Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Road to Del Rio VI: Stoned in Nacogdoches

After Arkansas, Herbert T. Barrow drives into Texas. He reaches Nacogdoches, a small city in east Texas, ditches his car, checks into a hotel, takes a bath and then hits the hay in a real bed for the first time since bolting out of Knoxville nearly a week earlier. When he wakes up the next day Herbert begins planning the next step of his journey.  Herbert's plan is to go to the train station, and buy tickets to Del Rio, down on the Mexican border. From what he's heard listening to the radio, he figures it will be easy to find work there as a singing cowboy on XER, the Mexican border blaster radio station.

After everything that has happened to him over the last few days, Herbert figures it wouldn't do him any harm to "take a cure" from all the marijuana he's been smoking.  He reckons Nacogdoches is a good place to start, since it's not exactly famous for its "tea pads" and jazz clubs. But as it turned out, Nacogdoches did indeed have its own local viper scene. Walking past a Mexican bakery, Herbert smells something fragrant and friendly wafting from inside that definitely isn't bread being baked. A minute later he's getting high with the bakers who sell him a lid of primo marijuana.  And that's when everything starts going wrong.

Stoned, Herbert is suddenly too paranoid to go buy tickets at the train station. He ends up using some of the money he'd taken from Captain Hamer and uses it to buy a third-hand Marmon automobile, then finds a gin mill and gets very drunk before staggering back to his room and going to sleep.When he wakes up, there is a heavy rainstorm going on outside. In a flash of stoned brilliance he decides he should use it as a time to leave town in case Hamer is closing in on him. He packs his bag, goes downstairs, pays his bill, gets into his car and leaves. That's it for Nacogdoches, except that in the upcoming chapters, when Herbert falls unwillingly into the company of Bonnie & Clyde, cousin Clyde offers him some marijuana that, judging from the taste of it, he figures comes from the same Mexican Bakery down Nacogdoches way.  There is actually a true Bonnie and Clyde story about this I will relate in a future post.  But let's not leave the subject of Nacogdoches quite yet.

Nacogdoches bills itself as the first city of Texas, which is true in more than one way. For ten thousand years before the White Man showed up, the area was the center of a thriving Native American civilization known variously as the Caddos or the Alabama-Coushatta.  By the time the first Spanish explorers showed up, that civilization was long gone though the Caddos and Alabama-Coushatta were still around, mainly peacefully farming.

The Spanish saw it as a natural place to establish their side of the border with the French empire and built a stone fortress there back in the early 18th Century. By the late 18th Century, it had become clear that the French weren't really any kind of threat and the fort was dismantled.  There was a Spanish there and when the fort got dismantled, the order came for the local population to return south.  But it turned out they didn't want to and elected to stay. Their leader was an officer named Gil Y'Barro and in a way, what he and his people did there resembles the settlement patterns of the Anglos who would settle there in a few more decades.

Nacogdoches became a pueblo, a settlement town far from the close control of the imperial authority.  The American settlers who came there not long after accepted the Spanish authority, but mainly it was lip service in exchange for land grants. There were numerous uprisings and short-lived Texas Republics established, including one called -- shades of the Marx Brothers -- the "Republic of Fredonia."

Eventually a longer lasting Texas Republic was founded, which later joined the United States and then the Confederacy. Nacogdoches was always a big town during the 19th century, fed largely by the cotton that was grown there. It was also a university town, home of what is today Steven F. Austin State University.

Early in the 20th century, Nacogdoches was big enough to support at least one theatre. Once Groucho Marx performed there when he was still just another unknown comedian and according to legend, Groucho informed the audience that "Nacogdoches is full of roaches!"

I'm sure Groucho wasn't just making it up.

The following is an excerpt from Friend of the Devil:

This rainstorm is a real East Texas gullywasher. I’ve been sitting here, stuck inside this car for two hours and it still doesn’t give any sign it’s going to ease up anytime soon. I think something is broken. I can get the engine to start, but the wheels won’t turn or anything. My stupid fault. Why did I have to drive off during a rainstorm? Why? The exact same reason I didn’t ditch the car and buy a train or bus ticket to Del Rio. In a word: marihuana.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Himmler's New Psychic Probes Doenitz's Portrait

Franzi had been asleep on a bunk in the basement cellblock which had been converted to a dormitory for the junior officers when one of the Reichsfuhrer’s adjutants came down and ordered him to get dressed. “He wants to see you now,” he said.

Franzi sat up. “Any idea what’s up?” he asked. The adjutant shook his head. Franzi got dressed and followed him upstairs. When they reached the fifth floor landing, the usual crowd was gathered around the wireless. “Any news?” he asked.

One of the colonels looked up. “The fighting has stopped in Italy. Some kind of truce,” he said.

“I guess it won’t be long now,” Franzi said. The others all nodded back. looked calm when Franzi entered his office. “Have a seat, Loerber,” he said, pointing to one of the stuffed chairs. “I’ll be with you in a second.” He gestured to the adjutant to leave.

As Franzi sat down, Himmler quickly put his signature on a batch of papers and then put them all into his ‘out’ tray. He got up from his desk and walked over and took the chair opposite Franzi.

“As you probably know, Loerber, I’m putting together a government. We should become operational in another day or two, once things are over in Berlin. The question right now is, of course, who can I count on? Who is with me and who might be backing another faction?”

“Another faction, Reichsfuhrer?” asked Franzi. “Is there another?”

“Yes, Goering,” said Himmler. “My sources in the south tell me he is still hoping to exercise his old official designation as successor to take over. He has apparently been telling people that he is uniquely suited to reach a peace agreement with Eisenhower.”

“Is there any indication that he has actually contacted Eisenhower?” asked Franzi.

“No, there isn’t. But to be honest, that isn’t my major area of concern right now. What I want to ask you about is Grand Admiral Doenitz.”

“Grand Admiral Doenitz?” Franzi was confused. Doenitz might have been the head of the Navy, but as far as political power was concerned, he was nobody.

Himmler noted Franzi’s bewilderment and smiled. “He was just here a few minutes ago. You didn’t see him?”

“I’m sorry, Reichsfuhrer, but I was asleep. I was up till four.”

“Oh, too bad,” said Himmler. “I wanted to know how you read him. There is something about the man’s karma that I can’t completely grasp. Do you know anything about him? Isn’t your brother Zigmund one of his favorite U-Boat captains? Has he said anything about him?”

At the mention of Ziggy, Franzi felt cold sweat. Ziggy was the only other person who knew he and Manni were enemy agents. “I’m sorry, Reichsfuhrer,” he said. “But my brother and I haven’t spoken in years.”

Himmler fixed him with his blankest stare, like he couldn’t get Franzi’s measure. “I’m very sorry to hear that, Loerber,” he said. “But you might be interested in knowing your brother has just been appointed to a very sensitive post on the Grand Admiral’s staff." Himmler paused. “A strange choice, I thought, in view of some of his past activities.”

“Activities, Reichsfuhrer?”

“Well you do know that on more than one occasion he has made statements critical of the Fuhrer?”

That’s nothing, thought Franzi. On more than one occasion he attended services at a Berlin synagogue. He’s critical of the Fuhrer and all Nazis in general, but he’s a loyal U-Boat officer and when we asked him to help us spy against the government, he refused.

Franzi adopted a sorrowful look. “Yes, Reichsfuhrer, that’s why we had a falling out. I couldn’t tolerate hearing any more of it. I know I should have reported him, but he’s my brother. Forgive me, Reichsfuhrer.”

Himmler gave an indulgent smile. “That’s all right, Loerber. His loyalty doesn’t interest me. My reason for bringing it up is simply that I’m trying to understand Doenitz. I asked him if he would support me. Everybody else is falling all over themselves to join my government. But you know what he told me? He said, ‘Reichsfuhrer, I will support unconditionally any legitimate successor.’ Now what’s that supposed to mean?”

What it meant seemed obvious enough to Franzi, but instead he answered politely, “I don’t know, Reichsfuhrer.”

“Doesn’t he see what’s going on? The Fuhrer is determined to drag the whole world down with him. He doesn’t want a successor.”

“Did you tell Doenitz that?”

“How could I? And you know what else he said?”

“What, Reichsfuhrer?”

“I was trying to give him a hint of our negotiations with Eisenhower. You’d think he’d be grateful that someone is actually doing something. But instead he was absolutely hostile. I can only interpret that as a proof that he is backing Goering as a potential negotiator with Eisenhower. What do you think?”

Franzi thought of Goering; the fat, drug-addicted failure in his splendiferous uniforms and laughed. “Honestly Reichsfuhrer? At this point I cannot imagine anyone taking Goering seriously.”

“But what other possibility is there, if not Goering? He couldn’t be backing Speer. Speer doesn’t have any power. For God’s sake, all he is, is the Fuhrer’s draftsman!” Then suddenly Himmler lit up. “I have an idea. What if I show you a photograph of Doenitz and you probe it for me, tell me what vibrations you’re getting from it. I bet that’ll work!”

“Probe?” asked Franzi with a sinking feeling. Probe? Where did Himmler get these ideas from?

Himmler got up, went over to the credenza, and pulled out a framed photograph portfolio from one of the drawers. He handed it to Franzi. “Go ahead, probe it. Tell me what you get.”

Franzi took the photograph in his hands and stared at it. An intense-looking, dried up little man in a Navy uniform. These guys all look exactly the same, he thought. He could be a ferry boat captain.

Himmler leaned forward. “Well? What do you see?”

Franzi tried to think of something meaningful to say. The man in the picture didn’t look especially warlike or crafty or even that he liked the sound of his own voice. He looked like one of those guys who believed, first and foremost, in following orders, perhaps he was also more than a little sardonic.

“You’ve got him all wrong, Reichsfuhrer,” said Franzi. “This man doesn’t know or care about politics. He’s a soldier, he follows orders, he believes in complete obedience to whoever is in charge. I don’t see him plotting against you with Goering or anyone else.”

“But what about the war? What is his position on how to end it?”

“His mind is on his submarines, Reichsfuhrer. He thinks about that and nothing else. The rest of the war is someone else’s business.”

“Actually I think you’re on to something,” reflected Himmler. “There are those new miracle U-Boats of his. They’re supposed to be ready to launch.”

Suddenly Franzi saw himself inside a submarine, but different from the ones he’d seen in magazines. It wasn’t so cramped. The equipment was modern, automated. He could feel the speed of it cutting through the water. And suddenly he saw his brother standing at its helm, looking through a periscope, calling out orders to his men. And then, just as suddenly, the submarine was gone and his brother was standing in the wreckage of a city, rifle in hand, helmet on his head, humming to himself: Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf, Big Bad Wolf, Big Bad Wolf?

Franzi opened his eyes and looked down at the face his fingers were touching. He looked up at Himmler. Himmler looked pleased. “You’re a very bright young man, Loerber. Maybe you should go back to sleep now.”

Franzi stepped outside the office into the corridor. The adjutant was waiting in a chair. He got up. “I trust that whatever the Reichsfuhrer has discussed with you will remain private, Loerber.”

“Naturally,” answered Franzi and went to look for something to eat.
(Excerpt from Germania, Simon & Schuster 2008, now also available on Kindle here).

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Schellenberg Helps Himmler Bury the Hatchet with the Jews

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.

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He was sitting in the parlor on a couch by himself, a little man, gray, finite and dapper in his London suit and red and purple French tie. He stood up when they entered the room. Schellenberg made the introductions. “Reichsfuhrer, I would like to introduce you to Herr Norbert Masur of the World Jewish Congress. He has flown down from Stockholm to be with us today.”

“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)

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Road to Del Rio V: Time Stands Still in Central Arkansas

Folks in central Arkansas will tell you time stands still there all the time, but when Captain Frank Hamer and his mixed taskforce of G-Men and Texas Rangers tries bushwhacking Friend of the Devil narrator Herbert T. Barrow outside a filling station somewhere between Little Rock and Fort Smith, they find out the hard way that frozen time is more than just some idle talk coming from Razorbacks. For Herbert, though, it is just another indication that God and the Devil are cooking up some new way to get at him.

A day or so after giving a ride to a man who clearly has to be the Devil, Herbert picks up another hitchhiker, a chestnut-eyed young man, who, were Herbert not such a fervent atheist, he might recognize as "The Other Guy;" or, God himself. Of course, all these extremely loud hints are completely wasted on Herbert T. Barrow, whose lack of faith is boundless.

After extending highway hospitality to the Young Man, only to have him gobble up his entire newly-bought bag full of chicken salad sandwiches while matter-of-factly recommending Herbert turn in Clyde Barrow, his cousin, to the 'Laws,' Herbert T. Barrow kicks the Young Man out of his car. He starts driving up random
country roads, hoping to shake Hamer or anyone else who might be on his trail. Eventually Herbert stops at a filling station for more gas and something to replace the sandwiches he never got to eat.  But as he walks across the lot, heading for the store, Hamer and a bunch of heavily armed Feds pop up from behind some parked cars and open up on him. 

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But before any of the bullets they're shooting can tear into him, something very strange happens. Everything freezes; time stands still right there in front of the filling station. Herbert sees the bullets frozen in the air, birds stuck in mid-flight, Hamer and the other lawmen's faces frozen in their murderous grimmaces. But then Herbert notices something else. He can hear a radio playing from inside the store. There's a hillbilly gospel group singing an old-timey song of salvation. It can only be XER, Doctor Brinkley's Mexican border blaster. It appears that outside this little part of central Arkansas, time continues to pass normally.

The following is an excerpt from Friend of the Devil: 

I yank the BAR from his hands, then point it back at him, curling my finger around the trigger, and telling myself I’d be completely within my rights if I killed Hamer right now.

But I don’t kill him. Because I already killed my last man. That’s what I told myself back in France, that I’d done killed all the people I was ever gonna kill and that even a murderous bastard like Hamer ain’t changing it.

Still, I’d like to take the rifle butt and smash in his face a little, but I don’t. That’s not how we do it in West Dallas. Instead, I try taking my anger out on the bullets, batting them with the rifle butt, but to my surprise, hard as I swat them, they hardly budge at all. So instead I rip the clip out, empty the magazine and then, holding it by the barrel, I smash it hard against the ground, shattering the stock, the receiver and the bolt. Then I toss it aside, and go over to the two guys who are leaping aside and pluck their rifles from the air, but instead of smashing them against the ground, I just spend the next few minutes going completely crazy, attacking their cars; smashing the windshields, the headlights, radiators, carburetors, slashing the tires.

Finally, I’ve had enough. I toss the broken rifles aside and just stand there trying to catch my breath. That’s when I hear the music playing. It’s coming from a radio inside the store; one of those hillbilly family quartets they have singing on the border blaster:

Just a few more weary days and then,
I’ll fly away, fly away
To the land where joys will never end, 
I’ll fly away, fly away.
I’ll fly away, O Glory, I’ll fly away.
When I die, halleluiah by and by, 
I’ll fly away, fly away.

It makes me happy that while time might be standing still here, somewhere down in sunny Mexico reality goes on just like it always does. It also makes me suspect that this is all very local and temporary and might end any moment so I’d better get a move on, so I go to the gas pump and fill up. Then I run into the store and fill a bag with apples, soda crackers, a loaf of sliced bread and a big piece of ham, then carry them back to my car and load them into the back seat.

I’m about to start up the engine and go, when I look at Hamer and decide I still need to finish the job. So I go back, reach into his jacket and remove his billfold, which is bulging with ones and fives. I can use those. Then I notice he’s got a shoulder holster and a big pistol riding inside it. I reach in and take it out. It’s a beauty, all right; a .45 caliber, single action Colt, silver plated. On the side of it I see inscribed, “Capt. Frank Hamer, State Ranger. Presented by the citizens of Corpus Christi.

I decide Imo keep it for myself. But because it wouldn’t do without I let him in on who done this particular deed, I extract the pencil and notepad he’s got in his pocket and I write him a little note.

Dear Capt. Hamer, I could have killed you now, but, unlike you, that’s not how I operate. I haven’t done anything wrong, I’m not part of Clyde Barrow’s outfit and don’t intend to join. But if you keep bothering with me, by God, I shall kill you with your own pistol.”

And I sign it, “Very truly yrs, Herbert T. Barrow.

I stick this back inside his holster, then head back to my car and drive away.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Rasch's Midget Subs Arrive in Flensburg, Ready for Action

One morning, just as dawn was beginning to break over Flensburg fjord, a flotilla of twelve midget submarines crept into the harbor. Seehunds, each of them seventeen tons fully loaded, with a crew of two and two torpedoes straddling its sides like saddlebags. They had escaped from Wilhelmshaven just as the British Army was coming in. In that time they had painstakingly navigated all the way around the Danish peninsula and now that they were coming back into German-controlled territory, they were eager for fresh orders that would send them back out to exact some payback on the enemy, and none more so than the flotilla’s commander, Kapitänleutnant Hermann Rasch.

There was no question in his mind that the surrender was merely a sham, a crafty ploy by Doenitz designed to lull the enemy into letting their guard down. He knew what an unbending diehard Doenitz was. All they would have to do is show up before him, salute and say “Ready for combat!”

Once his boats were all tied up along the quay, Rasch re-lit his last cigar and then strode proudly up to the Marineschule. Filthy, bearded, dressed in an oil-stained leather jacket and trousers, his smudged white commander’s cap tilted raffishly to one side, to the trio of young British subalterns who passed him on their morning stroll, he imparted the unmistakable air of a pirate.

But before he got to Doenitz’ offices, his progress was blocked by a very stern looking Kapitän-zur-See Wolfgang Luth, who immediately pointed Rasch to his office and told him to wait inside. Then he picked up the phone and called Ludde-Neurath. Ludde-Neurath told Luth he’d send someone down and then told Ziggy to go sit in on the discussion just in case anything got out of hand.

As he made his way downstairs, Ziggy tried to remember what he knew about Rasch. While he didn’t know him personally, he’d heard plenty over the years. It wasn’t that he was a bad officer, or an unsuccessful commander, he had quite a respectable number of kills under his belt. It was that Rasch was a hothead and a troublemaker. He was prone to taking unnecessary risks. So they’d switched him over to midgets, an ideal place for cantankerous, highly motivated oddballs like himself. And there he thrived, creeping around the North Sea coastline wreaking havoc among allied shipping.

When Ziggy got downstairs, he found Luth standing in the corridor outside his office. At the sight of Ziggy, Luth’s eyes momentarily flared, but he quickly regained his officer’s unflappable demeanor.

“Captain Luth,” said Ziggy.

“Captain Loerber,” said Luth, and then began briefing him on the situation as if there was nothing at all amiss between the two of them.

“So it sounds like Rasch needs to be brought into the present,” said Ziggy when Luth finished.

Luth nodded. “It would be better if you don’t write anything down until it’s over. Then we’ll agree on what goes into the report. If we explain to the British that Rasch’s radio was out and he hadn’t received the surrender instructions, they’ll probably accept it without too much problem.” Ziggy agreed that was a good idea. Then Luth told him he was going to try to get Rasch to accept it peacefully, since arresting him would also likely result in trouble with the British.

They went inside Luth’s office, where a ragged, but exuberant Rasch sat waiting to present his attack plan. They let him go on for a minute, then began, gently at first, introducing him to the concept of unconditional surrender, explaining how under its terms, absolutely no one, not even Rasch, was permitted to carry out any further military action against the enemy, no matter how richly the British deserved payback. The war was over. They had lost.

“You can’t be serious!” Rasch shouted. “After all we’ve just been through getting here, past all those British assholes, you expect me to just sit back and let them take our boats away from us? That’s just wrong! If you expect me to go along with this bullshit, you’re crazy!”
(Excerpt from Germania by Brendan McNally, Simon & Schuster, 2008)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Hitler's Dead; Nazi Government Finally Holds First Meeting

The German government never met even a single time under Hitler. But under his successor, Grand Admiral Doenitz, the government convened every day during its entire three-week existence. The following is an excerpt from Germania (Simon & Schuster, 2008).

Doenitz was looking at Speer in complete seriousness, as though it hadn’t occurred to him that everything they’d been discussing existed purely within the realm of fantasy. The reality was that all the nitrogen works and electrical power plants were in Allied hands and the Allies had so far shown not the slightest inclination to listen to any suggestions the Doenitz government might make about getting Germany’s industries back in operation.

Doenitz sat at the head of the table, correct and steely-eyed as always. Schwerin von Krosigk, the Chancellor and Foreign Minister, sat to his left while Speer, in charge of the economic portfolio, sat at his right. The other ministers and advisors sat around the table, all of them looking very serious. Doenitz’ government was now ten days old. At its inception, it consisted of the three of them and a geographical realm which, besides northern Germany, included all of Denmark, Norway, Bohemia, Crete, plus fragments of Russia, Latvia, Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, and even the British Channel Islands. Now, there were more than a dozen ministries, several special departments and more than sixty typists, clerks and other staff members. The government’s territorial jurisdiction, on the other hand, barely extended beyond the gates of the Marineschule.
They’d go in each day and have meetings, explore problems, issue orders and try to establish some coherency amid the chaos. But what effect any of it had was hard to say. Whether their orders would be carried out, or, for that matter, even delivered, was largely beyond their control. The all-powerful Allied Control Commission was a bureaucratic hydra which stood in their way, without having any clear plan of its own. From time to time, its members would show up and nose around and issue orders and directives, whose meaning they usually seemed at a loss to explain.

The discussion on fertilizers went on another twenty minutes and then they moved to the next topic on the agenda; churches. The question was whether a portfolio should be added for religious affairs. Dorpmuller the Transportation Minister suggested it might be a good idea, given everything the German people has just gone through, it was necessary that a Christian moral culture be re-instituted in the state.

People bristled at the idea. “Are you suggesting that just because National Socialists weren’t Christian, they weren’t moral?” one of the ministers countered.

“All I’m saying is we need to go back to old, traditional values. For more than a thousand years the Germans have been a Christian people. We need to emphasize that point both to ourselves and to the world. I think it would also be a good idea to embrace contemporary Christian theology of human dignity.”

“Do you have anyone in mind?” asked Doenitz.

“Yes, I do, Grand Admiral. I think Dietrich Bonhoffer would be a perfect candidate. Last I heard he was still alive. We should see if we can locate him.”

While an aide was dispatched to make some calls, the topic changed to banking issues. There wasn’t enough money on hand to pay state employees or to fund purchases of emergency foodstuffs from Sweden. The question boiled down to asking the Allies permission to print an emergency issue of Reichsmarks. They were discussing it when the aide returned to inform them that Pastor Bonhoffer had been executed by the Gestapo two weeks before.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Long, Dark First Night as Fuhrer: Doenitz Finally Thinks the Unthinkable.

Alone finally, Doenitz let his eyes close for a moment. It had been nearly six hours since the telegram had arrived from the Fuhrerbunker naming him Hitler’s successor and only now, with Himmler out of the way, was the weight of this new job beginning to sink in. Head of State, Reichspräsident, Fuhrer, Heil Doenitz! The last thought made him shudder.

He went back to his pile of reports and for two hours his attention remained focused only on paperwork. After thirty five years in the Navy, it had become second nature and now it provided him with a sense of reassurance that things were not as utterly chaotic as they appeared. Armies, even on their last legs, continued to generate reports, requests, tallies, statistics, strategic assessments. They kept streaming in and Doenitz continued reading them. But then somewhere around four thirty he looked up, rubbed his eyes, and realized nothing he was reading addressed the real heart of the matter; that the war was lost and as Head of State, the only choice left to him was deciding how large the funeral pyre should be.
He picked up a report from the Admiral Kummetz, in charge of the Baltic evacuation. Twenty more ships had come into different German ports with refugees and soldiers. Estimated numbers, thirty five thousand men, women and children. Tomorrow they hoped to get out fifty thousand. Every freighter, barge, and fishing boat they could get their hands on was now going to and from the Latvian ports of Lepaya and Memel, where upwards of a million Germans were still holding off the Russians. He knew as well as anyone what the Russians would do to them when they got them. He had to continue the evacuation. He couldn’t give up on them.

He needed to put together a government. But how was he supposed to do that? He didn’t know the first thing about government or diplomacy. He wondered if what Himmler had said about the Americans and British considering an alliance with Germany against the Russians could be true. It seemed crazy. But then didn’t he have all those spies and that whiz-kid Schellenberg with all his foreign contacts?

Besides, forming a new government is still only a means to an end. So what end was he seeking? What was left? A surrender? A few hours ago, the idea had still been completely unthinkable. But now it seemed to be the only thing that made any sense. The irony was that the Fuhrer had given the job to him because he knew he would never surrender.

So what should I do? Am I supposed to continue following the path of someone who has abdicated his responsibility and leadership? If Hitler wanted the war to continue, he should have stuck to his job. Where was he anyway? Was he dead? Or had he gone out to the streets to join the fighting? What difference does it make? he asked himself.

He remembered driving back from Luebeck that day telling himself that Himmler would be the next Fuhrer - the thought of serving under a liar like that seemed more than he could take. He found himself wishing he’d had the guts to arrest Himmler on the spot. Himmler’s men would have gunned him down immediately, but at least he could have died honorably, and remained true to all those young men he’d sent to their deaths.

Or, instead of returning to Ploen, he should have gone to the nearest airstrip, commandeered a plane and flown up to Oslo and gotten aboard one of the Type XXI boats and gone out to the North Atlantic to raise hell. The first enemy warship they’d find, they’d sink. Then they’d find another and sink it too and then the one after that and the one after that, until they’d finally get sunk themselves. He had the right to do that. He was a soldier and a soldier’s last bullet is always for himself. But it seemed Hitler had taken that privilege from him so he could go out fighting on the streets of Berlin. So why had he done it? It wasn’t right. Damn it, it wasn’t fair! It wasn’t. It was selfish!

So what do I do? What is the interest of the State? The interest of the State is survival. And at all costs, Germany must survive! Surrender, then? That’s not why I was appointed by the Fuhrer. But then he’s not Fuhrer any more. I am. I’m the Fuhrer. Don’t say that! Don’t use that word. I’m head of state. I’m in charge.

Doenitz got up from his chair and opened the door to the outer office. Ludde-Neurath was staring at the war log. “Sir?” he asked, looking up.

“Captain, I need to ask you a question and I want a completely honest answer,” said Doenitz. “Do you ever get into conversations where during the course of it people say to each other or to you, “This war has to end.” Do you ever get into these conversations?”

For one very long, uncomfortable moment, Ludde-Neurath stared back hard at him like he wasn’t sure it was a trick question or something else. Then he answered, “Sure, all the time.”

“All the time?”

“Sir, what do you think people talk about?”

Doenitz nodded and went back into his office. He finished off the coffee, set the cup back down and rubbed his eyes. Then he switched off the desk lamp and in the darkness swiveled his chair around toward the window. As his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, he saw the first light was beginning to gather in the Eastern sky. In another hour, the first allied air attacks would commence. They would hardly discriminate between refugees and military traffic.

Today was May first, May Day. A funny time to start.

(Excerpt from Germania, by Brendan McNally, Simon & Schuster, 2008; Kindle download now also available here).

Friday, June 14, 2013

Speer, Galbraith and the United States Strategic Bombing Survey

Today, following his second session with the Strategic Bombing Survey, Speer was again walking on air. Suddenly the future was rising before him in Technicolor and it looked so tantalizing that even though he knew it might be an illusion, he had to drink deep of it.

Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit, Captive Greece captured Rome. It was a phrase Speer had struggled with as a young student first learning Latin. How, he wondered, could a captive capture its conqueror? But now he understood. So charmed were his American interrogators by him, that they had decided, by unanimous assent, to rededicate their inquisition, “The University of Bombing,” with Albert Speer their honored professor. maybe the Americans were as much in love with him as they acted. For all he knew they were already sending the word back to their people in Washington that Albert Speer is one of us.

They’d spent the day discussing machine tools and the mixture of alloys for steelmaking. In Speer’s experience, unless the person was an engineer or technocrat, any discussion about such things would inevitably put them to sleep. But these Americans weren’t engineers. They were lawyers and economists and intellectuals and their passion for the ephemera of industry came from a different place. Like himself, they were driven to know the greater dynamics between machinery and human endeavor. These men understood that wars are not won merely by brave men with guns and force of will, but by production and logistics and unfettered supplies of oil, chromium, ball bearings and tungsten carbide.

“John Kenneth Galbraith;” Speer pronounced it slowly, savoring the sound of the words and then repeating it again, like an incantation which conjured up a shimmering of policy-level meetings and advisory groups. “John Kenneth Galbraith.”

“I tell you, Baumbach, this is a man who is going to matter in the post-war world. You wouldn’t believe how bright the guy is. He tried to nail my hide to the wall when I explained how we dealt with the shortages of tungsten carbide. He never imagined we’d rather cut out production of heavier caliber anti-tank ammunition in order to keep producing tungsten carbide machine tool bits. He thought I was lying. But I showed him. I had the numbers right there in my head. And when he saw that he’d been wrong and I was right, he said, ‘Well then, I take off my hat to you, Professor Speer!”

By now, of course, they were both quite drunk. Baumbach laughed and with a wide swoop of his arm snagged hold of the whiskey bottle from the table. Holding the bottle aloft, he proclaimed, “Let’s drink to your John Kenneth Galbraith!” He refilled Speer’s glass and then his own. Then, settling back onto the couch he clinked his glass against Speer’s. “Down the hatch!”

Speer drank the whiskey and leaned back in his chair. “I’m telling you, Baumbach, they ask such great questions.”

Instead of answering, Baumbach pushed himself backwards against the couch, snaking over the top until his head and shoulders pointed downward and his outstretched hands were touching the carpet. Apparently excited at seeing the world from upside down, he began waving his arms and addressing its inhabitants. “Well hello!” he called out. “So nice of you to join us. I guess the fact that you’re walking upside down must mean you’re from Australia. I suppose this means you are also a marsupial. Be that as it may, sir, you are welcome just the same. Why don’t you fix yourself a drink and come join us!”

At first Speer assumed Baumbach was speaking to imaginary guests. But then he looked over in the direction where Baumbach was waving and realized they weren’t alone. In the doorway stood a dumpy little man in a gray suit and ridiculous-looking square-frame glasses.

Placing his feet on the table, Baumbach pushed himself even further backward to get a fuller view of their visitor. The man just stood there looking so comically angry that it made Speer giggle. Then suddenly he realized the man was Himmler and in an instant the drunkenness dried up in him. He struggled to his feet. “Reichsfuhrer, I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize you!” he said.

(Excerpt from Germania, by Brendan McNally, Simon & Schuster, 2009, now also available on Kindle)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Bonnie and Clyde, Herbert T., and the Devil's Pocketwatch

Clyde points with his free hand to a stack of paper bags on the counter. “Boog, take one of them bags and put all the bills in it. Leave the coins.” He steps back and I go over to the cash drawer. Nothing there but a couple ones and fives. The man and woman stare at me, their eyes wide and mouths gaping. Despite all my jangling nerves and throb of adrenalin, I still manage to feel like a complete heel frightening them and taking their money. I look at them for a second and almost immediately the woman’s eyes go down to a newspaper on the counter. I steal a glance down at it. The headline screaming across The Abilene News-Republican proclaims: “SEARCH ON FOR DEVIL’S POCKETWATCH.” Suddenly I feel like the air has been sucked out of my lungs. The two look at me as if any second I might breathe fire and destroy them both.
“I don’t have it,” I tell them in a low voice. 

(Excerpt from Friend of the Devil)

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Von Friedeburg Signs Unconditional Surrender to Montgomery

It had been four days since Ziggy and Cremer had come aboard as heads of Doenitz’ security detail and other than the standoff with Himmler’s men, they hadn’t done much in that time besides salute and present arms a couple dozen times. When the order came for Ziggy to take a detachment of men to accompany the Grand Admiral to Levensau Bridge, he assumed it had to do with Admiral von Friedeburg’s negotiations with the British.

Levensau Bridge was only a mile or two east of the British front lines and in the last day all the fighting seemed to have come to a halt. Though the bridge still stood, it had been too heavily bombed for vehicles to cross over. They parked on the road leading up to it and waited. For the first time in days, the bridge was empty. Presumably everyone on the other side who’d wanted to flee the British had already done so, and anyone who wanted to go west thought better of doing it right there.

On the opposite bank a Navy staff car was driving up. Then it stopped and Admiral von Friedeburg got out and began clambering across the bridge towards them. For several minutes, Doenitz stood with his aides, silently watching von Friedeburg’s progress through his field glasses. Then he abruptly took them away from his eyes. “Wait here,” he said and started quickly up the bridge to meet him.


Ziggy put his field glasses to his eyes and looked over at von Friedeburg approaching. Something was very wrong, he thought. His footsteps seemed jerky and his face was frozen into a Greek mask of horror. He watched the two men stop and face each other. They began exchanging words back and forth. Doenitz remained stiff and arched while von Friedeburg stood slumped. Then von Friedeburg put his hand over his eyes and Ziggy realized with a shock that he was weeping.

Doenitz started barking something at him, but von Friedeburg kept crying and shaking his head like he was saying, no, I tried but it didn’t work. Hans, get hold of yourself, Doenitz seemed to be saying. Remember what you are! But von Friedeburg only kept pleading. Please don’t make me go back. Please, I can’t take it. I can’t!

Ziggy kept his eyes on the two figures, clearly defined against the grayness of the river and sky. Their gestures seemed to describe what they were saying so completely it made Ziggy wonder if, without even knowing it, he was telepathically reading conversations again.

Whatever the case, there was no question about Doenitz’ answer. You have your orders and you will carry them out! Then Doenitz softened his stance slightly and said something reassuring. Von Friedeburg set his mouth hard into a grimace, and stood rigidly at attention as the rain pelted his face. Doenitz finished speaking, then turned and began angrily marching back. Von Friedeburg stood motionless for a few seconds and then started walking back to his side of the river.

Ziggy lowered his glasses. He wished he hadn’t witnessed any of it. The way von Friedeburg was acting seemed less like head of the Navy than some freshly-minted ensign being dressed down after panicking during his first depth charge attack. What had happened to him?

Twenty yards from the bottom of the bridge, Doenitz stopped and gestured for his adjutant. The adjutant ran up, but before he even got there, Doenitz snapped out a couple words and the adjutant turned again and ran back to the others.

“Korvettenkapitän Loerber,” he barked. “Report to the Grand Admiral on the double!”

“Jawohl,” shouted Ziggy and ran to see what the old man wanted.

Doenitz looked at him cold and hard as iron. “Something has come up,” he said. “I need you to go back with Admiral von Friedeburg to help him negotiate with the British.” Then, softening his voice, he added, “You’re a U-Boat captain. You’ll know how to handle it.”

“Yes, sir,” said Ziggy, completely bewildered.

Doenitz went on. “The Admiral is having problems. He has a very difficult job ahead of him. You must help him, be his friend, but if things get out of hand you are to remind him of his duties, as a German Naval officer and as a man.”

Ziggy looked at Doenitz and saw how his eyes blazed with cold anger. “You speak pretty good English, as I recall,” he continued. “That might be helpful. Loerber, you need to make sure he’s able to function. The Navy’s honor is at stake. Do you think you can do that?”

“I’ll do my best, Grand Admiral.”

“No! That won’t do, Loerber. The Admiral just did his best and it wasn’t enough. Whatever it takes, Loerber, you must see to it that he carries out his task. On this I am giving you full leeway. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Grand Admiral.”

“It shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours. Now get moving.”

Ziggy saluted and started across the bridge. He hadn’t been walking a minute when things started reeling on him. Be his friend? Remind him of his duty? Full leeway? If it hadn’t been Doenitz telling him this, Ziggy would have thought it a joke.

The rain clouds that hung over them, low and heavy, cloaked everything in gray gloom, making the riverbank look more like a forlorn late fall than the middle of springtime. So the war was ending, he thought. Hitler was dead, Doenitz was Head of State and Von Friedeburg was apparently in the middle of negotiating a ceasefire with the British. Peace was finally descending on Europe. Germany was finished. We’d wanted war and gotten it. He tried to imagine what peace would be like, but couldn’t.

Ziggy walked across at a brisk pace. As he approached the Admiral’s Mercedes, the driver got out and came to attention.

“Come on, let’s get going,” said Ziggy, not bothering to salute back.

“Sir?” asked the driver. “Perhaps you might prefer to ride in the front.”

Ignoring his suggestion, Ziggy opened the rear door and leaned inside. Admiral von Friedeburg sat empty-eyed in the back. “Herr Admiral?” asked Ziggy.

Von Friedeburg did not look at him.

“The Grand Admiral has asked me to accompany you, sir.”

Von Friedeburg glanced at Ziggy just long enough to let him know he understood.

“I’ll be sitting in the front, if you need me, sir.”

Von Friedeburg gave a slight nod like he thought it was a good idea. Franzi shut the rear door and took the seat next to the driver.

Two minutes down the road, a pair of British Army motorcyclists picked them up and with their sirens blaring, escorted them past miles of parked tanks and milling British soldiers to a large encampment out on the Luneberg heath where a British flag snapped arrogantly from a hastily erected flagpole. A hand-lettered white sign proclaimed, “TAC HQ 21st Army Group.” Hearing them come, soldiers in mud-colored uniforms streamed out of the tents to get a look at them. The car stopped outside a tent where a group of unpleasant looking sergeants stood waiting to receive them, rifles in hand. One of them opened the car’s door and they got out. Inside the tent the rest of the German delegation was waiting. Ziggy immediately recognized Admiral Wagner. The others were a Wehrmacht general and a major who carried a leather satchel, which Ziggy assumed belonged to the general. They all seemed embarrassed by von Friedeburg’s reappearance. As von Friedeburg stood silently with Wagner, the general took Ziggy aside and murmured to him, “We’d hoped the Grand Admiral would send a replacement. Did he not get my note?”

Ziggy looked directly into the general’s eyes. “Well, I guess he didn’t, Herr General,” he said.

The general obviously didn’t like Ziggy’s answer, but before he could say anything, a heavyset British officer appeared in the entrance. “Admiral von Friedeburg, General Kinzl, if you’re ready, the Field Marshal would like to proceed.”

Von Friedeburg nodded emptily. The British officer gestured for everyone to get in line and then led them outside to another, larger tent crammed with officers and men with newsreel cameras. They were brought up to a large table where a short, prissy, but domineering man dressed causally in a field jacket and beret stood glaring at them in irritation, like he’d already had quite enough of them, thank you.

“Gentlemen, we shall begin,” he told them in a shrill, accusing voice.

A soldier came up and set down four large documents in a row on the table. Next to them were pens set into tiny round jars of ink. The prissy little man, who Ziggy surmised was Field Marshall Montgomery, gestured to von Friedeburg to come forward. As he did, glaring lights came on and a battery of newsreel cameras began loudly whirring. Von Friedeburg took a pen and bent over to the first paper, scratching his name onto it. Then, returning the pen to its well, he went to the next document, where another pen was waiting. He put his name to that second copy and proceeded to the third and then the fourth. As he did, Montgomery signaled General Kinzl to come forward and sign, then Admiral Wagner. One after another they worked their way signing their names to the copies. When they were done, they stood in a group while Montgomery and two of his officers did the same.

Once they’d finished, Montgomery brusquely signaled for them to be taken away. As they stood outside in the rain, Ziggy approached von Friedeburg. “Admiral, what about the negotiations? Wasn’t I supposed to help you with them?”

For the first time, Von Friedeburg looked directly at Ziggy. “Negotiations?” he exploded. “There aren’t any negotiations, you fool! This is an unconditional surrender!” (Excerpt from my novel Germania, first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, now also available on Kindle here).

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Road to Del Rio IV - Eastern Oklahoma Hills, Edge of the Ozarks

After leaving Maw at Captain Hamer's roadblock, Herbert heads into eastern Oklahoma, a forested, hilly area right on the edge of the Ozarks. Here he finds a jazz station out of Tulsa and spends a couple of blissful hours listening to bands such as Fletcher Henderson and a "Hillbilly Boogie outfit out of Fort Worth, that can only be Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys.

Bolb Wills' band played something called "Western Swing," a jazzed-up mixture of country two-steps, bluegrass, and blues, spiced with mexican and central European polka, along with whatever else happened to be hot at the moment. In the early 1950s, when the Rock-n-Roll craze was just starting, Bob Wills insisted they'd been "playing it for years!" They were probably right.

But in the 1930s, the music they played featured guitars, fiddles, a stand-up bass and a horn section that went between ragtime and Mexican music to reflect its Texas Western roots.

Listening to it while driving through the hickory forests of eastern Oklahoma must have felt heavenly. But then


Herbert picks up a hitchhiker, this time not a hairy country preacher, but a chestnut-eyed young man, who seems to carry the weight of the world on his sad shoulders. He is also very, very hungry.  Luckily, Herbert had just bought a bag full of chicken-salad sandwiches....

Excerpt from Friend of the Devil:

"It’s the middle of the afternoon a day later and I’m somewhere in eastern Oklahoma, driving through a hickory forest so dense, there’s not even a hope of any breeze ever finding its way in; cops, either, for that matter. From what I’ve been hearing on the radio, they got roadblocks on all the main roads. But not this old logging road, which, a friendly farmer told me, goes all the way to Coushatta Springs and ain’t hardly used by anyone anymore, except the occasional bootlegger. So right now, it seems like everything is going okay. I really wouldn’t mind it being the start of a trend."