Friday, November 12, 2021

Astounding indifference

‘All Germany is talking about the attempt on Hitler’s life at the Bürgerbräu. The press is quite unable to cover up the fact that there is absolutely no ‘fanatical indignation’ described by official propaganda. Rather, an astounding indifference and many people express regret quite openly that the explosion was delayed.’ This is the German diplomat Ulrich von Hassell - born 140 years ago today - writing in a secret diary. During the Second World War, he was an important figure in the resistance, and his diary gives ‘a vivid contemporary account of the various plots against Hitler’s wartime Reich’.

Ulrich von Hassell was born into an aristocratic family in Anklam, Pomerania (then a province of Prussia, now Germany) on 12 November 1881. His father was a colonel in the Royal Hanoverian Army. Hassell attended the Prinz-Heinrich-Gymnasium in Berlin, and then, between 1899 and 1903, he studied law and economics at the University of Lausanne, the University of Tübingen and in Berlin. He entered the foreign office in 1908, and three years later he married Ilse, daughter of Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz. The couple would have four children. That same year, Hassell was named vice-consul in Genoa.

During the First World War, Hassell was wounded early on at the First Battle of the Marne, and, later in the war, he worked as von Tirpitz’s advisor and private secretary. After the war, he joined the nationalist German National People's Party. After returning to the foreign office he was posted to Rome, Barcelona, Copenhagen and Belgrade. In 1932, he was made Germany’s ambassador to the Kingdom of Italy. Initially, a supporter of Hitler, he became increasingly critical of his aggressive foreign policies and, in 1938, was sacked by Joachim von Ribbentrop. During the Second World War, he tried to persuade others to support a negotiated peace with the Allies; and, subsequently, he campaigned for a military coupe to overthrow Hitler.

In 1942, Hassell was warned that he was under investigation by the Gestapo, but, nevertheless, continued to conspire against Hitler. Eventually, in 1944, following the failed assassination attempt on Hitler (the so-called July Plot), Hassel was arrested. He was soon convicted of high treason, and executed on the same day, 8 September 1944. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Spartacus Educational or the German Resistance Memorial Center website. 

After the war, Hassel’s diaries were found buried in the garden of house. They were published by Doubleday (1947) as The Von Hassell Diaries 1938-1944: The Story of the Forces Against Hitler Inside Germany. The work has been reissued various times since then, not least by Frontline in 2010 with a foreword by Hassell’s grandson, Agostino von Hassel. The book is marketed as providing ‘a vivid contemporary account of the various plots against Hitler’. Some pages can be read at Amazon and Googlebooks

In his foreword, Agostino explains how the diary was written and found: ‘My grandfather wrote his diaries on tiny pieces of paper that he could quickly shove under carpets in case of a Gestapo search. As common with police forces in totalitarian societies, the all-powerful Gestapo was curiously inept and naïve in certain respects. They never found much concrete evidence to accuse him with. Hassell used to stuff his notes into Ridgeway tea cans which, wrapped in oil-cloth, were then buried in the garden of his house in Ebenhausen, a village outside of Munich. After the war these cans were eventually taken to Switzerland to be transcribed.’

Here’s two sample extracts.

1 October 1938
‘One of the few certainties today is the overwhelming and tremendous relief of the whole nation, or rather of all nations, that war has been averted, although Germans, or I suppose the great majority of them, have no idea how close they came to war. In Berlin, London, Paris and Rome the four returning matadors were all received by their peoples as ‘peacemakers’ with the same stormy enthusiasm. Hitler’s brutal policies have brought him a great material success while the French have reason to feel ashamed before the Czechs.

The day before yesterday we went from Wittenmoor with Udo Alvensleben to the residence of the old Princess Bismarck. She and Schoenhausen great but almost tragic impression. She thought her father-in-law no longer counted, that in fact his stature was systematically played down. This latter is true, and in view of the spirit of our rulers and the successful Anschluss policy, very logical. I told the Princess from conviction that Bismarck would withstand this storm victoriously. In the beginning she had been impressed by Hitler, but today thinks of him and his methods just about as Popitz does. R. Kassner the philosopher was also present - a gifted man, filled with the deepest bitterness by the cultural devastation wrought by the Third Reich. Even today I do not feel like an ally of the intelligentsia but see it as a false front that all people who can think for themselves are being pressured into this alliance. I share Princess Bismarck’s belief that a system employing such treacherous and brutal methods cannot achieve good ends, but I cannot follow her when she draws the conclusion (as do General Beck and a thousand others) that therefore the regime will soon collapse. There is not yet sufficient reason to think so.

Yesterday afternoon on my way home I stopped with Alvensleben in wonderful Neugattersleben. Werner Alvensleben came too. He is the famous ‘Herr von A’, of 30 June, who has meanwhile been released from prison and banished to a hunting lodge in Pomerania. He is a somewhat mysterious man, more conspirator and adventurer than politician. It is interesting that he was with Hammerstein (the general), who told him that Minister of Finance Schwerin-Krosigk had looked him up (or happened to meet him?) fresh from an audience with Hitler on Wednesday afternoon, 28 September, and reported as follows: Krosigk, with Neurath and Goring, had gone to Hitler to persuade him of the utter impossibility of fighting the war on which he seemed bent. Krosigk emphasized that financially the game was up, and that in any case we could not hold out during a war. Hitler apparently resisted these arguments until Mussolini’s historic telephone call forced him to give in.’

16 November 1939
‘All Germany is talking about the attempt on Hitler’s life at the Bürgerbräu [8 November]. The press is quite unable to cover up the fact that there is absolutely no ‘fanatical indignation’ described by official propaganda. Rather, an astounding indifference and many people express regret quite openly that the explosion was delayed.

With cold-blooded insolence, immediately after the bomb exploded, the report was put out that suspicion was focussing on Britain. If that was known it is a scandal that it was not prevented. Naturally, it is being whispered that this was another ‘Reichstag fire’ instigated by the Party in order to rouse hatred against Britain. I do not believe this, although the stories circulated by the Gestapo would naturally give rise to this suspicion. Most probably it was a Communist conspiracy or the act of dissatisfied elements within the Party, Otto Strasser supporters. What will be the effect of this attempt on Hitler’s life? I sense that confusion and helplessness are increasing.

I am beginning to believe that the invasion of Belgium and Holland has been given up. For weeks the foreign press has been full of reports on the fears of the Belgians and Dutch and their extensive preparations. The step taken by King Leopold and Queen Wilhelmina was apparently the result of this anxiety and has made matters more difficult for Hitler. If he wanted to do it, he hesitated too long - thank God - and thanks to the opposition of the military. (Misleading rumours amongst the people regarding Italy’s becoming involved in the war, amongst other things.) 

A notable event in foreign affairs was the proclamation by the Comintern on the anniversary of the October Revolution. With remarkable sangfroid they throw us into the same pot with Britain and France as capitalistic slave-traders. The incident demonstrates what they dare say about us, apparently for the purpose of quieting their own party members. Since this proclamation also berates the Italians as future hyenas of the battlefield, who will enter the fray when the victory of one party is assured, the Italian press, on official instructions, has taken the field against Moscow and notes that apparently the accordo between Germany and the Soviets was not quite perfect. The French seized on that as a sign that the Axis is tottering, to which the Italians made a rather tortuous response. New story: ‘The Führer has had his driving licence revoked because he wanders too far into the oncoming lane. His axle [same word in German as Axis] is broken.’

Pietzsch came to see us. Very depressed. Basically he now understands exactly the adventurous and bolshevizing policies with which Hitler is leading us into the abyss. Then in the midst of it all he falls back almost automatically into a state of admiration. He tells awful things about the economic disorganization which makes any rational management impossible.

Without any knowledge of the matter in hand, Hitler interfered for political or military reasons, made altogether impossible demands - for instance on behalf of Italy - and thereby turned the whole apparatus upside down. It appears to me that we ourselves are contributing to the British ‘destruction of the German economy’.

Characteristic of the deceptive methods of the press barons I was told by an editor that the newspapers were permitted recently to mention the anniversary of the death of Johanna von Bismarck [wife of Chancellor Bismarck, died 27 November 1894] but were strictly forbidden to mention her Christian piety. Moreover, all magazines and periodicals must publish something adverse about Britain in each issue. The Comintern proclamation was of course suppressed and so are railway accidents. The French and British replies to King Leopold and Queen Wilhelmina were reviled, but not published.

I met Guttenberg in Munich. His brother-in-law Revertera has been released suddenly without explanation. At heart Guttenberg remains of course a Bavarian monarchist and would like to build bridges for the House of Wittelsbach now it is clear that the era of independent German monarchical states is over. He is right to worry about Habsburg ideas of dividing things up in the case of defeat, and says this must be resisted. It appears that Gessler has the confidence of the Wittelsbachs. Interesting conversation with General Geyr von Schweppenburg who had commanded a panzer division in Poland. He must have seen some terrible things and become so strongly affected by them that he is now to be found in a sanatorium with a heart condition.

Among other things he recounted was the order at the Bug river not to permit thousands of fleeing Poles, who were streaming back to us in terrible fear of the Bolsheviks, to cross the river. Of course wherever possible he allowed it anyhow.

During his time as military attaché in London the Party had attacked him violently for maintaining that Britain was not bluffing, but that once a certain point was reached they would fight. As late as June Reichenau had asked him with a sneer whether he still believed Britain would go to war. Reichenau, of course, thinks differently now. The only ones who believed Geyr were Beck and Fritsch. I remember in Rome, after the reoccupation of the Rhineland, how Goring assailed the service attachés in London for ‘losing their nerve’. Geyr (at the time military attaché in London) said that the three of them jointly had sent a very straight telegram to the effect that the probability of ‘war’ stood fifty-fifty. He said that ever since the re-occupation of the Rhineland [7 March 1936] the British had been distrusting and had begun to prepare for war. The top military officers friendly to Germany had been replaced by Francophiles throughout.’

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