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 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).