Wednesday, August 1, 2012

When the Nazi Government finally convened

One of the strange things about going back to study and learn about Nazi Germany after a couple decades of doing other things (like, for instance, having a job) is finding out how much the field has changed while I was gone. Back when I was all obsessed with the subject in the late-1970s, the subject of  "Future Nazi weapons" AKA  "Luftwaffe 1946" was stuck at a really rudimentary level. There was interest, to be sure, but the nerds and geeks into it had no way of finding each other and sharing information, at least not on the scale necessary to really move the subject forward. Then the internet got invented and that allowed communities to form and information to fly back and forth.

A field similar to this is The Nazi Germany that was planned and designed, but never brought into existence. The best example of this is Germania, the future capital city dreamed up by Hitler and designed by Albert Speer. There was always a lot of interest in that, probably beginning the moment that the plans were found. For years and years all there was were some drawings and this film clip that the Nazis had made at some point before the war,  showing a tiny working fountain spewing water and expert use of lighting and shadow. It is particularly strange and almost sad to look at especially when compared to the sheer gross tonnage of  the geek-boy computer animations which in recent years have sprung up all over YouTube. Speer did all these designs for stuff that never existed, except in the minds of men who remain 12-year olds at heart. It takes that sort of adolescent imagination to jump into that world and dream about what it would have been like. The rest of us haven't got the attention span.

But Speer did design things that were actually built. He designed the new Reichschancellery building and a number of other impressive buildings, none of which survived the war.  About all there is left standing of his architectural legacy are a couple of street lamps.  But there are the drawings and photographs and they're all easily accessible.  Rather than go into an orgy of assessing how good or bad an architect Speer acually was, it is enough to say he was a highly competent designer.  He sold his soul for the opportunity to design a city that was supposed to last a thousand years.  He got to work on the big canvas and he wasn't shy about making the most of it. Of course, the joke ultimately was on him.

What I myself always found fascinating in Speer's designs was the degree to which he was willing to sweat the small details with the same attention and care that he put into the large, megalomanical stuff.  Look at the grand corridors of the Reich Chancellery,  how at one side was an immense bank of windows, while on the inside, there were a long line of couches, stuffed chairs and coffee tables. I could always imagine diplomats and ministers sitting and conferring on them.

There were also the drawings and photographs of Hitler's offices, but one of my favorites was the massive rectangular table where the government ministers would sit during government meetings. The photographs always noted that the table was never used since the Nazi government never actually convened a single session in their twelve years of existence. It tells a lot about Hitler's particular genius. More than one historian observed that the Nazis weren't truly totaliarian, because nothing about it was ever clearly enough delineated to actually be totaliarian. There was never an official Number Two after Hitler.  What it really was was a German version of an Oriental court.

Hitler didn't like order. Schedules were for other people to adhere to. Some of his old-school critics in the Army would secretly refer to him as the "Bohemian Corporal," because of his free-wheeling, non-organized ways.  He was at heart an artist, and he ran his Reich exactly that way. He liked keeping people off balance, rules and points of order went against his way of doing things.

The real funny thing is that ultimately the Nazi government only started convening after Hitler was dead. Hitler's successor, Grand Admiral Doenitz, ran his version of the Reich, for a little over three weeks and on every one of those days, the cabinet met and held meetings, with himself, the Reich's President, dutifully presiding over them.

He continued to do so even after it became clear that their juristiction only went as far as the gates of the Flensburg Marineschule, which served as the Third Reich's final capital. Since the Germans had by then already surrendered, Allied officers often sat in on the government meetings to observe the proceedings. When Eisenhower finally decided that enough was enough and directed the British Army to roll up the Flensburg Government and arrest everyone they could find,  they made a point of doing it in the middle of a morning cabinet meeting. The tommies burst in with bayonets on their rifles and helmets on their heads, shouting at everyone to put their hands up. They stripped the Germans, beat them up, relieved them of all their medals, watches, rings, pistols, and daggers, which they claimed as souvenirs. All a bit of fun on Jerry and a fitting way to end the last chapter of the Third Reich.

Anyone wanting to learn more about the bizarre, surreal, three-week "Flensburg Reich"  might want to read my bizarre, surreal novel GERMANIA, published by Simon & Schuster, available in hardcover, paperback, and as an ebook.

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