The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics, 1918-1945

By John W. Wheeler-Bennett | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
FROM STALINGRAD TO NORMANDY (February 1943-July 1944)

(i)

THE tragic epic of Stalingrad had far-reaching repercussions on Hitler, on his Generals, on the German people and on the conspirators. For the Führer it meant an intensification of all his complexes in respect of the Generals. He was deeply chagrined and incensed at this first failure of his hitherto magical formula of 'No Withdrawal'. To him it was inconceivable that Paulus should have behaved as he did, calmly surrendering without the gesture of suicide. There are indications that he even expected a form of mass immolation by the garrison. 'I have no respect for a man who is afraid of that [suicide] and prefers to go into captivity', he told Zeitzler on February 1; and again: 'They should have closed ranks, formed a hedgehog, and shot themselves with their last bullet'.1

He apostrophized Paulus as a 'characterless weakling', and von Seydlitz, the commander of the LI Corps, who had surrendered with him, as 'fit to be shot', and he and his Chief of the General Staff joined in a general anathema of the professional Staff officer, agreeing that, in preference to 'intellectual acrobats and spiritual athletes', one had to choose men of character, 'brave daring people who are willing to sacrifice their lives'.2

Finally, Hitler's bitter hatred and contempt for the Generals came out in a gush of petty spite: 'That is the last Field-Marshal I shall appoint in this war. You must not count your chickens

____________________
1
Record of the Conference at the Führer's Headquarters on February 1, 1943 ( Gilbert, pp. 17-22).
2
That Zeitzler stood high with Hitler at this moment is attested by Goebbels, who records in his Diary for March 9, 1943, that 'the Führer continues to be very well satisfied with Zeitzler'; that ' Keitel plays only a very subordinate rôle. But the Führer keeps him . . . because he has nobody to put in his place'; and that The lack of real leaders in the Wehrmacht is truly terrifying. That is no doubt chiefly because the selection process has been entirely wrong, in that social position, wealth and education counted for more than natural endowment and good character' ( Goebbels Diaries, p. 212).

-535-

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