by Peter Lorden
6 October 2004
In his Foreword to Field Marshal Erich von Manstein's fascinating memoire, Lost Victories, British military theorist Captain Liddell-Hart pays tribute to a superb commander, the one most other German generals would have liked to see as their Commander-in-Chief, that is, heading the Oberkommando des Heeres or OKH. But that post had virtually been taken over by Hitler himself, who increasingly interfered with the decisions of his generals in the field. Since Hitler was also Supreme Commander of all German forces, (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or OKW), Manstein and others tried to persuade him to allow OKH to be run by a professional soldier. But Hitler would have none of it.
Since Manstein's insistence led to his dismissal in March of 1944, his comment in the chapter on Hitler's downgrading of the OKH is understandably harsh. This occurred, he writes,
because of Hitler's insatiable thirst for power and his excessive self-esteem, which was encouraged by his undeniable success and the lick-spittling of his Party bosses....Power was all he believed in, and he regarded his will as the embodiment of that power....Such was the man -- utterly unscrupulous, highly intelligent and possessed of an indomitable will -- with whom OKH generals von Brauchitsch and Halder had to contend.
And neither was a match for him. Though ostensibly heading OKH, they became merely his Chiefs of Staff, to be consulted or bypassed as he saw fit.
Manstein will later have more positive things to say about Hitler, but the clash of values between Army and Party is an underlying theme of his book. It was eloquently expressed in February 1940 by General Blaskowitz, who was commanding the occupying force in Poland. He feared the effect on the Army's moral fiber of witnessing criminal acts committed against Jews and Poles. He wrote, "When high officials of the SS and the Security Police call for such atrocities and publicly praise them, soon only the brutal will rule." (He wanted the guilty to be tried under Army jurisdiction, but Hitler prevented this.)
Like other officers, Manstein had been shocked by the dirty little plot whereby Goering and Himmler in 1938 had ousted a former Commander-in-Chief, the popular General Freiherr von Fritsch. "Under him," said Manstein, "the Army would not throw overboard its simple and soldierly conception of honor in favor of National Socialist ideology." (The upright General Ludwig Beck, later a leader in the plot against Hitler, resigned from OKH for the same reason.) Goering and Himmler would later intrigue against Manstein himself, who despised both of them. he was especially bitter about "Fat Boy's" broken promise to supply General von Paulus's 6th Army trapped in Stalingrad when the Luftwaffe (as he afterwards learned from Milch) had had plenty of unused capacity sitting idle in the West.
Most of Lost Victories is devoted to Manstein's campaigns in Russia, and a long segment, "The Tragedy of Stalingrad," runs for 87 pages; "The Winter Campaign in South Russia" for 75. His triumphs in Crimea and the brilliant recapture of Kharkov will be studied by military strategists for years to come. (An earlier translation of his "Citadel" chapter on the great tank battle of Kursk appeared in the U.S. Marine Corps Gazette.) A striking example of Manstein's gift for rapid organization occurred in the massive withdrawal of his Southern Army Group over the Dnieper River in September 1943. From a front 440 miles long, three entire armies had to converge on only five crossings and then fan out again to form a similar front on the other side. This was accomplished in just 15 days.
Manstein's first significant contact with Hitler throws an interesting light on the background of those Russian campaigns. On August 21, 1939, Hitler addressed a conference of his top generals in Berchtesgaden. Manstein was there as Chief of Staff to the venerable General von Rundstedt's Army Group. All of these officers believed that maneuvers near the Polish border were meant simply to pressure the Poles into negotiating Hitler's territorial demands. None thought that he would actually attack Poland in defiance of the guarantees given it by Britain and France. Nor did he say he would, though he did so only ten days later. The big surprise of the meeting was his announcement of the Non-Aggression Pact with the Soviet Union. Though initially taken aback because of Hitler's strident anti-Bolshevism, most of the officers saw the Pact as yet another of his diplomatic triumphs, designed both to impress the Poles and to secure his Eastern flank.
It was in regard to the invasion of France, that Manstein, according to Captain Liddell-Hart, first showed "military genius." Instead of the Hitler-backed plan for an assault mainly through Belgium, he argued for an armored thrust through the Ardennes region, where it would be least expected. Though Manstein then was still a junior general, his dogged fight for this idea against OKH resistance eventually brought him an interview with Hitler in February 1940. Der Führer's remarkably quick mind (still persuadable then) grasped the General's arguments at once, and the "Manstein Plan" produced a stunning victory.
Banished from Staff by jealous seniors at OKH, Manstein starred as commander of 38 Infantry Corps. His Corps so distinguished itself in racing the armor across France that it was tapped to lead the invasion of England. Though that never happened, Manstein was given his heart's desire in the invasion of Russia -- command of the 56 Panzer Corps, dashing 200 miles in four days to capture crucial bridges. his star rose steadily thereafter. (Maybe he was lucky that it set when it did. Living quietly in retirement for the last year of the war, he was spared any direct involvement in the nightmarish end of Der Führer's dream.)
Fascinating as his exploits may be to the military buff, it's the personal side of Manstein that is most attractive to a lay reader. He comes across as not at all like caricatures of the stiff-necked, arrogant Junker. Humorous and good-hearted, though tough as nails, he loved being with his troops, both because he sympathized with them and because his experience on the Western Front in WWI had shown it to be good policy. He always wanted to see for himself and to be seen. "The ordinary soldier must never have the feeling the 'top brass' are busy concocting orders somewhere to the rear without knowing what it looks like out in front."
A couple of incidents will illustrate his practice. Dissatisfied with information coming from his front in France, Manstein made a personal "recce" ahead of his forward units, and found nothing to hold them up. Coming back, he was confronted by a keen young officer begging to be told how the whole campaign was going. The General, pulling out his big map, put the young man in the picture. Then he politely suggested -- much to the amusement of his own driver -- that forward units might do their own reconnaissance in the future. Another time, he urged a lieutenant leading a patrol to swim a small river and scout the other side. When the lad hesitated, Manstein offered to swim with him. It was gestures of this kind that inspired fierce loyalty to Manstein in whatever units he commanded.
Perhaps because he saw in them something of himself as an eager young cadet enthused about everything in the military life, Manstein was especially sympathetic to the young. he praises Fritz Nagel, his devoted driver, for the young sergeant's utter lack of subservience. He delighted in the high spirits and occasional cheekiness of his ADC., Lt. Specht, a battle-tested cavalry officer whom everyone called "Pepo." He was particularly proud of his own 20-year-old son, who had overcome a delicate boyhood to become 2nd Lt. Gero von Manstein. All three were lost to him in 1942. Fritz fell mortally wounded at his feet when the Italian E-boat he and Manstein were using to reconnoiter the coast off Yalta was strafed by Soviet fighters. Manstein bitterly regretted that Fritz, a few weeks later, could not be there to see him receive the Field Marshal's baton he got for the capture of Sevastopol. As for Pepo, Staff life had become too dull. He begged for a return to his unit and Manstein had not the heart to refuse him. Pepo died in a plane crash en route to his unit. Soon after burying him, the Field Marshal heard that his own son had been killed by a Russian bomb.
He writes of Gero's death, "I trust, as one under whose command so many thousands of youngsters died for Germany, that I may be forgiven for mentioning this purely personal loss here." His eulogy for Gero ("a gentleman and a Christian") shows Manstein's pride in his race and faith and in the family tradition of military service to "our beloved Germany."
Manstein's humanity on a larger scale appears in his treatment of civilians during the classic Dnieper retreat. Several hundred thousand people had to be evacuated to establish a scorched-earth zone east of the river. They were given transport whenever possible, resettlement being organized on the other side. And most, he says, were not sorry to escape the clutches of the returning Bolsheviks. "Far from being forcibly abducted, these people received every possible help from the German armies."
Manstein stresses the decency of his command. He says it was because the behavior of his troops was so different from that of 'other German forces operated in Russia by the Party" that he was able to enlist "hundreds of thousands of indigenous volunteers -- mainly Ukrainians and Caucasians -- who did their duty with the utmost loyalty, preferring to fight in the German Army (in spite of Party policy in the occupied territories) rather than go back under Bolshevik domination." Though trying to stay away from politics, Manstein points out that Hitler's political policy in Russia worked against the military objectives. If his aim was to have the Soviet Union collapse from within, "how could this be achieved by allowing the Reich Commissioners and Security Service to alienate the people?"
It's worth mentioning that a very different picture of the German soldier's behavior towards civilians is drawn by Israeli scholar Omer Bartov in Hitler's Army. "The Ostheer [Eastern Army] was held together by a combination of harsh discipline and a general license to barbarism towards the enemy." Letters home from German soldiers, shocked by the ghastly condition of life under Bolshevism, Bartov dismisses as "a striking inversion of reality, ascribing the unprecedented brutality of the Wehrmacht and the SS to their victims." In German retaliation for guerrilla attacks, he says, "Jews were clearly the most convenient targets, especially as the local population itself was often also strongly anti-semitic." Bartov dismisses "the revisionist claim" that Barbarossa (the name for the German invasion of Russia) was a noble crusade to save the West from Asiatic Bolshevism as "a fabrication of the evidence." He also dismisses as Nazi fanaticism the fervent belief among many German soldiers that they and their Führer were indeed on a sacred mission. But what else could they believe in? Letter after letter from the Front shows the desperate desire of the young men soon to die that their sacrifice should mean something, and what other meaning could they give it?
Though dealing more with the Central Front than Manstein's Southern one, Bartov seems deteremined to do on the Ostheer the same job that Goldhagen did on the German people as a whole. For all its biases, however, his book is worth reading for its vivid picture of the drastic demodernization of Hitler's army on the Central Front, the appalling casualties and dreadful conditions its men had to endure as the odds against them rose ever higher.
Manstein's Preface opens with, "This book is the personal narrative of a soldier, in which I have deliberately refrained from discussing political problems or matters with no direct bearing on the military field." But the politics cannot be avoided, nor can we credit Manstein's claim to have been ignorant of its darker side. He says later that, having been in the field for several years, "it was not granted to me to perceive Hitler's true nature, or the moral deterioration of the regime, as we can obviously do today." But hadn't everybody seen the moral nature of the Party emerge in Kristallnacht, the watershed event of November 1938, which convinced even optimists like Max Warburg that all was lost for Jews in Germany? Nor could a Field Marshal have been unaware of the millions of slave laborers propping up the German economy or the trains diverted from military use to filling the concentration camps.
True to his Preface, Manstein does not mention the persecution of the Jews. Given World Jewry's declaration of war on his government in 1933, he might well have approved their expulsion from Germany, especially as he knew the role they played in the Soviet administration. The field order he issued to his 11th Army in November 1941 said, "The German Volk is in the midst of a battle for life and death against the Jewish Bolshevik system, which must be eradicated once and for all..." He also knew that the "Jewish political officers" attached to all Soviet units were there to enforce maximum brutality in the conduct of the war. He got an early taste of that in seeing the horrible mutilation of captured German soldiers. (If Manstein was shocked by this Slavic savagery, he was in good company; King Frederick the Great had been appalled by the atrocities of his Russian allies.) Nevertheless, when OKH ordered that all of these political officers were to be shot upon capture, Manstein refused to pass this "Kommissar Order" to his troops.
Regarding the Jews in general, we must suppose that Manstein, like millions of his countrymen, would have closed his mind to everything but his own immediate duty to the Fatherland. His fellow generals did the same, despite knowing that many Prussian families of their class had some Jewish ancestry. (It had long been common in Prussia for impoverished young officers to marry the daughters of Jewish merchants.) Manstein himself was born Erich von Lewinsky, the son of an artillery general. He acquired the name of Manstein on being adopted by his mother's brother-in-law, another General von Manstein.
Thought Hitler, too, had been a soldier, Manstein found his attitude towards the troops surprisingly different from his own. While he repeatedly stresses his admiration for hte spirit and endurance of the ordinary German soldier, Hitler never showed him any recognition of suffering borne in the field. As Manstein puts it, "Any feeling of sympathy for the troops left him completely cold." When told by an officer in daily contact with Hitler that the German leader had to hide his feelings because he was actually too soft-hearted to bear the sight of suffering, and that this was why he never visited the Front or even toured his own bombed cities, Manstein is skeptical: "If Hitler really was soft-hearted, how can one explain the brutal cruelty which became increasingly typical of his regime as time went on?"
Hitler and Manstein were also far apart in their private lives. The happily married Manstein must have wondered, like many others, about the 1931 "suicide" of Geli Raubal, the niece whom Hitler had apparently made a virtual prisoner of his obsessive jealousy. A bizarre tale is told about that incident in Brandenburg's Quest. (Though highly suspect in some quarters because of its being co-written by a Jewish screenwriter, the book seems too richly detailed to have been wholly invented.) According to Brandenburg, he was told by Hitler's loyal typist, Christine Schroeder, of how Geli's death turned Der Führer into a vegetarian. She says Hitler told her that "when he saw her lying dead -- dead and bloody -- he thought of her as dead meat. In a butcher's shop. And he never ate meat again." Nobody could have invented this! Nor should anyone ever claim to understand a psyche which could transmute its guilt and shame over a young girl's death into a lesson on diet.
Another glimpse into that psyche was given to Brandenburg, he states, by the widow of Hitler Youth leader, Baldur von Shirach. She said that over dinner at the Berghof in February 1943, she told Der Führer of her shock at seeing German troops shoving Jewish women into a truck in Amsterdam. Hitler angrily replied that his responsibility to his own people required him to "reduce the number of the others," and finished by telling her, "You must learn to hate!" The von Shirachs were afterwards banished from the Berghof. (An ominous silence was the more usual response to anyone questioning the fate of the Jews in Hitler's presence.)
Other glimpses of Hitler the man, as of Goering and Goebbels, can be found in the extraordinary Voices from the Third Reich. If one had to recommend only a single book to the person curious about Hitler's regime, it would be this one. Comprising vivid reminiscences from a wide spectrum of people caught up in that maelstrom, Voices is unforgettable. Incidentally, a couple of entries there remind the reader of how unfair it is to regard all former members of the Waffen SS as "war criminals." As distinct from the SS Totenkopfverbände, which supplied guards for concentration camps, the regular Waffen SS had for many German youngsters the glamour of an elite fighting force famed for its valor and toughness. What justice can there be in hounding such a person in his old age when nobody, for instance, goes after Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands? Bernhard served in the SS for two years. He was in position to know far more about the Nazi regime than some starry-eyed youth. Yet Bernhard has mingled for years with the world's wealthy elite in the highly influential Bilderberg Group, of which he was a founding member.
All told, Hitler and Manstein could scarcely have been more different in character and background -- the one a Junker to his fingertips, the other an iconoclastic politician who had come out of the brawling beer halls of Munich and distrusted everything the Junkers stood for. Even their Christian faith he saw as threatening the total loyalty which Hitler demanded of everyone around him.
Rumors of ousting Hitler had been going around the General Staff for years. The right time could have been after Kristallnacht, if the generals had been motivated by moral outrage rather than self-interest. The invasion of Poland was widely applauded in Germany. Who would have contemplated a coup after the conquest of France, amid all the euphoria of medals and promotions? Hitler's luck foiled other attempts to kill him before the Bomb Plot, which was botched by von Stauffenberg's failure to ensure that Hitler was dead. Hundreds died because of that error.
So often frustrated by his own disputes with Hitler, Manstein certainly had cause to wish Der Führer gone, at least from OKH. But he also had a good reason not to join the plotters. "As one responsible for an army group in the field, I did not feel I had the right to contemplate a coup d'etat in wartime, because in my own view it would have led to an immediate collapse of the Front, and probably to chaos inside Germany." And having sacrificed so many men in the hope of victory, how could their commander "precipitate defeat by his own hand?"
Considering the gulf between them, Manstein's assessment in the chapter on "Hitler as Supreme Commander" is as fair as we could expect. He first came under Hitler's direct orders in November 1942, when he was transferred from the Leningrad sector (where he's gone after his victory in Crimea) to head the Don Army Group in the region west of Stalingrad. That Group soon expanded into Southern Army Group, giving him four armies in all. Hitler had not previously interfered with Manstein's operations, but
Now that I had come immediately under Hitler in my capacity as an army group commander, I was to get my first real experience of him in his exercise of the supreme command....He undoubtedly had a certain eye for operational openings, an astoundingly retentive memory, and an amazing knowledge of weapons technology. What he lacked, broadly speaking, was simply military ability based on experience, something for which his "intuition" was no substitute.
Manstein was to suffer greatly from Hitler's insistence on holding every foot of ground when sound practice dictated a strategic withdrawal. Stalingrad was, of course, the worst example. When anxious to rescue the 6th Army encircled there, Manstein insisted that this could only succeed if von Paulus were ordered to break out towards the relieving force. But Der Führer refused to accept this until it was too late. Manstein then, too good a commander to let his love of the troops fall into sentimentality, agreed with Hitler's order that the 6th Army should fight to the last bullet, as indeed it did. "Every soldier must accept that the ultimate sacrifice may be required of him." Manstein's only consolation afterward was that Hitler, instead of blaming his generals as usual, had the grace to look him in the eye and declare, "The responsibility for Stalingrad is mine alone!"
Scattering his forces rather than concentrating them was another mark of Hitler's amateur status. When faced with an unpalatable decision he would procrastinate, to the acute frustration of both Manstein and Hitler's own Chief of Staff, General Zeitzler, who backed Manstein all the way and even offered to give up his post when the Field Marshal lost his. (As did Manstein's entire staff at Southern Army Group.) Both of these faults were evident in the great battle of Kursk, which might nothave ended in a hugely expensive stalemate had Hitler not needlessly delayed its onset until the Soviets had time to construct the heaviest tank defenses ever seen. At the height of the action Hitler took away some of Manstein's units.
Hitler's greatest fault as a commander, says Manstein, was "his over-estimation of the power of the will. This will, as he saw it, had only to be translated into faith -- down to the youngest private soldier -- for the correctness of his decisions to be confirmed and the success of his orders ensured." This reliance on the power of his will to overcome objective obstacles led him consistently to reject reports of enemy strength. "And with that, Hitler turned his back on reality."
But may not another factor have been operating here? Could there have been a special reason for his stubbornness in Russia -- one of which Manstein could know nothing? Lost Victories says nothing about the role of Intelligence. But in The Secret War Against the Jews, authors Loftus and Aarons make much of "Max." This was supposedly an Intelligence network run by Zionists who deceived the Nazi leadership by convincing them that "Max" was their secret agent in the Kremlin. The resulting flow of misinformation, according to these authors, brought defeat to the Nazis at both Stalingrad and Kursk. They even quote an Israeli spy as saying, "A handful of Jews won World War Two." This would certainly have been news to Manstein. Being constantly on top of his own situation, he would probably have ignored any misinformaqtion he received. But Hitler might not!
If Hitler had been relying upon false news about the weakness of the Soviets, and keeping it to himself in order to protect what he thought to be a golden source, this could explain the otherwise unaccountable overconfidence he so often showed about the war in the East. How else can we account for his order in the late summer of 1941 to demobilize 40 divisions and return some arms factories to producing civilian goods? What else could explain the way he constantly chided his generals for "timidity," insisting even in 1944 that the Soviets were finished and "had nothing left"? He wasn't stupid! A false confidence born of "Max" -- manufactured illusions might also account for the astonishing fact that not until after July 1944 did Hitler authorize Goebbels to return Germany to full wartime mobilization. "Too late!" cried Goebbels to his staff. Had he received that order a year earlier, he said, the war would already have been won. "But it takes a bomb under his arse to make Hitler see reason."
Could it also have been "Max" that led Hitler to dream of feats no longer remotely possible? When Manstein was struggling to extricate some of his forces from the Caucasus before the swelling Soviet tide could cut them off, he was dismayed to find Hitler still dreaming of a grand pincer movement. This would have seen a German motorized force plunging over the Caucasus Mountains and down through Iraq to link up with Rommel's army advancing through Egypt, so as to secure Middle Eastern oil for the Reich and deny it to the Allies.
In sum, Manstein allows that Hitler "indeed had many of the qualities indispensable to a supreme commander -- strong will, nerves adequate to the most serious crisis, a keen brain, some operational talent and an undeniable grasp of technical matters." Had Hitler only been willing to compensate for his lack of military training and trust the expertise of his General Staff -- but this he would not accept. "He wanted to be another Napoleon. Unfortunately, he had neither Napoleon's training nor his military genius."
For all that, Manstein gives full credit to Hitler's powers on the political side of leadership, his cleverness in adapting himself to the people he dealt with, his extraordinary tenacity in discusssion, his endless capacity for argument. (Only one man ever beat Hitler at that game. In a marathon attempt at persuading Franco to let German forces pass through Spain to take Gibraltar, the wily Caudillo so befuddled him that Hitler afterwards said he'd rather have teeth pulled than go through that again.) Manstein testifies that "Hitler's faculty for inspiring others with his own confidence -- whether feigned or genuine -- was quite remarkable." Officers who had vowed to tell him "the truth about things in the field" would come away with fresh enthusiasm.
He certainly had the power to mesmerize weaker minded people. Manstein got a taste of that when things came to a head between them in January 1944. Making a last attempt to have Der Führer relinquish his dictation of field operations through OKH, Manstein bluntly told him that their critical situation in Russia was due not only to growing Soviet strength but also to
the way in which we are led. Hitler's face hardened. He stared at me with a look which made me feel he wished to crush my will ton continue.... His eyes were boring into me as if to force me to my knees....The notion of an Indian snake-charmer flashed through my mind, and I realized that those eyes must have intimidated many a man before me. I still went on talking, however, and told Hitler that things simply could not go on under the present type of leadership.
One feels a great deal of sympathy for Manstein. Ever since Stalingrad he had essentially been fighting a rearguard action. While Soviet resources seemed to be endless, his own troops were becoming exhausted. The odds against them were now about 8 to 1. The enemy's ratio of machines to men was steadily improving. So were his tactics: "They're learning from us!" Manstein told his staff. Faced with all of this -- the fatigue, the continuous flow of calls for decision on the sacrifice of flesh and blood, plus the weight of his personal losses and the frustration with Hitler -- what must it have been like to be in Manstein's boots? Back from another grueling day in the field, and pausing for a last look around the endless white shroud of so many corpses, mustn't he sometimes have felt overwhelmed by the emptiness of it all, the futility of so much human effort? It took a strong man to carry such a load for so long. Manstein must have had few regrets when Hitler finally relieved him two months after that meeting.
It's only fair to recall that Hitler, too, was under great strain at the time, and his best general's criticism wasn't helping. For a "Man of Destiny," whose perspectives and responsibilities were much wider than Manstein's, it must have been intolerable to have a subordinate's judgment so often prove more accurate than his own. He may often have felt as the old Kaiser did about his financial adviser, Max Warburg, when he struck the table and cried, "Must you always be right?"
Not that Hitler was always wrong. He was sometimes brilliantly right. Conditioned by the viewpoint of his class and a natural postwar tendency to distance himself from the Nazi regime, Manstein may have allowed Hitler rather less than his due on the military side. Given a natural distrust of past leadership, Hitler can scarcely be blamed for his resolve to be a hands-on manager of the war effort. If he is to be blamed for its failures, he must also be credited for some of its most striking successes. That final assault through the Ardennes in December 1944 was all his idea. Though he hadn't enough reserves to consolidate the gains hoped for, as Rundstedt had warned him, the assault was beautifully planned. Hitler personally briefed SS Col. Otto Skorzeny on disruptive tactics behind the American lines as he had earlier briefed him for the hilltop rescue of Mussolini.
Early in 1944, however, with his forces everywhere on the defensive and the threat of an Allied invasion of France hanging over his head, Hitler must often have reflected bitterly on the turning of the tide. Manstein's great title, Lost Victories, could as well have been his! He'd won so many victoriees both before and during the war. He had not "seized" power in a paramilitary coup, as some people now imply. He had earned it. He had promised to attain it legally, in accordance with the Constitution, and this he did.
Any fair-minded student of that 13-year struggle (as recorded in Pool's Who Financed Hitler?) must agree that Der Führer, purely as a politician, deserved to come to power, regardless of what he did with it afterwards. One has to admire his cleverness and courage, his energy, his skill in political maneuvering, and above all his persistence, never losing faith in himself or in his vision of a strong and united Germany. In the face of every possible discouragement, Hitler worked harder than anyone else for the success of the Party he created. He inspired in its members a dedication seldom seen nowadays. Many of them pitched in to pay for Party activities, even to the point of going hungry for the cause.
Just as he motivated his Party's membership, so Hitler had a matchless gift for inspiring the common people. They would walk miles and stand half the night in pouring rain or brutal cold to hear him speak. Why did tens of thousands of Hitler Youth idolilze him? Because what Germans needed most in the mire of the Great Depression, with widespread hunger and massive unemployment breeding a sense of powerlessness, was hope, which Hitler was adept in giving them. Nor did he fail to keep his promises in the early years of power. He produced a renaissance which many foreign leaders praised for its dynamism. Though entirely a self-made man, and an Austrian at that, Hitler was undoubtedly the greatest leader to appear on the German scene since his idol, Frederick the Great.
Reflecting on that rise to power, one can't help wondering what a man of such talents might have achieved if only he had concentrated on the better instead of the worse parts of his philosophy. (This is what Max Warburg had in mind when telling his nephew in 1930 that his kind would be happy to line up with the NSDAP, if it were not for that racism.) Maybe Hitler's anti-Semitism was the fuel for his personal enging, the source of his energy. Some of it certainly came from his knowing the rule Jews played in the Soviet Union. Since popular support for the Communists in Germany during those years was sometimes greater than for his own Party, is it fanciful to ask who else but Hitler stood between Europe and the far worse fate she could have suffered under Bolshevism?
Though nothing can excuse what was done to the Jews under Himmler and Heydrich, Alan Abrams was surely right to remark in Special Treatment that, "Much of the damage done to the Jewish community before the Holocaust was undoubtedly self-inflicted." A certain arrogance often went along with the Jewish lock on European banking, while the contempt of West European Jews for their Ostjuden cousins rivaled that of the Nazis, who drew some of their most anti-Semitic lines from Jewish writers. And today's "Holocaustamaniacs" should be reminded that one of the dumbest moves of that era was World Jewry's declaration of war against Hitler and his government in 1933, followed by an economic boycott. This was all very well for Zionists Chaim Weizmann and Rabbi Stephen Wise, living safely in New York, but what about the effect on Jews in Germany? (The Warburgs actually begged President Roosevelt not to back the boycott.) The effect on the German people was predictable. Could anything have done more to legitimize the anti-Semitism which Hitler and Goebbels were fostering among them? Having been beaten down ever since Versailles, and having at last been able to acclaim in 1933 a Chancellor who offered them hope of renewal, the German people saw World Jewry vowing to push them right back into poverty and chaos!
Regarding the character of Hitler, discussion is increasingly polarized between those who will hear no good of him and those who will hear no bad. Long after the war, some of his senior officers were still lauding unser Vati as "a true genius" and "the greatest man in European history," whiile some of his secretaries found him "always kind and considerate, the perfect gentleman." To others, allo of that was merely a mask of evil, the mustached facade of a shuddering darkness. And who can deny that darkness won out in the end with his monstrous final order (backed only by Keitel and Bormann) that the Fatherland itself should be destroyed and all its people join him in the grave?
How savagely ironic it is that Adolf Hitler's last command was one that his bitterest enemies would have been happy to see obeyed!
1. Lost Victories by Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, translated and edited by Anthony E. Powell; Foreward by Captain B.H. Liddell-Hart, Methuen and Co., London, 1958.
2. Hitler's Army by Omer Bartov, Oxford University Press, New York/Oxford, 1992.
3. Quest: Searching for Germany's Nazi Past by Ib Melchior and Frank Brandenburg, Presidio Press, Novato, Calif., 1990.
4. Voices from the Third Reich: An Oral History by Johannes Steinhoff, Peter Pechel and Dennis Showalter. Introduction by Helmut Schmidt, Regnery Gateway, Washington, 1989.
5. The Secret War Against the Jews by John Loftus and Mark Aarons, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1994.
6. Who Financed Hitler: The Secret Funding of Hitler's Rise to Power 1919-1933 by James E. Pool, Pocketbooks, New York, 1997.
7. Special Treatment by Alan Abrams, Lyle Stuart Inc., Secaucas, N.J., 1985.