Friday, December 26, 2014

The Last Place Clyde Barrow Was Seen in Dallas

While one of the troopers runs off, this man Hamer continues staring at me the same way folks do when they think they recognize someone, but can’t quite place them. I stare back like it don’t bother me none, though, truth to tell, my knees like to buckle right under me. But I just keep on my poker face and act like I could stand there under his gaze all the doodah day.
The trooper trots back with a dark brown folder. He opens it and takes out some photographs which he offers to the big man. The big man gives his head a tiny shake, like he wants him to show them to me and that he’ll just watch me doing it.
The first picture he shows me is the girl, only this time she’s got on a long black dress and she’s posing before the front grill of a Ford. “That’s her, all right,” I say, tapping her image with my finger. The next picture shows her with two young men in suits. One I recognize immediately as my cousin Clyde, the other is a kid I’ve never seen before but he’s got that same hungry West Dallas look of a dog finally getting to have his day. I tap Clyde’s face. “I think this is the guy who was outside, but I can’t say for sure cause I saw him through the screen door.”
Hamer listens to what I’m saying like it’s from a long ways away. He stands stock still, but, even so, I can feel the wheels furiously turning inside his head.
“I didn’t see this other guy, is he the cousin?”
Hamer gives his head another imperceptible shake, like this time he’s just a little annoyed by the question. He gestures the trooper to continue. The trooper hands me another photograph. It’s a mugshot of myself.
“You seen him?”

I stare at my picture. My face is swollen from a beating I’d just taken, but still it’s me. I look up from the picture directly into Hamer’s inquiring eyes. “No, sir,” I say.
“Look again,” he orders. “You’re from Dallas. You look like a man who gets around town. You should have seen him.”I stare helpless back down at the photograph of myself staring sullenly back. And I remember the moment, because at that moment I was staring into the eyes of one of the cops who’d just beaten the crap out of me. What’s going on with Hamer? Doesn’t he recognize me? Is this some game he’s playing with me? He’s got to know that the guy in the picture is myself. But I just look up back into his eyes and say, “Sorry, sir, I don’t recognize him at all.” (Excerpt from "Friend of the Devil," available on Kindle)
Point of historical interest here. The view is of the Dallas skyline from the north eastern side of White Rock Lake. The Coca Cola truck is on Buckner Blvd AKA Loop 12. It is also right around the spot where Clyde Barrow was last spotted by the police. My source here is Ted Hinton, of the Dallas Sheriff's office, who knew Clyde growing up and knew Bonnie as a waitress at Marco's cafe. Ted Hinton was also part of the shooting party led by Capt Frank Hamer, which ultimately bushwacked Bonnie and Clyde on May 23, 1934.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Doenitz Decides to Surrender

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.
(Excerpt from Germania, Simon & Schuster, 2008, Kindle download available here).

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Two Jewish GIs Make First Contact with Albert Speer in Flensburg

A half hour later, the GI returned with a middle-aged man, short and heavyset, bespectacled with a big nose, looking every bit the Jew from all the old anti-Semitic posters, only instead of wearing a black banker’s suit and a bowler hat, he was in US Army combat fatigues with a .45 strapped on his hip.

The GI said, “Major Spivak, I present to you, Reichsminister Albert Speer.”

Speechless, Major Spivak stared at Speer. Finally he muttered, “Holy Cow!”

Speer stood up from his desk. “Good afternoon, Major,” he said, pleasantly as he could. He thought about extending his hand in greeting, but realized he shouldn’t.

Major Spivak didn’t return his greeting but continued to look at him with nervous distaste. He was thinking the same thing as everyone else; this man I’m talking to is Hitler’ ...friend!

Finally he recovered enough to say, “Sergeant Fassberg says you’d be willing to be interviewed.”

"Yes, whatever you’d like to know,” answered Speer. “It’s about strategic bombing you say?”

"Yes, the economic and other effects of daytime strategic bombing on the German war economy.”

"Please, have a seat,” said Speer. “I’m sorry I cannot offer you any coffee or other refreshment.”

Brusquely Major Spivak shook his head, like it was neither expected nor desired. They sat down and both men began undoing the snaps of their shoulder bags and took out notebooks and manila file folders. “Sergeant, do you have the file on the abrasives industry?” asked Major Spivak.

"Right here,” answered Sergeant Fassberg, handing him a sheaf of papers.

"All right, let’s start,” said Major Spivak.

He spent the next three hours asking Speer very detailed questions, first about abrasives and oil baths and then about specialty steels and problems with machine tools and manufacturing different kinds of screws and fasteners, nearly all of which Speer was able to answer easily from the top of his head.

Though it was obvious Major Spivak continued to regard Speer with extreme discomfort, he nevertheless conducted the interview with complete professional detachment. He’d ask questions, write down the answers, ask follow ups and write those down as well. In the end, as he sat looking over all his pages of notes, he turned to Speer, and, shaking his head with amazement, declared, “Well, Sergeant Fassberg was certainly right, Herr Speer. You’re definitely the mother lode.”

Then, for one very long moment, Major Spivak stared blankly ahead, while inside him the angels of light and darkness battled each other. Finally he looked at Speer and with the tiniest hint of cordiality asked if he’d be willing to undergo a more detailed debriefing by senior members of the Survey team.

"Why certainly,” said Speer. “I’d be happy to cooperate in any way I can.”

"Good,” said Major Spivak. “I’ll let the guys know. We’ll be in touch.”

They left without shaking hands or thanking him.

Speer went back to the castle feeling strangely let down. The Americans had come to him like heavenly messengers, only to vanish with the same abruptness with which they’d appeared. It had been the first time in months anyone had come seeking his expertise and even if Major Spivak had not been terribly courteous, he had at least acknowledged that Speer had something no one else had. He wondered what he’d meant when he said his colleagues would be “in touch.”

Baumbach, on the other hand, saw it as a clear sign that his friend’s bad fortune had reversed. “Well congratulations, Albert. Now they’ll have no choice but to bring you into their new administration. It’s just like what they’re doing with those rocket scientists from Peenemunde. You’ll probably get flown out to Okinawa to join Curtis LeMay’s intelligence staff.”

"We’ll see,” said Speer.

"I’d say this calls for a drink, Albert.” They settled into another night of drinking and storytelling and by the end of it, the whole episode became just a half-remembered jumble in Speer’s mind.
(Excerpt from Germania, Simon & Schuster, 2008, Kindle version available here).