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One who got away

31 May 2006

11:04 AM

31 May 2006

11:04 AM

In the Bunker with Hitler Bernd Freytag von Loringhoven, with Fran

Weidenfeld, pp.207, 12.99

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Rather late, we have here the recollections of a then young German army staff officer, who saw Hitler almost daily for the last nine months of the second world war. As Guderian’s ADC, it was Freytag von Loringhoven’s duty to attend the daily Leader’s Conferences at which Hitler continued to direct his war in minute detail, shifting flags on maps without taking in that the flags stood for formations that had long dwindled in reality almost to nothingness. Having only set eyes on the Führer once before, at a big army review some years earlier, the ADC was shocked when confronted in late July 1944 at Rastenburg with a quavering and wizened figure who nevertheless retained mesmeric power over his entourage.


The author’s elder first cousin, Wessel, was so deep in Stauffenberg’s plot to kill Hitler, that failed on 20 July 1944, that he committed suicide sooner than face Gestapo interrogation; Bernd had trouble even arranging a funeral for him. Luckily for himself, Bernd had only the haziest idea that a plot was in contemplation, and survived. Using notes he made and hid in his boots while a prisoner of the British in 1946-8, he has recaptured some telling pen-pictures of the Third and Last Reich at war. His sketches of senior and very senior officers, whom he knew personally, form useful addenda to our knowledge of the German army. Most of the leading Nazis he despised, for reasons with which only fanatics on the far Right will nowadays want to quarrel. He claims to have known nothing at all about the holocaust of Jews while the war went on.

He turns out to have been one of Trevor-Roper’s sources for that admirable bestseller, The Last Days of Hitler, for Trevor-Roper (who died Lord Dacre) interrogated him at length while he was in British hands. There he had some hard times, though nothing like as hard as the lot of his fellow-countrymen who were captured by the Russians. That fate he thrice avoided: he was flown out of Stalingrad at the last safe moment; he escaped them again in the summer of 1943; and he succeeded in avoiding their prowlers when at last he picked his way out of Berlin, on foot and by canoe, at the end of April 1945.

He had been in charge of communications — such as they were — in Hitler’s underground Berlin headquarters in the closing stages. Telephone and teleprinter both broke down; a feeble radio link with the armed forces’ GHQ broke down too; but he could still by chance pick up Reuters’ broadcast news bulletins from London, which, unknown to the Führer, provided the bulk of Hitler’s final daily intelligence diet. He paints a stirring picture of a dictatorship in its final chaos, when no one could trust anyone at all.


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