Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Hitler in Paris

LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, he'd always wanted to see Paris. When he finally did, he brought his own food with him. He arrived at dawn and stayed three hours. Besides passing up any nightlife, he skipped even the Louvre. And he didn’t spend a sou.
He was Paris' Tourist from Hell. When his car passed a gaggle of market women, one stirred an uproar by shouting: "It's him! It's him!" A vendor who tried to sell him Le Matin was horrified when he recognized the most appalling visitor Paris ever had: Adolf Hitler.
St. Genevieve had prayed that Attila and his Huns be kept from Paris in the year 451. They were. But she couldn't keep Hitler away, no matter how hard modern Frenchmen prayed to her that June of 1940. German armies had overrun France in a matter of days.
Now Hitler was savoring the fruits of his aggression. Harkening to his days as a student of the fine arts in Munich, he decided to visit Paris in the company of artists and architects. He brought three along. As his guide, he picked sculptor Arno Breker, who'd once studied in Paris. Architects Albert Speer and Hermann Giesler lent great expertise, and Hitler’s personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, was along to record the historic visit. Coming along for the ride were deputy Martin Bormann, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Hitler's physician Karl Brandt, plus several adjutants.
Hitler's faithful pilot, Hans Baur, loaded everyone into the four-engine Folke-Wulf 200--the "Condor"--at Bruly-de-Peche just after 4 a.m. on Sunday June 23. The Condor landed at Le Bourget just after dawn.
"Paris has always fascinated me," der Fuhrer said upon alighting.
Three black open-topped Mercedes cars awaited. Although the day was bright and warm, Hitler was dressed as if he were in Moscow. He wore a long leather overcoat over a plain German uniform, hardly the latest in Parisian styles. He'd brought along his usual fresh vegetables and fruit juice.
Whisked through the near-deserted streets in the lead Mercedes, he saw few Parisians. An occasional gendarme saluted, apparently recognizing Hitler, or at least knowing an official caravan when he saw one. The cops did alert the prefect, and soon French police cars were discreetly tailing the unwanted tourists.
Hitler's first stop was the Opera, hardly a beehive at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. A white-haired caretaker called "Glouglou" was awakened to turn on the stage lights.
"This is the most beautiful theatre in the world," Hitler noted, disregarding the uniformed French guard who'd scornfully turned his back.
Hitler had studied the Paris Opera during his days in Munich as an architectural student. (He's said to have sketched the original Volkswagen, surely an architectural achievement of some merit.) After demonstrating that he remembered the layout of the Opera in detail, he bored his traveling companions as only he could. His discourse included everything he knew about architecture and city planning.
After old Glouglou turned down a tip, the Nazis headed for the Place de la Concord. There, Hitler admired the marble equestrian statues.
Then they drove slowly along the Champs-Elysses. Hitler observed that Berlin's Unter den Linden would one day be wider. At the Arch of Triumph, he observed that, yes, he'd build a much bigger and better one in Berlin.
After looking up at the Eiffel Tower, the tourists strolled along the esplanade. At the Invalides, Hitler doffed his cap and placed it over his heart, staring reverently into Napoleon's tomb.
“This is the greatest and finest moment of my life,” he remarked to Hoffmann.
He told Bormann to arrange to have the remains of Napoleon's son moved from Vienna and placed beside his father's. (They were.)
"You will built my tomb," he told Giesler quietly.
Then, quickly, Hitler saw the Chamber of Deputies, the Place Saint-Sulpice, the Luxembourg Palace and the Pantheon.
Then they passed the Closerie des Lilas cafe and the statue of Marshal Ney. In Montparnasse, Breker recognized his old studio. According to local folklore, he and Hitler strode up and knocked, hoping to see it. Imagine the concierge's horror when she opened the door. Shrieking, she slammed the door before Hitler could say a word.
The entourage drove north on Boulevard Saint-Michel to Notre Dame, which didn't move Hitler. Then it was on to the artists' haven of Montmartre.
"I would have studied here if fate had not pushed me into politics," he said, "since my ambitions before the World War were in the field of art."
Gazing down on the city from the terrace below the basilica, he said: "Paris has always fascinated me." He then said he'd had his invading legions bypass Paris "so that picture below us would be preserved for the future." (The photo of Hitler on the terrace has been preserved, too.)
"I love Paris," he gushed unoriginally. And he did, except for two things. He found Sacre Coeur "appalling," and he loathed a statue across from the Invalides. It depicted Gen. Charles Mangin, who after World War I had commanded France's occupation troops in the Ruhr.
(Not many days later, German officers and 30 workmen knocked down the statue and cut it up with torches. Sledgehammers were applied to the inscriptions, then the base was dynamited.)
By 8:15 a.m., Hitler had seen all the standard tourist attractrions except the Louvre. So he headed home.
"It was the dream of my life to see Paris," he told Speer. "Paris has always fascinated me.
I love Paris. It has been a place of artistic importance since the 19th century.
"Wasn't Paris beautiful!"
He never returned.

Hitler left, but his troops had come to stay. With newsreels cameras humming, they paraded through town as conquerors. It wasn't the first time. They'd done it at the end of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Parisians had rigged chains across the Arch of Triumph that time, hoping to keep the Germans from parading through. After World War I, when the French were on the winning side, they removed the chains and paraded Frenchmen through the Arch during the Victory Parade of July 1919.
These two neighboring nations have taken turns humiliating each other. At the end of World War I the Germans had surrendered to the French in a railroad car at Compiegne. The French rubbed it in by erecting a granite monument inscribed: "Here on the 11th of November 1918 succumbed the criminal pride of the German people." Now, on June 22, 1940, the Germans got even, making the French surrender in the same railroad car at Compiegne. Hitler then ordered the railroad car and monument shipped to Berlin as trophies. (They were, and Allied bombing soon destroyed both.)
In 1940 the German commanders had preceded even the conquering troops into town. Gen. Fedor von Bock, chief of Army Group B, flew ahead so he could be at the arch in time to take the salute of the first combat troops. Newsreel cameras hummed as the grim-faced Germans paraded through the arch. As author John Toland noted: "It was a parade, not a battle,” that brought the Germans into town. Toland added that “Bock took time off to visit the tomb of Napoleon before having lunch at the Ritz and doing a little shopping." (Bock died in an air raid on Germany May 4, 1945.)
Supposedly, French authorities had sent a sergeant to blow up the Eiffel Tower before the Germans arrived. Granted, that seems a formidable task for one man, but, according to the story, he ended up destroying only auxiliary radio towers. (Even today, there’s a hidden war room in the tower.)
The French did disable the tower’s elevators so the Germans would have to walk up. They did, lugging a huge Nazi flag. But when they hung it atop the tower it proved too big; the wind quickly shredded it.
The Germans occupying Paris acted more like tourists than troops. They took photos, bought souvenirs and post cards, and climbed the tower. They especially enjoyed the food. According to folklore, some Germans died of gluttony by eating butter as if it were ice cream, and by devouring omelets made of such things as two dozen eggs.
As a well-trained army, the Wehrmacht treated Parisians well. The slogan was JEIP ("Jeder einmal in Paris" or "everyone should get to see Paris once.") And all Germans did want to see it. Every conceivable branch of the Wehrmacht and every German political organization established its headquarters in Paris; even the occupied Channel Islands were administered from there.
Soon the arrival of the dreaded Gestapo changed everything.

Our teachers taught us that the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine go back and forth between France and Germany, depending on which won the most recent war. But we seldom stop and think about the unfortunates who live there. First one side and then the other drafts them. Lothaire Levy, who lived in Metz, liked to tell the story of his two uncles who were German soldiers in World War I and French in World War II.
In between the wars, French authorities arrested the uncles along with other German nationals living in Metz.
After the Germans took France in 1940, they arrested the uncles, who, besides having fought unsuccessfully for the French, were Jewish. But the Germans did at least one thing right: they recognized those Jews who were German veterans of World War I and released them.

Edgar Vincent d'Abernon was British ambassador to Germany in 1920-26. In his memoirs, An Ambassador of Peace, he mentioned an Austrian politician's unsuccessful coup in 1923. The politician was sent to jail, after which, Lord d'Abernon assured his readers, "he vanished into oblivion." The politician, of course, was Adolf Hitler.
Hitler was different things to different people.
■ To Time magazine's publisher, Hitler was "man of the year" in 1939.
■ To Paul von Hindenburg, Hitler was an odd duck who might one day be competent enough to run the postal department.
■ To young Egon Hanfstaengl, Hitler was "Uncle Dolf."
■ To niece Geli Raubal, he was "Uncle Alf."
■ To secretary Traudl Junge, he was "Uncle Adi."

Hitler first became politically successful because he was a performer. During a typically wild speech, he lost between four and six pounds.
When Hitler was arrested after the Beer Hall Putsch, little Egon Hanfstaengl screamed: "What are you bad, bad men doing to my Uncle Dolf?" (Hitler's old friend, Putzi Hanfstaengl, was Egon's father. The kids of Hitler’s henchmen loved him.)
Hitler was shy and even likable in private life. He had one terrible habit: he speechified. If anyone struck up a conversation, he'd stop and launch into a speech.
He liked spaghetti. The only meat he'd eat after niece Geli's death was liver pudding.
He lectured all friends and coworkers on the evils of smoking. No one could smoke in his presence. People took breath mints before talking to him. He had a standing offer of a gold watch for any friend or coworker who quit smoking. He made Eva Braun choose between him and cigarettes. He also opposed alcohol and meat although not so vigorously. He disapproved of lipstick, saying it contained unhealthy and disgusting materials--especially Parisian lipstick.
He seldom stayed long in his office. Like many bosses, he'd burst in with much ado, then flee just as rapidly.
He disliked Christmas decorations because his mother died near a Christmas tree.
He liked to go for auto tours with friends, or as Americans of that era said, for "Sunday drives." He could be quite a lively traveling companion. The entertainer in him surfaced. He'd do impersonations of his opponents and he'd whistle Wagner. He knew Wagner's Die Meistersinger by heart. He loved the music of Beethoven, too, and he liked Schumann, Chopin and some Richard Strauss. He didn't like Bach or Mozart.
He had a sister and two brothers who died young. His sister Paula lived into the 1950s.
He also had a half-sister Angela and half-brother Alois. The half-brother was a waiter in Dublin in 1909, when he married an Irish woman. Their son, William Patrick Hitler, was born in Liverpool. William was living with his mother and working in a London office in the 1930s. Reporters liked to interview him, making his occasional contacts with his famous uncle stormy indeed. William, who lived in England during the war, liked to imply that the family was part Jewish.

In early May, 1945, the government of Portugal ordered two days of national mourning. All flags were flown at half staff in honor of Hitler.
On May 2, 1945, Irish Prime Minister Eamon de Valera called at the German legation in Dublin to express his condolences on Hitler's death. (De Valera’s rivals never forgot this. It must be remembered, though, that the Irish government considered the repressive British--not the Germans across the Channel--as their primary enemy.)

At 2:30 p.m. April 30, 1945, a Red Army soldier, Sgt. Kantariya, waved the red flag from the second story of the Reichstag. But just above him, on the third floor, the Germans were still resisting fiercely. Less than a mile away, Hitler remained in his bunker. At 3:30 he finished lunch and prepared for suicide. Not till 10:50 did the red flag fly on the roof of the Reichstag, showing it finally was in Soviet hands.
On May 1, 1945, Soviet troops stormed the bunker. Going in through the garden, they descended one flight of stairs to a steel door. Next came more stairs and a long corridor. They passed through another door and went down a short flight of stairs into the upper bunker.
They found a central vestibule, which doubled as a mess hall. Surrounding it were 12 small rooms. After passing through this vestibule, troops went down a curving flight of 12 steps into the actual fuhrer bunker. Here were apartments and meeting rooms. Four flights of concrete steps provided an emergency exit up to the garden.
Covering the entire bunker was a 12-foot-thick reinforced ceiling topped by 30 feet of concrete.
The Soviet troops didn't find Hitler. He'd shot himself a day earlier. They did find his valet, cook, pilot, mechanic, some adjutants and some commanders of his bodyguards, including a general, a vice admiral and a major. Martin Bormann and others had fled just before the Russians arrived.
The people found in the bunker included:
■ Heinz Linge (Hitler's valet)
■ Hans Baur (Hitler's pilot)
■ Mengershausen (an officer of the bodyguard)
■ Tattenhuber (commander of Hitler's detective guard)
■ Major Otto Guensche (Hitler's SS adjutant)
■ Schneider (Chancellery's chief garage mechanic)
■ Lange (Hitler's vegetarian cook)
■ Schultze-Kossens (Hitler's SS adjutant)
■ SS Gen. Mohnke
■ Vice Admiral Erich Voss (Hitler's naval attache)
The Soviets imprisoned them and interrogated them for years. Whole libraries of files evolved. The valet provided information daily for 7 1/2 years. When he was released, all his writings were kept.


Mon Dieu, wasn't there one French flag in all of Berlin? Old Glory graced the surrender hall that historic May 8, 1945, as did the Union Jack and the hammer and sickle. But how could Gen. Jean de Lattre de Tassigny sign anything? There was no Tricolor.
So, while the world awaited the official end of the war in Europe, the women of the Soviet delegation improvised. Cutting apart a Nazi flag, they appropriately trashed the swastika and sewed one of the remaining red strips to a bedsheet. Then an heroic workman surrendered his blue overalls, and--voila!--the women had made, well, they'd made a Dutch flag. They'd sewn the stripes the wrong way--the long way.
An easy-enough fix. But after the women finally made stripes that ran up and down, the men fell to bickering. To begin with, de Lattre was there only because his boss, Gen. Charles de Gaulle, wasn't. De Gaulle wasn't there because U.S. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower wasn't. Scuttlebutt was that Ike hadn't shown because the Soviets had sent a mere field marshal, Georgi Zhukov.
And now the Soviets said nyet, the ceremony couldn't begin. If Ike's proxy, Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, were to sign along with U.S. Gen. Carl Spaatz, the Americans would have two signatures to the Soviets' one. But Spaatz, noting Tedder's Britishness, wouldn't back out--not unless the Frenchman did. Would de Lattre withdraw? Never! He'd rather be shot.
Two hours later, the Soviets masterminded an international accord: Tedder and Zhukov would sign, then Spaatz and de Lattre would sign a tad lower. Upon such mature wisdom world peace hinges.
It was 11:30 p.m.--seven hours had been wasted--when Adm. Hans Georg von Friedeburg and Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel finally signed for the Germans.
Von Friedeburg holds the record for surrending. He'd surrendered Germany's northwestern armies on May 4--a dubious duty for an admiral--then he and Gen. Alfred Jodl had signed an overall capitulation in Reims, France, on May 7.
Yes, the Berlin ceremony--euphemistically billed as the "formal ratification of the Reims ceremony"--was merely a reprise to soothe Soviet sensitivity, a not-quite-instant-replay that the Reds deemed necessary because U.S. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith had lost the documents the Germans were supposed to sign in the first place. He'd improvised a quick replacement for the ceremony of May 7, and now the Soviets had disavowed his handiwork.
Ike had skipped that earlier ceremony, too. Worn out and grouchy--would you want Winston Churchill calling you eight times a day?--he was leaving the nitty-gritty of peace to subordinates.
Ike did receive von Friedeburg and Jodl briefly and curtly in his Reims office at 3 a.m., when the initial signing there finally was straightened out. His dog Telek growled at the visitors from the next room. Once the Germans left, Ike flashed his famous smile only momentarily. His champagne was flat and his bedtime stack of pulp westerns was down to such dregs as Cartridge Carnival.
Worse, his press officers foolishly embargoed the surrender story for 36 hours, enabling German radio to scoop the world. Angered, the Associated Press violated the embargo later that afternoon, thereby upstaging the official V-E Day celebrations planned for the next day.
But compared to the Germans--Keitel and Jodl were hanged, and von Friedeburg committed suicide--Ike had nothing to complain about. He was White House-bound. The Soviet general who signed at Reims, though, was summoned home immediately, never to be seen again. His crime? Upstaging Zhukov by signing that unauthorized surrender.

■ Reich is the German word for "empire."
■ The First Reich, identified retroactively, goes back to the Holy Roman Empire.
■ The Second Reich began in 1871 with the unification of Germany and ended with the fall of Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1918.
■ The Third Reich, which was Hitler's regime, existed in 1933-45.

Americans have made a film for each of Paris’ most famous landmarks: The Arch of Triumph, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Man on the Eiffel Tower and Moulin Rouge. Stubbornly, Americans persist in calling it the “EYE-full Tower,” not the “ef-fell.”

French ace Jean Marie Navarre didn't come out of WW I without some mental problems. Once, driving his car, he chased gendarmes down a sidewalk in Paris. Then, less than a year after WWI ended, he tried to fly through the Arc de Triomphe. He didn't make it, and was killed.

Every day during the Occupation, a German brass band of 250 playing Preussens Glorie (Prussia’s Glory) paraded along the Champs-Elysees from the Place de la Concorde to the Arch.

The swastika was atop the Tower. The Tricolor was forbidden; it was visible only in a glass case in the army museum of Les Invalides.

No comments: