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stration in grand style; the peaceful progress of the rapprochement, for which I and GLAISE had hoped, was turned into its opposite. Early that Sunday thousands of spectators surrounded the wide oval of the Wels racetrack. They had come from all parts of Austria. When the delegations of the German warrior associations entered with their flags, loud applause rose; the applause became even louder when the glorious Austrian regiments, such "Kaiserjaeger”, “Hochmeister”, etc., entered the arena. The Austrian armed forces had posted an honor battalion with flag and band at the tribune, from which the guests of honor were to be greeted—a delegation of the Austrian government, the German ambassador with his military personnel, and numerous old generals and officers of the old imperial and royal army. The program provided for a short address by General von GLAISE and myself. Of course, the addresses were to be non-political. Then a review before the guests of honor was scheduled, to be followed by banquets in various restaurants of the gaily decorated city of Wels.
As my car neared the Festival Square and I heard the cheers of the spectators who recognized me, I felt a slight doubt as to whether everything would end as peaceful as it seemed so far.
After my arrival and welcome by Herr von GLAISE and the guests of honor I was asked to walk down the battalion of Honor, which was presenting arms. Suddenly, as the band struck up the Austrian national anthem, I heard thousands of voices all around the wide arena singing “Deutschland, Deutschland ueber alles in der Welt" to the melody of the Austrian anthem. (Same as that of the German.) Singing isn't the word—it was a roar, a tornado, drowning out everything, and revealing that the thousands obviously did not feel as Austrians at this second, but as Germans, a children of a great empire which had held them all in its arms for a thousand years.
The faces of the government's representatives fell. The soldiers stood mute and fast.
Then General von GLAISE ascended the rostrum and made his speech. His rather academic and not very fiery statements were almost drowned in the noise of the crowd.
Then my turn came. As soon as I had spoken the first words into the microphone, I was interrupted by roaring approval. The noise increased with every sentence I pronounced, whether applause was called for or not. I understood immediately that this was meant as a political manifestation of major dimensions, and concluded my speech with a few sentences, quicker than planned.
As I descended the grandstand, the applause turned into a hurri
I saw depressed, fearful faces on the grandstand, and decided it best to cut the celebration as short as possible. Before the review of the formations was even over, I took my leave under the pretext that the weather made it necessary for me to fly back early. After a quick bite to eat in the city I hurried to the airport.
In the meantime the police had intervened during the marching off of the warrior leagues from the Festival Square, in order to stem the enthusiastic ovations of the crowd. Beatings and, I believe, even shooting occurred. Streets were blocked in Wels, and only with difficulty could the celebrators reach the restaurants, where they planned to celebrate among their comrades. evident that the political tenor which was forced upon the reunion of old combatants spoiled the fun. Instead of one step forward in the direction which I was pursuing, two steps backward were made. For the SCHUSCHNIGG government would now ruthlessly persecute and imprison all those whom it suspected of participation in the staging of this manifestation. The government would allow no similar reunion in the future, always worried about the possibility of similar demonstrations of Reich-German thought.
But when I mourn the setbacks which my evolutionary policy suffered at Wels, I must on the other hand admit that the demonstration there was more than just a propagandistic display of the Party. Such a performance cannot be "staged”. The outbreak and cheers of the masses were too heartfelt for that. The SCHUSCHNIGG government overlooked that fact. Perhaps the government actually understood what was going on in the hearts of many good Austrians. But it neither sought nor found an antidote or counterbalance. How often have I advised the federal chancellor to recognize this status of the souls of the big majority of his people, and to conduct a conscious policy of rapprochement. He was a proved officer of the World War; so why didn't he come to Wels himself, to speak to the crowds about our common ideals ? That would immediately have taken the wind out of the sails of such a party demonstration. He could only negotiate advantageously with HITLER as long as Austria remained a factor, a sovereign state with a will of its own. Thus, and only thus, could he offer and demand things. How easy would it then have been to create a relation to the Reich, similar to that of Bavaria from 1871-1918: complete autonomy of government and administration, and an independent parliament; the only common affairs to be foreign policy and military command in time of war.
When HITLER appeared in Vienna half a year later following
the invasion of our troops and the overwhelming approval of the Austrian people, there was no government left capable of negotiating, no sovereign state which could make demands of any sort. Then it was too late for such action.
Late in 1937 a crisis with the "Wehrmacht" occurred in the Reich. As early as 1933 HITLER had demanded the resignation of Generaloberst Baron von HAMMERSTEIN, then head of the armed forces. HAMMERSTEIN and I had attended the War Academy together for three years, and I respected him as a clever officer. Perhaps he liked comfort a bit too much for his post. But that was not the reason for HITLER's desire to change. HAMMERSTEIN was a close friend of SCHLEICHER's, and the Party feared
reaction on the army by General SCHLEICHER's work behind the wings.
The Party's pet among the generals was at that time Herr von REICHENAU, later Field Marshal. He was young, a great sportsman, and very progressive. So HITLER suggested General von REICHENAU to the Reich President as Chief of the Army Command. HINDENBURG was not in the habit of filling high military positions in accordance with considerations of Party politics. He thought Herr von REICHENAU too young and inexperienced for such a responsible position. He asked for my advice and said to me: "After all, I can't put an officer at the head of the army who has not even proved himself as regimental commander, and has not yet learned to train and direct a corps of officers in the right manner". I quite agreed with the Field Marshal, and recommended General of Artillery Baron von FRITSCH, who had been my highly respected friend since our three common years at the War Academy.
Experience teaches that one can judge best if one has known them intimately in youth. In the classroom in which we had sat together, we knew each other all of us, with our weaknesses and qualities. From the military point of view, FRITSCH had always been one of our best. He had a lucid reason, extraordinary tactical and strategic talents, and an excellent character. He was a "Lord" ("Herr”) in the best meaning of the word. HINDENBURG agreed immediately and advised HITLER of his decision.
Enter General von BLOMBERG, declaring to the Field Marshal's amazement that no one else but REICHENAU must become Chief of the Army Command, and that he (BLOMBERG) would ask for his release if the Field Marshal decided otherwise. The Reichswehr Minister had come so far under the influence of the Party machine that he offered the strongest possible opposition
to the chief of state, in a matter which after all was to be decided on purely military grounds.
The Field Marshal remained firm; Baron von FRITSCH was appointed. It is known that Herr von REICHENAU later did great things as a soldier, and sacrificed his life for the Fatherland. But that certainly changes nothing in the correctness of the judgment on whether he was qualified for the position suggested at the time.
It is evident that Generaloberst Baron von FRITSCH, an upright and honest man, who held the views handed down to him by the old corps of officers, was a thorn in the side of the Gestapo Chief, whose ambitions were unlimited. Thus arose the plan to eliminate him. He who had the army would rule the country.
The method of elimination was of the Gestapo type. The Generaloberst was accused of violating para 175 of the BGB (Buergerliches Gesetzbuch-re: homosexuality). He was said to have been seen somewhere in the company of a person of ill repute. HITLER had him arrested and suspended from office, and ordered an investigation. No army man who knew FRITSCH and his impeccable character has ever had the shadow of a doubt that the whole story was invented in order to eliminate him. The investigation showed how untenable the charge was. The Board of Honor (Ehrenrat), composed of generals, demanded that HITLER fully compensate for the disgrace inflicted on the old Generaloberst and Chief of the Army Command. All the board achieved, however, was that FRITSCH was dismissed from his position with a letter of thanks from the Fuehrer and given command of a regiment. The other logical part of the compensation, however, was not rendered: the dismissal of HIMMLER, who had dealt this blow to the army in order to put a man of his confidence at the head.
After this tragedy my friend FRITSCH was a broken man. When the war against Poland broke out in 1939, he was, of course, not entrusted with a place commensurate with his eminent abilities. He therefore asked for permission to accompany at least the army which he had trained as a "spectator". He took part in an assault on a fortified position in the first line of infantry, and was killed by a bullet. I am sure that he sought death because he probably foresaw how this tragedy would end.
General von BRAUCHITSCH replaced FRITSCH; however, this case did not end the struggle over the army.
The foremost man above even the chief of the Gestapo was GOERING, legitimate successor-apparent to HITLER, who held
himself in readiness to leap in the saddle at any time.
He was commander-in-chief of the air force, which he had created. What was more natural than that he would work himself up to be commander-in-chief of the entire armed forces? When HITLER had appointed Herr von BLOMBERG Field Marshal in recognition of his merit in the service of army and Party, GOERING had resented bitterly the fact that he did not become the most high ranking officer in the armed forces. That sealed BLOMBERG’s fate. It is a most moot question, whether GOERING had prior knowledge of HIMMLER's perfidious stab-in-the-back of FRITSCH, and for that reason decided on his own stab at BLOMBERG in order to counterbalance the Gestapo's thirst for power. At any rate very well-informed sources told me later that it was Mr. GOERING's agents who brought to Herr von BLOMBERG the lady, to whose charms he succumbed, and because of whom he was forced to hand in his resignation.
The story is well-known and too unrefined to be repeated here. When Herr von BLOMBERG decided to legalize his long-standing affair with the lady by marrying her, the army balked. And rightly, so. It had been a custom and good tradition of the German officers' corps never to permit marriages with women whose good reputation and morals were not absolutely flawless, and whose education and upbringing were not up to just expectations. How could one permit that yardstick to be thrown aside by a field marshal and senior officer of the armed forces ? Every man can decide on his private life as he wishes, and no one must utter criticism in ignorance of possibly good motives for the decision. But there can be no separation between the private and public spheres of life of a man in such a high public position, and special responsibility for the spirit and education of a large officers' corps. One demands that such a man be a model in every respect.
Field Marshal von BLOMBERG cannot escape the reproach of rendering poor service to army and country by his belief that he could cast aside the standards of old Prussian tradition with the advent of confused moral views of National Socialism.
But neither GOERING nor HIMMLER's stratagems came to fruition. HITLER had probably looked through the plans of both. After several weeks of crisis, he cut through the Gordian knot 4 February 1938.
Simultaneously with von BLOMBERG's dismissal the position of Reichswehr Minister was abolished. In its stead HITLER made Generaloberst KEITEL Chief of the Armed Forces [Chef der Wehrmacht], reporting directly to HITLER. As sop GOER