Friday, September 27, 2013

Bernadotte in Berlin III: The Coup That Never Happened

This is the last part of a rescued chapter from Germania, exploring the efforts to get Himmler to act against the Fuhrer. The quote at the end about "having to act in one way or another" is a statement actually attributed to Reichsfhrurer Himmler during this desperate period. Shows the complete unreality that was going on.

“So good of you to come, Herr Count,” Himmler said. “It’s always a great pleasure to have you here.”

“So good to be here, Reichsfuhrer,” replied Bernadotte, “especially on this occasion.”

“Yes,” agreed Himmler.

“On this momentous, historical occasion, I should add.”

“Yes,” repeated Himmler, still smiling.

“So tell us, please, how did everything go?” asked Bernadotte.

“Everything went exceedingly well, Herr Count.”

“It did?”


Bernadotte said nothing, waiting for Himmler to elaborate. Himmler pursed his lips and squinted behind his thick glasses, as though he was carefully considering a proper choice of words for the declaration he was about to make. But none came.

Himmler smiled. Bernadotte smiled. “And?” he asked.

“And?” Himmler asked back quite pleasantly.

“Can you give us some detail?”

“Detail?” Himmler seemed almost troubled by the word.

“What can we tell Eisenhower?”

“Eisenhower?” asked Himmler. “Ah, well yes,” he said. “Ah yes, well, you can say to His Excellency Mister Eisenhower that everything has gone quite well and we are ready to move forward.”

“Can you be more specific, Reichsfuhrer?”

“Yes, you can tell him most assuredly, the German people are ready to stand squarely with him, shoulder to shoulder, in the grand, historic struggle against Jewish Bolshevism!”

Himmler held up his hand and smiled with gracious embarrassment. “Perhaps you should just say ‘the struggle against Bolshevism.’ Don’t mention the Jewish part. Yes.”

“Do you have any documents for me?"

Himmler stared back blankly. “Sorry?” he asked.

“It would be helpful if I could bring back documents to Eisenhower certifying you as the new leader.”

“I’m afraid I don’t have any such documents,” said Himmler, apologetically.

“You don’t?”

“No, the situation as it was, did not allow for it.”

“So you’re saying you merely got a verbal acknowledgement of the transfer of power.”

“Well actually, there wasn’t the moment. The time for that did not present itself.”

“It didn’t?”

“No, sadly,” confessed Himmler.

“Things moved too quickly, you’re saying?” asked Bernadotte, envisioning the exchange of harsh words followed by a shootout. “Things got out of hand? Is everything under control now?”

“Why yes, of course,” Himmler assured him. “Everything is perfectly under control.”

“That’s good,” said Bernadotte, relieved. Schellenberg nodded in agreement.

“Well then, could you just write down now a formal statement describing the incidents leading up to the transfer of power, including Hitler’s fate? That should be sufficient under the circumstances.”

“Hitler’s fate?” Himmler seemed genuinely puzzled. “Whatever do you mean by that, Herr Count?”

Bernadotte stared hard at him. “There has been a coup. Hitler is dead. If Eisenhower is to enter into negotiations with you and your new government, he needs to be provided with the details in a signed, notarized document from you.”

“But our Fuhrer isn’t dead, Herr Count. I just spent three hours talking with him. I can assure you he is very much alive and well.”

“But I thought you just said that you had not had a chance to get either a signed document from him or a verbal acknowledgment. So logically speaking, unless you’ve killed him, how on earth are you the new head of government?”

“You must have misunderstood me, Herr Count. I simply said that during my meeting with the Fuhrer, the moment didn’t arise for discussing such issues. But believe me, Herr Count, I tried. I really intended to bring it up. But the moment wasn’t there. It’s unfortunate, but there you are.”

Himmler turned away to indicate the subject was now closed.

Bernadotte stood in stunned disbelief. All the elaborately envisioned structures of possibilities and outcomes were crumbling and crashing around him.

There was no coup, there was no six-man executive, there were no allies or loyalists for that matter. There hadn’t even been a confrontation. There were no senators with their daggers drawn. There was only Goebbles in the Propaganda Ministry, Doenitz at the Navy, Speer with his war industries. Things were exactly as they had been before. Himmler hadn’t been under any pressure to act because the others didn’t even know about any of it. They were still in the exact same hopeless position as the last time he came down. Exactly the same, only infinitely worse.

He hadn’t even brought it up!

He looked over at Schellenberg and seeing the hopeless exasperation on his face, he almost felt sorry for him. Schellenberg had hitched his fortunes to Himmler’s star, thinking he was Germany’s last best hope, thinking he was a man worthy of his allegiance, his talents. But he’d wasted it all on the man. Himmler was incapable of actually taking initiative. He hadn’t even brought it up!

“You made me fly down for this?” Bernadotte asked, his voice becoming shrill.

Himmler turned back to face him. He clearly wasn’t used to being addressed this way.

“Herr Count,” he said in a calm, measured voice. “I told you I tried. I did my best.”

But Bernadotte was livid. “Reichsfuhrer, you didn’t do anything!”

Himmler looked very hard at Bernadotte. If it had been normal circumstances he’d probably had him immediately taken out and shot. But he knew he couldn’t. He knew that eventually he would have to enter into negotiations. He needed Bernadotte. He tried another tack. “You don’t understand the situation, Herr Count, I went there fully intending to present the ultimatum to the Fuhrer, but when I talked to him I could tell he wouldn’t be receptive. The moment wasn’t there. Neither was the Karma.” He looked away again.

Bernadotte could not believe what he was hearing. “Karma?” he repeated incredulously. “Karma? Reichsfuhrer, I wonder if you are even aware of the enormity of the catastrophe Germany is facing?”

“Oh I assure you, I am, I am. But you have to appreciate my loyalty to the Fuhrer. I owe him everything. Without him, I would be nothing, nothing at all. I have been through an awful lot these last months. And they have had a profound effect on me, a profound effect! I don’t mind telling you, Herr Count, that since the assassination attempt last summer I have for the first time in years, rediscovered my belief in Providence. In God, Herr Count, I am not ashamed to tell you now that I believe in God and I can safely say, sir, that Almighty God has a plan for Germany and the Fuhrer is part of that great plan, and I for one, do not believe it is my place to interfere with it.”

“Your Fuhrer is hell-bent on Germany’s destruction,” exclaimed Bernadotte. “The future of your country now rests entirely in your hands. Unless you or somebody does something immediately, in two or three weeks this country will be nothing but a pile of rubble and anyone who survives will probably greatly envy the dead. If you want to prevent this from happening you should make your move right away.”

“Oh believe me I understand what you are saying. And let me tell you this, and you can tell this to Eisenhower: even if I do not possess full authority at this moment, I recognize that eventually I must act in one way or another. Tell him that!”

"Great! That’s absolutely wonderful!” Bernadotte muttered dryly. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a plane to catch!” And with that Bernadotte stormed out of the office heading straight for the stairs leading down to the courtyard.

Schellenberg ran after him. “Wait,” he shouted. “Let me take you to the airport!”

(This is an excerpt from a chapter that got cut during the final edits of Germania, first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, now also available on Kindle here).

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