Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Juggling Through the Capitulation: The Four Magical Loerber Brothers, May 1945


The Loerber Brothers: Which One Is Your Favorite?

He remembered seeing the words in white lettering inside a black circle on a magazine page. And a crooked headline snaking across it asking Which One is Your Favorite?

And suddenly the names started hitting him like waves: Ziggy, Franzi, Sebastian and suddenly Speer knew exactly which one he was.

Yes?” asked the young man.

"You’re Manni of the Flying Magical Loerber Brothers.”

The young man turned back and dazzled them with his smile. Then he turned back to keep his eyes on the road.

That first day they visited ten different factories and at each of them, whoever was running it; the owner, the general director, the workers’ committee, or in one case, an elderly, one-armed, ex-infantry general, all immediately agreed to join Speer’s campaign. It was as if everyone’s fear suddenly evaporated. The day after that, they visited two mines, a railroad roundhouse, an electrical generation station and the Bayer Pharmaceutical Works, which was now host to an artillery battery. There too, everyone agreed not to obey the scorched-earth orders when they came in. “Let ‘em come here and try to tell us what to do,” shouted a bunch of electrical workers waving machine pistols in defiance. “We’ll show those Nazi pigs what for!” And even the artillery battery commander, under strict orders not to move an inch, readily agreed to relocate his guns away to a less sensitive spot. “They don’t have to know anything,” he told Speer. “None of it makes any difference anyway. Let’s keep the chemical works intact.” in each case, Speer and von Poser hadn’t done anything any different than what they’d done in previous visits. The only difference was that at some point, Manni would step in and say something completely unremarkable like, “I can understand your misgivings on this, but if you’d just let me explain something to you...” And then he’d say something that, on the face of it, wasn’t that different from what Speer had tried himself. But this time it worked. Whatever they asked for, they got.

Excerpt from Germania, Simon & Schuster, 2008, now also available on Kindle here.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Hitler Tells Albert Speer to Have a Little Faith

He paced back and forth in front of his desk, not looking at Speer. “Sit down!” he ordered.

"Mein Fuhrer, I prefer to stand.”

"Sit down.”

Speer lowered himself into the chair.

"After all I’ve done for you and you repay me like this. You were nothing, Speer. Do you remember? An unemployed graduate without a pot to piss in.

"Do you know what I do to people who betray me? What makes you think you’re any different?”
Speer looked up at him. “The answer is yes, Mein Fuhrer, I know what happens to people who go against you. And I am no different.”

Hitler didn’t like that one bit. His head started twitching. He pulled his bad hand out to claw at the air. Everything was behind him now. His years of victory, of moving from strength to strength, were all gone. His charm, his wit, his animal vitality had deserted him. All that was left was this quavering shell. But even now, his determination and will, the two things that defined him, were undiminished. He sat down at the desk and studied its surface for a long time. What comes next, Speer wondered. Will he declare me apostate? Throw me to the lions, the SS? Is Himmler going to get to smile at me? So Speer, we were never good enough for you, were we? But now we’ll just see how much better you really are.

It might have been better to have been shot by the gauleiter’s deputy that time. For the first time he remembered his wife and children and how he’d loved being called Uncle Hitler by them. He hoped they wouldn’t be included.

Hitler looked up from the table. Suddenly he looked forgiving. “Speer, you think I don’t know things look bad? I’ve been a soldier for thirty years and I’ve seen more bad times than you’ll ever know.” The angry tone was gone. He sounded more like someone offering encouragement to a wayward friend. ”But I’ll tell you something else, bad times never last. Things turn around, sometimes very quickly. But the only way you can be there to take advantage of them is to have faith. Faith, Speer! Faith in yourself, faith in your volk, faith in your leader, faith in me!”

Faith, thought Speer. Faith doesn’t matter when you’re out of fuel, out of bullets and out of everybody but seventy-year-old Volkssturmers.

"Mein Fuhrer, what I saw in the Ruhr...”

Hitler quickly waved him to silence. “None of that matters, Speer. What matters is inside you. Don’t you see?” Hitler stood up from his desk, leaning forward so that he was close to Speer, his face a kindly grimace. “Now tell me, Speer, tell me you have faith.”

"I’d be lying, Mein Fuhrer,” answered Speer, making no attempt to sound contrite.

"Then tell me you have hope. Don’t you at least hope everything will work out?” He looked imploringly at Speer.

Say yes. His eyes looked so sad, as if every other tragedy, every other turn of fortune he could bear. But not this. How could you do this to me? After all our dreams? Your hoping means more to me than anything, Speer. Hope. How could you not hope for a turnaround? Please say yes.

Speer saw the eyes, the trembling frame. He thought of how vigorous he’d been then, how full of life and joy. And now he was just a sad old man asking for a tiny favor from his only friend; a favor only a complete unfeeling bastard could say no to.

"I’m sorry, Mein Fuhrer,” said Speer. “But the facts do not lie.” He wanted to add, “The war is lost,” but somehow he couldn’t bring himself.

Hitler’s face darkened and once again he grew cold. “I’m giving you twenty four hours to think about what I’ve just said to you,” he said brusquely. “I want you here tomorrow telling me you have faith in victory.”

Back in his office at the ministry, Speer tried to write down what he wanted to tell Hitler. He thought about all the things he’d seen in the Ruhr that he wanted to describe to him. If he could have seen the elderly volkssturmers or the disorganized, fragmentary divisions. If he could have seen people like Jakob who still had faith in him, who still believed in victory, maybe then Hitler would see the utter travesty in what he was asking. But the words wouldn’t come to him and he knew Hitler wouldn’t listen anyway. It was impossible to write it down just as it was impossible to tell him to his face. What was he going to do? Speer didn’t know. All he knew was that he was dead tired. He went back to his quarters and went to bed.
(Excerpt from Germania, Simon & Schuster, 2008, now also available on Kindle here).