Sunday, July 14, 2013

Jodl Arrives at SHAEF to meet Eisenhower, Doesn't.

More like a bold conqueror than the emissary of a defeated nation, Colonel General Alfred Jodl strode into Supreme Allied Headquarters, determined that Eisenhower was going to see it his way. Unlike his more somberly dressed predecessor, Jodl, in his splendid gray and silver uniform, inspired confidence.

Accompanying him was a tall major with the narrow, pointed face of a greyhound. Jodl noted the admiring stares from all the American and British officers and men and he told himself that this would be a glorious moment.

The escorts led them to a small waiting room. Stepping inside, he saw the sunken-faced von Friedeburg sitting with his aide. Pathetic, he thought.

Ziggy nudged von Friedeburg, who hadn’t reacted to their entry. Both got to their feet. “General Jodl,” said von Friedeburg.

“Heil Hitler!” Jodl declared triumphantly. Neither man made any effort to salute, nor did they shake hands. Instead they regarded each other with palpable distaste. “This is my aide, Major Oxenius,” Jodl said and the major snapped into a Heil Hitler salute. “So what is the situation here, Admiral?” Jodl asked.

“The situation, Herr General,” answered von Friedeburg, “is that they are not accepting any conditions whatsoever and all we’ve been able to do is delay.”

“But haven’t you explained to Eisenhower that we want to help them fight the Bolsheviks?” Jodl asked.

“General, we haven’t even seen Eisenhower,” answered von Friedeburg tiredly.

Jodl looked shocked. “That’s utterly unacceptable,” he said hotly. “You should have insisted you speak directly with him. I’m going to make that my first point.”

Von Friedeburg gave a listless smile.

“What else?” Jodl asked.

“There isn’t anything else,” von Friedeburg answered. “All our appeals have fallen on deaf ears. Either we sign an unconditional surrender immediately or they say they will seal off the western frontier and start shooting refugees and anyone trying to surrender.”

“But don’t they want our help against the Bolsheviks? Didn’t you offer them our divisions?”

“General, at present, the Soviet Union is not their enemy, we are. If the West is planning a war against the Soviets, they have evidently not informed anyone in this building about it.”

Jodl looked at him astounded. “Are they crazy? Don’t they understand what they face? Didn’t you tell them what the Russians are doing?”

“General, I tried,” said von Friedeburg in a hopeless voice. “Apparently they consider us a greater evil than the Bolsheviks.”

There was a sharp knock on the door and then it opened. A British major stood at the doorway, flanked by two White Helmets. “General Jodl, if you’d come with us, please,” he said.

“Best of luck, General,” said von Friedeburg without enthusiasm. “Hopefully they’ll listen to you.”

Jodl shot him an ugly glance and strode out. Ziggy closed the door. Von Friedeburg settled himself onto the leather sofa, then pointed them to the two tiny chairs. “Gentlemen,” he said.

They sat down. Oxenius dug into his inner pocket and brought out his engraved cigarette case, which he offered first to von Friedeburg, then to Ziggy. Both refused. Oxenius lit one for himself and seeing that neither of them were going to initiate a conversation, stopped trying to act sociable and turned to the door.

Hours passed. Nobody said anything. It was already late afternoon. Finally, Jodl returned, looking exhausted. “Who is this Walter Bedell Smith?” he asked disgustedly. “I don’t believe I’ve even heard of the man before. He wouldn’t budge on anything regarding the conditions of surrender. I did manage, however, to get them to agree to some significant changes in the wording of the surrender document. They will acknowledge that the German armed forces have fought honorably. It’s not much, but it’s something. Damn it, we deserve at least that!”

Von Friedeburg seemed impressed. “You are a better negotiator than I am, General.”

Jodl smiled bitterly.

“So then what’s next?” asked von Friedeburg.

“Bedell Smith is having a meeting with Eisenhower,” said Jodl. “When it’s over, I suppose we’ll meet again to agree on the final details.”

There was another knock on the door. An American sergeant brought in a bottle of whiskey and several glasses. “General Strong sends his compliments,” he said.

Oxenius took the whiskey and glasses from him and brought them inside. Jodl looked over at the bottle. “Pour some for everyone, would you, Major?” he said. “I’m not going to bother offering a toast.”

“How about to the German army for fighting honorably,” suggested Oxenius helpfully as he poured whiskey into their glasses and handed them out.

“Yes, a splendid idea, Major,” said Jodl, brightening a little. “Gentlemen,” he said, raising his glass and waiting for the others to do the same. “To the German Wehrmacht for fighting honorably.”

They emptied their glasses. Oxenius refilled them and they drank again. Then, as they were putting their glasses down, von Friedeburg fixed Jodl with a friendly smile, “So, did General Bedell Smith show you any photographs?”

For a second Jodl froze. Then he glowered at von Friedeburg. “What of it?” he asked.

“So then you saw them?”

“Yes, I saw them.”

Von Friedeburg’s smile turned into a lunatic leer. “Pretty nasty stuff, wouldn’t you say, Herr General?”

Jodl stared at him with visible displeasure. “War is nasty stuff, Admiral,” he answered calmly, hoping von Friedeburg would let it rest.

But von Friedeburg was only getting started. “No, what we in the Navy waged was war. What was going on in those camps was the mass murder of civilians, carried out as national policy. Wouldn’t you say?”

At this, Ziggy felt a cold sweat. He looked over at Oxenius and saw how nervous and wide open his eyes were.

“I wouldn’t know, Admiral,” answered Jodl evenly. “I am a soldier and do not involve myself in politics.”

“But you knew of it?”

“Like I said, Admiral, I do not concern myself with political matters.”

“So mass murder is simply a political matter?” asked von Friedeburg.

“What are you getting at, Admiral?” Jodl asked, his voice dead serious.

“I think they’re going to hang us all, Herr General,” von Friedeburg said, grinning maniacally, like he thought it was too funny.

Ziggy stepped forward. “Admiral, I think maybe you should sit down and rest,” he said.

“Be quiet, Captain Loerber, and pour us some more whiskey,” von Friedeburg said in a calm voice. “I’d like us all to raise a glass to Western Civilization. To the intellectualism and humanism that makes us something better than barbarians.”

“I’ve had quite enough of this,” shot back Jodl. “I’m ordering you to shut up.”

“Don’t think you can pull rank on me, General. I’m head of the Navy.”

“You’re a disgrace as a soldier, Admiral. For you to talk like this, you’ve obviously lost your sense of honor.”

“That’s right, Herr General. I have lost my sense of honor. I lost it the day I swore allegiance not to Germany but to Adolf Hitler. We all lost it. And now look what we’re all guilty of. And please don’t insult all of us by pretending you didn’t know.”

Jodl was livid. “Half the German Nation has made the supreme sacrifice in this war and instead of respecting their memory, you disgrace them all for a bunch of Jews!”

“Excuse me, sir,” said Ziggy, stepping forward. “I’m a Jew.”

The two men stared at him for a second and then turned back to each other. “When this thing is over,” Jodl said, “I shall definitely report you to Grand Admiral Doenitz. This talk of yours is treacherous and...and...”

“Defeatist?” suggested von Friedeburg.

“You disgust me,” snarled Jodl.

There was a knock on the door. Oxenius opened it. This time it was General Strong. “General Jodl, if I could have a word with you?”

“What is it, General Strong?” asked Jodl, trying to collect himself.

“Perhaps we should talk outside.”

“That’s all right, you can tell us all,” said Jodl.

“General Bedell Smith informs me that General Eisenhower has ruled out any changes to the wording of the surrender.”

“But we agreed. It is imperative that we acknowledge that the German Armed Forces have conducted themselves honorably.”

“I’m sorry, but General Eisenhower considers that wording completely unacceptable.” General Strong looked empathetic but uncompromising. He went on, “General Bedell Smith wants to know if you will accept the original terms for surrender.”

Immediately Jodl countered. “In that case we would like forty-eight hours grace time before the articles of surrender fully take effect. Tell the General that.”

General Strong shook his head. “No more delays, General,” he said resolutely. “General Bedell Smith has ruled that out. Now are you prepared to sign?”

Jodl stood silently for a long time. Then he nodded. “As I see it, I have no choice,” he said angrily. “Yes, General Strong, I am prepared to sign.”

General Strong nodded solemnly. “I shall inform the General immediately.” He closed the door.

Jodl turned to the others. “Well, there you have it, gentlemen.” Ziggy stared at the floor and hoped it would be all over soon. He and Oxenius exchanged a glance. Your Admiral is a loony and so are you, Oxenius’ eyes seemed to be saying.

Outside in the corridor, someone was approaching. The door opened and General Strong stepped in. “General, we’re ready to begin,” he said.

Jodl nodded. He reached into his jacket’s inner pocket and took out something which he then fixed into his eye. A monocle! Jodl now looked like a Prussian played by Erich von Stroheim. What was he thinking? Did he somehow consider it vital that Germany be represented in her darkest hour by a walking caricature? Perhaps he was angling for a post-war career in Hollywood. From what Ziggy had heard, plenty of German and Austrian Jewish refugees had found lucrative careers playing Nazis in films. Jodl was the real thing. Why shouldn’t he get some of it?

“Ready?” asked Jodl. Seeing everyone nod, he said to them: “Gentlemen, this is a black day for Germany, but I promise you, we will survive!”

“I wonder if Eisenhower will be there,” von Friedeburg mumbled aloud to himself.

They walked down the corridor in single file, past the staring soldiers, General Jodl first, followed by Major Oxenius, then Admiral von Friedeburg, then Ziggy.

They were brought into a crowded, map-filled room, at the far end of which, under the glaring light from a bank of movie-studio floodlights, was a large rectangular table. Sitting there facing them were nearly a dozen British, American, and Russian generals with Bedell Smith at the center. Ziggy examined the faces of the other Allied generals, but none of them looked anything like Eisenhower. On the other hand, he noticed Suslaparov glaring at him, this time not as though they were best friends.

They took chairs on the near side of the table. Bedell Smith gestured to an aide, who brought Jodl a document. Scowling, Jodl examined it perfunctorily and then scribbled his signature to it before passing it to von Friedeburg, who did the same. The document then went to Bedell Smith, then to a British general, a French general, an American, and then Suslaparov, all of whom added their signatures to it. Then another copy of the surrender made the rounds, followed by another and another and another.

When all the copies had been signed, Jodl raised his hand. “General, I would like to say a word,” he said.

“Yes, of course,” said Bedell Smith, sounding nicer than he had in any of their previous encounters.

Jodl stood up and began addressing everyone in the room. “General, with this signature the German people and the German armed forces are, for better or worse, delivered into the victor’s hands. In this war, which has lasted more than five years, both have achieved and suffered perhaps more than any other people in the world. In this hour I can only express the hope that the victor will treat them with generosity.”

Then they were marched out. The war was over.
(Excerpt from Germania, by Brendan McNally, Simon & Schuster 2008)

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