Hitler’s Last Chief of Foreign Intelligence: Allied Interrogations of Walter Schellenberg
As an established expert on the history of intelligence, and one of the few in Germany who has been interested in the modern history in that field, Reinhard Doerries is exceptionally well qualified to explain, annotate, and publish the interrogation report on Walter Schellenberg, the last head of Germany’s World War II intelligence service. Since Schellenberg died soon after his release from confinement, and there are—in part as a result of this situation—various versions of his memoirs, it is of particular importance both for scholars interested in Germany’s intelligence services during the war and those more generally interested in the history of that great conflict that the formal report on Schellenberg’s immediate post-war interrogations be made available to the public in full and with a proper introduction as well as appropriate notes.
Because of the wide range of the interrogations that led up to the writing of the report, readers will find in it information on an enormous range of subjects. Given the endless jurisdictional and personal feuds within the government of National Socialist Germany, there is seemingly endless discussion of such matters. More important, perhaps, are the signs that point unmistakably to some kind of close personal relationship between Schellenberg and Heinrich Himmler, the head of the whole security and police system, who evidently took the ambitious and energetic young man under his wing and, from time to time, into his confidence. It is unlikely that we will ever know the precise reasons for this development, but the evidence for it is clear.
This personal relationship goes a long way to explain not only Schellenberg’s rise to a position of importance but also the latitude that Himmler appears to have given him in putting out periodic and entirely unsuccessful peace feelers through neutral countries. Furthermore, in the hectic last months of the war Schellenberg expanded these frantic but futile efforts to arrange a separate peace treaty with the Western Powers. In connection with his development of contacts in neutral Sweden, Schellenberg had assisted in obtaining the release of some Swedes imprisoned and sentenced by the Germans. In the final weeks of the war, perhaps to demonstrate his good faith as an advocate of peace or to provide himself with a better post-war future, he was able to rescue substantial numbers of Jews from the killing that was intended as a last stage of the systematic murder of any and all Jews that German might could reach. In these endeavours he repeatedly met and worked with Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte, who looms large in these materials and who tried to assist Schellenberg after the war had ended.
There is, of course, considerable detail on the organizational history of the foreign intelligence section of the Reich Security Main Office, which Schellenberg headed, and on some of its largely unsuccessful operations inside and outside wartime Germany. Because the British interrogators at the time were, for obvious reasons, especially interested in any German stay behind networks and related underground activities, there is more than enough about this equally futile aspect of German activity. Of greater historic interest is the information about Schellenberg’s contacts with those who were involved in, and in many cases executed for, opposition to the regime of Adolf Hitler. It must be noted that the references to these persons by Schellenberg long antedate the many publications that appeared about the coup attempt of 20 July 1944 and those who participated in it, in subsequent years.
The detailed introduction will be found helpful as placing the interrogation report in a setting that clarifies both chronology and the source problems associated with the life and memoirs of Schellenberg. In this, Professor Doerries has drawn on both secondary literature on the subject and very recently declassified documents that practically no one else has hitherto examined. Half a century after Schellenberg’s death, there is a massive literature on the history of the Third Reich, and it is a singular service to have it related to an important figure of that era. We see how an ambitious and talented young man harnessed his considerable energies—in spite of serious health problems—to a career in the service of an evil regime whose nature and likely fate he appears to have understood somewhat earlier and more clearly than many of his German contemporaries. Neither his efforts in the field of intelligence nor his early recognition of the impending total defeat of Germany produced very much of substance. As usual, Shakespeare had the appropriate comment: ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars
but in ourselves that we are underlings.’ Gerhard L.Weinberg
Professor Emeritus, University of North Carolina
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