Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Third Reich Ended Today

On this day, sixty-eight years ago, the Third Reich finally ended. At precisely eight o'clock in the morning of May 23, 1945, British troops in helmets, rifles and bayonets entered the compound of the Marineschule in Murwick, where the Doenitz government had its offices, and with as much disruption, looting, and souvenir-taking as possible, arrested everyone inside.

For twenty-three days, the Doenitz regime had held on to this tiny, ever-eroding piece of soverign German territory, on the diminishing hope that the Western Allies would recognize the enormity of the Soviet threat and enter into alliance against them with what now remained of Nazi Germany.

The "Flensburg Reich" was a surreally oddball moment in postwar history which few people actually know about. My novel Germania is set during that strange interlude.  It can be found in hardback from Simon & Schuster and is now also available at a low price on Kindle here.

Excerpt from Germania:

With Doenitz called away to the Patria, it had fallen on the Chancellor, Schwerin von Krosigk, to preside over that morning’s government meeting. No sooner had he called it to order than the doors got kicked open and in stormed twenty British troopers, with rifles fixed with bayonets, shouting, “Hands up!” The ministers, their deputies and staff got up from their chairs, raising their hands as they did. They were lined up against the wall and searched, stripped, and relieved of watches, rings, or anything else that appeared of value or interest.

Ziggy was calmly sitting, hands folded, at the reception desk, when the British came in. “Hands up!” they all screamed at once.

Slowly Ziggy raised his hands.

“Souvenir!” shouted one, pointing at Ziggy’s watch.

“Souvenir!” shouted another, pointing at his Knight’s Cross and U-Boat badge.

“Souvenir!” shouted a third one, pointing at his belt, pistol and holster.


Ziggy felt the medal being yanked from his neck at the same time the watch was pulled off his wrist. The pistol took longer, since he had to take his jacket off for it.

After that they did the same to Ludde-Neurath, then went in to ransack Doenitz’ office, looking for anything they could put in their pockets, while Ziggy was left at his desk, his hands still up in the air. Then they were led downstairs, past corridors full of pillaging soldiers and together with other officers and staff, were marched out to the parade ground, where another group of soldiers began going through their pockets. When they realized that all the good booty had already been taken, they grew angry and violent. “Get ‘em off! Get ‘em off!” one screamed. As Ziggy began removing his leather coat, the man went berserk, grabbing it and knocking Ziggy to the ground in the process. “Get ‘em off! Get ‘em off! Get ‘em off!” he screamed, pulling Ziggy back halfway to his feet and them punching him in the side of the head and knocking him back down again. Somewhere in the process, Ziggy was stripped and left standing naked in the morning sunlight, his mouth swollen and sides aching, waiting for someone to tell him he could put his clothes back on.

All over the parade ground, the same indignities were happening to everyone else, many not as gently. A few feet away a general was being stomped and kicked by a group of Tommies. First, they ripped off his jacket, then his shirt, and then started pulling off his trousers. But because of his tight cavalry boots, the trousers wouldn’t come off. They left them in a tight jumble below his knees and then started kicking him again. The general began to cry out hysterically, which only enraged them further.

“Get hold of yourself!” shouted another general who was on the ground nearby. “Be brave!”

The man stopped screaming and gritted his teeth as the Tommies continued to kick and stomp him and punch him in the face.

Then it was all over. The Tommies lost interest and moved onto someone else. The general lay in the dirt for a minute, then rolled over and sat up, his trousers still bunched below his knees while the other general sat nearby, examining his own ripped trousers.

“Are you all right?” asked Ziggy.

The general nodded. Then a Tommy came by and, offering his hand, pulled him up to his feet before moving on.

As he put his clothes back on, Ziggy looked over to the main building and noticed that even now, Cremer and his men were still standing guard at the different entrances in helmets and rifles. Getting to his feet, Ziggy waved over to Cremer, who waved back.

After that they were told to stand in a line for processing. Then they were fed lunch and led off to a prisoner-of-war stockade, which, when they got there, hadn’t yet been fully set up, owing to a shortage of barbed wire.

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