Chapter 47: The Decision

On May 20, 1940, German troops reached the Channel and thus split the Anglo-French forces in two. In Felsennest Adolf Hitler - probably the same evening - saw and approved a new version of Der ewige Jude on the transportable film monitor which Goebbels had sent him.

The next day, he mentioned to General Halder the possibility of an attack on Russia, and he dispatched Philipp Bouhler to Occupied Poland to get an updated appraisal of the conditions in Poland in general - and of the Jewish Question in particular. Bouhler returned and reported to the Führer at the end of May, just in time to witness the capitulation of Belgium on May 28.

The Führer spent the following days visiting various headquarters near the front - and in going to see his own battlefields of World War I. The last visit was the most important.

On June 1, 1940, he paid two visits which had a marked symbolic character. In the afternoon he, as the victorious conqueror, received homage from his soldiers at the huge cemetery of Langemarck, where the fallen from the battle of November 10, 1914 were buried.

The pictures taken on this occasion were to show the German public that now the Führer had ensured their sacrifice to the Fatherland was not in vain. On one of Hoffmann's photos he almost disappears in a massive circle of heil'ing soldiers.

After that he and his suite of high-ranking officers went on to La Montagne, just south of Wervicq, the place where he for the first time lost his eyesight during a British gas attack on the night between October 13 and 14, 1918. The visit took place around 6 P.M., and it was not filmed. The visit was probably of too private a character for that, but Heinrich Hoffmann took eight photos. On one of them Hitler has stepped a few steps away from his suite, and he stands alone, deeply absorbed in his own thoughts.

Does this photo indeed show the very moment when Adolf Hitler made the decision - to let actions follow words - to carry into effect the proclaimed "extermination of the Jewish race in Europe"?

We know that Adolf Hitler had great difficulties in making up his mind. He could for days and months weigh for and against - and he often left it to time or to others to make his decisions for him.

But we also know that he alone made the vital decisions in foreign affairs, as in all matters relating to war and antisemitism. And we know that when the decisions had been made, there was no doubt left in his mind that he had made the right decision. In a man like Adolf Hitler, with symptoms of PTSD, the visit at La Montagne must have aroused very strong emotions. The very same day he had received the euphoric homage of his soldiers at Langemarck, and now he could, literally with his own eyes, see that he had accomplished what he had decided to do in Pasewalk on November 10, 1918. He had turned the Wheel of History back, and he could now no longer doubt that he had been elected by Providence to complete everything that he had described in Mein Kampf. He had also shortly before - with his own eyes - in viewing and approving the latest version of Der ewige Jude been able to convince himself that it was necessary to take action and remove the root of all evil.

Hitler's activities in the following days seem to confirm the hypothesis that this was the time and place where he decided to order the genocide of the Jews in Europe. In this connection it is important to remember that Hitler considered the showdown with the Bolsheviks only as a part of his war on European Jewry - and already on June 2 the Führer had expressed to General von Rundstedt his hope that Britain would soon be ready for a "reasonable peace settlement," so that he at last could get a free hand for his "great and proper task: the showdown with Bolshevism."

The day after, on June 3, 1940, similar developments occurred in the internal policy towards the Jews of the Third Reich, in shape of a clarification of the judicial framework of the forced labour of the Jews, which for a long time had been a controversial issue between the various authorities implicated.

On June 4, 1940, the lapidary entry in the diary of the Supreme Command read: "Dunkirk taken, the coast reached, the French gone."

The next day the Führer issued an important decree, which for a time should be kept secret. It may, however, be the conclusive written evidence that the Führer had made a decision, because this decree would in principle suspend all laws and statutory instruments that could not be considered necessary for the conduct of war.

Considering the speed with which the German forces advanced in France, the time of its issuance cannot be explained in a satisfyingly logical way, except as a signal of the next and decisive phase in Hitler's war against the Jews. Such an assumption is confirmed by the fact that the decree was renewed on December 20, 1940 - two days after the definitive order for Operation Barbarossa - and at last it was made unlimited in duration on May 15, 1941, the original date for the attack on the Soviet Union.

The Führer had secured a trump-card in his battle with the judicial system, which he hated because it restrained his visions, but seemingly nobody grasped this. Attention was focused on the final assault on Paris which had begun in the morning hours of June 5.

This day Adolf Hitler spent in Felsennest, in a succession of tète-à-tète meetings, among others with Goebbels and Ribbentrop. The Führer had an almost overwhelming religious effect on Joseph Goebbels, when he talked about his visits to his old battlefields of World War I: "The Führer stands towering above us. He is a historical genius. What great times! What happiness to be permitted to work on in such times."

From the diaries of Goebbels it is evident that it was more important for Adolf Hitler to talk about these experiences than to come to a decision on the rest of all the "thousand questions" which they also talked about - among others the question of the construction of a new Europe, the Jewish question and the relations to the churches: "We will rapidly have finished with the Jews after the war. And the churches will then drastically and straight away be told that in the state there will only be one authority, from which all authority originates: the State itself."

Joseph Goebbels was fascinated by talking tète-à-tète with Hitler for so long, because that meant that the Führer "speaks to me almost as a human being." He went back to Berlin, where he on June 8 made some corrections in the narration to Der ewige Jude, and it was then sent to his arch-rival Alfred Rosenberg, partly to obtain his comments, partly to commit him to the message of the film. Rosenberg's few comments came back on June 18.

The day after the meeting with his propaganda minister - June 6, 1940 - Adolf Hitler again went into action against the Jews, when he introduced German criminal law in Occupied Poland. This reform meant that Jews and Poles came to stand in an exceptional position vis-à-vis the law. Hereafter, they would be sentenced to death if they used violence against the German authorities or against Germans in general, or if they had knowledge of or possessed weapons or explosives.

After that he left Felsennest to move closer to the front, and at his departure he ordered the place to be sealed up. Nobody was allowed to touch anything, because it was to be made into a future cult-place.

Even if the locality was both remote and nearer to the front than Felsennest, there was no military reasons for choosing the small Belgian village of Bruly-le-Pêche for the new headquarters, in which Hitler stayed during the rest of the campaign in France. He at once renamed the headquarters Wolfschlucht (see Chapter 1) and moved in at the local inn, to which he gave the name Wolfspalast.

A few days later he ordered Himmler to create a real National Socialist religion with Hitler himself as the central figure, and the always-systematic Himmler immediately started to procure books about the religions of the world for the private library in his armoured train.

"Providence"'s confirmation of the justice of the Führer's order was not late in coming - and once again the confirmation of his self-assumed divine status was photographed and filmed for the edification of present and future generations. On June 21, 1940 - the day of the Nazi midsummer celebration - it was real Führerwetter at the Compiègne Forest, to the North-east of Paris. Field Marshal Foch's old saloon car had been fetched from its museum in Paris and placed at the same spot where the cease-fire agreement had been signed in 1918. Here stood a block of granite with the inscription:

Here the arrogance of the German Empire succumbed on November 11, 1918 - vanquished by the free people which it attempted to enslave.

Now it was the arch-enemy France which had its cease-fire conditions dictated by the Germans. The American journalist William L. Shirer watched the proceedings, hidden behind the trees some 50 metres from the block. Adolf Hitler arrived with his suite at 3:15 P.M. in a large Mercedes, again after having visited old battlefields of World War I in the morning:

I saw his face. It was grave, solemn, yet brimming with revenge. There was also in it, as in his springy step, a note of the triumphant conqueror, the defier of the world. There were something else ... a sort of scornful, inner joy at being present at this great reversal of fate - a reversal he himself had wrought.

Together with his chiefs of army, navy and air forces and his deputy, the Führer silently walked up to the block, which was almost two metres high, and which he three days later would demonstratively blow up. He then went into the saloon car, where he sat down in Foch's chair.

The French delegation arrived five minutes later, and the cease-fire conditions were read out to them. Hitler got up, stretched out his arm in the traditional Heil-greeting and left the car, which was later, as a valuable, symbolic treasure, transported to Berlin. When he went back to the Mercedes, a band played the national anthem Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles and the Horst Wessel-hymn Die Fahne hoch. This was the symbolic manifestation of the fact that the founder of the Millennium had personally wiped out the "infamous Peace" of Versailles. Now the only thing the Führer lacked would be to turn the political doctrine into reality, which he as early as on September 16, 1919, had formulated in a private letter: "The ultimate object must unswervingly be the removal of the Jews."

On the way back to Wolfsschlucht Hitler probably passed by that place near Soissons where he on August 4, 1918 had been awarded his Iron Cross. Soissons was the only theatre of war which he had not visited during his pilgrimage to the battlefields of World War I in May and June 1940 - and it seems improbable that he should not have visited this - to himself - traumatic place as a part of his confirmation of himself and his rôle as Führer. At any rate, shortly after, he ordered the establishment of a new headquarters - Wolfsschlucht 2 - at this place, although he only visited it for a single day during the allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944; but at that time the Wolf-name had long lost its magical power.

At 8 P.M. on June 21 he was back in Wolfsschlucht. He then called Goebbels and told him that he expected France to accept the cease-fire conditions the next day. Goebbels commented on the event in his diary:

It is the Judgment of God which is here executed by us in the service of a higher historical destiny. The Führer is very human, quite touching and affectionate. He is the greatest historical genius we have ever had. An honour to be allowed to serve him.

June 22, 1940, at 6:50 P.M., Adolf Hitler was informed that France had accepted in writing the cease-fire conditions. Did he see anything symbolic in the date - 128 years after Napoleon's attack on Russia in 1812? At any rate, the very next morning - even before the cease-fire agreement had become effective - Hitler flew to Paris with Albert Speer, his photographer Heinrich Hoffmann and his private cameraman Walter Frentz. They landed at 5:30 A.M. on June 23, 1940, and they left the city three hours later. Beyond the fact that the Führer with his own eyes wanted to see that he had conquered his enemy, his visit was filled with mystic symbolism - as always with Hitler. He went at once to the Opera, which he had longed to visit; he took his suite over the house, and he could point out a rebuilding in the interior. Speer would later tell that he

was fascinated by the building, spoke romantically of its unsurpassed beauty, and his eyes shone ecstatically in a way which I found somewhat uncomfortable.

Afterwards they drove

up the Champs Elysées, past Madeleine to Trocadéro, from there to the Eiffel Tower, where Hitler again made the cars stop; past the Arc de Triomphe with the grave of The Unknown Soldier to the Dôme des Invalides where he remained for a very long time at Napoleon's grave.

Finally Hitler visited Panthéon and Sacré-Coeur, before he on the way to the airport discussed the possibility of a victory parade in Paris with Speer. At last he decided against - officially out of fear of British air attacks, but he later gave Speer a completely different reason: "I don't feel like having a victory parade right now. We are not at the end yet." The same night he had a conversation with his architect, during which he asked him to have some of the buildings, which they had visited in the morning, removed to Berlin. At last, however, he decided not to destroy Paris, but Speer should instead see to it that the German capital would be made so great and impressive that Paris would be overshadowed. The Führer dated the order June 25, 1940, the day when when the cease-fire would take effect. Albert Speer was terrified by what he had heard, but the fascination of being allowed to create a new Berlin overcame his aversion to the Führer's will to destroy:

In the course of a few days some of the contradictions which characterized Hitler's nature had beeen unveiled to me, without my understanding them in their entire severity at that time: from a human being, conscious of his responsibility, to the cynical and misanthropic nihilist, he united the harshest contrasts.

The effect of this experience was, however, superseded by Hitler's brilliant victory, of the quite unexpectedly favourable prospects for an early resumption of my building projects, and finally by his abandonment of his destructive intentions.

Albert Speer was also among the selected few who was with Hitler in Wolfsschlucht when the cease-fire took effect at 1:35 A.M., June 25, 1940:

A thunder must have been gathering in the distance, because now and again the flash of summer lightnings rushed through the room, just like in a bad novel. Someone who was overpowered with emotion, blew his nose.

Then Hitler's voice, softly unaccented: "This responsibility..."

And some minutes later: "Turn on the lights again."

The uninteresting conversation went on, but to me it stood out as a rare event. I thought I had experienced Hitler as a human being...

As if to gather strength to take up the responsibility which he had undertaken, Adolf Hitler immediately the following morning went on a tour with two old companions-in-arms - one was his publisher, Max Amann, the other Ernst Schmidt - to visit battlefields of World War I in Alsace.

When he came back a few days later, he had a meeting with his private General Staff. The meeting is thought to have taken place on June 28, 1940, 26 years after the outbreak of World War I and 21 years after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Albert Speer went to the group in order to say good-bye, and overheard Hitler's final remarks:

Now we have shown what we are capable of. Believe me, Keitel, a campaign against Russia will only be an exercise compared with this.

After the meeting, the same day, the Führer hurried back to Germany, to a new headquarters in Schwarzwald, in whose name he again used a metaphor to stress that there was a concealed decision in his words to Keitel the day before. He called it Tannenberg. Even though the place was located in the western part of Germany, the signal was understood by the General Staff of the Wehrmacht - which then of its own account started the planning of a campaign towards the East. The army did not - as some officers put it after the war - want to be taken with their trousers down, as they had been when he forced through his strategy in the West.

The Führer Myth now animated the leadership of the German army as well.

Chapter 48...