Someday in the future, when the history books were written, this would be the moment they’d point to as the new beginning. This was when men of reason and vision came together, put an end to the most senseless and bloody conflict in human history and forged a new era of peace and prosperity. And he, General Walter Schellenberg, would be forever remembered as the artificer of that peace.
Schellenberg stood at the entrance of Zeithen Castle, watching the Reichsfuhrer’s motorcade drive up. Inside the castle Count Bernadotte was waiting along with the Jewish Representative. They’d flown down from Stockholm in what turned out to be the last commercial flight into Berlin, landing at Templehof just as the Soviet ring around the city was starting to close. Luckily Schellenberg had gotten them picked up and whisked out not an hour before it did.
The long line of cars stopped. The driver jumped out and opened the door and the Reichsfuhrer stepped out, followed by a host of aides, adjutants, batsmen, and the thirty-six heavily armed SS troopers who made up his personal security detail. He strutted up the driveway, his boots kicking up bits of the thick gravel. Seeing Schellenberg, he fixed him with his usual empty gaze, and then let a thin smile form briefly on his lips. It is done, it seemed to say. Before Schellenberg could greet him with the customary salute, he put his hand out for Schellenberg to shake. Side by side, they walked up the castle corridors toward the salon where their guests were waiting. He was back to his old self, observed Schellenberg. The nervous skittishness was gone, replaced by decisiveness and control.
Schellenberg hadn’t spoken much to the Jewish Representative yet, but he seemed like a completely reasonable sort, with his eyes fixed more on the future than the past.
|Buy the book here|
“So good of you to come, Herr Masur,” said Himmler with surprising affability. He quickly extended his hand for Masur to shake. “I trust you had a pleasant flight down?”
Masur nodded and assured him there had been no problems at all.
“Good, good,” said Himmler heartily. “I can’t tell you how happy I am to have you here. There is much we have to talk about.”
Masur nodded again. Yes, there was, he said, his eyes quietly riveted on the Reichsfuhrer.
Schellenberg had coffee brought in and they sat down to talk.
“I have asked you to come here,” began Himmler, “because I believe the time has come to put an end to this terrible period between your people and my people.”
Masur nodded, urging Himmler to go on.
Himmler adopted a solemn, sincere look. “You must understand I didn’t have anything personally to do with all the terrible, unfortunate things that happened to your people. I am a soldier, Herr Masur. Do you understand what that means? It is my duty, my sacred duty to obey orders and that is what I did. No one asked me to agree with them. You must understand that it was never my intention to harm anyone or cause them pain. I always sought to solve the, ah, Jewish Problem by peaceful, humane means, by expulsion, emigration and resettlement. But we were prevented from doing that by two things, Herr Masur. We were prevented by the extreme resistance by the outside world as well as by opposition from the Nazi Party.”
On this point Schellenberg had expected Masur to raise some objections, but he appeared detached, smiling his mandarin smile and nodding in all the right places, but saying almost nothing. Perhaps the man was shy. In any case, he was listening.
“I never hated Jews, Herr Masur. I must tell you that growing up in Bavaria, many of my best friends were Jews. I thought they were all very nice people. And I don’t want what happened to be a stain on our future relationship. We need to think about the future, Herr Masur, and I don’t mind telling you that the future Europe which our peoples will share is going to be a most wonderful place.”
Finally Himmler finished and invited Masur’s reply.
Masur clasped his fingers together as he spoke to them in a startlingly forceful voice. “What you say is very interesting, Herr Himmler. But my reason for coming here today is simple. Whatever has gone on in the past cannot be changed. What I would like from you today are assurances that no more Jews will be killed. Let me repeat that: not one more. I would also like your guarantee that the remaining Jewish prisoners should remain in the camps and that under no circumstances should they be evacuated away from the approaching Allied armies. I would also ask that you provide me with a list of all the camps where Jews are being kept. If you can do these things for us, perhaps we will have a basis for future discussions.”
Himmler broke into a relieved smile. “I am happy to report, sir, that I have already given such orders. And just to show my good will, I would also like to propose releasing a large group of Jewesses from Ravensbrück.” Himmler’s smile became conspiratorial. “The Fuhrer has already given me permission to free Polish women. It would be a very simple matter to have these Jewesses reclassified as Polish. I could do that for you if you’d like.”
Masur nodded and said yes, he would like that.
“So what do you say, Herr Masur?” asked Himmler jubilantly. “Are we burying the hatchet?”
The three shook hands. Masur remained polite, but ever so distant.
They left him there and went into an adjoining room to see Count Bernadotte.
“I am happy to inform you that you may now go to Eisenhower and tell him I am taking over command of the Reich and would very much like to start peace talks at the General’s earliest convenience,” Himmler said. “How soon do you think you could get something started?”
Count Bernadotte told him he’d get on it right away, except that with Berlin and Templehof already cut off, the only way they could get back to Sweden was by driving at least into Denmark before he could arrange for a neutral aircraft to pick them up. They decided Schellenberg would drive them in his car.
“Gentlemen,” Himmler declared. “I think it’s fair to say, this marks the beginning of a whole new era.”
(Excerpt from Germania by Brendan McNally, Simon & Schuster 2008)