Hitler's Personal Security: Gaps and Contradictions
The world, certainly Europe, would look very different if in November
1938 the Führer and Reich Chancellor of Nazi Germany had
been killed. Perhaps people would have regarded him as a "Great
German," as a noted colleague has speculated; more important, the
suffering, destruction and division resulting from the Second World
War might have been avoided. It is well known that attempts to assassinate
Hitler were made repeatedly, though it is probably less well
known how many such attacks there were. At last count, no fewer
than fourteen individuals made at least thirty separate, documented
attempts to murder Hitler during the years 1933 to 1945. In the light
of so much anti-Hitler energy, it seems reasonable and interesting to
look at the circumstances in which Hitler survived all this hostility for
The author's interest in those circumstances grew out of a
study of anti-Hitler activities, of the German Resistance and their
efforts to do away with the Dictator. It soon became clear that the
problems of Hitler's personal protection went far beyond those with
which modern leaders ordinarily have to live, and that they had far
greater implications, for they affected the lives of literally millions of
The obvious question was how Hitler survived the many attempts
on his life. There were conflicting claims as to how easy or difficult
it was for a would-be assassin to get close enough to Hitler for a chance
to kill him. Former members of Hitler's staff maintain it was very
easy, while survivors of the Resistance say the opposite. A closer look
at Hitler's personal security will reveal an unprecedented level of
precautions, and yet, at the same time, the very large number of
attempts on the Führer's life. It will also shed some light on Hitler's
character, and on the internal situation in Nazi Germany.
Survey of Attacks
Most of the early attempts were made by individuals who took it
upon themselves to defend a category of people which the Nazi regime
considered enemies: Jews, Communists, political opponents in general.
More often than not, a group of conspirators planned the attacks,
but none of the plans originated in ordinary political or other nonclandestine
organizations that had existed before Hitler's appointment
as Chancellor in January 1933. The Communist and Socialist parties
consistently rejected assassinations as acts of anarchism; they believed
in mass action and agitation for bringing about political change. No
plans are known to have originated in non-clandestine Jewish organizations or in one of the two main Christian churches. Individuals,
however, did act, at their own discretion, regardless of affiliation with
A handful of individual Communists in Königsberg,
who do not appear to have had the sanction of the Party,
were among the first to plan and prepare an assassination attack
against Hitler (after his appointment as Chancellor) during the Reichstag
election campaign in March 1933. They were soon discovered and
arrested. Other reports of assassination plans against Hitler reached
the police in every year of Hitler's rule. The assassination of King
Alexander of Yugoslavia and French Foreign Minister Louis Barthou
on 9 October 1934 seems to have led to a rash of plans, rumors, and
reports. In 1936 a Jewish student from Yugoslavia, Felix Frankfurter,
who was studying medicine in Switzerland, wanted to kill Hitler, found
no opportunity, and instead killed the Nazi Landesgruppenleiter in
Switzerland, Wilhelm Gustloff.
Another Jewish would-be attacker, the
student Helmut Hirsch, came from Prague with dark thoughts, and
with explosives in his suitcase, but was arrested before he could act.
A Swiss Catholic theology student, Maurice Bavaud, stalked Hitler
for several days in November 1938, near Hitler's alpine retreat in the
Berchtesgaden area, and in Munich where he managed to be on one
of the reviewing stands for the annual parade commemorating the
1923 Beerhall Putsch. An unforeseen and minor obstacle prevented
his attack. When Hitler and his party approached, the SA men lined
up in front of the reviewing stand, raising their arms for the salute,
and preventing Bavaud from getting a clear view for a shot. In the
same year, Georg Elser, a Swabian cabinet maker, and a Communist
sympathizer, reconnoitred the same scene for his 1939 bomb attack
in Munich's Bürgerbräu beerhall.
Conservative opponents of Hitler
in high places, in the Foreign Office, in the military intelligence service,
and in the Army High Command, soon joined by the Socialists,
trade-union leaders and even church leaders, after 1939 also began
planning to murder Hitler as the only way to halt his disastrous course.
In the short term, however, the Nazi cause appeared glorious rather
than disastrous and thus psychological conditions were thought to be
unfavourable. Support for attempts to do away with Hitler increased
in 1942, but some serious planning can be documented also for 1940
and 1941. A series of abortive attempts in 1943 and 1944 culminated
on 20 July 1944.
From the days of his political beginnings, Hitler was usually accompanied
by one or more friends who were both instant private
audience and bodyguards. His driver of many years, Emil Maurice
was bodyguard and friend on a certain level, and went to jail with
Hitler after the 1923 Putsch. Another, Ulrich Graf, stopped half-adozen
bullets aimed at Hitler in the Putsch by throwing himself before
his leader. Maurice, Graf, Rudolf Hess and others were heroes of
many an assembly-hall fight, and on public occasions, Hitler was protected by additional bodyguards. Still, it would be a mistake to see
him as constantly surrounded by strong-arm characters, and shielded
against any molesters. There were many occasions when he moved
alone into hostile crowds, at times swinging the riding crop he liked
to carry, and in one incident he rushed onto the speaker's rostrum
to attack an antagonistic speaker. As much as he needed protection,
he provoked dangers and attacks by the way he lived and behaved.
This contradictory pattern continued throughout his career.
The bodyguard was more formally organized in February, 1932,
when power seemed within reach. Eight men were selected from the
SS, and two or three more, on appropriate occasions, were always
near Hitler, stationing themselves outside his apartment, restaurant,
hotel room or wherever he visited, while he was inside. This was
continued after 30 January 1933, although from then on a criminalpolice
detail was assigned to Hitler as to every Chancellor. Hitler at
first rejected their services while Lammers (State Secretary in the Reich
Chancellery) and Himmler tried to press them on him. But in the
course of the first year in power, Hitler gradually accepted these
bodyguards, so that there were now two groups competing to protect
the Führer: the SS-Begleitkommando, commanded by Bruno Gesche,
and consisting of a growing number of husky SS men, including the
valets and personal-staff SS officers (Ordonnanz); and, the criminalpolice
detail, composed mainly of officers from the political-police
forces of the provinces, and soon unified administratively under Lammers
and Himmler as the Reichssicherheitsdient (RSD), commanded by
Usually six of each group, SS-Begleitkommando
and RSD, accompanied Hitler on every outing, be it to the Reichstag,
to a railway station, to an opera house, to a cabaret or nightclub, or
to a restaurant. All attempts by Hitler's lieutenants, particularly Himmler,
to gain control of the security details failed. Consistently, and to
the very end, Hitler reserved for himself all decisions on appointments
and dismissals, insisting on personally swearing in all new members
and intervening even in salary decisions and the like. Personal loyalty
and obligation were emphasized by elaborate swearing-in ceremonies,
held always during the night of 8/9 November, in front of Munich's
The SS-Begleitkommando of 1932 were trusted fighters for the
cause. Although new members were not in every case also members
of the NSDAP (Nazi Party), their membership in the SS, an organization
of the NSDAP, was regarded as sufficient. Most, but not all,
RSD officers had NSDAP memberships. Up to 1 May 1937, only about
half of some one hundred RSD officers were members. The total
number of RSD officers grew from forty-five in 1935 to two hundred
in 1939, and about four hundred by the end of 1944. Approximately
the same figures hold true for the SS-Begleitkommando.
Besides these two groups, a military guard detachment was assigned
as Hitler's personal escort for travel during the war: the Führer-Begleit-Bataillon (it grew in time to regimental and brigade strength).
Several, less formalized protective groups were in existence as well,
such as one in the Reich Chancellery and a construction workers'
security group on Obersalzberg. Security seemed abundant.
And yet, the SS-Begleitkommando could not even prevent the theft
of Hitler's Mercedes car in Munich in 1932 while he was in a cafe.
Two of the SS-Begleitkommando's commanders were drunkards. Gildisch
was removed from command in 1934, and went on to become
the murderer of Dr. Klausener during the Röhm massacre. Gesche,
Gildisch's successor, managed to hang on until January 1945, with
temporary suspensions for drunkenness, indiscipline, and shooting
wildly in the Führer's Headquarters. Emil Maurice, the driver and
bodyguard of the 1920s, turned out, in 1935, to be of Jewish descent.
However, because of his services in the early years of the struggle,
Hitler ordered that Maurice must not be harmed and must be allowed
to remain in the SS, in spite of Himmler's strong objections. He received
promotions and survived the war. Another dubious leader, in
1945, of Hitler's personal SS guard was SS-Brigadeführer Mohnke who
was reported to be a morphinist.
Martin Bormann complained vigorously
to Hitler that the SS guards were too old, and had achieved
ranks too high to be effective as ordinary bodyguards, but Hitler
replied he would never let any of them go, never mind effectiveness.
The RSD and Führer-Begleit-Bataillon were not plagued by individual
corruption, and it is fair to say that the RSD did a professional job of
preventive detection and protection. Their efforts were often defeated
by Hitler himself as he disregarded simple precautions, and
certainly during his visits to the fronts he was usually in considerable
danger. His military guard could not prevent his motor column from
being shot at by snipers in Poland and they were helpless in February
1943 when, while Hitler was in conference with Field-Marshal von
Manstein at Saporoshe (Army Group Don), Russian tanks nearly overran
the airfield where the Führer's Condor was parked. In March 1943,
near Smolensk, on a visit to Kluge's Army Group Centre HQ, a plot
to shoot Hitler failed only because he refused to take a suggested,
prepared, and specially "guarded" path, where the "guards" were to
Security and Travel
Ambiguity of security measures is encountered also when one
looks at means of transportation, and at public appearances. Hitler
used heavy, armoured Mercedes Benz cars almost exclusively, and
they bristled with bodyguards with pistols and machine guns, although
the cars were almost always convertibles with the tops down.
narrow streets of Nürnberg, a bomb or handgrenade might have been
hurled into the car.
Despite his influence and support, Hitler was the target of many internal assassination attempts by Germans who wanted the “Führer” dead. They were afraid Hitler’s military campaigns and his plans of a Jewish genocide would destroy Germany forever. From 1933 to 1944, over 40 attempts were made on Hitler’s life by Germans, the most famous being Operation Valkyrie.
For increased security, Hitler was driven in a rotation of seven armored limousines, the 1945 Mercedes Grosser 770.
Mercedes designed the car specifically for Hitler and his staff. Each was completely armored and bullet-proof, weighed 4 tons and could reach 93.2 mph. It sported a 225 horsepower engine, and featured a rotational armored plate in the back that could be raised to protect passengers. There were also secret compartments to store extra pistols.
One of the cars is now on display in the Canadian War Museum.
Hitler met his end in 1945 after shooting himself in his underground Bunker while the city of Berlin burned. The city’s remaining population of unprotected women and children were left to face the ruthless atrocities committed by the invading Soviet Red Army. They would be Hitler’s final victims.
During announced public appearances, the routes
were lined with police, Gestapo, SS, SA and other guard units, houses
were searched, roofs were manned with observers, parked cars were
removed, manholes and sandboxes and construction sites were looked
into, while mailboxes, underpasses, sewage tunnels, telephone booths
and public toilets were not forgotten. Still, only the occupation of all
buildings and structures along Hitler's route could have provided
good security and there is no evidence that this was ever done. Consequently
the British Military Attaché in Berlin, who lived at no. 1
Sophienstrasse, could propose in 1939 shooting Hitler while he reviewed
a parade from his customary reviewing stand, opposite the
Institute of Technology. From the Attache's bathroom window, one
would have had a clear shot but Whitehall turned down the unorthodox
Spontaneous, unannounced appearances held the advantage that
secrecy, always stressed but difficult to enforce, could be maintained.
On the other hand, problems with certain factors became worse. Hasty
and spotty security checks, or no checks at all, were done and there
was always the chance of a concentration of persons with reasons for
an attack. In August 1944, Hitler visited Carlshof Field Hospital near
"Wolfschanze," where some of those injured in the 20 July bomb
attack were dying or recovering. As he drove in and out in his open
convertible, several dozen war-wounded, some horribly maimed,
crowded against the automobile. Hitler could not avoid contact with
military men, and still conduct the war, but this visit exposed him to
danger unnecessarily, as if to dare someone to try to kill him.
There were gaps and contradictions in regulations governing rail
travel. Elaborate advance security was always necessary when Hitler
used his special train. It had to be fitted into the schedule, stations
had to be cleared, and barriers had to be lowered at road crossings.
Thousands of railway employees had to be informed of the impending
passage of the special train, all railway installations had to be guarded
closely and, depending on the distance to be travelled, thousands of
railway police were deployed. During the war, elements of the Führer-Begleit-Bataillon were added to the police contingent. Points of particular
sensitivity such as bridges and tunnels were generally occupied
an hour before passage of the train. All this necessarily destroyed
secrecy, an indispensable element of all security. To preserve the train
and its passenger against these odds, the special or duplicate was sent
down the line on ghost runs at irregular intervals, requiring all the
railroad men and railway police to be at their posts, never knowing
whether they protected a train carrying Hitler or his entourage, or
an empty facsimile. To aid safety and security, a locomotive carrying
the respective regional chiefs of railway operations always preceded
the Führersonderzug by ten minutes. The train itself included an armoured
car with anti-aircraft batteries at the front and rear, although
it is not known whether or not Hitler's pullman was armoured; it was
blown up by German pioneers in May 1945.
When the trains had to
stop en route (to maintain safe distances to other trains, for example)
or when Hitler was recognized while looking out of his window, the
public often gathered at stations down the line, after someone telephoned
ahead. Such crowds, gathering spontaneously, were impossible
to control without considerable advance warning; all stations
would have had to be sealed off, or security cordons set up in them —
an almost impossible undertaking over hundreds of kilometres. Photographs
taken by the court photographers show Hitler reaching down
from his open window to accept flowers in June 1940. A bomb could
have been hurled inside, or Hitler might have had his arm twisted
out of its socket by an enthusiastic well-wisher.
On the whole, and for long-distance travel, Hitler preferred flying
to other modes of transportation. Air travel offered better chances
of maintaining secrecy, for in those days very few people had to be
informed when a plane was in the air, and there were no crowds,
crossings, buildings, nor hundreds of kilometres of railway along which
bombs might be planted. Nevertheless, the ordinary risks of air travel
were not small. Many times Captain Baur, Hitler's pilot, was not sure
he would manage to get the plane safely through fog, darkness, muddy
airfields, loss of radio contact and orientation, engine failure, lack of
fuel, or other malfunctions. Once a wheel nearly caught fire when
the brake accidentally jammed, and only an unusually short runway
prevented a fatal accident. During the war, the danger of enemy attack
was added, and in fact Baur had a number of close calls though never
when Hitler was on board. Hitler's seat contained a parachute that
he could put on by slipping into straps in the back support of the
seat, and in front of his seat in his Focke Wulf Condor 200 there was
a steel trap door which could be dropped by pulling a red lever, so
that Hitler could jump out.
Aircraft used by Hitler were guarded day
and night by special SS and Gestapo details. Before every one of
Hitler's flights, his plane was taken up to a certain altitude for a tenminute
test flight to check all functions and to insure that no devices
set to detonate en route had been planted. The prevailing thinking
was that such devices would depend on pressure; still, the test flight
was no safeguard against a time bomb like that of Tresckow and
Schlabrendorff (13 March 1943).
During the war, most assassination plots with reasonable chances
of success were prepared by people who had or could hope for legitimate
access to Hitler's personal presence. Security at Hitler's residences
and in announced or planned public appearances was so tight
that clandestine entry was nearly impossible, except by accident, or
under the perfect disguise of legitimate business. In 1942, a colonel
got off the train a stop too soon and found himself inside "Wolfschanze,"
without being challenged at all; in 1943, a Polish woman
wandered all the way from the east-end to the west-end of "Wolfschanze,"
and she was stopped only at the west gate. Checkpoints,
passes and guards of course could not stop an assassin who was a
legitimate "insider" unless and until he uncovered himself. The insider's
advantages are obvious; he could stalk his victim inconspicuously.
There was one attempt by an outsider, however, in the very
first months of the war, that came within a hair's breadth of success.
While Stauffenberg offers the best example for an insider's opportunities, Georg Elser, the Swabian cabinet maker, illustrated the advantages
and disadvantages encountered by the outsider.
Elser was successful in defeating security, firstly, because it was
lax. It was generally less perfect than it became after his attack, and
it had always been particularly poor at the site he chose. The Bürgerbräukeller
was not guarded and secured according to the comprehensive
methods developed in the 1930s for other places of public
appearances, such as the building where the Reichstag met, or the
Berlin Sportpalast. Unlike these and other places, the Bürgerbräukeller
was not guarded and searched in advance by agents assigned to Hitler's
personal-security forces. It was not guarded at all until only hours
before an expected appearance by Hitler, and even then it was not
thoroughly searched. When the question had been raised in the 1930s,
Hitler had declared he needed no special security precautions when
he was in the midst of his old fellow fighters to commemorate the
Local Party roughnecks, veterans of the early battles and
of the Röhm massacre, particularly Christian Weber, were in charge
of security in Munich, and their performance in security matters was
most unprofessional. Rattenhuber did not have control of security at
the Bürgerbräukeller until the minute Hitler arrived. Elser was thus
able to spend as many as thirty-five nights in August, September and
October 1939, hidden on the balcony inside the large beerhall, working
away at a cavity in the pillar in front of which Hitler always stood
for his speech. Night after night, he ate supper in the restaurant
downstairs, wandered upstairs and disappeared until closing time.
Then he worked, dozed off for an hour or two, and left by the backyard
exit, carrying a small suitcase with the debris from inside the
pillar. His appearance—he was short, grey, insignificant—helped him.
A few days before the event, Elser installed his bomb and two clocks
set to detonate about an hour into Hitler's speech which usually lasted
over two hours. Elser got this far because security was almost nonexistent
until hours before the event, and because he worked alone
and a one-man conspiracy could hardly be infiltrated. Elser's isolation,
a factor in his near-success, was also an important reason for his failure
for he could not have known that Hitler wanted to be back in Berlin
by the next morning, that the pilot could not guarantee a flight because
the heavy fog common at this time of year could not be expected to
lift much before noon, and that Hitler had therefore decided to take
his special train. The train was scheduled to leave Munich at 21.31
and Hitler had to leave the Bürgerbräu about fifteen minutes earlier.
He did leave the hall at 21.07, and Elser's bomb went off at 21.20,
killing seven people on the spot.
After 8 November 1939, security was vastly increased and not
only at the Bürgerbräukeller. There was a flurry of orders and recriminations,
and finally, on 9 March 1940, SS-Gruppenführer Heydrich
as Chef der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD im RSHA issued new, comprehensive
guidelines. RSD and Gestapo efforts at preventive detection
were coordinated (with much greater authority going to Rattenhuber).
The Bürgerbräukeller and all similar sites were put under year-round
watch, and for weeks before Hitler's expected appearances, they were
closely guarded, and searched thoroughly and repeatedly. Hitler continued
to appear in public by surprise, and on such occasions an
assassin who was prepared and happened to be there could have had
an excellent chance, but it was a matter of chance. As Hitler spent
most of his days in his military field headquarters or at his Obersalzberg
retreat, and since he never followed any set routine (such as
Heydrich's daily travels to and from his office in Prague in 1942), an
outsider had no chance of preparing an assassination attack methodically.
On the other hand, there was no protection against an attack
by one of the many high-ranking military officers whom Hitler saw
almost every day of the war, unless the wider nets thrown out by the
Gestapo and SD hauled him in, penetrating his conspiratorial circle
before he was allowed into Hitler's presence.
Claus Graf Stauffenberg, a Colonel in July 1944 and Chief of
Staff to Generaloberst Fromm, the Commander-in-Chief of the Home
Army, was a leader of the military and civilian conspiracy against
Hitler, and in his official capacity he had access to Hitler, seeing Hitler
face to face for the first time in his life in June 1944. Stauffenberg
carried a briefcase full of explosives into Hitler's presence on no less
than three occasions: 11 July, 15 July, and 20 July 1944. On 6 July
1944 he also had the explosives with him, in Hitler's "Berghof ' Headquarters,
near Berchtesgaden; at that time he was perhaps still hoping
that Generalmajor Stieff, Head of the General Staff Organization Section
in OKH and a co-conspirator with access, might carry out the
attempt. (Much was to be said for someone other than Stauffenberg
making the attack: Stauffenberg was an invalid, one-eyed and with
only one hand with three fingers. Moreover, for a reasonably swift
and smooth coup d'état, his presence in Berlin at the moment of attack
would have been important, as later events showed.) On 11 July at
the "Berghof," Stauffenberg did not set off his bomb because Göring
and Himmler were not at the conference with Hitler and the senior
conspirators had insisted that these two must be killed at the same
time as Hitler. On 15 July, Stauffenberg again attended conferences
with Hitler, this time at "Wolfschanze" where the Headquarters had
been moved on 14 July, and again the absence of Göring and Himmler
was the obstacle. (Much could be said on this point, but in this context,
only the security aspect can be considered.)
On 20 July, Stauffenberg
carried his briefcase full of explosives into Hitler's immediate presence
for the third time, entirely unsuspected. This time he had decided to
ignite the charge regardless of whether Göring and Himmler were
present. His material required that he have a few private moments
with his aide just before going to Hitler's conference. Thus, he had
to start the ten-minute chemical fuse as he managed, under a pretext,
to be alone in a room with his aide just before the crucial conference.
Stauffenberg had brought with him two packages, of two pounds each
of plastic explosive. Both were fitted with chemical delay fuses, one
for a ten minutes' delay, the other for a thirty minutes' delay. If one
exploded, the same flash would cause the second package to explode,
and it was assumed this was what Stauffenberg intended for no other
use for the second package is conceivable. While he was pressing the
acid capsule of the ten minutes' fuse in the one package, an orderly
came into the room and said Stauffenberg was to hurry up, the conference
had begun. In this moment, Stauffenberg must have thought
himself discovered, as the orderly remained standing at the door,
looking in. No one knows what went through Stauffenberg's mind;
but he did leave behind half of the explosive, the second package, he
had brought with him to Hitler's Headquarters, going off with only
two pounds of explosive in his briefcase. He had no touble taking this
to the conference room, and leaving it there, under the great map
table, while withdrawing on a pretext.
The bomb exploded in due
course, killing four and wounding Hitler lightly. The police experts
of the commission investigating the circumstances of the attack believed
everyone in the room would have been killed had four pounds
been detonated instead of two. No planned security measures had
prevented the success of the attack. In fact, security was so poor at
this moment that Stauffenberg, against all odds, managed to pass
through the two inner security cordons after the explosion, although
in such a situation regulations required that everything be sealed tight.
He too had the advantage of his appearance: he looked most impressive
and inspired awe and respect, and so was able to bluff his
Hitler played down the incident. He described the conspirators as amateurs and associated his survival with divine intervention. He did this to hide the rot that had spread in his armed forces and to further the myth of his invincibility. Allied forces however recognized this rot, and were happy that the Germans were killing each other.
Nothing saved the conspirators though
After the explosion von Stauffenberg raced back to Berlin and claimed to have assassinated the Führer. His immediate superior General Fromm had heard otherwise from two other sources including another survivor at the Wolf’s Lair – Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel. Fromm refused to budge with further confirmation and tried to arrest the conspirators but was overpowered. Fighting broke out between the conspirators and Hitler loyalists in Fromm’s office, but outside the building Hitler’s forces had secured control. All this despite contradicting reports of Hitler’s fate and Nazi officials and strongholds being under siege.
Eventually the conspirators were suppressed. General Ludwig Beck committed suicide and von Stauffenberg was wounded. No sooner had General Fromm regained control than von Stauffenberg, von Häften and General Friedrich Olbricht were summarily tried and executed.
Over the following weeks Himmler's Gestapo, driven by a furious Hitler, rounded up nearly everyone who had the remotest connection with the plot. Under Himmler's new Sippenhaft (blood guilt) laws, all the relatives of the principal plotters were also arrested.
More than 7,000 people were arrested and, according to records of the Führer Conferences on Naval Affairs, 4,980 of these were executed. Not all of them were connected with the plot, since the Gestapo used the occasion to settle scores with many other people suspected of opposition sympathies.
Colonel Henning von Tresckow committed suicide as did General Erwin Rommel, who was accused of knowingly not exposing the plot. Executions were filmed for Hitler’s viewing pleasure and shown to cadets, few of whom could stomach what they saw.
The survivors of the assassination attempt were awarded an extremely rare Wound Badge of 20 July 1944.
Security was again increased considerably. Identity checks were
intensified. Fewer persons were allowed into the Führerhauptquartier
and those who came had to leave all weapons outside. Even a physician
who came to treat Hitler for ear and throat complaints was forced to
empty his satchel and pockets and to leave behind a number of medicine
bottles and other items, and the bulb of his otoscope was screwed
out and inspected.
For a while SS guards complemented the Führer-Begleit-Bataillon
in the inner compound. Some of these new measures were soon relaxed,
however; after all, the Field marshals could hardly be subjected
to a search of their persons, and members of the inner circle, such
as Albert Speer, were never searched,and could well have brought
along plastic explosives, a knife, or even a revolver. X-ray detection
devices were discussed but not installed. Visitors from the fronts, or
from headquarters departments, only had to allow guards to examine
their briefcases, and some visitors stopped carrying them to avoid this
indignity. The security gaps continued, but searches revealed bizarre
gaps in some cases. A captain in Ribbentrop's staff had taken literally
regulations saying that top secret documents must be destroyed when
in danger of falling into unauthorized hands, and so he always carried
in his briefcase, along with his papers, a bottle of gasoline and a
handgrenade. One can well imagine the alarm the discovery caused
the guards who, after 20 July 1944, examined the captain's briefcase.
He was informed that he must never again take this kind of precaution
when coming to the Führerhauptquartier.
In the end, in the Reich Chancellery Bunker in Berlin, Hitler
directed the final phase of the struggle from this centre of danger,
refusing to remove himself to safety. In March 1945, he paid a last
visit to the eastern front, now on the Oder river, and on 20 April he
received a dozen or so young soldiers who were expected to defend
Berlin to the last man. While they were dying in the streets of Berlin,
Hitler took his own life down in the Bunker.
A great deal of personal security can be offered to a head of
government or head of state, but much depends on his own co-operation.
Hitler himself believed that he owed his survival through the
years to accident, luck and Providence more than to the efforts of
those concerned with his security, yet he permitted and caused the
constant increase of security precautions. Although he often said there
was no real protection against a fanatic, and although he always understood
how much he depended upon popular support, he outlined to
Albert Speer the plans for a new Reich Chancellery, to be built as a
fortress, as protection from "riots" if he was "forced to take unpopular
measures." The new Chancellery was also to be flanked by SS barracks,
but, on reflection, Hitler decided to have the Army Guard Battalion
billetted even closer than the SS Guards. He appeared unsure whom
to distrust more, the Army or the SS.
A liberal state in which human life is highest on the scale of values
cannot provide the same degree of security measures for its leaders
and prominent persons as a dictatorship and police state. But there
are startling limits to the security that a police state can offer. In fact,
Hitler rightly felt endangered, or conversely, protected only by Providence,
which amounted to the same thing. Hitler's dilemma, his indecision
whether to rely more on the SS or on the Army for his
personal security, and the constant, but useless, intensifications of
security point up the most profound gap and contradiction of all, the
one of which Hitler was very conscious: he was a destroyer of men,
and the number of his enemies and potential assassins could only
grow and grow, the more he killed. The quest for greater security
also reached limits beyond which security diminished, as when security
was required as protection against potential dangers originating from
the security forces themselves, and, as when the ruler became so
isolated from his people that he lost—in the case of demagogues and
tribunes like Hitler—the very basis of his power to rule.
This paper is a condensation of material presented by the author in two booklength
works, and was originally presented as a paper for the Canadian Committee
for the History of the Second World War. For references and further explanation
please consult the author's "The History of the German Resistance 1933-1945" (Cambridge,
Massachusetts: MIT Press; London: MacDonald and Jane's, 1977), esp. parts VI-VII;
and, "Hitler's Personal Security" (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press; London: Macmillan
Press, 1978), originally published as Die Sicherheil des Diktators (Munich, Zurich:
Piper & Co., 1975).
The contrast between George Bush's two-hour secret trip to occupied Baghdad in November 2003 and Adolf Hitler's visit to occupied Paris in June 1940 invites some interesting comparisons.
President Bush was in Baghdad for only two and a half hours (or two, depending on the report one reads). His presence there wasn't announced until after he had left. He never took so much as a step outside the US-occupied airport which is also the main US airfield in occupied Iraq.
Hitler's visit to France was likely not widely publicized in advance among the French people either, but he does seem to have enjoyed something of a tour of the French capital.
The issue is not to contrast the personal courage of Hitler and Bush, which is a complex and minor issue, but to contrast the two occupations.
During and since World War II we who live in the Allied countries have been given to understand that the French populace loathed the Germans and of course Hitler worst of all of them.
Yet somehow that supposedly unspeakable and unique and incomparable "barbarity" and "brutality" of the Germans elicited among the French nothing of the sort of massive popular armed resistance and mass visceral outrage that the US forces and their president have aroused among Iraqis.
Hitler could visit occupied Paris and see the sights. Bush had to sneak in and out of US-occupied Baghdad and dared not stay more than two or three hours, or venture outside the armed airport -- not even guarded and accompanied by the most powerfully equipped army on earth.
If the German occupation of France has been portrayed as almost an archetype of oppression and evil, how must we regard, and how will future generations regard, the US occupation of Iraq.