Monday, July 22, 2013

Speer in the Ruhr: Speer's Rebellion Against Hitler's Scorched-Earth Orders Ends

In the town square, a solitary soldier stood by a dry fountain, calmly smoking a pipe, two panzerfaust rockets resting at his side. At von Poser’s direction, Manni stopped the car, got out and walked across the square toward him. He seemed to regard their approach with little interest.

“Hello soldier,” said Speer.

The man said nothing.

“Where is everybody?”

He jerked his head around to indicate all the executed. “They’re all here.”

“Who did this?” demanded von Poser.

“Koehl, the Party Chief,” answered the soldier. “He declared the town a fortress, demanded everyone fight to the death. Nobody wanted to.”

“So where is Koehl?”

“He left.” The man grinning like he’d wholeheartedly endorsed Koehl’s decision at the time.

“Then what are you doing here?”

“My orders are to wait for the Americans,” he said, pointing down the street with his chin. For the first time Speer was aware of the nearby rumbling of tanks.

“So what are you going to do when they get here?”

The soldier smiled. “Oh, they’re here.”

The rumbling grew louder. The soldier tapped the ashes out of his pipe and put it away in his side pocket. Then without saying anything, he picked up the two Panzerfausts and walked to the edge of the square, taking up a position behind the corner of a building. Up in the distance a large tank with a white star had turned the corner and come into view.

“Come on, let’s get out of here,” said von Poser.

But Manni had an idea. “You know, we can just let them take us,” he suggested. “Five minutes from now it’ll all be a different story. Come on. What do you say?”

“For Christ’s sake,” said Manni. “All that stands between us and the safety of the American lines is that shovelhead? Let’s go!”

Von Poser looked at him angrily. “You can do anything you want,” he hissed. “But this is not what we came here for. We are not deserters. Let’s go, Speer.”

Speer turned to leave. He looked at Manni. Manni shook his head. “It’s been fun, Speer.”

Speer nodded.

“Keep practicing.”

“I will,” said Speer and started hurrying to get back to the car before the tank had made it to the square. Von Poser looked relieved when he saw Speer was alone. “Well, so much for that,” he grunted as he turned the car around. Speer didn’t say anything.

“Speer! We could juggle our way to freedom.”

“Goodbye, Loerber.”

They found the rest of the German army a few miles to the East. An expectant mood had come over the soldiers, like they believed their war was nearly over and in just a few more days they’d be home free. “Would you mind moving your car somewhere else, Herr Reichsminister,” one of them asked. “We don’t want their artillery spottersunnecessarily zeroing in on us.” A couple soldiers laughed. Then a wild pig came out of the woods, bleeding from a stray bullet, squealing wildly as the soldiers chased it around. Not bothering to ask directions, Speer and von Poserdrove east. They ate supper with a factory director he’d known from the old days. Afterwards he produced a bottle of cherry liqueur and they finished it off watching the sun set over a horizon of bombed-out factories. They got going soon after that, driving through the night and reaching Nuremberg just as dawn was breaking.

The drive itself was uneventful, except for the last five kilometers where the autobahn was lined with the burning wreckage of army convoys that had been shot up an hour earlier. In the faint early light, its ghostly silhouettes resembled a field filled with the skeletal carcasses of ancient extinct beasts, though the stench of the burning ammunition, rubber, and men, kept any of it from seeming remotely like a fantasy. And they’d all been his animals, his machines. And now in a few more days they’d all be just as extinct.

That was when von Poser turned to Speer. “Do you know how many times I took my daughter to see them? We must have seen them twenty times. We did it for years. The Flying Magical Loerber Brothers. I wonder what the others are doing? Ziggy, Franzi and the other one. Sebastian.”

“I wonder. And Manni.

Enemy daytime fighters appeared with the dawn, flying low, attacking any vehicle which hadn’t already found cover. But by then he and von Poser had already put the netting over the car.

They found the army headquarters hidden among the half-bombed factories just inside the city. Field Marshall Model was expected at noon. With nothing else to do for the next five hours, they got themselves directed to a darkened corner where dozens of cots had been laid out for officers and quickly went to sleep.

An hour later someone was tapping his side impatiently. “Reichsminister Speer?” It was a stern-looking captain with a pocket torch.

“What is it?”

“I’m to escort you to the airfield,” he said. “There’s a plane waiting to take you back to Berlin. Fuhrer’s orders.”
(Excerpt from Germania, by Brendan McNally, Simon & Schuster, 2008, now also available on Kindle here)

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