Wednesday, March 25, 2015

After the 1944 July Plot

After the 1944 July Plot Hitler and the regime relied most heavily on Martin Bormann and the organs of the Nazi Party at home. In the field, they increasingly favored the ideologically reliable alternative to the Wehrmacht of the Waffen-SS and turned to the more radical solution of a levée en masse in form of the Volkssturm. Nothing availed. As defeat loomed on all fronts and the enemy hosts closed on him, Hitler’s perverse sense of destruction overwhelmed all else. He ordered several of Europe’s great cities leveled by fire and bomb. Warsaw was in fact systematically razed. Paris was wired for destruction but was spared by a disobedient general, who surrendered it to the Force Française de l’Intérieur (FFI) and the Western Allies. In the end, Hitler displayed the same moral indifference to Germans that he showed to millions of non-German victims. As early as January 1942, when it looked as though the Wehrmacht might replicate the defeat of the French Army in the snows before Moscow in 1812, he said to his closest confidants: “If the German people were no longer inclined to give itself [ sic ] body and soul to survive . . . then the German people would have nothing to do but disappear.” On March 19, 1945, he tried to implement that contempt for failure in the struggle for the “survival of the fittest” peoples: he ordered wholesale desolation of Germany and smashing of all means of survival left to any postwar Germans. At long last he was disobeyed by a handful of members of a political party, government, and national military who had followed him to physical and moral ruination.

“Hitler Youth.” The Nazi youth organization in which membership was effectively compulsory for all German boys ages 10–18. Boys age 10–13 joined the Deutsches Jungvolk (“German Young People”); those 14–18 served in the Hitlerjungend (“Hitler Youth”). Poorly disguised as athletic and sports clubs akin to the quasi-military Boy Scouts organization of the British Empire, these Nazi fronts trained boys and young men in “war sports” or “military athletics” (“Wehrsport”). Key activities were parade drill, map-reading, long-distance hikes, and weapons drill (with bayonet, grenade, and pistol and rifle marksmanship competitions). Boys also practiced taking cover and erecting camouflage, entrenchment, and defense against gas attack, and some learned to fly gliders as preparation for joining the Luftwaffe. All German boys were taught patriotic as well as Nazi Party songs, and closely indoctrinated in the regime’s spurious race theories and radical foreign policy revanchism. There was a parallel organization for “ Aryan ” girls that similarly stressed physical fitness and moral and ideological purity. Girls under 14 joined the Jungmadelbund (“League of Young Girls”), thereafter transferring to the Bund Deutscher Madel (“League of German Girls”). Both groups inculcated a state-defined ideal of maidenhood tied to eventual “German motherhood,” all aimed at revolutionary nazification of private and family life. The older boys of the Hitlerjungend were ordered into the Waffen-SS on June 24, 1943. They formed SS-Panzer Division “Hitlerjungend” from October 22, 1943. Their first combat came on June 7, 1944, during the Normandy campaign, around Caen. Ferocious and fanatic fighters, they stymied the British and Canadians for many weeks, while taking severe casualties themselves. The Division was reformed and fought next in the Ardennes offensive in Belgium in December 1944. Reformed for a second time, it was transferred to Hungary in February 1945. Its remnant surrendered to the U.S. Army in Austria on May 8, 1945.

“People’s storm.” An absurdly nazified term for the clumsy and ill-armed civil defense force established by a Führer decree on September 25, 1944, enlisting all German males aged 16–60. The first units of the new “Deutsche Volkssturm” (“German People’s Storm”) took shape from October 1944. They absorbed the traditional Prussian country militia (“Landwacht”), drafted Great War veterans and other men past their military and physical prime, and inducted boys who had yet to reach either. This extreme measure was resorted to when the Red Army reached the East Prussian border and was pushing through Estonia. Authority over Volkssturm formations was divided between the Wehrmacht and Nazi Party, reflecting a wider nazification of the German military after the July Plot. In practice, the division of authority meant a struggle between the OKH and Martin Bormann. The call-up overtly recalled the Prussian nationalist explosion in the struggle against Napoleon in 1813. It was essentially a botched attempt to rouse the “Volk” to recreate the French Revolutionary levée en masse. It was already far too late to make such an appeal to national history and folk memory: many boys raised in the Hitlerjungend were still susceptible to the Nazi siren call, but older men went reluctantly back into a battle they knew was already lost. Many would desert or surrender at the first opportunity. The Volkssturm effort proved an abject failure, politically and militarily. It provoked little national or Nazi enthusiasm and almost no voluntary enlistment into ragged, ill-armed formations marked off by black armbands worn over mufti in lieu of any uniform. Some old men, semi-invalid veterans, and German boys wearing Volkssturm armbands died fighting during the conquest of Germany in 1945, especially facing the Red Army. But most Volkssturm units simply melted away as soon as brownshirted Party officials or black-uniformed Schutzstaffel (SS) moved out of sight, leaving graybeard grandads to cajole young fanatics to put down their Panzerfaust and go home to their mothers. That was particularly the case when Volkssturm faced the Western Allies and might expect some mercy. About 200,000 Volkssturm died or went missing in battle over the last months of the war. Soviet equivalent militia were the opolchentsy, employed just as recklessly and fatally in the desperate days of 1941–1942 by a regime comparably indifferent to life.

A final way in which children of the HJ became combatants at the end of the war was as 'Werewolves'. The Werewolf organization was originally envisaged by Himmler in November 1944 as a guerrilla force, charged with sabotage and raids behind the lines of the advancing Allies. Gauleiters (NSDAP district leaders] were to suggest suitable recruits, who were trained at secret locations in the Rhineland and Berlin. The most important training centre in the west was at Hijlchrath castle, near the Rhenish town of Erkelenz, which in early 1945 was training around 200 recruits. Most of these were drawn from the HJ. The most famous achievement of the Werewolves was the assassination of Dr Franz Oppenhoff, whom the US Army had installed as the mayor of occupied Aachen. A Werewolf commando of five men and one woman was dropped by parachute from a captured US B – 17 behind Allied lines on 20 March 1945. The youngest of them was a 16-year-old boy named Erich Morgenschweiss. The Werewolves achieved their aim on 25 March, gunning down Oppenhoff outside his home. Numerous other acts of sabotage and murder were undertaken by small groups of SS-trained Werewolves as late as July 1945. However, Goebbels used the assassination of Oppenhoff as propaganda for wholesale resistance against the Allies in occupied Germany. Many sporadic acts of resistance were carried out by members of the HJ and others who considered themselves to be Werewolves, in line with Goebbels' propaganda, but who had nothing to do with the actual Werewolf organization. For example, in the face of imminent capture by US troops, one German officer commanding a unit of HJ asked for volunteers to fight on with him as Werewolves. When only one boy stepped forward, the officer decided that he might as well surrender after all.

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