Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Nazi Government in Flensburg, Doing What All Governments Do: Growing.

The subject that afternoon was fertilizer; nitrogen fertilizer. The nitrogen fertilizer needed to grow corn, corn to feed hungry people, but more importantly, to feed the draft horses which were in turn needed to plow farmland on which to grow more corn to feed more hungry people and more draft horses.

And in order to do this, Grand Admiral Doenitz told the assembled cabinet members, they needed to reactivate, on a priority basis, Germany’s nitrogen works. “Speer, how long would it take to bring them back on line?”

Speer stood up from his chair and started recounting the steps necessary to get gunpowder plants converted to fertilizer production. If they had the electrical generation on hand, and sufficient numbers of skilled repair crews, there was no reason something couldn’t be operational within a week. But, more likely, they would have to bring the electrical power plants on line first. With luck and a lot of cannibalization, it could be accomplished in two weeks. Rail lines would also have to be brought back up so that coal could be transported to the power plants and depending upon what bridges were still up, that might take another week in addition to that.

“So what you’re saying, Speer, is that it could take anywhere from one to four weeks to get the nitrogen production started?”

Doenitz was looking at Speer in complete seriousness, as though it hadn’t occurred to him that everything they’d been discussing existed purely within the realm of fantasy. The reality was that all the nitrogen works and electrical power plants were in Allied hands and the Allies had so far shown not the slightest inclination to listen to any suggestions the Doenitz government might make about getting Germany’s industries back in operation.

Doenitz sat at the head of the table, correct and steely-eyed as always. Schwerin von Krosigk, the Chancellor and Foreign Minister, sat to his left while Speer, in charge of the economic portfolio, sat at his right. The other ministers and advisors sat around the table, all of them looking very serious. Doenitz’ government was now ten days old. At its inception, it consisted of the three of them and a geographical realm which, besides northern Germany, included all of Denmark, Norway, Bohemia and Crete, plus fragments of Russia, Latvia, Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, and even the British Channel Islands. Now, there were more than a dozen ministries, several special departments and more than sixty typists, clerks and other staff members. The government’s territorial jurisdiction, on the other hand, barely extended beyond the gates of the Marineschule.

They’d go in each day and have meetings, explore problems, issue orders and try to establish some coherency amid the chaos. But what effect any of it had was hard to say. Whether their orders would be carried out, or, for that matter, even delivered, was largely beyond their control. The all-powerful Allied Control Commission was a bureaucratic hydra which stood in their way, without having any clear plan of its own. From time to time, its members would show up and nose around and issue orders and directives, whose meaning they usually seemed at a loss to explain.

The discussion on fertilizers went on another twenty minutes and then they moved to the next topic on the agenda; churches. The question was whether a portfolio should be added for religious affairs. Dorpmuller the Transportation Minister suggested it might be a good idea, given everything the German people has just gone through, it was necessary that a Christian moral culture be re-instituted in the state.

People bristled at the idea. “Are you suggesting that just because National Socialists weren’t Christian, they weren’t moral?” one of the ministers countered.

“All I’m saying is we need to go back to old, traditional values. For more than a thousand years the Germans have been a Christian people. We need to emphasize that point both to ourselves and to the world. I think it would also be a good idea to embrace contemporary Christian theology of human dignity.”

“Do you have anyone in mind?” asked Doenitz.

“Yes, I do, Grand Admiral. I think Dietrich Bonhoffer would be a perfect candidate. Last I heard he was still alive. We should see if we can locate him.”

While an aide was dispatched to make some calls, the topic changed to banking issues. There wasn’t enough money on hand to pay state employees or to fund purchases of emergency foodstuffs from Sweden and Portugal. The question boiled down to asking the Allies permission to print an emergency issue of Reichsmarks. They were discussing it when the aide returned to inform them that Pastor Bonhoffer had been executed by the Gestapo two weeks before.


If the present is simply the intersecting point between past and future, then Flensburg was that unrepeatable circumstance where the two merely brushed against each other, like two party guests eyeing each other as they wait for an absent host to come and make the requisite introductions. And while the past normally stands solid and unalterable and the future is but a swirling cloud of possibility, in Flensburg the opposite seemed to be the case. Here the future appeared fixed, bright and obvious, while the past was a murky shifting shadow, best not dwelled on, for its details seemed to change hourly.

And nowhere was optimism toward the future stronger than in the Doenitz government. The fact that it continued to grow was all the proof some people needed to believe that they had put themselves on the ground floor of a very prospective enterprise. They began seeking more and better furniture, larger offices with more windows and all the other appurtenances with which to demonstrate their recovered status.

Those stranded in the past, on the other hand, found themselves searching frantically for something, anything, which might help them ascend. Some lobbied for the creation of an ‘inter-ministerial working group’ to study undefined problems, others sought diplomatic passports, medical certificates or, failing that, a few sheets of office letterhead, as a protection against Allied arrest.
(Excerpt from Germania, first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, now also available on Kindle here)

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