With Germany reeling under terrific blows and reverses, Hitler is preparing his last stand—or it is being prepared for him. Dr. Edgar Stern-Rubarth explains here the reactions of the bewildered German People, and outlines the possible plans of the military Junkers who now see plainly enough what stands at the end of Hitler's road.
For exactly 130 years the Germans have never seen war within their own frontiers—until the R.A.F. carried it there. Gifted with imagination as they undoubtedly are, this lack of experience, fostering some sort of superstition as to the safety of their own homes, has contributed not a little to their predatory campaigns. The realization of what it now means to them, to their families and homesteads, is more bewildering, exasperating, and demoralizing by far than the same experience for Frenchmen, Russians, Italians, Balkan peoples and any other of the nations whose soil, within living memory was swept by war.
Gestapo and concentration camps, for a while, were able to deal with the consequences of that sudden realization, as long as the Nazi leaders could explain away his predicament to the German man-in-the-street as a transitory hardship to be borne for the sake of ultimate victory. After all, there was something “heroic,” some patriotic duty in suffering the loss of house and home, limbs and life if it contributed to the alluringly painted glorious future of the fatherland and the creation of a German-dominated world cleansed of Bolsheviks, Jews, Plutocrats, and whatever other bogies Goebbels's inventive brain had created for the Nazi dupes.
But this stage of the war is past; the enormous credit given to Hitler and his gang by a people that wanted to be convinced of their being right, and the rest of the world wrong, is exhausted. Under the blows of the R.A.F. and the U.S.A.A.F., of the utter failure of the third, but relatively limited summer offensive in Russia, the loss of all Africa, the successful invasion of Sicily, the dwindling U-boat campaign, that huge, obedient but greedy Gulliver, the German people, is beginning to turn and twist in the fetters applied by the Nazi dwarfs; Mussolini's sudden downfall, and defection from the Axis cause of all Hitler's puppets afraid of retaliation from their own and the oppressed peoples, are completing the drastic cure.
Significant posters have turned up in Berlin and elsewhere in Germany: “Hitler hat Achsenbruch hehabt—entzieht ihm den Fuehrerschein!” In German “Axis” and “axle” are identical while “Fuehrer” (leader) means “driver” in the official designation of a driver's license; thus this slogan, rapidly spreading all over Germany, implies that Hitler has incurred a break of his axle (Axis), so withdraw his driver's (Fuehrer's) license! A few months ago the repetition of such blasphemy, or any other public criticism of the Nazi leaders and their policy, would have meant the execution of scores of careless talkers, and the concentration for many more.
This, too, is at an end; the Gestapo and the S.S., wherever demonstrations have arisen, of late have been ordered to stay put, to let popular wrath exhaust itself, whether in the case of the looting by desperate masses in devastated Wuppertal, or of joint Italian-German demonstrations in armament plant when Mussolini's elimination was celebrated with bonfires into which both dictators' pictures went indiscriminately. Hitler, Goering, and of late even glib-tongued Goebbels keep astonishingly quiet and invisible—and not merely from prudent considerations, or in order to devise dome new devilry, but in consequence of pressure exercised by powers stronger now than their own.
In fact, the generals have won their fight which, with interruptions, was going on between them and what they contemptuously call “Hitler's circus” ever since the first of their bosses, Field-Marshal von Brauchitsch, C.-in-C. of the Forces, to begin with, was dismissed early in Hitler's disastrous winter campaign of 1941. They fight now, clearly, for their own narrow caste and professional interests—not for Hitler's ambitions, which they shared only as long as victory seemed possible.
They Know, these military Junkers, that no victory, total or partial, but utter ruin and destruction stands at the end of Hitler's road; and they see a slender chance for themselves—the preservation of a smallish German army, with themselves as the leaders of the nation, if only they can make the war last another year or two so as to weary the Allied nations and exploit what dissensions might ensue. Their plan has been for some time a wholesale German withdrawal from the widespread and indefensible lines of Hitler's fantastic “Fortress Europe” to into the Citadel of “Germany.”
Long before our invasion of Sicily their main strategists had written off their Italian ally as “more of a liability than an asset”; and after a fierce 48 hours' row (July 24 and 25), they had enforced upon Hitler the ultimate and ridiculous offer of sacrificing eight divisions only for supporting the defence Italy to the last.
They now envisage, with the cool mathematics of professionals, yet with disastrous disregard the political consequences, the taking back of their lines in Russia so as to shorten them by a at least one third, the giving up of the Balkans, indefensible without the 29 to 34 Italian divisions and the wholly unreliable 23 Bulgarian—they want to keep, at least for the time being and in view of their value Doenitz's fading U-boat campaign, the shores of France and Norway, but to provide also their evacuation in an emergency.
For their lines of defence are clearly mapped out already; they embrace Germany proper, with a glacis surrounding her rugged and ill-defensible frontiers, from the tip of Jutland to the Straits of Dover, along the Maginot Line, the Swiss and Austro-Italo-Yugoslav mountain-border to the eastern tip of Slovakia in the Carpathian mountains; from there straight north across Poland to the eastern border of East Prussia—thus including some 60 to 70 million foreign people, instead of the 250 million they at present hold down.
There is a rather fantastic element of political speculation in that scheme, too: the hope of coming to terms with Russia by evacuating her devastated and looted! While this concentration to within a stringently reduced territory would facilitate some of their, at present, most difficult tasks: transportation, exchange and reinforcement of fighting units, food-distribution, etc., and make heavily depleted fighting forces do for a longer period, the plan seems bound to miscarry because (a) it affords the same advantage of shortened lines to the United Nations, plus the active support of liberated nations thirsting for revenge, and (b) it would expose at one fell swoop the whole of that “Citadel” to our bombs, from Vienna to Koenigsberg, from Krupp's to Skoda's from Upper Silesia to the Ruhr, and turn Germany proper into an ant-hill of desperate men, women and children trying to escape destruction.
Yet, better strategists than Hitler as Brauchitsch, Bock, Rundstedt, Manstein—all of them, characteristically, belonging to the old Prussian nobility—undoubtedly are, they are clumsy politicians. What they are now preparing for the ultimate emergency is therefore hardly better than a parallel to the Italian transitional Savoy-Badoglio regime; a non-Nazi, then to be stamped “anti-Nazi,” government of the one-time Papen-Schleicher brand, with a blend of less compromised high officials screening their own military regime.
They have systematically weakened Hitler's Pretorians, the real S.S., now largely replaced by unreliable bullies recruited all over occupied countries, by pushing their units into the most sanguinary spots of the Russian front; the military governors all over Europe have interfered with all political measures decreed by Nazi authorities.
They would not hesitate to enforce the fate of Mussoline upon Hitler and his henchmen, when decided that they have served their purpose in taking the blame for present disasters. There may be a last, bitter fight between desperate gangsters and cold-blooded military chess-players, before that.