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
“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
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
“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
“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
“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
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
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
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)