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What If Hitler Had Not Killed Himself?

By Mark Grimsley 
Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: July 30, 2010 
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In 1943, Brig. Gen. William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan, director of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS), asks Walter C. Langer, a prominent psychoanalyst, to produce a psychological profile of Adolf Hitler. Langer scrutinizes a mountain of documentary evidence about Hitler and interviews a score of German refugees who have known Hitler personally. The resulting report covers Hitler's troubled childhood, his megalomania, even his sexual pathologies, and concludes with an assessment of his likely future behavior.

One course that Hitler could choose strikes Langer as both "a real possibility" and, from an Allied perspective, the most dangerous. "When he is convinced that he cannot win," Langer writes, "he may lead his troops into battle and expose himself as the fearless and fanatical leader." Langer presumes that Hitler would fight at the head of Wehrmacht or Waffen SS units and would die in combat—an end that would inspire his followers to fight on with "fanatical, death-defying determination to the bitter end" and "would do more to bind the German people to the Hitler legend and insure his immortality than any other course he could pursue."

But what happens in the spring of 1945, as Allied armies invade Germany from east and west, is even worse. Hitler indeed leads his troops into battle, but not in a way that Langer could ever have anticipated. Moreover, his "troops" belong to no conventional military force. Rather, they are shadows that seem everywhere and nowhere: the "Werewolves."

Werewolves can be anyone at all: SS members and army veterans; officers who remain devoted to their oath of loyalty to Hitler; and, above all, civilian men, women, and even children who pick up any of the millions of rifles, grenades, and antitank weapons that litter the ruins of the Third Reich. The Werewolves have no organization. They have no officers in the normal sense. Their leader is a voice on the clandestine but ubiquitous "Werewolf Radio": the voice of Adolf Hitler, the voice of their unconquered and unconquerable führer.

"All means are right to harm the enemy," the voice declaims. "Our towns in the west, destroyed by cruel air terror, the hungry men and women along the Rhine, have taught us to hate the enemy. Our raped women and murdered children in the occupied east territories scream for revenge." Werewolves must ambush the enemy's soldiers and sabotage his supply lines, the voice continues, and kill without mercy all collaborators. "Hate is our prayer," the voice concludes, "revenge our battle cry!"

In the months that follow, Werewolves slay hundreds of Allied soldiers. They murder thousands of "traitors." They sabotage supply dumps and derail trains. An orderly occupation of the country is impossible, for Nazi Germany, though entirely overrun, has not surrendered—cannot surrender—in any legitimate sense. Instead American, British, French, and Soviet soldiers must conduct an intensive search for the Werewolves—and for Hitler. In time Werewolf Radio falls silent, and it is whispered that Hitler has died. But no one can prove it. Fueled by the Hitler mystique, the Werewolf insurgency continues for years.

The above scenario is historically accurate in several details. Psychoanalyst Walter C. Langer did indeed produce an extensive report for the OSS, speculating that Hitler might choose to fight on. As evidence of such a possibility, he pointed to apocalyptic statements by Hitler such as one declaring that "we shall not capitulate…no, never. We may be destroyed, but if we are, we shall drag a world with us…a world in flames."

And the Werewolves did indeed exist. Initially conceived by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler as highly trained guerrillas supporting the conventional war effort, but then  became an umbrella group including any German involved in partisan resistance against the Allies. The change occurred primarily through the efforts of propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, who believed that the same underground resistance the Wehrmacht had encountered in occupied countries—especially the Soviet Union and France—could arise in Germany and, fueled by Nazi fanaticism, increase exponentially.

It was Goebbels who founded Werewolf Radio. Ostensibly a chain of clandestine mobile radio stations in the occupied territories, it was really a single transmitter that, historically, was overrun by the Red Army on April 23, 1945. It was Goebbels, not Hitler, who made the incendiary broadcast that ended "Hate is our prayer, revenge our battle cry!" And, to a limited extent, the Werewolf popular resistance did operate in postwar Germany. Their symbol was an ancient rune sign resembling a lightning bolt. The leading historian of the movement, Perry Biddiscombe, estimates that "hundreds of people—perhaps over a thousand—died as a direct result of Werewolf attacks," and that Werewolves continued to operate as late as 1947.

The Werewolf movement never became a serious impediment to the Allies, however, in large measure because Hitler refused to concede the possibility of a German military downfall. For that reason any centralized attempt to organize a post-occupation resistance movement was squelched because it seemed inherently defeatist.

Had Hitler chosen to embrace the idea of a massive partisan uprising to continue the struggle even after Germany had been overrun and conventional military defense ended, however, he could have made it a reality, in the same way that the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein made plans for continued resistance after the occupation of Iraq by American and British forces in 2003. That effort flowered into a full-fledged insurgency by the end of 2004. True, the Allies had at least four million troops in Germany—nearly one for every 20 Germans. Even so, the ratio for a successful occupation in the face of continued guerrilla resistance is one for every 10.

Could such an insurgency have defeated the Allied occupiers? The answer is almost certainly no. But it would have been an obstacle to a substantial drawdown of Allied forces in the country, delayed the reunion of millions of displaced persons with surviving relatives, and vastly complicated efforts to restore normal government. Fortunately for the Allies, Langer proved correct in his prediction of the "most plausible" course Hitler would take. Hitler, he believed, would commit suicide.


4 Responses to “What If Hitler Had Not Killed Himself?”


  1. 1
    Paul Schultz says:

    Thank you for a fascinating article. The "Werewolf" initiative remains one of WWII's most ironic developments. After Nazi Germany sought to occupy most of Europe without anticipating the resistance they would encounter from indigenous populations, the Reich's desperate leaders decided to encourage the same kind of partisan revolt at home when they faced defeat. While the "Werewolves" managed to inflict significant damage (as your article points out), they never came close to what the enormous partisan movement in places like the USSR and Yugoslavia accomplished. It played a huge role in making Nazi occupation impossible to sustain while trying to fight a war on multiple fronts.
    WWII buffs might want to check out my novel, THE FUHRER VIRUS. It is a spy/conspiracy/thriller for adult readers and can be found at http://www.eloquentbooks.html.com, http://www.amazon.com, http://www.barnesandnoble.com and on Google Review. Read a recent review on PODBRAM.

    Thanks!

    Paul Schultz

  2. 2
    Guy Nasuti says:

    One has to wonder if a Werewolf insurgency would have prevented or simply stalled the Cold War between the USSR and the US. Also, it would have been interesting to see whether or not the American public, already tired of the war at this point in 1945, would have had the stomach for fighting such a war after so many had already been lost. Do any other readers get the sense that the Soviets would have had to do the bulk of the fighting against the Werewolf program, as they had already done against the German army on the Eastern Front?

    In reality, the Werewolves succeeded in killing several Allied soldiers and the mayor of Aachen, who cooperated with Allied forces, but I believe their most popular method of terror was stringing up piano wire to trees across roads frequently traveled by Allied soldiers in open air jeeps. Terrifying to anyone driving those roads, yes, but a far cry from IED's, RPG's, and suicide bombers. Dr. Grimsley's theory that Hitler's survival may very well have offered the Werewolves a chance to continue the fight is interesting and thought provoking, but I believe as small and disorganized as it was, ultimately would have collapsed and petered out on its own. The German people had expended too much of its manpower, resources, and energy fighting the war and small bands of these Werewolves would have been no match for a well-supplied, well-armed, and victorious group of Allied nations arrayed against them.

  3. 3
    Tom Holzel says:

    If you actually read the psychological report about Hitler, you are embarrassed to realize how much of a propaganda instrument it was. Dr. Langer was Jewish, and thus felt compelled to paint Hitler in the worst light possible. Not a word about Hitler’s many (albeit early) genius, etc.

    The reality was that by 1945 Hitler was at his rope’s end. Probably suffering from advance Parkinson’s disease, he could no longer lift his left arm, which trembled most of the time. And as important, he was psychologically a beaten man. As a complete military amateur, able to win skirmishes when carried out by the Wehrmacht who he initially left alone, once the going got tough, he became frightened and completely lost the boldness which got him so far.

    The first sign of this (IMO) was to prevent Guderian from using his Panzers to course across Russia and terrify the Soviet military. Instead, Hitler insisted on an infantry advance bolstered by tanks. Whew! Guderian was rightly furious, and the rest is history.

  4. 4
    WEVER says:

    guderian was with Hoth's 4th army division attachment. he was close to moscow but had no major decision making to direct the moscow batte because he was under… Hoth… Guderian was angry at hitler.. and wrote to him… so that's why he was fired for suggesting to go on defense in early December 1, 1941.



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