Into the Darkness : An Uncensored Report from Inside the Third Reich at War
by Lothrop Stoddard
Chapter 22: Closed Doors
The foreign correspondent in wartime Germany often feels as though he were living in a vast wizard’s castle not especially well furnished and with many inconveniences. But he is hospitably received and well treated. Furthermore, the house rules are clearly explained to him by the guest warden who has him in charge. Over most of the premises he is free to roam at will.
But, as he ranges its interminable corridors, he discovers certain closed doors. Some of them are locked and bear notices strictly forbidding entrance. The correspondent knows that any attempt to break in will, at the very least, mean prompt expulsion from the castle. He will have committed a flagrant breach of those house rules to which he has agreed. Other doors, though shut, are not locked. If he peeks inside, his action will be regarded with disfavor and he may become suspect. Still other doors may be opened to him on special request, but the rooms within will be so shuttered and his inspection will be so carefully supervised that he will probably get a very imperfect glimpse of what is there. Finally, the guest wardens will tell him about certain rooms which he is not allowed to enter, though the correspondent will have his doubts concerning the accuracy of such accounts.
Under these circumstances the correspondent will naturally not get a complete picture of this wizard’s castle and its contents, though if he is observant and industrious he may see and hear quite a few things not intended for his eyes and ears. He will also piece out his fragmentary knowledge by chats with fellow guests and by snatches of gossip picked up or overheard from the servants. If he stays long enough, he will acquire a fairly clear idea of what it is all about, though there are a few mysteries that he presumably will never be able to unravel.
The undertone of wartime Germany was grim. This was most evident in Berlin and reached its climax at its official heart, in and about the Wilhelmstrasse. At night, especially, the effect was eery. I know it well, for I lived just around the corner and often traversed the famous thoroughfare in the late hours. After nightfall the west side of the interminably long block between Vossstrasse and Unter den Linden is closed to foot traffic. Red lights gave warning, backed by police and military guards in front of the Chancery, the Fuehrer’s residence, and other official buildings, including the Foreign Office. The east side, where walking was permitted, was also guarded. As I walked warily in the blackout, I would often glimpse the looming figure of a gigantic Schupo standing motionless as a statue in some recessed doorway. Across the street, sentries paced their beats with heavy, rhythmic tread. For the rest, silence, save when a pair met. Then I might catch an interchange of deep guttural salutations. Two or three small blue lights, spaced at intervals, indicated the entrance to Ministries. Closed motorcars might be seen entering or leaving the Residence by its semicircular drive. Despite the stringent blackout, an occasional ray of light from curtained windows revealed intense activity going on far into the night.
The whole atmosphere of the place was uncannily mysterious. I sensed that, like every passerby, I was intently watched by many pairs of hidden eyes. This I proved the first time I stopped for a moment to bend down and tie a shoelace. Instantly, a beam of light from a powerful electric torch shot out from across the way, to see what I was up to. I purposely tried the same trick on subsequent occasions, with the same result. This sense of intent surveillance was hardly pleasant. I was glad to turn the corner onto the “Linden” and slip into my hotel.
The doors most tightly barred to us correspondents were the military and naval zones. This was natural, and nobody could legitimately complain about what every nation does in wartime. During my entire stay in Germany no correspondent was allowed to get anywhere near the West Wall, which is not a “wall” but what military men call a “position in depth” a fortified zone extending back many miles from the frontier.
The other implacably closed door was that into the German occupied area known as the Governement General of Poland. Toward the close of the September Blitzkrieg campaign, a large party of journalists were taken to Poland on a tour of observation which had its climax with Hitler’s triumphant entry into Warsaw. Then the portals were slammed shut and triple barred. One American special correspondent, Kenneth Collings, did defy the rules and brought out an exciting story; but he had a very rough time of it and nearly got shot as a spy. Also he had to get out of Germany immediately thereafter.
Berlin buzzed with rumors about conditions in Poland, but I never talked with anyone who had actually been in Poland except Dr. Junod, the Red Cross official already mentioned, and a German whom I met casually on the train from Berlin to Vienna in the Christmas season. My chat with him was too brief to get much information, but he did show me a whole sheaf of special permits he needed there as manager of a factory which had been taken over by the Germans. They revealed an incredibly regimented life. He needed a permit (Ausweis) to be on the streets after 8.00 P.M.; to drive a car at all, and another to drive at night; also at least a dozen others, some of these being to get raw materials and shipping privileges. Jokingly, I asked him whether he didn’t need an Ausweis to kiss his wife. He laughed and said: “Not yet, but it may come to that!” Some of the rumors around Berlin were very lurid. One of the most persistent which went the journalistic rounds was that the Nazis were systematically killing off all troublesome Poles; that Gestapo and S.S. men went from village to village, rounding up those denounced by resident secret agents and machine gunning them into a common grave which the victims had been previously forced to dig. I mention this, not to assert its credibility, but to present a picture of the rumor and gossip which are passed around when authentic news is unobtainable. The general impression among foreign journalists in Berlin was that rough work was going on in Poland. If that was an unjust inference, it’s the Nazis’ own fault for keeping out reliable neutral observers who could have written objective, unbiased accounts.
So much for locked doors. Now for those, normally shut, but which you might enter under special circumstances. Outstanding in this category is the Protectorate of Bohemia Moravia. You need a special card to go there. I obtained one but never used it because I couldn’t take the time to make such a trip worth while. Any journalist who arrives in Prague chaperoned by the German authorities doesn’t see or learn much. He is thereby suspect, and no patriotic Czech will dare come near him. Even when you have proper introductions you must proceed cautiously in making your contacts, chiefly so as not to betray those you want to meet. And that means quite a long stay.
I got a certain amount of firsthand information from foreigners who had been there and on whom I could rely. Naturally, I cannot disclose their identity. They told me that the German army and regular civil functionaries had behaved fairly well and wanted to reconcile the Czech population by tactful treatment. Most of the troubles which occurred were due to the Party, especially to young local Nazis, many of whom grossly abused their authority. I was told that the student riots of late October were repressed with excessive severity and much cruelty. The number formally executed was probably not greatly in excess of that officially announced, but many were so badly beaten up by the S.S. that they died in consequence, while the number of those deported to concentration camps in Germany was very great.
I was likewise informed that the suppressed hatred of the Czechs, especially toward the local Germans, was gruesome; that even the Czech women kept carving knives sharp to stick into the bellies of Teutonic neighbors if the right time ever came. My informants had heard that large quantities of small arms and machine guns were safely hidden in various parts of the Protectorate, making possible effective guerilla warfare, should the German armies be defeated at the front and the Reich show signs of cracking. However, the Czechs are a disciplined people, too canny to rise prematurely and thereby expose themselves to the terrible vengeance they know would be in store. Hence, though the Protectorate may be a potentially eruptive volcano, the fires are well banked and little should immediately take place.
Most interesting among the closed doors through which one may take a peek are those labeled Unrest and Jews. I have already remarked that, while militant discontent with the Nazi regime undoubtedly exists in Germany, it is probably not as widespread as is often alleged by exiles. Organized unrest has burrowed so deeply underground that foreigners know almost nothing tangible about it. A few long resident journalists seem to have direct contacts, but of course they cannot write on the subject; neither do they give out much specific information. This is wise, both for their own sakes and to avoid all possibility of implicating “inside” informants.
The most reliable information I got at firsthand on the condition of the Jews was from two Jewish families to which I bore introductions. One was formerly wealthy, the other had been well off. Both were living in reduced circumstances. Their properties were impounded and managed by quasi public institutions, though they received enough from the incomes to manage decently. At one of these homes I was surprised to meet “Aryans” of standing who expressed no apprehension in consequence of having kept up friendly relations with my hosts.
I was told that, while the situation of the 20,000 Jews still in Berlin was a hard and distressful one, there had been no organized violence against them since the great synagogue burning riots of November, 1938. Jews were occasionally beaten up or otherwise mistreated; several instances had occurred after the Munich attempt on Hitler’s life. But my informants said they thought such acts were due to the initiative of Party subordinates rather than to official policy.
The most difficult aspect of their existence arose from the continual limitations and discriminations which they suffered. The majority of stores, shops, and restaurants have entrance signs which read: Jews Not Wanted, or Jews Not Allowed to Enter. These prohibitions are widely enforced; so it is difficult for Jews to shop or get a meal away from home. They are, however, allowed to register with local tradesmen and legally to enter within certain hours. Jews are given regular food cards, but no clothing cards were issued to them while I was in Berlin.
All Jews must carry about with them a special identity card which must be produced whenever required by anyone authorized to demand it. They are not supposed to go to the central portions of the city, and I never saw one on the Wilhelmstrasse, Unter den Linden, or adjacent sections. Jews may not legally be out of their houses after 8.00 P.M.; nor can they go to ordinary places of amusement at any time.
The Jews naturally find such a life intolerable and long to emigrate. But that is most difficult because they can take almost no money or property with them, and other countries will not receive them lest they become public charges. Their greatest fear seemed to be that they might be deported to the Jewish “reservation” in southern Poland which the German Government is contemplating.
The average German seems disinclined to talk much to the foreign visitor about this oppressed minority. However, I gathered that the general public does not approve of the violence and cruelty which Jews have suffered. But I also got the impression that, while the average German condemned such methods, he was not unwilling to see the Jews go and would not wish them back again. I personally remember how widespread antiSemitism was under the Empire, and I encountered it in far more noticeable form when I was in Germany during the inflation period of 1923. The Nazis therefore seem to have had a popular predisposition to work on when they preached their extreme antiSemitic doctrines.
The prevailing attitude toward the Jews in present day Germany reminds me strongly of the attitude toward the Christian Greeks and Armenians in Turkey when I was there shortly after the World War. The Turks were then in a fanatically nationalistic mood; and, rightly or wrongly, they had made up their minds that the resident Greeks and Armenians were unassimilable elements which must be expelled if they were to realize their goal of a 100 per cent Turkish Nation State. To accomplish this, they were willing to suffer temporary economic difficulties of a serious kind. In traveling through Asia Minor I came to towns and villages where business was at a standstill, houses stood half finished, and fruit lay rotting on the ground, because Greek or Armenian traders, jobbers, and artisans had been driven out and there were no Turks competent to replace them. When I got to Ankara, the new Turkish capital in the heart of the Anatolian plateau, I took the matter up with Mustapha Kemal and other Nationalist leaders. In all cases, their answer was substantially the same.
Here was their line of argument:
“We know what we are now undergoing, and what bad repercussions our policy may have on world public opinion. But we feel it is a vital national task. We believe that the Greeks and Armenians are aggressively alien elements, who monopolize many aspects of our national life. The more they prosper, the more harmful they become. By suddenly driving them out, we may have to suffer economically for ten, twenty, or even thirty years, until we have produced from our own people competent artisans and business men. What is that in the life of a nation? Under the circumstances, it is a price we are ready to pay.“
In Nationalist Turkey, the determination to eliminate the Greeks and Armenians was motivated mainly by political and economic considerations. In Nazi Germany, the resolve to eliminate the Jews is further exacerbated by theories of race. The upshot, in Nazi circles, is a most uncompromising attitude. If this is not oftener expressed, the reason is because they feel that the issue is already decided in principle and that elimination of the Jews will be completed within a relatively short space of time. So, ordinarily, the subject does not arise. But it crops up at unexpected moments. For instance, I have been stunned at a luncheon or dinner with Nazis, where the Jewish question had not been even mentioned, to have somebody raise his glass and casually give the toast: Sterben Juden! “May the Jews Die!“
Can Germany hold out? That is the query endlessly debated whenever foreign observers chat together in wartime Germany. It’s a fascinating topic because it probably holds the key to the vital riddle of who will win the war. Germany lost the last war chiefly through the strangling effects of the Allied blockade which starved both the German people and German industry to the point of general collapse. If the new blockade works equally well, Germany is doomed. But if history does not repeat itself, then Germany may at the very least keep its present supremacy over Central and Eastern Europe. And that, in turn, spells a qualified German victory.
This isn’t news. It is a simple statement of fact known to every well informed person. I certainly realized its importance when I went to Germany to study the situation. And throughout the months spent there I did my best to get the answer. Among other things, I hobnobbed with the best informed neutral observers I could find resident journalists from various countries, diplomats, long established professional and business men. Many of these foreign residents were specialists with a wealth of technical information.
From what those men told me, plus my own studies and observations, I learned a lot. But I didn’t get the conclusive answer I sought. The evidence was usually fragmentary and often contradictory, while the experts differed violently among themselves. Some said that Germany’s situation was getting desperate and its outlook almost hopeless; others maintained that Germany could last indefinitely and had virtually won the game. Between the two extremes lay intermediate viewpoints. So I left Germany somewhat in the mood of Omar Khayyam who came out by the same door wherein he went.
However, though unable to offer an assured Yes or No to the riddle of German war prospects, I think it is possible to state the elements of the problem and fairly summarize the evidence. By setting forth what is definitely known and what can logically be inferred from the known facts, we will be in better position to draw reasonable conclusions and interpret the meaning of current happenings as they take place.
Ever since Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, Germany has been rearming at an ever quickening tempo. The result has been the most tremendous piling up of war material that the world has ever seen. But even this huge rearmament program is only part of the story. Germany’s whole national life has been systematically put on a war footing. The Nazis frankly call it Wehrwirtschaft a military economy.
An outstanding feature of war economics is secrecy. As far as possible, outsiders must be kept from finding out what goes on. So, from the start, any disclosure of information affecting the national interest has in Germany been deemed an act of treason, punishable by death. Thus every phase of German preparedness, military or otherwise, has been shrouded in mystery.
Under these circumstances we see how hard it is to get the facts. Such statistics as have been published are notoriously partial and unreliable. Take the available figures on German imports during recent years. It is an open secret that vast quantities of strategic raw materials and essential foodstuffs have been bought abroad for direct army account and have never been reported in official trade tables. It is likewise known that a large proportion of regular imports have gone into special reserves; but how much has never been disclosed.
Of course, since the start of the war no figures whatever have been published, so the mystery steadily deepens. That is the main reason why even the best informed foreign residents in Germany come to such widely differing conclusions on German ability to carry on the war against the strangling effects of the British blockade.
Although we are thus faced with many unknown or partly known factors, it seems nevertheless possible to reach conclusions which will hit somewhere near the truth. Under these limitations, I shall try to analyze Germany’s war situation. The analysis naturally falls under four main heads: (1) military; (2) industrial raw materials; (3) foodstuffs; (4) national psychology, usually termed morale.
It is on the military factor that foreign observers in Germany are in closest agreement. Nearly all of them are convinced that the German army is highly efficient and splendidly equipped. They likewise were agreed while I was there that so long as Germany continued to wage a defensive war on one front, the West Wall appeared to be impregnable to direct attack. That does not mean that the Allies could not drive in deep salients by sacrificing enough men and metal.
Incidentally, while I was in Germany, its full manpower had obviously not yet been mobilized. Everywhere I went, I noted great numbers of fit individuals who were not in uniform. Also, the munitions plants ran full blast throughout the quiet winter months a fact I learned from unimpeachable information. This continuous piling up of munitions was a significant indication that reserves of essential raw materials remained ample. Bearing in mind the rapidity with which war material becomes obsolete, the munitions industry would have been unlikely to carry on at that rate if there had been any immediate danger of vital raw material shortages. Unless, of course, those munitions were earmarked for quick use on a major scale.
This brings us to one sharp difference of opinion I encountered on the military situation. Some foreign residents thought that Germany was strong enough to risk a great Western offensive in the spring or summer of 1940, either directly at the French Maginot Line or down through Holland and Belgium. That is certainly what high Nazis implied when they boasted confidently of their ability to wage a short war culminating in complete victory. However, most foreign observers told me they thought the odds were distinctly against the success of such a venture, especially in the war’s first year. Such an offensive, the most tremendous military operation ever undertaken, would entail not only prodigious loss of life but an equally prodigious consumption of war material. These objectors did not think Germany as yet possessed the economic reserves, especially of oil and steel, to carry through a complete Western offensive to a successful conclusion. At best, it would mean a supreme gamble, with speedy collapse as the penalty for failure. They therefore concluded that, unless Germany was economically in such bad shape that she could not hold out long even on the defensive, the High Command would be unlikely to risk everything on a single thunder stroke.
The obvious conclusion to be drawn from these conflicting viewpoints was that, if Germany launched a Western offensive in the current year, it would indicate either great strength or great weakness.
All this emphasizes the vital importance of the second factor industrial raw materials. The tragedy of Finland dramatically shows that the finest army is helpless without abundant supplies of every kind. In the same way, the German army would soon be defeated if its sinews of war should be cut.
So far as industrial plant and equipment are concerned, Germany seems amply able to supply its armies, maintain its civilian population above the destitution line, and do a considerable amount of foreign trade. An important part of Hitler’s gigantic preparedness program has been the systematic development of heavy industry, which is far ahead of what it was in the last war. By including Austria and Czechoslovakia, to say nothing of occupied Poland, we find that Greater Germany’s plant capacity is approximately 50 per cent greater than in 1913.
Factories, however, can no more run without raw materials than armies can fight without supplies. And modern industry needs a wide variety of materials drawn literally from the ends of the earth. Foremost on the list stand coal, iron, and oil.
Germany has plenty of coal within her borders, while the seizure of Poland’s rich coalfields, gives her a good surplus for export. But iron is a grave problem, while oil is undoubtedly her greatest weakness.
Germany lost her only high grade iron mines when she ceded Alsace Lorraine to France at the close of the last war. Recently the Reich has been developing various low grade iron deposits as part of its famous Four Year Plan for industrial self sufficiency. Collectively known as the Hermann Goering Works, these enterprises are economically wasteful; but since they are frankly a war measure, costs are a minor matter. These new works are just getting into full production. Details are a State secret, though it is believed their output will be considerable. Still, they cannot supply more than a portion of Germany’s needs, and their product needs mixing with high grade ores to yield the best steel. A domestic source of high grade ore exists in Austria, but the field is too small to be of major importance.
The German Government is combing the country for scrap. During my stay in Berlin I often saw workmen removing iron railings even from the fronts of private homes, while the public was told to turn over every bit of old metal to official junk collectors. This does not prove that Germany is today faced with a crucial iron shortage. It does mean, however, that the Government is looking ahead and is taking no chances.
There can be scant doubt that the Reich has built up large reserves of iron, as of other vital raw materials. Trade statistics show that, during the three years before the war, imports of iron ore increased notably, while imports of scrap and pig iron jumped 300 per cent. Furthermore, as already remarked, there is the likelihood of large purchases made abroad for direct official account which would not appear on the commercial records. The chances are, therefore, that Germany began the war with enough iron on hand to meet its needs for a considerable time.
Still, Mars, the War God, has a voracious appetite for iron, while German industry, running at top speed, requires much iron and steel for replacements. This is especially true of the overworked German railways. Shortly before the war broke out, a large construction program was started to remedy acute shortages of locomotives and rolling stock, and it is unlikely that this was entirely shelved.
Where is Germany to find the necessary iron supplies for all this? Under the most optimistic estimates, the Reich cannot cover more than half its needs from domestic sources. The balance must come from abroad.
With the British blockade barring the ocean lanes, the only accessible large scale foreign source is Sweden. Even before the war, Sweden’s extensive high grade iron mines furnished Germany with nearly half of its imported iron ore. Obviously, this vital source of supply must at all costs be maintained. When I was in Germany, officials clearly intimated that Germany would unquestionably go to any lengths if Sweden stopped or notably lessened the flow of iron ore upon which German industry and the German war machine so largely depend. This is a major factor in Germany’s invasion of Scandinavia which began as these pages are being written.
Perhaps, in the long run, Russia can help cover the Reich’s iron deficit, if German technicians succeed in putting Russia on an efficiency basis, as is reported they are now doing. However, that is what Germans call “future music,” presumably some two years away. Meanwhile, it is interesting to note that Germany still gets iron from Luxemburg. Even more interesting are reports that some iron from French Lorraine finds it way to the Reich, in exchange for German coke which the French iron mines need for effective operation. This contraband trade apparently runs through neutral Belgium and is winked at by both sides. Though the French Government has denied these reports, they are not improbable. Such exchanges occurred in the last war, and are an historical commonplace. Even across the hottest battle lines, barter usually occurs when the mutual benefits are sufficiently apparent.
Germany’s iron and steel problem, though serious, does not seem to be insoluble. Anyhow, an acute shortage is unlikely to develop in the immediate future.
We now come to the crucial problem of oil, the weakest spot in Germany’s industrial armor. I understand that the Reich’s normal peacetime consumption of motor fuel averages between five and six million tons. During the past few years Germany has made herculean efforts to reduce her dependence upon foreign supplies. From elaborate borings under Government subsidy, oil fields were discovered which stepped up production of domestic natural crude by at least 300 per cent. Germany likewise produces large amounts of benzol, a byproduct of coke. Most important of all, new chemical processes have made possible largescale extraction of oil from Germany’s extensive deposits of lignite, or brown coal. It is estimated that, from these combined sources, Germany at the start of the war was producing motor fuels to an annual total of something like three million tons about half her peacetime needs.
Germany is now at war, and if her war machine were operating at full capacity, oil consumption would be stepped up to at least twelve million tons per annum.
But, until the invasion of Scandinavia at least, the oil devouring Blitzkrieg occurred only at the start and ceased when the brief Polish campaign was over. Thenceforth, the war became a Sitzkrieg, which took very little oil. Meanwhile the most rigid economies have been practiced. Private automobiles no longer run; buses and trucks operate on a mixture containing some 30 per cent of potato alcohol, while a vast fleet of laid up merchant ships burns no liquid fuel whatever. It is reliably estimated that, under such circumstances, Germany’s oil consumption ran below the normal peacetime level.
But this strange sit down war could not go on indefinitely, so Germany might at any moment be faced with oil consumption on a tremendous scale. Is Germany prepared to meet the strain? The Reich has undoubtedly accumulated large oil reserves. For years her imports have notably exceeded current needs, bearing in mind her domestic output. In 1936, imports totaled 4,200,000 tons; in 1937, 4,300,000; in 1938 they rose to nearly 5,000,000, and for the first half of 1939 they ran over 2,700,000 tons, indicating that some 5,500,000 would have been imported if war had not broken out in September.
Those are the official trade figures, which do not exclude the possibility of further imports on direct official account. However, it is improbable that these could have been very large. Oil is harder to conceal and store than most other materials. While in Germany I heard rumors of vast hidden pools, but I am inclined to disbelieve them.
Whatever the size of the Reich’s oil reserves, the blockade dealt a heavy blow by cutting off imports from North and South America, which averaged 80 per cent of the total. It is interesting to note that, in 1938, Rumania supplied Germany with only 700,000 tons of oil, while Russia contributed the insignificant item of 33,000 tons. Yet it is precisely on those two countries that Germany must rely if she is to avoid an oil famine that would probably be fatal.
Rumania, of itself, can hardly solve the problem. The Rumanian oil fields are on the decline. In 1938, Rumanian oil exports to all countries were less than 5,000,000 tons, and those exports were allocated by definite agreements not merely with Germany but with Britain, France, Italy, and Balkan countries as well. Despite much strong arm diplomacy, Germany has as yet been unable to get Rumania to grant the Reich more than its agreed allotment of 1,200,000 tons. Incidentally, very little Rumanian oil reached Germany during the severe winter months when the Danube was frozen and barge navigation became impossible.
Should Germany invade and conquer Rumania, its oil fields would be at the Reich’s disposal. Such an invasion, however, even though successful, might on balance do Germany more harm than good. Oil wells and refineries would presumably be destroyed long before the German armies could seize them, and it is estimated that it would take a year to get the wells into production again, while refineries might take longer still. Besides, the whole Balkan region might be plunged into war, which is the last thing Germany wants at the present time, since she would thereby lose a major source of foodstuffs and raw materials, at least for a considerable period.
The key to Germany’s oil dilemma seems to lie in Russia. The Soviet’s Caspian oil fields centering around Baku are among the richest in the world, with an average yield of thirty million tons. Most of this is consumed in Russia itself, but there is a large surplus, much of which might be shipped to Germany. The chief difficulty is transportation, either across the Black Sea and up the Danube, or by rail overland a vast distance and at great expense. There is also the possibility that Anglo French fleets and armies, allied to the Turks, may cut the Black Sea route, and even destroy or capture the Caspian oil fields themselves. That would indeed be a body blow to German hopes. In that case, their only feasible Russian source would be the Polish oil fields of the Russian occupied zone, whose annual output is a scant 500,000 tons.
Germany faces other problems in raw materials, though none so serious as that of oil. Russia can furnish manganese ore in abundance given time. Copper, lead, chrome, and bauxite (the basis of aluminum) are suppliable from Central Europe and the Balkans. Ample zinc has been acquired with conquered Poland. Nickel, tin, and some rare alloys have been irrevocably cut off by the Allied blockade, except the nickel mines of northern Finland; but it is well nigh certain that Germany anticipated those contingencies by storing amounts sufficient for her probable needs. A rubber shortage is largely averted by German synthetic buna.
Thus, unless the German war machine stalls for lack of oil, it looks as though the Reich could weather the blockade, so far as industrial war materials are concerned, until communications with Russia are perfected and its huge eastern neighbor gets into fuller production a year or two hence. Naturally, this implies that Russo German relations continue on their present footing. Should Stalin abandon his pro-German policy, the entire situation would change and Germany’s raw material prospects would become dark indeed.
Now for the food factor. We have already covered that phase so fully in preceding pages that little more need here be said. Reliable information indicates that the almost unprecedented cold of the past winter has damaged or spoiled a considerable proportion of the Reich’s stored supplies of potatoes, cabbage, and other vegetables. That is a serious blow. Besides upsetting the schedule of food rationing for human beings, it will make far more difficult the maintenance of the Reich’s vast pig population, which is fed largely on a potato and sugarbeet diet. If a large percentage of Germany’s pigs has to be slaughtered, that will in turn worsen the fat situation, which is Germany’s most acute dietary problem.
We now reach the fourth and final factor in our analysis of Germany’s war situation and prospects. This is the element of morale. It is the most difficult of them all to assess, because national psychology lies in the realm of the “imponderables” which can be neither statistically weighed nor numerically tabulated. With so many unknown or uncertain quantities to deal with, the best we can do would seem to be the drawing up of a sort of balance sheet, listing the respective assets and liabilities.
To outward seeming, the Third Reich is as formidably prepared psychologically as it is in arms. For seven long years, Adolf Hitler and Paul Joseph Goebbels, acknowledged masters of propaganda, have systematically forged a naturally disciplined people into an amazingly responsive psychic unison. The result has been that, behind the world’s mightiest military machine, we discern an even more formidable psychic mechanism an entire people, 80,000,000 strong, welded into a living juggernaut of Mars, wherein each individual has his designated place and functions as a regimented unit in a complex synthesis such as perhaps only Germans can devise and run. Human history has probably never seen its equal and its efficiency has already been dramatically proven. No one can have studied wartime Germany at firsthand without being deeply impressed. Yet mature reflection suggests that so prodigious and intensive an effort cannot be without its price. That price is psychic strain. The German people have been toughened and hardened by a generation of adversity. In the last seven years they have been psychologically trained down fine, like a boxer preparing for a championship bout or a football squad for the big game of the season. The question is, Are they absolutely “in the pink,” or are they a bit over trained? As I watched the average German’s dull reflexes, I could not help wondering whether I did not behold a people physically still vigorous but spiritually tired.
What the answer is, I do not know. Probably the future alone can tell. Personally, I think that German morale is strong but brittle. To vary the simile a bit, I believe it is like a rubber band, which can be stretched a long way without showing a sign of weakness and then snaps! To show what I mean, let’s see what happened in the last war. Down to its very end, German psychology was extraordinary. To avoid any appearance of partiality, let me quote a British writer who studied this very matter during those crucial years.
Says Harold Nicolson:
“I remember how, in the last war, the magnificent morale of the German people as a whole rendered it difficult for us at any given moment accurately to assess the state of German public opinion. A special branch of our Foreign Office was created for the sole purpose of ascertaining the true conditions within Germany. This branch interviewed neutral visitors, scanned every organ of the German press, analyzed the letters from home that were found on dead or captured Germans. Not only did these letters contain no hints of any weakening in the national will, but the women who wrote to their men at the front very rarely complained of the fierce ordeal to which they were being subjected. It was only when the final crash occurred that we learned how terrible the conditions had really been.
Throughout those four ghastly years the morale of the German people was superb. Their trust in their leaders remained, unto the very last moment, unshaken; their obedience to their government was uniform; no word escaped them of the sufferings which they were being made to endure.“
And Mr. Nicolson concludes:
“It will be the same during this war. I am not among those who believe in some sudden uprising of the German people. It is not the width and depth of German morale which we can question. What we can question is its duration.“
I substantially agree with this British commentator as to the existence of a definite and sudden breaking point in German morale, though I think it as yet far away. Where I disagree with him is in his conclusion. Mr. Nicolson believes that history will surely repeat itself; that if the Germans are confronted with a hopeless situation, they will throw up the sponge and surrender unconditionally, as they did in 1918. This may, of course, occur. Yet, from my stay in Germany, I envisage a more terrifying possibility.
As I traveled through Germany, I frequently saw a slogan painted on factory deadwalls. It read: Wir Kapitulieren Nie! The English whereof is: “No Surrender!” In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler asserts that Germany’s collapse in the last war was due to a “stab in the back” struck by Communists, pacifists, and others “unworthy the name of German.” This historic version has been hammered home until it is devoutly believed by all Nazis, including virtually the whole rising generation. They are systematically taught that Germany is unbeatable. Yet they are also taught that if, by some almost inconceivable mischance, Germany goes down, everything else should go down too, because life thereafter would simply not be worth while.
This catastrophic doctrine can be best explained to American readers as “The Policy of Samson.” To Germans, it might be more intelligible as “The Spirit of Hagen the Grim.” Let me explain what I mean, first by an episode from my own experience, and then from a sally into Teutonic folklore.
In that depressing German summer of 1923 I met a group of men who gave themselves the seemingly paradoxical title of “National Bolshevists.” They looked most unlikely candidates for the part, because they were typical Prussian army officers, monocles and all. Yet they were dead in earnest. Here, in substance, is what they told me, referring to the “passive resistance” campaign then being waged against the French invasion of the Ruhr:
“We know what France wants to smash the Reich. And France may succeed. But even though the Reich vanishes, the German people remains. And the Germans would then collectively become a modern Samson; unable to free himself, yet strong enough to disrupt and destroy. Should this modern Samson bring down the temple of Europe, he will bury all European nations beneath its ruins.“
I have not forgotten that conversation with desperate men. Neither do I forget the Niebelungenlied, probably the clearest revelation of the primitive Teutonic folksoul. Richard Wagner has immortalized it in his Ring operas, which Adolf Hitler has proclaimed the supreme musical expression of Germanic genius. Now, in the Niebelungenlied, the “frontstage” hero is Siegfried the Glorious. But there is another outstanding figure, equally symbolic. This is Hagen the Grim. Hagen it is who, from fanatic loyalty, kills Siegfried and ultimately precipitates that general destruction termed Goetterdaemmerung “The Twilight of the Gods.” Whether, in the last extremity, the German people will, or can, loose a general orgy of destruction, I do not know. But I think that it is possible. I certainly gleaned some dread undertones during my stay in the Third Reich. Two of the highest Nazis I interviewed hinted plainly that if Germany found herself with her back to the wall, they would not hesitate to precipitate general chaos.
However, despite this furor Teutonicus, there would seem to be some method in the madness. Most Germans are unwilling to admit even the possibility of defeat. Those who do, couple it with remarks which amount to some such phrase as:
“If we don’t win, there will be no victor.“
What that means is about as follows:
“If this war is fought to the bitter end, all Europe will be plunged into chaotic ruin. Then, with everybody down in the ditch together, we Germans, with our innate sense of organization and discipline, willingness to work hard, and knack of pulling together, can lift ourselves out of the ditch quicker than anyone else.“
The moral whereof was, of course, that, no matter what might immediately happen, the Germans were bound to win in the long run.
Thus, ‘twould seem, hope springs eternal in the Hagen breast!
Version 3: Nov 27, 2014 – Added PDF of post. Formatting.
Version 2: Wed, Feb 5, 2014. Added Chapter links.
Version 1: Published Feb 3, 2014.
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