David Irving


Pricking the Bubble

The dazzling heat of high summer had come to the Berghof.  It was now early June 1941 :  with a suddenness that caused an almost perceptible lurch the last echelon of assault troops had set out from Germany for the eastern front—the twelve panzer divisions and twelve mechanized divisions whose location by an enemy must surely unmask Hitler’s true intentions beyond all doubt.  In less than three weeks “Barbarossa” would begin.  It was time to start dropping hints to his prospective allies.

Hitler’s last major anxieties had been overcome.  Crete was in German and Italian hands.  Only Iraq remained a “blemish,” though through no fault of Germany’s.  Rashid Ali had fled to Iran, and the victorious British were evidently regrouping for an invasion of Syria.  Yet Hitler was not downhearted.  “If we tote up the results of two years of war,” he told G–ring, “it has to be said :  ‘There’s got to be a limit somewhere.’  Iraq was a blemish—so what ?  I cannot help it.  After all, I am not an Arab and the Arabs are no Germans.  All in all the Arabs did right”—meaning in their rebellion against the British, now shown to have been premature.  “If they had waited any longer, more and more British would have poured in and a coup d’etat would have been quite impossible.”

His nagging suspicions about Japan had also been removed.  A few weeks before, he had been unsettled by rumors that Washington was offering Japan a nonaggression pact ;  he had examined this risk from every angle with Ribbentrop here at the Berghof, for both realized that such a pact would be an open invitation to Roosevelt to intervene in the European war.  Admiral Kichisaburo Nomura had privately warned Hitler through Raeder that Japan’s naval construction program would not allow her to tackle her Far Eastern problem until 1946, as only then would she be strong enough to take on Britain and the United States.  To Hitler Japan’s Foreign Minister Matsuoka was dangerously inscrutable.  “He combines the hypocrisy of an American Bible missionary with all the wiles of a Japanese oriental,” he told Mussolini.  But at the end of May he breathed again when Matsuoka loudly proclaimed his unswerving allegiance to the Tripartite Pact.

The first hint was dropped to Mussolini, but the dictator seems not to have grasped its meaning and Hitler did not repeat it.  He had asked the Duce to join him at the Brenner Pass on June 2.  Hewel accompanied Hitler’s party.  “Journeyed in wonderful weather to the Brenner.  Arrival at 10:15 A.M., followed by talks and lunch at 2:30.”  Hitler talked alone with Mussolini for two hours before the two dictators were joined by their foreign ministers.  When at four o’clock the train set out again for Berchtesgaden, Hewel sat with the F¸hrer.  “He is contented ;  says Mussolini is very confident and sure of victory.  Has dropped a hint on Russia ‘if the shipping losses alone do not suffice,’ ” meaning suffice to knock Britain out of the war.  No whisper of his latent inclinations to do a deal postwar with France at Italy’s expense came through, but he did talk to Mussolini of the possibility that David Lloyd George might succeed a defeated Churchill.  “Then we must see what possibility there is of settling our differences.”

To the Japanese ambassador, General Oshima, whom he urgently summoned to the Berghof the next day, Hitler put on the appropriate “anti-British” act.  Oshima correctly interpreted Hitler’s hint at “Barbarossa” and after being lectured by Ribbentrop as well, he personally cabled Matsuoka in strictest confidence.  “Both gentlemen gave me to understand that a German-Soviet war probably cannot be avoided.”  Hitler had bluntly stated on the third that he would always be the first to draw his sword if he detected any hostility in an opponent, and although he did not expressly say so, his remarks to Oshima implied that while the Tripartite Pact was expresses verbis not intended as an instrument against the Soviet Union, such was the obligation on Japan—and he would expect the Japanese to honor it.  Ribbentrop assured Oshima that the campaign would be over in two or three months—he could not say when it would begin, but “if Japan should find it necessary to prepare for this eventuality, then he would advise her to do so in as short a time as possible.”  On June 4, Hitler received King Boris of Bulgaria for two hours.  Hewel took notes on the encounter, but they appear to have been lost, and since the Bulgarian records fell into Soviet hands in the course of the events Hitler was about to unleash, we are unlikely ever to learn what they discussed.

Now the Soviet Union began to reap the harvest of the hatred she had sown.  The Finns confirmed to German officers sent to Helsinki that they were aware of the “historic hour” that was dawning and they would provide Finnish troops, territory, and airfields to assist in “Barbarossa.”  Antonescu came to Munich and again offered to support the attack with all the military and other resources at Romania’s disposal.  Even the Turks, Britain’s last formal ally, were softening under Papen’s pressure, and a treaty with Germany, the victor of the Balkans, was in the cards.  Perhaps the activities of the British sabotage agencies influenced them.  Not many weeks before, the Turks had intercepted a British launch laden with sabotage materials and explosives heading for their coast ;  in addition, Turkish police had uncovered a British sabotage ring in Istanbul.  In Crete the Germans had uncovered a veritable arsenal of explosives in the house of the British vice-consul at Ir·klion, a Major Pendlebury.  Pendlebury—real name Kustos—was head of the British secret service in central Crete.  His private diary revealed that British secret service headquarters in London had instructed its agents to ignore the prevailing laws and conventions of war.

As for himself, operating on the principle that no questions are asked of the victor, Hitler authorized orders to his Wehrmacht—even in advance of “Barbarossa”—which were so shocking that Keitel later had all copies of them destroyed.  Hitler’s staff, however, accepted the idea that such orders were necessary.  His naval adjutant had himself seen how mercilessly the Reds fought in the Baltic states in 1919.  Jodl—convinced that Hitler was of impeccable morality and pursuing only one lofty ideal, a German victory—also decided that his orders were to be obeyed whatever their character.

The decision to liquidate the political commissars attached to Red Army units was to Hitler a logical extension of the fight against the tentacles of Soviet authority—the eradication of the ruling classes.  The commissars could be identified as such by the red star embroidered with a golden hammer and sickle on their sleeves.  Evidently at Hitler’s dictation, Jodl drafted an explanation of the decision to liquidate the commissars (though not all of them).  The Bolsheviks could not be counted on to fight “humanely.”  The commissars in particular would subject German prisoners to spiteful, cruel, and inhuman treatment, for they were the “originators of these barbaric Asiatic fighting methods.”  Hitler ordered :  “If they are caught fighting or offering resistance, they are to be shot out of hand without exception and immediately.”  They were francs-tireurs and as such not entitled to be recognized as soldiers.  The less active commissars, defined as “political commissars guilty or suspected of committing no hostile acts,” were to be spared :  Rosenberg had pointed out that initially he would be needing many of the top Russian officials to help him administer the eastern territories.  General Warlimont sent out this document, although it was evidently never signed by Hitler, directing the army and Luftwaffe that the orders it contained were to be passed on only by word of mouth below a certain command level.

The role played by Halder and the army General Staff, not to mention the German military lawyers, in drafting these orders was less than glorious.  After Hitler had undoubtedly given the initial impetus in his blunt secret speech of March 30, Brauchitsch’s staff had drafted two separate orders in weeks of tedious bureaucratic paperwork and discussed them with the OKW.  The first was this commissar order, and the second an order restricting the jurisdiction of courtsmartial on Russian soil (basically to enable the SS task forces to operate at will).  The army wanted Russian civilians to be subject to military law, while the OKW lawyers and General Jeschonnek recalled that Hitler had always been irked by the ponderous procedures of the army courts, believing that only speedy conviction and execution was a true deterrent.  It was Halder, however, who proposed the clause reading :  “Immediate collective punishments will be enforced against towns and villages from which ambushes or treacherous attacks on the Wehrmacht are made, on the orders of an officer of not less than battalion commander’s rank, if circumstances do not permit the rapid arrest of the individual perpetrators.”  Apart from this, the army’s arguments were ignored.  In the formal order issued by Keitel on Hitler’s behalf in May, the Wehrmacht was instructed that offenses against Russian civilians would not be punishable by courts-martial ;  that francs-tireurs were to be wiped out in battle or “trying to escape.”  This aroused intense feeling among the army commands.  In May, Brauchitsch partially qualified the order by issuing a supplementary order on the maintenance of army discipline, but many of his frontline generals were sick at heart when these two “Barbarossa” orders reached them.

To Hitler, however, the Red Army was not an enemy to be handled with kid gloves.  In a Berghof conference on June 5 he again warned his staff of the extensive use the Russians would make of tactics not sanctioned by international convention, and he ordered printed instructions to be prepared for the troops—though not distributed as yet, so as not to put ideas into the enemy’s head.  Hitler anticipated that the Russians might, for example, contaminate long stretches of their roads of retreat with poison gases, or use poisonous additives to spike the food stocks and fresh-water supplies or kill livestock in the areas overrun by the Wehrmacht.

Hitler prepared to leave the Berghof, resolved perhaps not to return until Russia had been defeated.  He had recently taken to gathering his friends, his adjutants, and their wives about him in the evenings and rambling on endlessly about Christianity and the Roman Empire.  On June 8, Hewel entered in his Berghof diary :

Raining.  The British are marching into Syria.  A long conversation alone with the F¸hrer about Russia.  Says it will be a “tough proposition” but he trusts in the Wehrmacht.  [Russian] air force :  numerical superiority in fighters and bombers.  He is a bit frightened of air raids on Berlin and Vienna.  The area we are to occupy will not be much bigger than from Denmark to Bordeaux in size.  Russians have massed their entire strength on their western frontier, the biggest concentration in history.  If “Barbarossa” goes wrong now, we are all lost anyway.  As soon as that is all over, Iraq and Syria will take care of themselves.  Then I will have a free hand, and I will be able to thrust on down through Turkey as well.

If the French lose Syria—and I am convinced that Syria is lost—then there is only the one danger left, that they will lose Algeria as well.  If that happens, I will thrust straight down through Spain at once and barricade the Mediterranean against the British.  It is just this wretched waiting that makes one so nervous !

A few days later the OKW asked the supreme commanders for their views on a draft directive for the period after “Barbarossa”:  basically, after sixty divisions and one Luftflotte had been left astride the territories won in the east, the remaining military units would be used to feed manpower back into the naval and Luftwaffe construction industries and to coerce France, Spain, Turkey, and Iran into joining the fight against Britain.  A contested invasion of Britain itself was not contemplated in this document.  On the eleventh, Hitler sent Schmundt to check if the headquarters being built for him near Rastenburg in East Prussia was ready.

Luftwaffe reconnaissance photographs showed some four thousand Russian aircraft packing the airfields just across the frontier ;  radio reconnaissance suggested over a thousand more were waiting farther back.  On the diplomatic front something akin to hysteria was overtaking Moscow as the realization of Hitler’s mobilization dawned :  the Russian shipments to Germany were stepped up ;  false rumors of German political demands on the Soviet Union multiplied ;  troop movements and the widespread call-up of Russian reservists were noticed.  On June 9 the German embassy in Moscow smuggled a naval officer into a Communist party indoctrination session at which a functionary delivered a violently anti-German talk warning his audience to be on guard over the next few weeks.  The speaker said that nobody in Moscow had expected Hitler to conquer the Balkans so rapidly, but once the war became a war of raw materials like petroleum and ore, Germany would be at a disadvantage ;  for bolshevism, the advantage was that any war of attrition must lead to the annihilation of the middle classes.  The Soviet Union’s interests would best be served by a period of national peace—while the rest of Europe bled white in war.

Hitler arrived back in Berlin early on June 13 obsessed with the coming campaign.  Again he told Hewel his belief that “Barbarossa” must mean the end of Britain’s resistance.  In his diary Hewel judged the prospects more soberly :  “I cannot share this belief, as the British will regard it as a weakening of Germany for a long time to come.”  In Berlin Dr. Goebbels reported to Hitler on the pre-“Barbarossa” propaganda campaign.  Goebbels himself had told his staff that the planned eastern campaign was canceled, and that since the invasion of Britain was imminent, they must now prepare for that eventuality.  Through Party channels a wave of rumors had been sent swirling around Germany—that Stalin was to visit Germany, or that he had agreed to lease the Ukraine to Germany for ninety-nine years.  On the morning of Hitler’s arrival in Berlin the police raided every newspaper outlet in the capital and seized the latest V–lkischer Beobachter;  but enough copies escaped seizure for the impression to be conveyed that in Goebbels’s leading article, “Crete as an Example,” he had unwittingly betrayed that within two months Britain would be invaded and “Mr. Churchill would be laughing on the other side of his face.”  But Goebbels was not in disgrace for this lapse—he was seen next day in Hitler’s residence, cackling out loud over the success of his rumor-mongering, and the F¸hrer was laughing uproariously and slapping his thigh at each fresh detail of his canny propaganda minister’s devices.

It was Saturday the fourteenth.  The Reich Chancellery was packed with the Wehrmacht commanders summoned for an all-day series of briefing conferences on the coming campaign.  Secrecy was essential, so (paradoxically) uniforms were to be worn.  Everybody was assigned different street-entrances by which to arrive at the sprawling Reich Chancellery complex, so that passersby might not sense the urgency of the conferences proceeding behind the tall granite walls that Albert Speer had built three years before.  Brauchitsch would arrive through the garden gate in Hermann-G–ringstrasse, G–ring would enter through Wilhelmstrasse, and the army group commanders through the New Chancellery in Vossstrasse ;  the first would arrive shortly before 11 A.M., the last just before lunch.

At two o’clock Hitler broke for lunch, which he took sitting at a long ovalshaped table with twenty-eight of his top generals.  An hour later he called for silence and spoke of his military reasons for attacking Russia.  An unpublished note taken by a Luftwaffe general survives :

Hitler’s after-luncheon speech.  The main enemy is still Britain.  Britain will fight on as long as the fight has any purpose ;  this is typical of the British, as we have seen from their individual soldier’s conduct in Flanders, and it was demonstrated again by Dunkirk, by Greece, and by Crete.  But Britain’s fight only makes sense as long as they can hope that American aid will take effect and that they may find support on the continent.  This explains why they have high hopes that the Russians will intervene and tie down the Germans, wearing down our war economy while the balance of power is tilted by American aid.  At present this is very meager ;  it will not become effective until the summer of 1942, assuming they have enough shipping tonnage to bring it over here ;  and the shipping losses are increasing.

The proof of [Britain’s] advances to Russia is the complete uniformity in their press treatment of Cripps’s journey.(1)  Russia’s attitude is perpetually obscure ;  she exploited every moment of political or military preoccupation elsewhere to raise immediate political demands.  We can see this happening in Russia’s intervention in the Polish campaign, and again against the Baltic states and Finland, and now in the Balkans (Bessarabia, and the treaty of friendship with Yugoslavia).

Our attempt to “clarify the position” met with the following objections from Molotov.  First question, What does our guarantee to Romania mean and would we object to a Russian military mission ?  Second question concerning the Dardanelles, and the third about Finland.  In other words continual efforts to push in somewhere.  Since these efforts coincided chronologically with various temporary weaknesses in the German position, we would have to expect them to use every chance they can in the future to act against Germany’s interests.  The Russian armed forces are strong enough to prevent us from demobilizing soldiers and feeding them into the arms and consumer-goods industries so long as this latent Russian threat persists.  Even if we made peace with Britain this would still be so.  We want this conflict to come early, however ;  indeed it is absolutely vital if we are not to forfeit the favorable conditions that prevail.  The bulk of the Russian forces are standing on the frontier, so we have a good chance of defeating them right there.

Hitler rounded off his speech with a warning that the Russian forces outnumbered the German, but that German command leadership, equipment, and experience were superior.  Even so, he warned them against underestimating the Red Army.

It was probably on this occasion that when G–ring loudly proclaimed to a cluster of other generals that this would be a victory on the same scale as those that Hitler had already won, the F¸hrer took him by the arm and soberly corrected him.  “G–ring, it will be our toughest struggle yet—by far the toughest !”  G–ring asked him why, and Hitler replied, “Because for the first time we shall be fighting an ideological enemy, and an ideological enemy of fanatical persistence at that.”  Three years later Hitler ruefully reminded his generals of these words.

The old familiar bouts of insomnia began to attack him as the last days before “Barbarossa” dragged by.  By night he lay awake and asked himself what loopholes in his grand design the British might yet exploit.  He believed he had plugged them all :  he had sent G–ring’s deputy, Milch, on an extended tour of Germany’s air raid defenses ;  he had ordered an urgent reinforcement of Holland’s coastal defenses ;  and suspecting that his successful paratroop operation against Crete might stimulate the British to similar ventures against the Norwegian coast or the two Channel Isles as soon as his hands were tied in Russia, he had ordered the island garrisons increased and extensively reinforced with tanks and artillery—the more so as he intended to keep Guernsey and Jersey in German hands after the final peace treaty with Britain.  Yet Hitler could still only get to sleep with sedatives, even after staying up until three or four each morning discussing Turkey, Russia, war, and warfare with dutiful but weary henchmen like Himmler, Ley, Hewel, Ribbentrop, and Seyss-Inquart.

On June 18, with the newspapers of every country but Germany openly asking when Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union would begin, the Russians unwittingly caused him his most anxious hours ever when the Soviet ambassador in Berlin, Dekanozov, asked for an interview with Ribbentrop’s state secretary, Baron von Weizs”cker.  Hewel, at Hitler’s Chancellery, wrote an agitated note in his diary :  “Big problem :  Dekanozov has announced he is to see the state secretary.  What is he bringing ?  Is Stalin going to bring off a major coup even now ?  A big offer to us, etc. etc.?  [F¸hrer has] a long discussion with foreign minister ;  Engel [Hitler’s army adjutant] and myself going over every possible angle.  The F¸hrer and foreign minister will have to vanish—so they can’t be reached.  Much plotting :  Sonnenburg, Karinhall, or Berghof ;  the train ;  Wildpark.(2)  Then one day lying low in the Reich Chancellery.”  Hewel concluded the entry as follows :  “These last days before an action are the most nerve-racking :  something unexpected can still occur.”  The next evening, however, as Hitler was in the middle of dictating his “Barbarossa” proclamation—“To the Troops of the Eastern Front !”—Ribbentrop telephoned that Dekanozov had called on his state secretary at 6 P.M., had discussed purely routine affairs, and had left after cracking a few jokes.

The proclamation was printed and issued secretly to the services on the twentieth.  This time its language must have been far above the average soldier’s head—it was a tour d’horizon of Germany’s foreign policy since the war began in 1939 ;  but in its four closely printed pages there were some lines worthy of attention.  Here Hitler even claimed that the German people had never wished ill to the inhabitants of Russia.  “But for two decades the Jewish-Bolshevik rulers of Moscow have endeavored to set not only Germany but all Europe alight.”  Hitler said he had never tried to export the Nazi ideology to Russia the way the Kremlin had tried to convert the rest of Europe to communism by means of subversion.  In a cynical oversimplification, Hitler reminded his troops :  “You, my soldiers, know for yourselves that until a very few weeks ago there was not one German panzer or mechanized division on our eastern frontier.”  The historic proclamation ended :

At this moment, soldiers of the eastern front, an assembly of strength the like of which in size and scale the world has never seen is now complete.  In league with Finnish divisions, our comrades are standing with the Victor of Narvik [Dietl] on the shores of the Arctic in the north.  German soldiers under the command of the Conquerer of Norway [Falkenhorst], and the Finnish heroes of freedom under their own Marshal [Mannerheim] are protecting Finland.  On the eastern front stand you.  In Romania, on the banks of the Prut, and along the Danube right down to the beaches of the Black Sea are German and Romanian troops united under Antonescu, the head of state.  When this, the biggest front line in history, now begins its advance it does so not just to provide the means of ending for all time this great war, or to defend those countries currently concerned, but for the salvation of our entire European civilization and culture.

German soldiers !  You are thus entering upon a harsh and demanding fight—because the fate of Europe, the future of the German Reich, the existence of our nation now rest on your hands alone.

May the Lord God help us all in this struggle.

At the same time he ordered Jodl to advise the Wehrmacht by the prearranged code word that the attack would begin, as planned, early on June 22.  Hewel wrote :  “A long conversation with the F¸hrer.  Expects a lot of the Russian campaign.  Wishes he was ten weeks on from hence.  After all there must always be a big element of risk.  We are standing outside a locked door.  [Will we run into] secret weapons ?  The tenacity of the fanatic ?  He now has to take sleeping pills to fall asleep.  He is still dictating.  He told me that this morning [June 20] he again pored over every minute detail, but found no possibility for the enemy to get the better of Germany.  He thinks Britain will have to give in—and he hopes it will be before the year is over.”

The coming occupation of fresh territories in the east suggested to Hitler an alternative solution of the “Jewish problem.”  Since the summer of 1940 experts in the foreign ministry had studied the possibility of settling Europe’s uprooted Jews on the island of Madagascar.  On June 2,1941, Hitler told Mussolini that after the war every Jew must get out of Europe.  “Perhaps we can settle them in Madagascar.  Considering our own population density, the island could find room for fifteen million people.”  (Madagascar is over twice as big as Britain or West Germany ;  its prewar population was four million.)  Hitler did not want the Jews to remain in their present settlement region around Lublin, as the standards of hygiene resulting from the living conditions now imposed on them raised the danger of epidemics.  But for the duration of the war the Madagascar plan was out.  Hans Frank’s Generalgouvernement of Poland would have to accommodate Europe’s displaced Jews for the time being.  On October 2, 1940, Hitler had discussed this with Frank and Baldur von Schirach, Gauleiter of Vienna.  Schirach pointed out that his fifty thousand Viennese Jews were the first due for deportation.  Frank reported that Warsaw and other Polish cities had concentrated their Jews in restricted areas—“ghettos”—and complained that he had no accommodation available for a fresh influx of Jews.  But Hitler had dreamed of ridding Europe of the “Jewish plague” since 1921, if not earlier, and he had strong popular support for this program in the Reich.  The German army commander of Vienna wrote to the war department in February 1941 welcoming the deportations, as he considered the Jews the principal rumor-mongerers ;  he asked only that an exception should be made for former Jewish officers wounded in World War 1.  Hitler agreed.

Thus Hitler overrode Hans Frank’s practical objections to using the Generalgouvernement as a dumping ground.  The problem with the Madagascar plan in wartime was, he told Martin Bormann, how to transport the Jews that far.  “I would dearly like to devote my entire fleet of Kraft durch Freude (strength through joy) ocean liners(3) to it, but in wartime that’s not so easy.  I don’t want my German crews being sunk by enemy torpedoes.”  In private—to Keitel, Bormann, and Speer—Hitler described it as his eventual ambition to eliminate all Jewish influence throughout the Axis domains.  It would solve many of the infuriating legalistic problems still bogged down in the ministries of Justice and the Interior, about the rights of Jews in the law courts, the status of half-Jews, etc.  On June 7, 1941, Dr. Hans Lammers wrote to Martin Bormann :  “The main reason why the F¸hrer has not approved the ruling proposed by the Ministry of the Interior is that in his opinion there won’t be any Jews left in Germany after the war anyway.”

As “Operation Barbarossa” approached, it occurred to Hitler that the new eastern empire would enable him to humor Hans Frank’s loud objections to the dumping of Jews on his Generalgouvemement territory and Himmler’s growing influence there.  Three days before the Wehrmacht attacked Russia, Hitler announced this explicitly to Frank ;  and the latter accordingly briefed his staff that no fresh ghettos were to be established, “since the F¸hrer expressly stated to me on June 19 that in due course the Jews will be removed from the Generalgouvernement—and that the Generalgouvernement is to be, so to speak, only a transit camp.”  Seven months later, the Madagascar plan died a natural death.  A foreign ministry official would then write :  “The war against the Soviet Union has meanwhile made it possible to provide other territories for the final solution.  Accordingly, the F¸hrer has decided that the Jews are not to be deported to Madagascar but to the east.”

What exactly did Hitler mean by “east” of the Generalgouvernement ?  On the twentieth, Rosenberg had revealed to Canaris, Heydrich, and a host of other Party and Wehrmacht leaders that White Ruthenia—the area around Minsk—was to be set aside for “undesirables” and antisocial elements from Germany’s dominions.  Was this to be the new Israel, or did Hitler now use “east” just as a vague generic term, whose more precise definition would be :  perdition, oblivion, extermination ?  The documents at our disposal do not help us.

Two days remained, and Russia was still an enigma behind a sealed door.  During a coffee break snatched with his female secretaries in their “stair cupboard” in the Chancellery, Hitler noted that there was something sinister about Russia—something that reminded him of the ghost ship in The Flying Dutchman.  And when Fr”ulein Schroeder, a clever, critical, and often dangerously outspoken thirty-three-year-old stenographer who had loyally served Martin Bormann before attracting Hitler’s attention in 1933, asked why the F¸hrer kept emphasizing how the “Barbarossa” decision had been the toughest he had ever taken, Hitler frankly replied, “Because we know absolutely nothing about Russia.  It might be one big soap-bubble, but it might just as well turn out to be very different.”

At 9 P.M. on June 20, Colonel Schmundt, his Wehrmacht adjutant, brought news from the admiralty that showed how fragile was the thread restraining the whole world from war.  A German submarine had proudly reported attempting to attack the U.S. battleship Texas, since it was encountered ten miles within the North Atlantic blockade zone proclaimed by Germany.  Hitler cannot have been pleased, for as recently as June 6 he had patiently explained to Admiral Raeder why he wanted to do everything possible to avoid incidents with the United States.  On top of this, a U-boat sank the American freighter Robin Moore outside the Atlantic blockade zone, claiming it was carrying contraband goods for the enemy.  The U.S. government protested less loudly than the U.S. press—Raeder attributed this to his forthright warnings in May—but again Hitler directed that “for political reasons incidents with the United States are to be avoided completely for the time being.”

On the Texas incident, Raeder stated the U-boat had acted quite correctly, though he now proposed forbidding attacks on American warships up to twenty miles inside the blockade zone, to rule out navigational errors.  Hitler at first agreed, but during the night he had second thoughts and telephoned the admiralty that no attacks whatever were to be made on American warships anywhere in the blockade zone.  The following afternoon Raeder came in person to argue against this.  The two incidents were a warning to Roosevelt that Germany meant business.  Hitler would not budge ;  there must be no incidents with the United States until the outcome of “Barbarossa” was clear.  The same order was issued to the Luftwaffe.

Less than twelve hours remained of the last, tense day before the attack.  The foreign ministry telephoned with the unsettling news that the Soviet ambassador was again urgently demanding to see Ribbentrop.  The foreign minister became unavailable :  Dekanozov was fobbed off with word that he was away from Berlin until evening and that an appointment would be made on his return.  In fact Ribbentrop was in the Chancellery and paid several visits to Hitler.  Hitler was dictating a proclamation for home consumption and letters to Mussolini, Horthy, and Finland’s President Rysto Ryti.

During the afternoon the German naval attachÈ, who had left Moscow late on the nineteenth (his recall was in response to the fact that the Russians had suddenly recalled their naval attachÈ from Berlin) arrived by train in the Reich capital and rendered a vivid description of the panic that had broken out in Moscow diplomatic circles ;  nevertheless, on returning by rail through Poland he had seen less military activity than at any time over the last four months, and certainly far less than he had observed in the Baltic countries recently.  Both he and his assistant, who arrived back in Berlin the next day, encountered closed prison trains escorted by blue-uniformed GPU troops—evacuating Polish “undesirables” from eastern Poland.  Ambassador Schulenburg meanwhile remained in Moscow.  Ribbentrop cabled him to destroy the embassy’s code books and radio equipment and to arrange an immediate interview with Molotov at which he was to read out a long rigamarole ending with the words “. . . the F¸hrer has therefore ordered the German Wehrmacht to stand up to this menace with all the means of force at its disposal.”

At nine-thirty, Dekanozov was allowed to see Ribbentrop’s state secretary.  To everybody’s relief he was only delivering a formal Soviet complaint about repeated violations of its air space.  The parallel complaint delivered simultaneously by Molotov to Schulenburg sounded so wistful that it brought the house down in Hitler’s Chancellery when the telegram was read out upon its arrival there in the small hours of the morning.  “A series of symptoms gives us the impression that the German government is dissatisfied with the Soviet government . . .” grumbled Molotov.  One hour later, along a frontier extending from the Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea, over three million German troops, supported by three thousand tanks and nearly two thousand aircraft, attacked the USSR.  Surprise was complete.

His thoughts far from the Chancellery, Hitler sat up with his private staff far into the night.  Then he briefly retired to bed, remarking to his adjutants, “Before three months have passed, we shall witness a collapse in Russia the like of which world history has never seen !”

What Hewel described as a “tranquil, self-possessed mood” descended on the Chancellery during the morning of these tumultuous events.  It was almost like any other Sunday, except that Hitler and Ribbentrop fell fast asleep after lunch.  The foreign minister had summoned the Soviet ambassador at three-thirty that morning to break the grim news to him, and then in rapid succession he summoned the representatives of Germany’s allies—Italy, Japan, Hungary, Finland, and Romania.  At five-thirty Dr. Goebbels had spoken, and at six Ribbentrop had addressed the press, surrounded by his assembled staff.  Many of Hitler’s adjutants, wilting under the Central European sun, went swimming.

By the time Hitler awoke late that afternoon, his armies were already many miles inside the Russian frontier, and the first reactions of the world were being monitored.  Italy had honored her obligations with notable speed :  at 3 P.M. Rome had cabled that Italy regarded herself as at war with Russia since five-thirty that morning.  Romanian troops had crossed the Prut and were fighting in the provinces invaded by Russia twelve months before.  Madrid telephoned that a Spanish volunteer legion was being recruited to join the crusade.  An ecstatic Admiral Horthy exulted at the “magnificent” news and told the German ambassador that this was a day of which he had dreamed for twenty-two years—mankind would thank Hitler for this deed for centuries to come.  Hungary dutifully broke off diplomatic relations with Moscow before Hitler retired to bed, but this was as far as it would as yet go.  At 6 P.M. a disappointed General Jodl telephoned his liaison officer in Budapest to remind the Hungarians of the historic importance of the hour ;  but Horthy had gone off to play polo, his Chief of Army Staff was “unavailable,” and the defense minister had gone fishing.  Just as Hitler expected, the Hungarians, canny as ever, wanted to see the first results of “Barbarossa” before committing themselves.

Again he sat up late with his staff listening to the military reports.  The Luftwaffe had bombed Kiev, Kovno (Kaunas), Sevastopol, Murmansk, Odessa, and Zhitomir.  The bulk of the Russians’ forward air force had been smashed on the ground—over twelve hundred Soviet aircraft had been destroyed.  Thousands of prisoners had already been taken.  From North Africa came heartening news from Rommel.  Of this day Hewel wrote :  “11:30 A.M., [Alessandro] Pavolini [the Italian education minister] to see the F¸hrer.  I accompany the F¸hrer ;  he is in a brilliant mood on account of the huge successes in Russia (Luftwaffe) and Sollum (tanks).”

As so often before, Hitler and his staff drove through the sun-drenched streets of Berlin to his special train at the Anhalt station.  At half-past noon he left for East Prussia—the twin locomotives hauling him throughout the afternoon and evening across Pomerania, those fields and cities so recently “liberated” from the Poles.  Over tea he reminisced with Hewel and the others.  “Russia,” he said at one point, “is still a big question mark.”  Long after midnight he was being driven in a column of cars past cordons of sentries guarding a wood about ten miles outside the dreary East Prussian township of Rastenburg.  Deep inside this wood was his new headquarters—during the train journey he had decided to call it the Wolfs Lair (Wolfsschanze).  When a secretary inquired, “Why Wolf again just like the other headquarters ?”  Hitler replied, “That was my code name in the Years of Struggle.”  It was 1:30 A.M. when he first set foot inside the forbidding compound.  From here he planned to command the defeat of the Soviet Union.

1 The British ambassador, Sir Stafford Cripps, had left Moscow a week before to consult with the foreign office in London.

2 Sonnenburg was Ribbentrop’s country home ;  Karinhall was G–ring’s ;  Wildpark was the site of Luftwaffe headquarters, outside Potsdam.

3 Pleasure liners built by and for the mass German labor union, DAF.


p. 261   There is a wealth of detail on the hitherto neglected Iraq affair in Hewel’s diary.  On May 30, 1941, Hitler realized the German force might be ejected from Iraq, but told Hewel :  “The last to leave must be the Germans, particularly if Italians are still fighting there.  The Mossul position is important as an attack base during ‘Barbarossa.’ ”  On May 31, Hewel recorded a long conference of Hitler, Keitel, Jodl, and Ribbentrop from 9 A.M. onward, unusually early because the Iraqis were demanding to know whether Germany could aid them or not by 11 A.M.  The British had a hundred tanks there ;  but Turkey was refusing permission to Germany to send in tanks and guns.  After a further evening conference with Ribbentrop, G–ring, Jeschonnek, Keitel, and Jodl, the F¸hrer decided he could not help although “we must realize that if we go back the whole Arab uprising will die down.”  Hewel noted :  “Meantime a telegram arrives from Mossul announcing the collapse of resistance there ;  so there is nothing else to discuss.”

p. 262   Hitler’s “Barbarossa” hint to Mussolini is confirmed in the German embassy’s telegram from Rome to Berlin on June 22, 1941 :  “As the Duce claims to have told the F¸hrer already, during their last conference at the Brenner [on June 2], he completely shares the F¸hrer’s view that the Russian problem demands an immediate solution, and that if this cannot be attained by negotiations then it must be by force.”  By 1943 Mussolini had changed his tune—claiming to have warned the F¸hrer “early in 1941” against a Russian campaign (Weizs”cker diary, February 7, 1943).

p. 262   Hitler’s similar hint to Oshima is also recorded in Hewel’s diary, June 3, 1941.  “Berghof ... F¸hrer spends afternoon with Reichsmarschall.  7 P.M. Oshima :  [F¸hrer] hints at ‘Barbarossa’;  I write the protocol.”  Dr. Bernd Martin summarizes in Deutschland and Japan im Zweiten Weltkrieg (Stuttgart, 1967), page 97, the Japanese-language sources confirming that Oshima understood the hint.

p. 263   Task Force K¸nsberg’s telegram of June 6, 1941, about “Pendlebury”—which was shown to Hitler—is in Ritter’s file, Serial 4667.

p. 263   Key documents on the “Commissar” Order will be found on microfilms T77/792 and T78/458.  I also used the Nuremberg documents 1471-PS, 2884-PS, NOKW209, NOKW-484, NOKW-1076, NOKW-3357, and 886-PS.  As Keitel admitted to his son, in a private talk in his Nuremberg death cell on September 25, 1946 :  “Jawohl, I know it was wrong.  But either we won, or it was all over for the German nation anyway” (Keitel family papers).

p. 267   Hitler recalled his warning to G–ring, both in conversation with Marshal Antonescu on January 10, 1943, and in a secret speech to his generals on May 26, 1944 (T175/94/4963).  Below also quotes the warning in his unpublished memoirs.

p. 270   On Hitler’s interim plan to dump western Europe’s Jews in Hans Frank’s General gouvernement, see Lammers’s letter to Schirach, December 3, 1940 (1950-PS);  General Alfred Streccius’s letter to General Fromm, February 24, 1941 (BA, RH 1/v. 58);  Bormann’s memo of October 2, 1940 (USSR-172), and the corresponding entries in Hans Frank’s diary on October 27 and 31, November 6, 1940, January 11, and July 17, 1941.  Rosenberg’s speech of June 20, 1941 (page 271) is in CO file AL/1933;  see also the war diaries of the OKW, June 20, and naval staff June 21, 1941.

p. 273   A private letter of Hitler’s adjutant Alwin-Broder Albrecht on Saturday June 21, 1941, reveals the late hours that were kept.  “The tempo since then has been hectic, with me on duty until 2:30 A.M. on Thursday, until 3:30 A.M. yesterday, and today it’s going to be late—that is, early—again.”

As for Hitler’s final decision to attack—Jodl’s relevant signal of June 20 is in naval file PG/31025—years later Hitler’s staff still recalled how he sweated over it.  Hewel wrote privately on February 1, 1944 :  “The decision which the F¸hrer had to take, to attack Russia, was unimaginably tough, and he had to take it quite alone.  He grappled for months with it before making his mind up to go ahead—certainly against his hopes and desires, but because he had seen the danger and realized that those who trifle with a danger only enlarge it all the more.”