberg mountains. Stauffenberg commented on the view through the window when he was discovered in the dining room by the orderly on July 11, 1944. (period postcard)
I replied, “Those repeated assassination tries which ended in vain seem to be fateful. I think about the plot at the Buergerbraeu4 – and with a bomb on the airplane5 they have tried it once before. Now I’m reading about the infamy at Klessheim, and the memory of the affair at the Berghof. Then the 20th July – miraculously the Führer survives with only light injuries. Are there still some more attempts I don’t know about?”
"That 'attempt' with the slight injury is only one side of the coin,” Bormann said. “The other one sits much deeper, believe me! To your question: Yes, there were more assassination attempts which only now we are aware of. Talk about it with both of them6 – I don’t have time.”
For awhile I continued reading the interrogation protocols of Admiral Canaris and his protégé Oster – very opaque, strangely blurred. Dark and depressing as those reports were, an amusing moment occurred: the copy of a letter to Major General [Hans von] Oster from his son Achim, IA at an army corps in Upper Silesia. Its content stayed strongly engraved in my mind. It read like:
The conditions are very pleasant here. The commanding general is a horseman and grand seigneur of the ancient regime, a real general, not one of those ‘people’ soldiers.
I would have liked to have a look at that General.
Treason Centered in The Abwehr and Army Group Center
Translators’ commentary: General Major Hans von Oster was an early opponent of what he feared would be inopportune military solutions for the Czechoslovak and Polish questions. He was a religious man (as were Stieff and Stauffenberg) who was forced to resign from the Army in 1932 because of an indiscretion involving the wife of another officer. After a job in connection with the Prussian Police, he was able to transfer to the Abwehr, the state intelligence agency, the following year, where he met Hans Berne Gisevius and Arthur Nebe, working in the Gestapo, and became a confidante of Wilhelm Canaris, the chief of the spy agency.
By 1935, Oster was allowed to re-inlist in the Army, but never on the General Staff. When Canaris reorganized the Abwehr in 1938, he made Oster head of the Central Division (Zentralamt), in charge of personnel and finances. As such, Oster was able to build up a dense network of contacts to Western countries. He was in the thick of secret efforts to prevent a Czech invasion in ’38; through his office, he arranged for emissaries to Great Britain to urge the British to stand firm over the Czech/Sudenten crisis – clear treason. Hitler's diplomatic triumph with Chamberlain in Munich left the conspirators disheartened. Some lost interest, at least temporarily, but Oster did not give up. He took upon himself the central planning of all future plot plans.
To understand the contempt that Hermann Giesler expresses for Hans Oster, the following incident should suffice: Oster informed the Netherlands' military attaché, his friend Bert Sas in Berlin, more than twenty times of the exact date of the many times weather-delayed invasion of the Netherlands. Sas passed the information to his government, but was not believed! Oster himself said he calculated that his treason could cost the lives of 40,000 German soldiers, but concluded that it was necessary to prevent even more deaths during a protracted war should Germany achieve an early victory.
Oster worked closely with Henning von Tresckow, Chief of Army Group Center, and with General Friedrich Olbricht, head of the General Army Office at the Bendlerblock in Berlin. It was Oster’s Abwehr group that supplied the English-made bombs that Tresckow used in the assassination attempts of 1943. One of this group was Hans von Dohnanyi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s part Hungarian-Jewish brother-in-law.
But trouble came in April 1943 when the Gestapo entered the Abwehr to arrest Dohnanyi for violations of foreign exchange regulations (illegal money transfers, to be exact), including cash transactions with Jauch & Huebener, Germany’s largest insurance company. (Today it is American firm Aon. Walter Jauch was related by marriage to Hans Oster.) Present at the time, Oster was caught trying to hide incriminating notes. That was the end of his Abwehr intrigues; he was dismissed and closely watched by the Gestapo from then on. Dohnanyi was eventually sent to the Sachensausen detention camp for political prisoners, where he was put to death on April 8, 1945 as a July 20th conspirator. Oster was arrested on July 21, 1944, the day after the assassination; on April 4, 1945, the diaries of Wilhelm Canaris were discovered. That sealed the fate of both men. Thus on April 9th, Oster and Canaris, along with Bonhoeffer and four other men, were hanged at Flossenbuerg as traitors to their country.
Wilhelm Canaris had been playing a double game for a long time. Enough evidence had finally come to light that Hitler had already dismissed him from the Abwehr in Feburary 1944, replacing him with Walter Schellenberg and merging much of the Abwehr with the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the SS Security Office headed by Heinrich Himmler. Canaris was put under house arrest, preventing him from taking part in the July 20th plot.
An interesting detail: Under Canaris (and Oster and Dohnanyi), hundreds of Jews were given token Abwehr training and issued papers to leave Germany. One of those is said to have been the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Warsaw, Rabbi Yosef Schneersohn.7 If true, we can thank Canaris for the strong presence of the Lubavitcher tribe in the U.S.
General Hans Oster Admiral Wilhelm Canaris Hans Dohnanyi
Years later as a “war criminal” at Landsberg, I would hear at our round walks in the jail yard the rather dreamy opinion held by Oster: by betraying the German operation plans, causing the death of countless German soldiers – no, that was by no means treason! Oster just wanted to avoid an extension of the war goals to the North and West. He only wanted to counteract the attack on Denmark and Norway, Belgium and Holland – all neutral states. The governments of those states had only been warned by Oster so they could protest in time, before God and the world, about Hitler’s intention to attack. That might stop Hitler and force him to a peaceful settlement of all conflicts. (These were) unlikely explanations and justifications for high treason and Landesverrat8.
Another of these prophets – who thought they could define treason as a cavalier offence and considered it proper to sacrifice German soldiers and endanger the nation’s existence for the higher cause of humanity – was the diplomat and former Undersecretary at the Foreign Office, [Ernst] von Weizsaecker. I am sure he expressed that opinion in order to justify his own behavior. I met him at the Landsberg WCP (war criminal camp) with open contempt.
Entrance to Landsberg Prison in Bavaria (southwestern Germany. The prison was used by Allied power during the occupation of Germany for holding National Socialist 'war criminals. In 1946 General Joseph T. McNarney, commander in chief, U.S. Forces of Occupation in Germany renamed Landsberg: War Criminal Prison Nr. 1. The Americans closed the war crimes facility in 1958. Control of the prison was then handed over to the Federal Republic of Germany. Landsberg is now maintained by the Prison Service of the Bavarian Ministry of Justice.
To the ones who were influenced by that prattle, I said, “A peaceful settlement of all conflicts had just been successfully prevented by those new propagandists, because Adolf Hitler did not want war and the war in the East was forced upon him by the East as well as by the West.” I said to them, “Combined with a reasonable land reform9, Adolf Hitler would have preferred to build, perform social work and do an outstanding job of renewing cities. Many of those imbeciles really believed the Autobahn was nothing else but a road-megalomania!”
All that mental confusion I met with a quotation which was attributed to Napoleon, but was really by Josef Goerres from the Rheinische Merkur newspaper, 1814: “No people are more gullible than the Germans … among them they strangled each other and believed, by doing it, they have done their duty. No other nation on this earth is dumber. No sillier lie can be dreamed – the Germans believe it. A slogan handed to them will cause persecution of their own people more severe than against their real enemies.”
The weeks I spent at the Fuehrer Headquarters Wolfsschanze in August 1944 were the most turbulent ones I ever experienced in my life. What I saw troubled me deeply; I felt the downfall, I thought the Reich would now collapse. The fronts were shaking; threat closed in from all sides. Add to that the depression of being more and more aware of the scope of the treason done.
The assassination of July 20th was like a stone thrown into calm water, causing first a bubbling stir, then, by the interrogations and confessions, forming circle after circle until finally Goerdeler’s grandiose, mad obsession of confessing, traitor now of the traitors. But now – when in the center the bubbles are still rising and bursting – a last circle is formed before the water’s viscosity holds to its own. But just that circle, for many not visible anymore, caused Adolf Hitler a big shock: the Front itself.
For years he asked himself: why all those failures? The enemy knew about our military operations at the same time as our commanding officers received them!
Already in 1942 in Winniza, he told me something wrong is going on, he suspects treason at the highest level. After the catastrophe of Stalingrad, communist emigrants worked openly together with part of the officers captured by the Russians.10 The collapse of Army Group Center from the Russian attack of July 1944 caused the loss of twenty-five German divisions and hit Adolf Hitler hard. He suspected treason here also, as he did at the failure of the Citadel offensive11 the previous year.
The investigations following the assassination revealed, and then confirmed, Adolf Hitler’s suspicion of high treason. General (Henning) von Tresckow, general staff officer of Army Group Center, shot himself; general staff officer Major (Joachim) Kuhn deserted to the Russians. The statement of (Wilhelm) Leuschner, former Hessian Secretary of the Interior and future Vice Chancellor under Goerdeler, clarified the situation further. Leuschner’s statement didn’t get much attention at first at Wolfsschanze, but he made his statement after his conviction and, faced with death, there is hardly any doubt that he spoke the truth.
By that statement the scope of the treason causing the destruction of Army Group Center became clearer. At the same time, Ludwig Beck, the former Chief of the General Staff, glimmered in an enigmatic light. Knowing that the assassination failed and the revolt fell apart, he took his life already on that evening of July 20th, at the Bendlerstrasse.
Treason in the West
Translators’ commentary: Giesler says little about how Valkyrie played out on the Western front. To fill in: conspirator Lt.Col Caesar von Hofacker, officer on the staff of General Karl-Heinrich von Stuelpnagel, military chief of France, received the call from Stauffenberg at 4 o’clock in the afternoon telling him Hitler was dead. Based on that, Stuelpnagel issued the order to arrest members of the SS command post in Paris according to the Valkyrie plan. Field Marshall Guenther von Kluge’s chief of staff, General Speidel, got the call from Stuelpnagel’s chief of staff, General Blumentritt, but decided to wait for Kluge to return from the front. The arrest of around 120 members of the SS took place before two Waffen SS Generals were informed and a navy attachment was alarmed enough to warn of armed intervention unless the SS prisoners were released. By then, radio and telephone were revealing that Hitler was alive.
Kluge returned to headquarters at 6 p.m. and summoned Stuelpnagel and Generals Sperrle, Blumentritt and Speidel to report to him. During the following two hours they shared a tense, but civil dinner until a call from General Stieff at OKH gave the definite word that Hitler was alive and any action on Stauffenberg’s Valkyrie "ist Wahnsinn"(madness).
After Stuelpnagel returned to Paris, von Kluge relieved him of his command, replaced him with Blumentritt whom he ordered to "tidy up and get back to normal." But this was not possible; it became another inglorious end of suicide and suicide attempts for the conspirators.
To complete the score of treason and infidelity, sometime during the 15th and 18th of August, Adolf Hitler learned of a conspiracy-attempt between the German military leadership in the West and the Allies.
The breach of loyalty and suicide attempt by General [Karl-Heinrich] von Stuelpnagel, military commander of France, was alarming. Field Marshal [Guenther] von Kluge, Supreme Commander West, was relieved of his service and called back to headquarters for report. On the way to the airfield, he took poison. A contradiction in itself was, on one side, the at-that-time known efforts of the Field Marshal to enter into negotiations with the Allies for an armistice without the Führer’s knowledge – even though he must have known that would cause the collapse of all fronts – and, on the other side, the fact that shortly before his death he sent the Führer a letter assuring him of his loyalty.
At one of those evenings at the Wolf’s Lair, Adolf Hitler talked to me about those treasonous affairs and said: “Those were the worst days of my life! How easy and simple it would be for me to terminate my life. What is my life? Added to all those disappointments – only struggle and worry and grinding responsibility.
"Fate and providence assigned those tasks and burdens to me – and doesn’t the last assassination just demand more steadfastness than ever, to continue the struggle with trust and confidence? And if that struggle is to make sense, we must succeed in exterminating the bearers of that treason – because all the effort, all the bravery are in vain against treason within your own people.
"How malicious and wretched is that treason! I could sense it through all the years, but struggled with myself to believe that German officers, generals, could be connected with it. Beyond any imagination is treason during a war, treason against the nation and treason against the fighting soldiers.
"I believed I could win them over since the existence of Germany was at risk … even Europe! I stood up to overcome Marxism and introduce instead a socialism of a unified nation (Volksgemeinschaft). I did win the workman, but I misjudged the reactionary – they were here, in the Reichswehr, within industry, the powerful economic and money circles. They were here, too, as failed politicians and diplomats.
"I misjudged their vain ambition, their need for admiration and their intellectual shortcomings – all that I misjudged! I forgot to get rid of those fossils of a long past era. In a time of urgency, reconstruction, reformation, war requirements and burdening pressure, I forgot that I am a revolutionary.
"That someone from that reactionary group might at some time shoot at me – I thought about that and had to live with it. But I never believed it possible that a General Staff officer was able to commit such a characterless crime – even though, due to my experiences since 1938, I had to expect all that. They didn’t have the courage to openly resist me or shoot me.
"We have to create a new aristocracy, a value and rank order based on character, courage and steadiness. One sentence of Nietzsche’s I identify with: What today can prove if one be of value or not? – that he is steadfast!”
The evening closed with discussions about city rebuilding and reconstruction. Was it denial and relaxation? Was it confidence? I don’t know. That night, Adolf Hitler was dealing with traffic structures of cities.
1. Vierteljahreshefte fuer Zeitgeschichte, 2.Jahrgang 1954-3.Heft Juli, Ausgewaehlte Briefe des Gen Maj Helmuth Stieff, Seite 295.
2. An Austrian Baroque architect
3. A special decoration for soldiers involved in close battle.
4. Refers to Buergerbrauekeller in Munich where the reunion of the 1923 Putsch is held every year on Nov. 8th. In 1939 a bomb exploded behind the speaker’s desk, killing 6 and injuring many. Hitler said an inner voice urged him, Get out, get out; after some hesitation, he followed the urge.
5. The March 1943 assassination attempt by General von Treskow, who had a bomb placed on Hitler’s plane. The bomb failed to go off.
6. Rattenhuber and Hoegl
7. Altein, R, Zaklikofsky, E, Jacobson, I: “Out of the Inferno: The Efforts That Led to the Rescue of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch from War Torn Europe in 1939-40”, page 160. Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, 2002
8. Landesverrat is considered worse than high treason. It is “country treason” – the passing of state secrets by a citizen to a foreign power through written message, verbal report or otherwise.
9. "Raumordnung,” expansion to the East, according to the party ideology of “Volk ohne Raum”, people without space.
10. Ullbricht, Markus Wolf, Pieck, von Einsiedeld and consortium (all communist émigrés from Germany) were meeting with POW General Walther von Seydlitz and his Stalingrad clique, working on actions, radio propaganda, and Front voice messages. Seydlitz formed the Committee for a Free Germany.
11. Operation Citadel was the military code name for one of the largest military operations in WWII, a pincer offensive to cut off the Soviets from the bulge between Orel and Kursk in July 1943. It was postponed several times, then at first successful, but strong Russian counterattacks caused eventual collapse of the operation, with great losses on both sides.