The Pittsburgh Press (August 2, 1944)
Curt Riess, author of 15 books and hundreds of articles on Nazi Germany, forecast the present German appeal two years ago in his book, The Self-Betrayed: Glory and Doom of the German Generals. A former leading Berlin editor, he writes from carefully documented, first-hand evidence in this series, the first of which follows.
Whatever the final official version – the German official version – of the bomb assault against the Führer, whether he can prove a clique of high-ranking officers was involved in a plot to kill him, one thing is certain: The military leaders of Germany for a long time have been opposed to Hitler, and Hitler has known all along of this opposition.
It began even before Hitler came to power.
On the evening of Jan. 29, 1933, Hindenburg, President of the German Republic, was consulting with a few party leaders of the extreme right to determine whether he should appoint Adolf Hitler, leader of the strongest party in the Reichstag, as German Chancellor.
Into this meeting, like a bombshell, fell the news that Gen. Kurt von Schleicher, Army Minister and at that time Chancellor, had mobilized several regiments in Potsdam and was about to march on Berlin. It was an attempt to prevent Hitler’s appointment, and it was said a considerable number of generals were on the side of Schleicher.
Hindenburg acted first. Within a few hours, he not only appointed Hitler Chancellor, but saw to it that Gen. von Blomberg, a friend of the Führer, became Army Minister. Blomberg, in turn, immediately swore in a number of high-ranking officers. Thus, Gen. von Schleicher’s march against Berlin was frustrated. Hitler became Chancellor of Germany and the first collision between him and the army had been avoided successfully.
Army opposed to SA
For more than a year, the Nazis were drunk with triumph. In particular, Hitler’s stormtroopers, the SA, acted as if the country belonged to them. The leader of the SA, Capt. Ernst Röhm, hoped that eventually his men would be incorporated into the Army, with himself in a key post. Army leaders were definitely opposed to this, considering the stormtroopers gangsters. There was friction between these irregular troops and Army units.
The Army leaders were particularly angry when the Chief of the Berlin SS, Karl Ernst, told them that if the Army wished to inspect the SA, they should send an officer who did not wear a monocle. This was an intentional slap in the Army’s face. Most of the high-ranking officers, among them the commander-in-chief, Gen. von Fritsch, wore monocles.
The 1934 purge
Finally, the Army demanded a showdown. Gen. Ludwig Beck, chief of the General Staff and the intellectual leader of the generals’ clique, demanded that the SA disappear and its most prominent officers be thrown out.
At that time – the spring of 1934 – Hitler was still dependent on the good graces of the Army. He had to give in. The result was the famous blood purge of June 30, 1934, in which Ernst Röhm and many other SA officers were killed.
But though Hitler had to accommodate the generals, he was able to double-cross them in part and also revenge himself. For among those killed during the blood purge, were Gen. von Schleicher, his old enemy, and Gen. von Bredow, chief of Army intelligence, an officer widely known for his opposition to the Nazis.
Rundstedt planned revolt
Still, for almost four years following the blood purge, the Army controlled Hitler almost completely. There was some friction.
Gen. von Rundstedt, in May 1935, was about to lead a revolt against Hitler, but at the last minute, thought better of it and had his co-conspirators arrested. Gen. Beck was radically opposed to Hitler’s invasion of the demilitarized Rhineland because he figured that, if the French marched, the German Army couldn’t possibly defend itself. But Hitler believed the French would not march, and he completed his Rhineland plan successfully.
The next decisive clash between Hitler and the Army did not occur until February 1938. Then about 20 of the most prominent generals walked out on the Führer.
Army wanted Luftwaffe
There were many issues at stake at this time. Gen. von Blomberg, Hitler’s Army Minister, had married a girl almost 40 years his junior, and far below his social station. The generals felt that they could not work with a man who thus had betrayed his caste.
They also wanted assurances from Hitler that he would no longer mix in Army affairs. Further, they wanted the Luftwaffe, which Göring had built up as a unit completely controlled by the party, to be incorporated in the armed forces under the control of the General Staff.
Hitler refused all these demands. He had to let von Blomberg go, but used this to tighten his control of the Army. He had no idea of letting the Luftwaffe fall under the influence of the generals. He called their bluff and when they walked out, let them go. He knew that if he called them back, they would come.
Hitler was right, They came. The only one he didn’t want was his commander-in-chief, von Fritsch. The one he wanted back most, but had most difficulty in persuading to return, was Gen. Beck, chief of the General Staff.
The chief of the General Staff retired a second time, this time for good, after the Munich Conference. Beck knew that Hitler would not keep the pact of Munich, that he would take Prague, would demand Polish territory, and that sooner or later, a World War would be the consequence of the Führer’s ever-increasing demands. Beck, who had done more to build up the German Army than any other general, who had devised most of the plans later used by Hitler, knew that the German Army could not be victorious in a long-drawn-out war of attrition.
Russian timetable fails
At first, events seemed to prove Hitler was right and Beck wrong. The German Army overran half a dozen countries. On July 19, 1940, after the successful French campaign, Hitler made his leading generals field marshals, covering them with decorations – and it looked as if the peace between him and these generals would be final.
But it only looked that way. Hardly 15 months later, Oct. 15, 1941, the leading German generals knew they could not win the war. They knew it that early because the timetable of the Russian conquest had not been kept. The Russian Army, far from being crushed, became stronger day by day. England’s strength, too, was increasing, and it was only a question of time until America entered the war. Something must be done, the generals decided. The conspiracy against Hitler was on.
NEXT: Hitler’s “intuition” put to grim test.