Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The SS - The Wolf That Got Away V

Victory Slips Even Further Away

In March 1944 Wolff was replaced as Himmler’s representative at the Fuhrer HQ by Hermann Fegelein, an unpleasant smarmy character who had attracted Himmler’s support. Fegelein had been injured fighting on the eastern front and once recovered was appointed to this plum post.

Pope Pius XII
On 10th May 1944 Wolff met with Pope Pius XII, who at the meeting vocalised his opposition to Roosevelt’s call for unconditional surrender[i], viewing it as likely to prolong the war. The meeting was followed by lunch with German ambassador to the Holy See Ernst von Weizsacker, who was concerned that he was not informed beforehand about the meeting and the potential for being sacked by his irascible boss, Joachim von Ribbentrop. Ribbentrop was indeed furious about the meeting even though he was informed about it by Wolff personally.
Wolff next appeared on the world stage at the last meeting between Hitler and Mussolini on 20th July. Wolff accompanied Mussolini on a visit to the Wolfschanze shortly after the attempted assassination of Hitler by Claus von Stauffenberg. Hitler showed Himmler, Mussolini and Wolff around the scene of the bomb blast.

Hitler then gave Himmler full powers to deal with the miscreants and Himmler and Wolff departed to the scene of the action, Berlin[ii], with Himmler saying;
‘Now my hour has come. I will round up the reactionary gang. I have already given orders for the traitor’s arrest.’[iii]
A number of the group of conspirators were never questioned in depth and were kept out of the Gestapo’s way in concentration camps[iv].

Wolff could see, as well as the next person, that the war was unwinnable and he was determined to do his best to ensure that he would be as close to the winning side as possible.

Allen Dulles
In early February Wolff was in contact with the US agent in Switzerland, Allen Dulles. Wolff spent most of the 6th February with Himmler and later that day he and von Ribbentrop met with Hitler, who gave them permission to make overtures to the west[v].

Albert Kesselring
Wolff met with Dulles in Switzerland in early March, having been assured that the Allies would deal with neither Hitler, nor Himmler. Wolff claimed that this meeting was the first time he had ever heard of the systematic murder of the Jews[vi]. In his meeting with Dulles Wolff assured him that he would talk to the overall German commander in Italy, Albert Kesselring, to assure him that the SS would be prepared to surrender Italy to the Allies. Wolff informed his country’s enemies;
‘Meine Herren, have a little patience and I will present you Italy on a silver salver.’[vii]

General von Vietinghoff
Not long after the meeting Kesselring was promoted to Supreme Commander West and was replaced with General von Vietinghoff; Wolff had not yet persuaded von Vietinghoff to betray his oath to the Fuhrer by the time Wolff made his second trip to meet with Dulles on 19th March. At the same time these meetings were going on Kaltenbrunner was attempting to bargain away the mythical Alpine Redoubt in an attempt to save Austria from occupation by the Russians.
On 23rd March Wolff met with Kesselring and then informed Dulles that Kesselring would be available to discuss matters further in three days time. On the 24th March he had a meeting with Himmler and Kaltenbrunner. The following day Kaltenbrunner drove Wolff to a Bavarian castle and had him questioned by his SD men. It is highly possible that this was a de-briefing rather than hostile questioning as Wolff was released. The story he gave after the war was highly implausible[viii].

End Times
Three days later Wolff was back in Berlin for a meeting with Himmler, who was recovering from a cold[ix] in his suite at the Hohenlychen; Himmler was too busy to see his Wolffchen. At the end of March Wolff visited his family and arranged for them to move to South Tyrol. The following day he received a phone call from Himmler telling him that his family must stay put; they were under Himmler’s personal protection – hostages for Wolff’s good behaviour. He assured Wolff

‘I still believe as ever, Wolffchen, that all goes well. If not, then we must all die a heroic death.’[x]

Count Bernadotte
The believer in a heroic death was busily engaged in negotiations with the Allies through an intermediary, Count Bernadotte of Sweden.
The following day Baron Parilli[xi], met with Dulles and informed him that Wolff had been too depressed to make the trip. On the 15th April Himmler ordered Wolff to report to him in person; Kaltenbrunner was present and accused Wolff of negotiating an armistice on the Italian front. Wolff denied this and offered to speak to Hitler. He and Kaltenbrunner set off for Berlin, where on the 18th Hitler apparently agreed that Wolff could continue with his efforts to negotiate with the Allies[xii]. According to Wolff Hitler told him;

‘Should you fail I shall have to drop you exactly like Hess.’[xiii]
On 25th Wolff surrendered Italy to the Allies; but this action was more in theory than in practise as Kesselring’s[xiv] men did not lay down their arms until 2nd May. And it can hardly have been what the Fuhrer intended at his meeting with Wolff.

After the War

Wolff was arrested on 13th May and imprisoned at Schoneberg; and at the Nuremberg Trials gave evidence against his colleagues. In 1947 he was transferred to the care of the British. In November 1948 Wolff was tried and sent to prison for five years; he had after all been a member of an illegal group that had perpetrated terrible crimes; but due to his inability to remember anything about the Holocaust Wolff was spared the ignominious fate of many other senior SS officials.
Like many others Wolff was protected by the US, who accepted his claim on face value, despite Wolff’s position as number three in the SS hierarchy[xv]. He was released in the summer of 1949 when his sentence was reduced to four years.

In 1962 when evidence emerged in the trial of Adolf Eichmann, that Wolff was more involved in the deportation of the Jews than he’d admitted to[xvi], Wolff was tried in Germany in 1964 and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. He was released in 1969 due to ill-health[xvii] but managed to live until 1984.
From the late 1970’s Wolff made a living lecturing on his knowledge of the SS and his relationship with Himmler. He also appeared in television documentaries. But his memories of his time in the SS were faulty and self serving; a failing Wolff had always suffered from.

Hitler – Nemesis – Ian Kershaw, Penguin 2001

Anatomy of the SS State – Helmut Krausnick & Martin Broszat, Paladin 1970
Top Nazi – Jochen von Lang, Enigma Books 2005

Heinrich Himmler – Peter Longerich, Oxford University Press 2012
Himmler – Peter Padfield, Cassell & Co 2001

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich – William L Shirer, Book Club Associates 1985

[i] The call for unconditional surrender dragged the war on unnecessarily for more than a year than might otherwise have been the case and led to the death of millions more people who might never have died.
[ii] Whose whereabouts at key times during the period were unknown and whose actions appear suspect at best. It is believed that Himmler knew about the conspirators but failed to act against them
[iii] Himmler - Padfield
[iv] Possibly because Himmler did not want his possible involvement brought to light. The Gestapo had no control over the concentration camps, with the concentration camp system under the control of Oswald Pohl
[v] At a meeting with Himmler on 6th February Hitler orders that no Jew be left alive; a blow to Himmler’s plans to use Jews as pawns in his plans to stay in control in Germany after the war
[vi] A story he clung to for the rest of his life.
[vii] Himmler - Padfield
[viii] Wolff claimed he had told Himmler that the high level meetings with Dulles were negotiations to release a captured Standartenfuhrer, a risible story that Himmler and Kaltenbrunner would have difficulty in believing
[ix] The hypochondriac Himmler claimed he had flu
[x] Himmler - Padfield
[xi] Who had acted as an intermediary between Wolff and Dulles
[xii] There is no corroborative evidence for Wolff’s version of events
[xiii] Himmler - Padfield
[xiv] Von Vietinghoff had been replaced by Kesselring
[xv] Rudolf Brandt, one of Wolff’s staff and Himmler’s secretary was executed, but Wolff stuck to his ignorance like the lucky talisman it was
[xvi] The deportation of 300,000 Jews to the death camp at Treblinka and the deportation of Italian Jews to Auschwitz
[xvii] His civil rights were restored in 1971

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The SS - The Wolf That Got Away IV

Death in Poland

By 1942 Wolff was number 40 in seniority in the SS hierarchy[i]; the list did not take note of the power of the individual within the SS and included the many honorary members such as Walter Darré[ii] and Max Amann[iii].
Lidice massacre
Wolff kept his head down throughout the first half of 1942; he was not involved in the search for Heydrich’s killers, nor the massacre at Lidice; he did of course attend the funeral service in Prague and the second one in Berlin. And in July he was part of the group looking to create a monument to the fallen SS hero.
But despite his denials, Wolff did have knowledge of what was happening to Europe’s Jews. On 28th July Wolff was sent a letter from the Under Secretary of State at the Transport Ministry, Ganzenmuller reported;

‘A train containing 5,000 Jews has been leaving Warsaw for Treblinka[iv] every day since 22/7; in addition a train containing 5,000 Jews has been leaving Przemysl for Belzec[v] twice a week.’[vi]

Mass grave at Treblinka
The same day Ganzenmuller informed the SS that the Warsaw-Lublin-Sobibor line would be out of action until early October for repairs. All Jewish deportations were to be switched to Treblinka, which would result in the overcrowding of trains. On 13th August Wolff wrote to Ganzenmuller thanking him for his assistance in organising the trains to Treblinka.
Wolff always claimed that he knew nothing about the fate of the Jews in eastern Europe, despite receiving letters referring to the execution of the Serbian Jews from a colleague[vii]. Ganzenmuller had already discussed the matter with Wolff on the phone earlier in the month.

Wolff was often used by his colleagues as an intermediary in their correspondence with Himmler and was seen as a man who could smooth matters out. At the same time Wolff was acting as Himmler’s representative at the Fuhrer’s HQ (wherever that happened to be currently situated).
Fritz Sauckel
Wolff was expected to report back to Himmler particularly on matters pertaining to the SS; as when on 22nd September Hitler ordered Fritz Sauckel[viii] to transport all the Jews in the Reich working in the armaments industry to concentration camps in the General Government[ix] to continue working there. At the same time Himmler and Albert Speer[x] were forbidden to import Jews into the Reich to work. This order was a complete volte face to the agreement already in place.
The Fate of the Workers

In autumn of 1942 the German army in Poland, in the shape of General Curt Freiherr von Gienanth[xi], objected to the killing of all the Jews on the grounds that it deprived the Wehrmacht of essential labour to keep the armaments industry functioning in the east.
When Himmler saw the memo from von Gienanth he was livid and complained to Keitel[xii] who ordered that all Jews in the armaments industry were to be replaced by Poles. Keitel also ordered that von Gienanth be relieved of his post.
On the 9th October Himmler wrote to Oswald Pohl, Wolff, Friedrich Kruger[xiii] and other of his subordinates, ordering that the Jews be gathered together in a small number of concentration camps, saying;
''The Jews should, in accordance with the Fuhrer's wish, disappear some day'[xiv]
Yet another clue to the ultimate fate of the Jews, that Wolff would appear to have overlooked.

Domestic Affairs
Himmler and Wolff inspect Mauthausen
In mid-February 1943 Wolff requested permission from Himmler to divorce his wife Frieda and marry his mistress Countess Ingeborg. Ingeborg and her three children lived in Berlin. Ingeborg had asked her brother-in-law, who had no children, make her eldest son his heir. The Count refused and was arrested by the SS and thrown into Dachau[xv]. It is more than likely that Wolff was complicit in this arrest.
Wolff wanted to raise more genetically perfect children with Ingeborg; something he was clearly unable to do with Frieda, given her brown hair and eyes. Ingeborg moreover was determined not to remain second fiddle to Frieda and eventually Wolff gave way. Himmler refused the application on the grounds that it would create a scandal telling Wolff;
‘Just wait! It is possible for family affairs to disappear in the wake of a great victory.’[xvi]
Ingeborg was not prepared to wait for a victory that appeared ever more chimerical and apparently bearded Himmler in his office, but Himmler prevaricated. Eventually Wolff went direct to Hitler who gave his permission; he had a letter from Frieda saying that she loved her husband and did not want to stand in the way of his happiness.

Karl Gebhardt
Wolff was due to have an operation on a kidney stone[xvii] at the SS hospital at Hohenlychen; the operation was performed by Karl Gebhardt. The marriage took place before the operation which was risky; Wolff believed that Himmler was arranging for him to be killed.
The Opposition
Johannes Popitz
Wolff was still convalescing from his operation when Himmler sent for him after the arrest of Mussolini in mid July. During his period of time away from work Wolff had been acting as a go-between for Himmler and an old friend Carl Langbehn[xviii] who was desperate for Himmler to meet Johannes Popitz[xix]; both men were members of the growing opposition to Hitler and the Nazis.
Himmler informed Wolff that he was being posted as Highest SS and Police Fuhrer in Italy. Himmler required a memo on how Wolff would deal with the Italians. Meanwhile Himmler instructed Ernst Kaltenbrunner[xx] to organise Mussolini’s rescue. Kaltenbrunner chose Otto Skorzeny[xxi] for the task[xxii].
Otto Skorzeny
While preparing his memo Wolff was once more involved in trying to get Popitz in to see Himmler. It was not until late August that Himmler showed Wolff’s proposals to Hitler; several days after Himmler’s meeting with Langbehn and Popitz on 24th August.
Himmler met the two men in his new office; having been very recently appointed Minister of the Interior[xxiii]. Both men assured Himmler that the war was no longer winnable and the time had come to think about a post Hitler Germany. Langbehn mentioned the need to eliminate Hitler, which Hitler’s security chief did not blink at. The need for further meetings was agreed[xxiv].
Italy Under the Wolff

Salo government poster announcing 'Germany is your friend'
By the end of September Wolff had organised the puppet government, based at Salo and headed by the emasculated Mussolini. Mussolini was joined by his mistress, Claretta Petacci and even the libidinous Goebbels was shocked by Mussolini’s behaviour.
‘The personal conduct of the Duce with his girlfriend…….is cause for much misgiving.’[xxv]
Herbert Kappler
Within the area controlled by the Germans the removal of Jews from Italy proceeded apace[xxvi]. Adolf Eichmann[xxvii]’s senior assistant Theodor Dannecker, assisted by Herbert Kappler[xxviii], took personal control of the round up. The first train left for the east on 18th October. The following day Himmler and Wolff visited the Wolfschanze[xxix] to update Hitler on the developments in Italy.
On 5th December Wolff informed Himmler that mustard gas bombs had been found at Bari[xxx]. On 2nd December the Germans bombed Bari sinking 27 ships, releasing the mustard gas from the 2,000 bombs in the holds of one of the sunken ships. Himmler did not pass the information on to the media and the Allies covered up the accident until February 1944.

Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka – Yitzak Arad, Indiana University Press 1999

The Architect of Genocide – Richard Breitman, Pimlico 1991
The Destruction of the European Jews – Raoul Hilberg, Holmes and Meier 1985

Hitler – Nemesis – Ian Kershaw, Penguin 2001
Anatomy of the SS State – Helmut Krausnick & Martin Broszat, Paladin 1970

Top Nazi – Jochen von Lang, Enigma Books 2005
Heinrich Himmler – Peter Longerich, Oxford University Press 2012

Himmler – Peter Padfield, Cassell & Co 2001
The Memoirs of Hitler’s Spymaster – Walter Schellenberg, AndrĂ© Deutsch 2006

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich – William L Shirer, Book Club Associates 1985

[ii] Reich Minister for Food and Agriculture
[iii] Hitler’s former sergeant and head of the Nazi party publishing empire
[iv] An extermination camp
[v] Ibid
[vi] Anatomy of the SS State – Krausnick & Broszat
[vii] Harald Turner, SS commander in Serbia, wrote to Wolff on 4th April and on 11th. Wolff was also aware of proposals to use prisoners in concentration camps for experiments using freezing water to see how long someone could survive in icy waters
[viii] General Plenipotentiary for Labour Deployment
[ix] A Gau in occupied Poland headed by Hans Frank
[x] Another notable who had no knowledge of the fate of the Jews
[xi] Commander in Chief of the Polish Wehrkreis
[xii] Head of the OKW and known as the Lackey (lakeitel in German) for his subservience to Hitler
[xiii] Who tipped Himmler off as to the Wehrmacht’s intentions
[xiv] Anatomy of the SS State – Krausnick & Broszat
[xv] He was executed by the SS in April 1945
[xvi] Top Nazi- von Lang
[xvii] He claimed that Himmler tried to have him killed by means of a massage by Kersten, Himmler’s masseur; the massage allegedly grinding the stone against the walls of the kidney and causing sepsis.
[xviii] Langbehn’s daughter attended the same school as Gudrun Himmler
[xix] One of the anti-Nazi conspirators
[xx] Who had taken over from Heydrich as head of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt
[xxi] Head of a commando unit and one of Himmler’s favourites
[xxii] The daring rescue took place on 12th September
[xxiii] Hitler replaced Frick on 20th August; a tacit recognition that his power relied on police repression
[xxiv] Later to save himself Langbehn had to be arrested, but he was never tortured and was held in a concentration camp, beyond the reach of the inimical Kaltenbrunner who did not get on with his chief
[xxv] The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich - Shirer
[xxvi] The Italians had procrastinated when confronted with German demands for the expulsion of the Italian Jews to the death camps in the east. The Italians had opened their borders to Jews fleeing from the round ups; now all the Jews who had thought to find a safe haven were once again at risk of deportation.
[xxvii] In charge of the Holocaust
[xxviii] Chief of the Security Police in Rome
[xxix] Currently Hitler’s HQ
[xxx] On the US naval vessel John Harvey; many of the sailors from the other ships sunk in the raid were killed by the gas