Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Himmler Asks Speer to Sound Hitler Out on Stepping Aside So He Can Negotiate a Peace Deal with the West

Back in his office at the ministry, Speer tried to write down what he wanted to tell Hitler. He thought about all the things he’d seen in the Ruhr that he wanted to describe to him. If he could have seen the elderly volkssturmers or the disorganized, fragmentary divisions. If he could have seen people like Jakob who still had faith in him, who still believed in victory, maybe then Hitler would see the utter travesty in what he was asking. But the words wouldn’t come to him and he knew Hitler wouldn’t listen anyway. It was impossible to write it down just as it was impossible to tell him to his face. What was he going to do? Speer didn’t know. All he knew was that he was dead tired. He went back to his quarters and went to bed.

He woke up a few hours later with a dry mouth and a cold sweat and rather than try to go back to sleep, he put on his robe and went back to his office to work on his response. Faith? Hope? Do I say yes or no? If I say no, I’ll at least get to maintain my integrity. Of course at this point his integrity had to be about the most useless thing there was. But on the other hand, his reward for discarding it was hardly worth having.

Speer wrote a few sentences, then crumpled the paper and stared out into the darkness. The electricity was out again. The empty window frames either hadn’t been re-papered or what they’d put in had already been blown out. Perhaps the papering crews had all been mobilized and sent off to the front. Faith? Hope? Come on! There was nothing left.

After two weeks in the Ruhr, he was back here like the whole thing had never happened. He’d staged his own revolt against Hitler and now Hitler was going to take even that away from him by forgiving him. But Speer had changed. He was a different person now and Hitler’s power over him wasn’t what it had been. He’d learned to see things differently. He now saw things from the perspective of a juggler.

Juggling, perhaps that was what Speer should do. He hadn’t juggled in two days. He didn’t want to lose his edge. He wished he had some balls lying around. Of course they don’t have to be balls, they don’t even have to be round or the same size or weight. Just remember the feel and the weight. What did he have? He lit another candle and went looking for objects. There was a small bakelite ashtray, a pocket flask, a leather eyeglass case. What else? He rummaged through his desk drawer and found a small steel box. Why not?

He stood up and started juggling the ashtray and the eyeglass case. Then, once he had them going well, he snatched the steel box off the desk and threw it up to join the other objects in the air. Then the flask.

Keep it up, keep it going, one thing at a time. He kept it going and going and going and for the first time his head felt clear, his heart lighter.What will I tell Hitler? Flask, ashtray. Tell him all I have left is my integrity and ability to juggle, not that there is any difference between the two. Leather case, steel box, flask.

Tell him he’s dropped too many balls. The single ball he keeps throwing up into the air does not constitute juggling. That he should get off the stage. Ashtray, case, flask. Here comes the steel box, and now the ashtray and now the case.

And maybe if he’d bother to read Mein Kampf again he might remember what he himself had said about leaders who can no longer lead. Steel box, ashtray. And he’s asking me to reaffirm my faith in a man who’s dropped all the balls and is just pretending they are all in the air when they’re actually rolling around on the ground. I don’t think so, Mein Fuhrer.

And what would Hitler tell me? All I’ve got left is you, Speer. The others don’t matter. Lapdogs are a dime a dozen. I need a man who will tell me the truth. All I require is this one lie. Ashtray, flask. One lie is all I require, one lie, Speer. After all I’ve done for you, I’m not asking much, one little lie. Tell me you have faith.

Here comes the steel box – and up it goes again! Ashtray, flask, case.

Faith? Hope? Obey? No, said the disobedient angel, I will not obey. My integrity is reduced to this act of rebellion and if you take it away from me all I have left is this...Steel box, flask, leather case, ashtray.

Only then Speer became aware of the presence of somebody else in the room. There was somebody standing in the shadows by the doorway. He must have slipped in. Somebody from his staff, perhaps; one of the secretaries, a deputy, a section chief. But he wasn’t going to let his eyes off the flying objects. He didn’t want to stop yet. He still had a few things to think through.

“Could you come back in ten minutes, please,” Speer called out. “I’m busy with something right now.”

But the visitor did not stir, though Speer noticed he had reached up with his hand to touch his forehead. Speer kept on juggling and hoped the intruder would take the hint and leave. Finally the figure stepped out of the shadow and into the dim candlelight. It was Himmler.

In an instant Speer’s focus evaporated and the objects crashed onto the floor.

“Reichsfuhrer,” he said embarrassedly. “What a surprise.”

With the candlelight dancing upon the thick lenses of his glasses, Himmler’s eyes were all but invisible to Speer. But then it was easy to guess what they looked like, because his eyes were always the same; cold, expressionless cobra’s eyes.

“So, Speer,” he began matter-of-factly. “I hear you have become quite the folk hero in the Ruhr. Going around, charming the populace, getting them to disobey the Fuhrer’s directives, talking about tomorrow instead of today.”

But to Speer’s surprise, Himmler’s manner wasn’t threatening. If anything he seemed nervous, like he was looking for someone to confide in. It made Speer wonder what might have happened while he was gone.

“Is there something I can help you with, Reichsfuhrer?” he asked politely.

Himmler stared at Speer for a long time before finally saying, “These are exceptional times, are they not, Herr Reichsminister?”

“Yes, Reichsfuhrer, very exceptional,” answered Speer. Catch it, toss it back.

“These are dark times also, wouldn’t you say?”

“Yes, Reichsfuhrer, very dark times.”

“But then, isn’t it true that it is always darkest right before the dawn?”

“Yes, I’ve heard that said,” allowed Speer.

“They also say that when you get to the bottom of a valley, there is nowhere to go but up.”

“Yes, they also say that.” Speer tossing it back. He wished Himmler would come to the point. Absentmindedly Speer picked up some pencils from the desk and began flipping them into the air, then catching them and flipping them back again. “Is there something you wanted to ask about, Reichsfuhrer?” he asked. “Something about darkness?”

He caught them and then tossed them up from his shoulder, then sticking his other hand behind his back and catching them as the came down.

“Yes! Would you stop doing that!” snapped Himmler.

Speer put the pencil down. “Pardon me,Reichsfuhrer, but I’m really nervous right now. What you were saying?”

“I was, ah, saying how, some people are saying,” Himmler paused.


“That it may be time for a change.”

“People, Reichsfuhrer? What people?”

Himmler hesitated again before continuing. “People who are, ahh, concerned with the way things are going right now with the war. People who believe we might be missing out on unprecedented opportunities with the West.”

Speer suddenly realized what Himmler was trying to say. He was talking about peace negotiations with the West. Was it even possible?

“Reichsfuhrer, are you talking about a peace deal with the West?”

Himmler stared open mouthed at Speer.

“I’m talking about opportunities for Germany’s future.”

“Opportunities, Reichsfuhrer?”

Himmler looked at Speer. “When you talk to the Fuhrer again would you do something for me?”

Speer nodded for him to go ahead. “Try to sound him out on him stepping aside for a brief period to allow for a realignment.”

“I promise I’ll get back to you with it,” said Speer.

“Good Luck, Speer.” At that, Himmler left quickly.

Speer went to his desk and tried writing out his thoughts again, but his concentration was gone. He ended up pushing the paper and pencil aside and then went back to reading the industry reports he’d been looking at before going to the Ruhr. Then the meeting started up again. Hours later, when the call came for him to report back to the Fuhrerbunker, Speer still had no idea what he was going to tell Hitler.

(Excerpt from Germania, first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, now also available on Kindle here)

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