Friday, November 22, 2013

George Ball, Paul Nitze, and John Kenneth Galbraith Drink Coffee on the Final Morning of the Third Reich

Back when I was originally researching Germania, I was able to get an interview with Paul Nitze, one of the greatest defense and foreign policy experts of the Postwar era, who had also been part of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey team that had gone to Flensburg in order to interview Albert Speer.  Nitze was very gracious and helpful and in the course of the two hours I spent talking with him, told many interesting and funny stories about their time at Flensburg and what it was like dealing with Speer.  The following excerpt, which did not make it into the final version of Germania, is based on what Nitze told me about the morning of the "Kibosh," when Speer, Doenitz and the rest of the Flensburg government were all finally arrested.
Barely five hours had passed since they’d come back from Schloss Glucksburg, when George Ball woke up in his bunk aboard the Patria. Seeing the bright morning sunlight eagerly streaming in through the tiny cabin’s lone porthole, he decided to get up. He thought how nice it would be to have coffee outside. He got dressed and then pulled out the Aladdin thermos flask his wife had given him from his bag and hurried to the officers’ mess to see if they’d fill it for him.

On the way he ran into Sergeant Fassberg. “What’s on the schedule for today, sergeant?”

“Nothing much,” Fassberg answered. “Apparently everyone else is still asleep.”
Hearing this, Ball held up his empty thermos and said, “I’m going topside for coffee. How about joining me?” He knew he shouldn’t be asking since, technically, he was an officer and they weren’t supposed to fraternize with noncoms. But being that his rank was largely administrative and with the war now over, he figured it was all bullshit anyway. Fassberg agreed it was an excellent idea. Ball went to the officers’ mess, got the thermos filled, filched two mugs, and with that, he and Fassberg made their way topside. But when they reached the entrance to the top deck, a British MP held up his gloved hand and turned them away.

“What’s going on?” asked Fassberg, perplexed.

“General Rook’s orders,” the MP told them. “He wants the deck cleared. The Nazi Admiral is coming.”

“Doenitz?” asked Ball.

“The new Hitler,” shrugged the MP. “I don’t know his name.” Then, to cover his bases, he guiltily added, “sir.”

“You know, we could always go ashore,” suggested Fassberg. “Have our coffee on the dock. I wouldn’t mind that.”

“Good idea,” said Ball.

Heading toward the gangway, they ran into Major Spivak. He looked worried. “Anyone seen Loerber? He hasn’t shown up yet.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it, sir,” said Fassberg. “You know what he’s like. He’s probably got a bag on up at the castle.”

But Spivak was unconvinced. “I don’t like it,” he said nervously. “Being as much of a Kraut as he is, he could get into trouble with the MPs. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the Kibosh is on.”

“It is?”

“I got it from on high.”

“Well I guess that explains that,” said Ball, thinking about what the MP told them.

“Listen,” said Spivak. “I’m going to take the jeep back up to the castle and make sure nothing has happened. Tell Galbraith when you see him.”

Out on the quay, Ball and Fassberg looked around until they found a low wall they could sit on. Ball poured the coffee and handed one of the steaming mugs to Fassberg.

“So today it all gets rolled up, hey?” said Fassberg. “About time, I’d say.”

“Amen to that,” said Ball.

“I mean this place has really become a joke.”

“Comic opera, I’d say,” agreed Ball.

It looked like any May morning in Flensburg. A flock of seagulls floated complacently on the oily waves, while further out in the harbor, the vast disarray of unmanned destroyers, minesweepers, gunboats and small craft bobbed discordantly from their tethers and chains.

“I don’t think any of them actually realize the jig is up,” said Fassberg. “I mean can you believe Speer?”

“Crafty little bastard,” said Ball. “I have to admit, there were times I forgot what I was dealing with.”

“Dirty Nazi rat,” spat Fassberg. “Where does he ever get the idea that he’d have a place running the post-war world? He’s nuts, right?”

Ball laughed. “It’s hard for some people to accept that the world will go on without them.”

A line of turreted, four-wheeled armored scout cars broke the morning’s peace as they motored noisily down the quay, causing the seagulls in the water to arch their necks, irritably flap their wings and fly away.

“But it really is a beautiful morning,” observed Fassberg. “A perfect day for all this shit to end.”
First published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster, Germania is now also available on Kindle here.

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