Mostly they sat in chairs set up along the corridor facing the line of windows that looked down into the courtyard; the higher ranks at the far end, Franzi and the other junior officers down closer to the doors leading to the stairway. The Reichsfuhrer had taken the large corner office with the double doors while the three smaller offices were used by what was left of the command and operations staffs. Near the entrance, across from the lavatories, a hotplate was set up where they’d boil water for coffee and tea. If they wanted to smoke they could step outside to the top floor landing, but beyond that, they couldn’t leave. They didn’t want them talking to anybody on the lower floors or out in the yard.
This, they were told, was to be their new headquarters. After a week of
moving from place to place, the SS had taken over the large gray
building of the regional police presidium in the north German city of
Luebeck. The small courtyard was crammed with half-tracks and
open-roofed Volkswagens while dozens of heavily armed Waffen SS
troopers milled around. For the most part, discipline was being
maintained, but even so, cracks were starting to appear. For the
first time everyone had stopped pretending about victory being
inevitable. The war was lost and they all knew it. Their one shred of
hope lay in the Reichsfuhrer’s completing his deal with Eisenhower,
and from what Franzi could tell, things were progressing nicely.
Each day a fresh stream of supplicants came in to confer with Himmler and
assure him of their support. There were party officials, gauleiters,
generals, ministers, deputy ministers, all eager to ingratiate
Out on the landing, there was endless, unhindered speculation. They’d
moved a wireless there to listen to the news reports coming out of
Berlin, which weren’t actually good for much since about all they
ever said was how the Fuhrer was continuing to lead the defenses of
the city and that fresh relief spearheads were expected to arrive at
any time. Franzi told himself that sooner or later, the Fuhrer continues to personally lead the defense of Fortress
Berlin, was going to get replaced by something more ambiguous, yet more
telling. The Fuhrer has gone out to join the fighting. The Fuhrer has left the
Bunker. But then Radio Berlin stopped broadcasting, so they tried the Hamburg
station, which turned out didn’t have any news, though the music
was nice. Hearing two colonels complaining, Franzi took the bold step
of suggesting they try Radio Atlantik.
At first, the two stared at each other, wide-eyed, wondering if they
should. Radio Atlantik was an enemy propaganda station and listening
to it was verboten. Finally one of them said, “Can you find it?”
Franzi started twisting the dial and ten seconds later, he had it
"Turn it up!” urged one of the colonels. Immediately they heard a young
man’s friendly voice reading reports of air strikes and armored
thrusts and about British and American bombers now being used to drop
food into parts of Holland where the civilian population was on the
verge of starvation. Apparently without a ceasefire being declared,
the German military authority there had agreed not to hinder the
relief effort. Now that was real news.
Berlin was now almost completely overrun with Russian troops in the center
of the city, they said, with only a few scattered pockets remaining
in German hands. Meanwhile in San Francisco, a large conference was
being held for something called the United Nations.
They continued listening to it for a while when a voice behind them said
sharply, “What are you doing?” They looked up and saw an SD major
staring hard at them. Neither of the colonels acted like they cared
what some pipsqueak major thought about anything. “What do you
think?” one said, cigarette dangling from his mouth.
"That’s Radio Atlantik, isn’t it? You know that’s strictly forbidden,”
said the major.
"Oh stuff it,” said the colonel.
"You’re listening to Radio Atlantik, the voice of Free Germany,” announced a young woman with a pronounced Schwabian twang. There were three notes played on a chime, their call sign, and then the young
woman said, "And now for some happy music, here’s Cab Calloway’s Jumpin’ Jive!”
The major nearly exploded. “How dare you? And right here outside the
Reichsfuhrer’s offices?” His face shook with anger and disgust.
“You’re all under arrest,” he said. “So help me, I’ll have
you all hanged.” Then he turned to a captain having a cigarette
alone in a corner. “Don’t let any of them leave,” he barked and
turned to go downstairs.
In a searing instant of alertness, Franzi pitched himself into the
major’s mind just enough so that when he started down the stairs,
he misjudged the second step by an inch, while the third turned to
butter beneath his feet. He went flying downward, head over heels,
hitting the middle landing with a loud thud and a crack. He was dead,
his neck broken.
The three stared down at him dumbfounded. Franzi reached over and turned
the radio off. Word of the accident ran through the corridor, but
nobody bothered getting up to see. A few minutes later the body was
taken away and the radio was back on. Franzi staggered back inside the office corridor and slumped into the first empty chair he
could find. For a long time he stared at the wall calendar, before
the words and numbers began to make any sense to him. Today was April
30, Walpurgisnacht, the last night for resident witches to get out of town. Franzi wished
there was some way he could use the occasion to justify doing the
He was no longer needed there. It had been more than a week since he had
given Himmler a massage. His panic attacks had ended once Bernadotte
went to Eisenhower. Having thus broken with the past, Himmler was a
changed man. Himmler the icy interpreter of orders had become Himmler
the personable, Himmler the decisive and calm, Himmler the man of
destiny. When Franzi got called in now it was simply as an advisor.
Not that Himmler had stopped dithering entirely, but it was now focused
on less pressing matters. He couldn’t decide what form his new
government should take. One day he’d want a two-chamber
parliamentary system, the next he’d talk about reviving the old
Nordic ‘Volksthing.’ Then he’d dither over who to include in his cabinet. But one thing
he never wavered on: whatever its form, there would not be a place in
it for Albert Speer. Once he announced to Franzi and the others;
“Gentlemen, I do not anticipate having any need in my
administration for a Reichsminister for Mechanical Drawing. Nor do I
expect to rebuild Berlin as some Twentieth Century version of Rome.”
There was also no dithering when Himmler talked about running Eisenhower’s
security apparatus; how their common vision of a new Europe would
combine the universality of Charlemagne and the mystical grandeur of
the early German monarch Henry the Fowler; how the Soviets would
quickly collapse under their combined power; how great the future of
Europe was going to be now that Hitler was out of the way.
It was all very encouraging, except for one nagging little detail.
Hitler wasn’t dead yet. He was still in his bunker sending out
radio messages hourly and ordering non-existent armies about. Another
nagging detail was that even though the peace discussions seemed to
be at an advanced state, Eisenhower still had yet to call off his
armies. The speculation out on the landing was that he had to wait
until the Russians finished off Hitler before moving ahead with the
ceasefire. That made sense, everyone agreed. If Schellenberg’s
boundless optimism was any indicator, then the Himmler-Eisenhower
alliance was a done deal.
(Excerpt from Germania, Simon & Schuster, 2008, now also available on Kindle here).