What If Hitler Had Not Killed Himself?

By Mark Grimsley
7/30/2010 • Adolph Hitler, Battle Films

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.

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