A Discussion in Zhitomir
In the early days of August 1942, a remarkable discussion took place in Shitomir in Ukraine (then part of the Soviet Union). Partipants included Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler, and the head of Office IV of the Reich Central Security Administration (RSHA), Standartenführer Walter Schellenberg, who later, in 1944, was to rise to chief of the SS Security Service (SD). At this meeting, Himmler, who was second only in power (and criminality) to Hitler himself, was discussing Nazi Germany's political and military situation in the third year of war, with Schellenberg, a 32-year-old "rising star" in the SS hierarchy.
They came to the conclusion that Nazi Germany's strategic situation was rapidly deteriorating. Even before the defeats of Stalingrad and El Alamein, they recognized that with the entry of the United States into the war, Nazi Germany no longer had even a chance of victory. Moreover, the battle of Midway Island in June 1942 had demonstrated that Japan would no longer be able to tie down the bulk of U.S. forces in the Pacific theater. Himmler and Schellenberg agreed that Nazi Germany lacked the necessary forces to successfully conduct a two-front war. Therefore, an "alternative solution" had to be considered: A "compromise peace" was to be sought with Great Britain and the United States, in order to be able to pursue the war against Soviet Russia with some prospect of success. Himmler assigned Schellenberg to make secret overtures to the Western powers to that end, extending an offer that in exchange for peace, Nazi Germany would agree to relinquish the territories it had conquered in Western Europe. As a "token of goodwill," Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop was to be dismissed from his post at the end of 1942. And even though in his memoirs, where he reported at length on his Shitomir discussion, Schellenberg does not go into one final aspect, we can presume that both men envisioned the removal of Hitler, because they knew all too well that as long as he remained in power, no separate peace with the Western Powers would be possible.
In spite of the rendezvous at Zithomir, and for all the contact with Western representatives that had been established, Walter Schellenberg recalls in his published memoirs, that he found himself facing the same old problems when it came to Himmler and his attitudes. Himmler listened to Schellenberg's plans, even agreed with them or went along for some time, but ultimately his bond with Hitler remained unbroken, leaving Schellenberg with out a mandate for anything beyond setting up yet another meeting between Himmler and neutral representatives.
Schellenberg recalled Himmler, did not feel he could shoot Hitler, the Führer to whom he had pledged allegiance; he could not poison him, nor could he arrest him in the Reich Chancellery using SS troops. Any such action would cause the whole military machine to come to a halt. That would never do if Germany hoped to resist -even defeat- the Russians. Himmler complained that if he tried to talk Hitler into resigning, the Führer would become enraged and shoot him out of hand.
Finally Himmler and Hitler had a meeting, demanded by protocol, on April 20, 1945, to give Hitler birthday greetings. Himmler had seized the occasion to talk alone with Dr. Stumpfegger. What passed between them is not reliably known, but Amt VI intelligence officer Wilhelm Höttl later claimed in his postwar memoirs that his boss, Schellenberg, had told him. "Himmler tried to persuade his friend [Stumpfegger] to get rid of Hitler by means of a lethal injection." [Wilhelm Höttl, The Secret Front: The Story of Nazi Political Espionage, New York, 1954]
Under postwar interrogation, Schellenberg stated that on the night of April 24-25, during a meeting between Himmler and Bernadotte, the Reichsführer formally asked the count to convey to the Swedish government for onward transmission to General Eisenhower a message expressing his willingness to order a cease-fire on the Western Front. But Himmler's statement, as remembered by Schellenberg, made Allied acceptance impossible because of its special enmity shown toward the USSR. The text read:
To the Russians it is impossible for us Germans, and above all for me, to capitulate.
~U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, RG 165, July 1945, declassified January 1995, "Report on the Case of Walter Friedrich Schellenberg," British-U.S. interrogation of Schellenberg.
According to Schellenberg's interrogation report:
Himmler also declared that he had the authority to make these declarations to Bernadotte for further transmission at this time since it was only a question of one or two, or at the most three, days before Hitler gave up his life in this dramatic struggle.
Höttl added in his memoirs that immediately after his talk with Bernadotte, “Himmler had a long telephone conversation with Stumpfegger in Berlin, and may have had a plan-obviously never carried out-to murder the Führer!”
After hypocritically describing how he had remained loyal to the Führer, Himmler had rationalized that now Hitler was on the edge of death, it was up to him to act soon to save what was left of Germany. That was why he asked Bernadotte to send a message from him to the Swedish government for transmittal to Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower surrendering German forces on the Western Front.
Bernadotte's version of these events appeared in his 1945 book The Fall of the Curtain [London: Cassell, 1945], rushed into print as the War ended. In it, he told how he had on April 23. Bernadotte found Schellenberg on the phone line, wanting to arrange a meeting that afternoon to discuss a most urgent matter. When they met, "Schellenberg lost no time in letting off his bombshell: Hitler was finished! It was thought that he could not live more than a couple of days at the outside.
Hearing from Schellenberg that Himmler wanted him to see Eisenhower and tell the Allied commander that the Reichsführer was prepared to assume command of German forces in the West and order them to capitulate, Bernadotte insisted that German forces in Norway and Denmark be ordered to surrender as well. And he warned Schellenberg that the Western Allies would never recognize Himmler in any capacity except war criminal - certainly not as Germany's head of state. There were many things to talk about, so a meeting between Himmler and Bernadotte took place.
Bernadotte did, allow for the fact that Himmler's involvement might prevent Germany from falling into complete chaos. Bernadotte presented a number of conditions under which he would be willing to go to Eisenhower. First of all, Bernadotte expected an announcement by Himmler that Hitler, who had stepped down for medical reasons, had chosen him as his successor. Secondly, Himmler was to dissolve the Nazi party, remove all of its functionaries, and instruct the cessation of all Werewolf -Nazi guerilla- activities. Lastly, true to his own initial mission, Bernadotte expected Himmler's permission to transfer all Norwegian and Danish concentration camp inmates to Sweden. This discussion with Schellenberg took place at the very beginning of April 1945, and Bernadotte stressed that it would have meant the end of Nazi Germay.
Schellenberg Bernadotte wrote "did not hesitate, he told me that he would try to induce his chief to accept them." This shows however that Schellenberg might have played a double game.
After Bernadotte had left, Schellenberg met with Himmler again, this time planning, albeit in vague terms, for the time after Hitler's death. In the afternoon of 22 April 1945 Himmler relented and allowed Schellenberg to contact Bernadotte again. This time, Himmler was willing to request that Bernadotte transmit a surrender offer to the Western powers in his name. (Final Report on the Case of Walter Schellenberg, National Archives, RG 319, IR.R, XE 001725, Walter Schellenberg, Folder 7 and 8; Autobiography, NA, RG 226, Entry 125A.)
Regardless of whether Himmler was acceptable to the Western Allies, whether the Allies were interested in separate surrender negotiations at all, or whether Bernadotte deemed them useless, Schellenberg had achieved what he wanted and needed most at this point in time. He was the man who had convinced Himmler to offer Nazi Germany's surrender.
During the meeting in Lübeck, Himmler declared that he had the authority to offer, surrender as he expected Hitler to be dead within a matter of days. He emphasized, however, that he was by no means surrendering to the Soviet Union, stressing that the German army would keep fighting in the East until the arrival of the Anglo-American relief troops. (Final Report on the Case of Walter Schellenberg, NA, RG 319, I~XE 001725, Walter Schellenberg Folder 7 lind 8; Autobiography, N1\ RG 226, Entry 125A, Folder21.) Despite the obvious friction, Bemadotte agreed to transmit Himmler's message to the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs, as long as Himmler was willing to include Denmark and Norway into the surrender. Himmler agreed and proceeded to write down his offer.
The conditions under which Himmler made his final bid are worth considering.
He obviously assumed that Hitler was dead or would be within a matter of days; he considered himself Hitler's rightful successor. Himmler simply assumed power before the preconditions, namely Hitlers death and Himmler's official nomination as the successor, were fulfilled. Secondly, Himmler offered unconditional surrender to the West alone. Moreover, he expected the Western Allies to join the German army in their battle against the common enemy of Bolshevism. Himmler's surrender offer created a temporary stir among Allied leaders, but it was ultimately rejected.
Himmler's offer of surrender was the topic of a telephone conversation between Churchill and Truman on 25 April 1945 in which the two Western leaders decided immediately to inform Stalin about Himmler's offer. In his reply of 26 April 1945, Stalin made it clear that the offer should also be extended to the Soviet Union according to the common policies adopted at Casablanca. The same day, Truman requested the American Minister in Sweden, Johnson, to "inform Himmler's agent that the only acceptable terms of surrender by Germany are unconditional surrender on all fronts to the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and the United States." For the exchange of telegrams as well as for the phone conversations between Churchill and Truman, see Foreign Relations of the United States, Diplomatic Papers 1945, Volume III, European Advisory Commission, Austria, Germany (Washington, D.C.: GPO. 1968).
As late as the first days of May 1945, Walter Schellenberg still believed that a peace could be negotiated, hoping that musings by American representatives, dating back to 1943, and anti-Bolshevist attitudes would be sufficient to sue for a separate peace. In the last days of the war, Schellenberg engaged in a frenzied shuttle diplomacy, going back and forth, between Copenhagen and Northern Germany, discussing the cessation of hostilities in Denmark and Norway with his Swedish counterparts. (Schellenberg, Labyrinth).
At one point on 3 May, one of his Swedish contacts noted that the cessation of hostilities in Scandinavia was by now a rather academic question; it was patently obvious that a complete and unconditional German surrender was a matter of days anyway--if it would be that long. (Schellenberg, Labyrinth, 407)
On 5 May 1945, Schellenberg and his entourage boarded Bernadotte's plane, which brought them to Sweden. While keepenig up the pretense of negotiations, Walter Schellenberg had at least reached one of his goals. Unable to end the war--be it by breaking up the anti-Hitler alliance or by negotiating a separate peace--he had at least achieved his own personal goals: he had established, himself as a humanitarian and as the man who cajoled Himmler into a surrender offer. Schellenberg had it on good authority that this surrender offer would be rejected, but he neither could nor would believe Bernadotte's assertions; he trusted his own, ideologically tainted analysis of the situation.
On 8 May 1945, the Dönitz government finalized Nazi Germany's uncondinonal surrender; the document was signed that night at Karlshorst, near Berlin. General Zhukov represented the Soviet Union; the alliance against Nazi Germany held until the War in Europe ended.
Within days, Schellenberg found himself living at Bernadotte's home, near Stockholm, where he took some time to recover from the "constant journeys and negotiations." Soon. he was busy contemplating his future, mostly with Bernadotte.
Schellenberg initially envisioned creating an outline for a later book, but, realizing that voluntary surrender to the Americans or the British was on the horizon, Schellenberg opted to write an autobiographical summary. Slightly more than nine-tenths of the text discusses Schellenberg's good deeds, in particular his collaboration with Bernadotte, which began in February of 1945. While Schellenberg wrote his own autobiographical text, two other authors were puttng pen to paper: Bernadotte and Göring. Over the years, the question of how much of Bernadotte's account was ghostwritten by Schellenberg has occasionally come up.
Recently, Charles Whiting brought an interesting new claim against Schellenberg's memoirs, suggesting that the manuscript was ghostwritten by the British Intelligence service. This suggestion is absolutely baseless. Charles Whiting, Hitler's Secret War. The Nazi Espionage Campaign against the Allies (London, UK: Leo Cooper, 2000).
The ghostwriting charges are most certainly taking the issue too far. There were differences between the two accounts, which Schellenberg would have smoothed over if he had been the ghostwriter. For example, Bernadotte told him early on the Himmler would not be an acceptable partner for peace negotiations for the West. On the other hand, there can be little doubt that the three men must have discussed their respective writing efforts; therefore, a strikingly coherent picture emerges.
Schellenberg was Göring's supervisor and the main reason that Göring found, himself (at his fiancee/mistress) on a Swedish estate and not in a British prisoner of war camp in the middle of May 1945. Göring also had reasons to use Schellenberg's last--ditch humanitarian effort and his own role in it to sanitize his own record. At any rate, it is likely that Schellenberg set the tone for both of their accounts, effectively establishing ninety per cent of what will ever be known about these negonatiotis. Therefore, Göring's account should by no means be considered independent confirmation of Schellenberg's statements, as it is sometimes done.
U.S. Assistant Military Attache in Stockholm, Colonel Rayens noted that, Schellenberg had a good influence on Himmler: “this may stem from the fact that Schellenberg, a Catholic, employed an approach that appealed to the Catholic teaching of Himmler's youth." (CMs. E. Rayens; Assistant Military Attache to Military Air Attache, American Legation, Stockholm, Sweden, Subject: Disposition of SS-Brigadier Walter Schellenberg, 8 June 1945, NA" RG 226, Entry 119 A, Box 26, Folder 29.)
Schellenberg was brought to Nuremberg in the fall of 1945. The Allies wanted to prosecute a number of high-ranking Nazi officials to the fullest extent of the law: Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Otto Skorzeny, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and Heinrich Müller, who had disappeared at war's end. There was very little doubt among the Allies that these men should be considered war criminals. As Schellenberg's luck would have it, these were precisely the men he had interacted with closely, competed with viciously, and grown to dislike intensely over the years. He had much to say about them and none of it was positive. In addition, Schellenberg was the quintessential insider; therefore, he was able to speak to many other matters in which the Allies were interested. And by 1947 Schellenberg had managed to recast his own role in Nazi Germany as that of a diplomat; no small feat for an early and important member of the SD and the RSHA, and most certainly the more agreeable alternative for Schellenberg personally.
However, Schellenberg was found guilty of "Membership of a Criminal Organization;"as his SS and SD memberships finally caught up with him. However in that day and age, a Persilschein, an affidavit noting that a person was a not a Nazi or had helped victims of Nazi persecution, was a valuable commodity. In the face of prosecution, old animosities were easily shoved aside. High-ranking Nazi officials vouching for Schellenberg assumed, and rightly so, that he would do the same for them. Similarly, Western representatives had something to gain from Schellenberg receiving a lenient sentence: they had dealt with the devil and establishing the negotiation partner in Nazi Germany as a less than completely despicable person also helped to save their own reputations. Everybody won. By 1948, Schellenberg was a sick man however. Having been a frequent patient at the Nuremberg hospital, he was never transferred to the Landsberg prison, as were most of the men sentenced at Nuremberg. Instead, he spent his time in a guarded room in the Nuremberg City Hospital. An operation in the spring of 1949 did not help matters; he was kept alive by very strong doses of penicillin. A subsequent operation was deemed necessary, but Schellenberg was by far too weak and his long-term prognosis was abysmal. On 27 March 1950, the US High Commissioner for Germany, John J. McCloy signed Walter Schellenberg's medical pardon.
When he was well enough, Schellenberg traveled to Switzerland, and managed to see some specialists. In June 1950, the CIA traced Schellenberg to a hospital near Osnabruck. (Heidelberg to Special Operations, 26 June 1950, NA, RG 263, CIA Name Files, Reference Collection, Box 45, Schellenberg. vol. 2.) According to CIA documents, he visited Spain in May 1951, where he was in contact with his old colleague and adversary Skorzeny; nothing else is presently known about this trip. He died of heart failure, liver cirrhosis, and infection of the spleen on the last day of March 1952.