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CONTENTS

FOREWORD BY IAN KERSHAW

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INTRODUCTION 1. Observations on Research and Sources 2. Secret Monitoring of Prisoners of War in Great Britain and Trent Park PoW Centre 3. The Main Subjects of Discussion 3.1 Politics, Strategy and the Different Camps at Trent Park 3.2 ‘We Have Tried to Exterminate Whole Communities.’ War Crimes in Trent Park Conversations 3.3 The Insurrection of Conscience. Reactions to 20 July 1944 4. Concluding Observations

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30 53 57 60

THE DOCUMENTS I. Politics, Strategy and the Different Camps at Trent Park II. ‘We Have Tried to Exterminate Whole Communities.’ War Crimes in Trent Park Conversations III. The Insurrection of Conscience. Reactions to 20 July 1944

65 167 237

SHORT BIOGRAPHIES

281

ABBREVIATIONS

321

ENDNOTES

323


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LIST OF DOCUMENTS

389

SOURCES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY

394

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

410

INDEX

411


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2. Secret Monitoring of Prisoners of War in Great Britain and Trent Park PoW Centre

During World War II probably all the belligerents listened-in secretly to their prisoners. The general rule seems to have been that the interrogation of selected prisoners was documented, but not the private conversations. Richard Overy has published the protocols of National Socialist leaders under interrogation in 1945–46.16 Other trials were run by the United States, Great Britain, Germany and the Soviet Union. 17 As far as is known, it was the British who perfected eavesdropping as a method of intelligence gathering. At Farm Hall in Cambridgeshire, the conversations of the interned German nuclear physicists were secretly recorded in the attempt to discover how far Germany had advanced towards building an atomic bomb,18 but the British did not disclose their practice of having listened-in systematically to selected prisoners of war for several years before that. The British intelligence service began planning to use the method from the beginning of the war. On 26 October 1939, orders were given to set up the Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre. Initially under MI9, from December 1941 it fell within the ambit of the British Army’s newly formed MI19 Department at the War Office under LtColonel A. R. Rawlinson. All reports originating at CSDIC were to be distributed to the three arms of service for collation with other information, e.g. signals intercepts and air reconnaissance photographs, to compose a specific intelligence picture.19 The CSDIC organisation in England was complemented later by a centre in North Africa (CSDIC Middle East) and from the autumn of 1944 another in France/Germany run by the US Army (CSDIC West). The UK interrogation centre had modest beginnings: in September 1939, only six officers (three Army, two RAF and one RN) had been appointed to question German prisoners at the Tower of London. In December that year the centre was relocated to Trent Park, a large mansion with extensive grounds near Cockfosters, north of London. German prisoners of war – in the early years a manageable number of Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine men – together with Italian prisoners were ‘pre-sorted’ in transit camps by the PoW Department and those believed


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Introduction

to have important knowledge were sent to Trent Park for comprehensive questioning and the secret monitoring of their conversations. CSDIC (UK) used a variety of refined tricks to tap the required knowledge. ‘Cooperative’ prisoners and German exiles were used as stool pigeons to get conversations moving along the desired track20 while prisoners of equal rank but from different units or arms of service would be bunched together. This method paid off: U-boat men would air their experiences at length, airmen would explain the technology of their aircraft and combat tactics in great detail to naval comrades. Army men arrived at Trent Park relatively quickly after capture – from a few days to a couple of weeks. They would often still be suffering the dramatic effects of their capture, perhaps having narrowly escaped death – and would be anxious to talk about their experiences. On 5 October 1940 it was decided to increase CSDIC (UK) staffing levels to enable two camps to be run simultaneously. Trent Park could house only a limited number of prisoners and space for the constantly growing number of assessors was inadequate. It was also considered prudent to have two centres in order to reduce the risk of losing everything in a Luftwaffe air raid. On 15 July 1942 CSDIC (UK) moved with its entire staff into the new interrogation centre at Latimer House at Chesham, Buckinghamshire (No. 1 Distribution Centre) with a maximum capacity of 204 prisoners. On 13 December a second new centre ten miles away at Wilton Park, Beaconsfield (No. 2 Distribution Centre) was opened with room for 142 prisoners, mainly Italians.21 The opening of the two new institutions allowed Trent Park to be converted into a long-term centre for German Staff officers. In the relaxed atmosphere it was hoped that its high-ranking population would reveal secrets in their private discussions.22 The first new prisoner was General Ludwig Crüwell. He had been captured in North Africa on 29 May 1942 and arrived at Trent Park on 26 August after a long sea voyage. He was joined on 20 November 1942 by General Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma, a prisoner of the British for the previous two weeks. For the sake of variation and to initiate fresh themes in conversation, from time to time selected prisoners were transferred to Trent Park. These included Kapitänleutnant Hans-Dietrich Tiesenhausen 23 and Major Burckhardt, von Thoma’s former adjutant during the Spanish Civil War. They remained only a few weeks before being shipped out to Canada.24 Following the capitulation of Army-Group Afrika in May 1943, 18 senior officers ranging from the rank of Oberst to Generaloberst came to Trent Park. From the end of June 1944 there followed permanent prisoners picked up by the Allies during their push through France, Belgium and into Germany, 25 and by April 1945 the number of generals at Trent Park exceeded the capacity. The overflow went to other camps including Latimer House and Grizedale Hall at Hawkshead, Lancashire


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(No. 1 Camp). From August 1942 to its closure on 19 October 1945, 84 German generals made stays at Trent Park. To these must be added at least 22 officers of the rank of Oberst and an unknown number of other ranks, mostly adjutants and valets.26 The total number of generals held until October 1945 temporarily in British interrogation centres was 302 of whom 82 per cent (248) arrived in England after April 1945. After the Normandy landings in 1944, interrogation camps at Kempton Park (Sunbury-on-Thames, Middlesex: British Army) and Devizes, Wiltshire (US Army) were opened to receive German prisoners captured in France, while at Kensington the ‘London District Cage’ was set up for prisoners suspected by the British to be implicated in, or to have guilty knowledge of, war crimes.27At the latter the incumbents were subjected to psychological torture. 28 Following the German capitulation the work of CSDIC (UK) turned to obtaining information on German war crimes. On 19 November 1945 the interrogation centre in England was closed, its work being transferred gradually since summer 1945 to the new CSDIC in Germany. 29 A month before, when Trent Park closed its doors, the remaining prisoners were sent to other camps and no longer monitored. 30 In general, all German prisoners of senior rank were brought to England for interrogation irrespective of which Allied forces had captured them. A few were shipped to the United States after brief questioning, so that many Trent Park generals did not spend the whole war in England. 31 went in several batches to the enemy generals’ camp at Clinton, Mississippi, providing the United States in the spring of 1945 with the opportunity to obtain information from an approximately equal-sized number of senior German military officers as the British had.31 There does not seem to have been any special guidelines for selection for transfer to the USA: almost all ranks and political standpoints were represented. The British clearly liked a broad sweep of characters and opinions in their camps to keep the conversations flowing. The expense incurred in maintaining the three eavesdropping units at Trent Park, Latimer House and Wilton Park was enormous: at the beginning of 1943, 994 persons staffed the units and evaluated the monitored conversations, 258 of these being from the intelligence services.32 From September 1939 to October 1945, 10,191 German and 567 Italian prisoners passed through these centres; between 1941 and 1945 64,427 conversations were recorded on gramophone discs. CSDIC prepared 16,960 protocols from German, and 18,903 from Italian prisoners,33 varying in length from half a page to 22 pages. From May 1943, special reports were introduced on German Staff officers: 1,302 protocols coded ‘SRGG’34 and 326 comprehensive reports of a general nature coded ‘GRGG’.35 The latter documented all pertinent information over two- to five-day periods. A synopsis of monitored and recorded conversations was included with any other data which the


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British intelligence officer beyond the range of the microphones had picked up through listening to discussions or from his own talks with prisoners. To these must be added the recorded conversations coded ‘SRM’ between von Thoma and Crüwell prior to May 1943 filed amongst the Army protocols36 together with protocols coded ‘SRX’37 of their conversations with Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine officers. The generals’ protocols run to about 10,000 pages, approximately 20 per cent of the total inventory of the monitored protocols of German prisoners. 38 Eavesdropping Strategies CSDIC (UK) decided against interrogating von Thoma and Crüwell, believing that the men were not in a frame of mind to divulge information. Instead, immediately after their arrival in England, they were brought to Trent Park in order that their conversations could be eavesdropped. Initially a German ‘stool pigeon’ was used ‘very successfully’ as a prompt39 after which an even better strategy was found in having Lord Aberfeldy40 live in the camp with the generals from December 1942. He acted as interpreter and his role was ostensibly to see to the comforts and wishes of the prisoners, accompanying them on long walks, making purchases on their behalf in London and always being on hand as a generally valued conversational partner. Very soon he had gained the trust of most prisoners, none of whom suspected that he might be anything other than a ‘welfare officer’. In reality, Aberfeldy worked for MI19, his job being to steer conversations along the lines desired by British Intelligence. A protocol (Document 147) of a conversation immediately after 20 July 1944 demonstrates that the German generals were not inhibited by his presence, a fact which enabled him to gather important information beyond the range of the microphones. A similar ‘trusted man’ had also inveigled himself with the Italians.41 Some of the generals captured in Tunisia were questioned before being brought to Trent Park. Confronting them with the usual system of intelligence gathering, it was hoped that they would discount the possibility of secret microphones at Trent Park – a hope fully realised. A number of generals did answer questions under direct interrogation, especially shortly before the war’s end. All generals captured from the summer of 1944 onwards were held for a few days at Wilton Park, or exceptionally Latimer House, before being transferred en bloc to Trent Park. At Trent Park 12 rooms were bugged including the common room. Latimer House and Wilton Park each had 30 bugged rooms and six interrogation rooms equipped with microphones. At the earphones were mainly German and Austrian exiles.42 As soon as something important was said a gramophone recording was started. A recording would last


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Europe and Germany in the future. One of the few exceptions was Eberhard Wildermuth, who had been active politically pre-war. At the end ‘of our Thirty Years’ War’ he said, we have not only lost the war and our independence as a State, but our self-respect and honour. We will be under foreign masters for the foreseeable future. These masters will split Germany into several parts – but the worst is that for years the great dividing line between East and West will run through Germany. It may be a permanent division. Before these major questions there are others, more urgent, more in the present: how many millions will starve to death? How will it be possible to rebuild agriculture, industry and transport communications? How are we to rebuild a political structure with self-administration and accountability? Schools? Universities? It seems that the German administration will not be uniform under the various victors – it seems to me doubtful then that the problem can be solved at all.203

Thoma, too, was thinking in concrete terms about postwar Europe. Many of his ideas were nebulous and not well thought through, but on some points he saw developments astoundingly clearly: there would be no reparations, German industry would work for the Allies. He doubted if Britain would succeed in building a new Poland because the Soviet Union was leaning heavily towards the West. This antagonism ‘had the seeds of World War Three in it’. It could happen that, shoulder to shoulder with British and French forces, even German formations might be ‘let loose’ against the Russians. 204

3.2 ‘We Have Tried to Exterminate Whole Communities’. War Crimes in Trent Park Conversations The protocols document a number of German war crimes: the deportation and internment of Jews in ghettoes, the murder of Jews in concentration camps and by mass shootings in the East, euthanasia, the shooting of hostages in Belgium, Serbia and Greece, the mass deaths of Russian PoWs, the liquidation of the Political Commissars, the shooting of German soldiers after quick court martials at the front and very occasionally rape.205 At first sight it may be surprising to find that atrocities were given such coverage in the conversations. The prisoners at Trent Park had been captured by the Allies exclusively in North Africa, France and finally in Germany, therefore in the theatres of war where the fewest infringements of international law were committed and utterly different from the way things had been done in Poland, the Soviet Union and the Balkans. Most generals fought on most of the fronts, especially in the East. Their knowledge of the crimes of the Wehrmacht and the National Socialist regime were comprehensive – the relevant protocols prove it. Naturally one must differ-


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entiate here betweeen who knew what and who was personally involved in which crimes. Several generals reported having borne personal witness to war crimes: in words which have lost nothing of their horror after sixty years, Walter Bruns and Heinrich Kittel described the mass shooting of Jews at Riga and Däugavapil (formerly Dvinsk) (Documents 119, 135). Thoma, Neuffer and von Broich had also seen similar massacres on the Eastern Front.206 Others saw the deaths of multitudes of Soviet prisoners (Neuffer, Reimann). Of death camps equipped with gas chambers, Kittel, Rothkirch and Trach, von der Heydte and Thoma207 knew from reliable sources. It is noticeable that many crimes had been made known by acquaintances or relatives. Oberst Reimann was told of the Berditschev massacre in Ukraine by a police officer (Document 93). Eberhard Wildermuth learned of the euthanasia programme from his brother, a doctor at an asylum. The protocols prove that knowledge of the atrocities was widespread in the upper echelons of the military command structure and reached those who would have remained ignorant of them in their particular service occupations. 208 This is not to say that in the end everybody knew everything. In the summer of 1945, discounting the assertions of Broich and Neuffer that every senior German officer knew all about the concentration camps since 1935,209 it seems probable that many knew the dimensions of the Holocaust, for example, at least by rumour (Document 125).210 Watching a newsreel film of the death camps at the end of September 1945, most prisoners reacted with honest shock (Document 143),211 although some rejected the reports as Allied propaganda212 indicating that by no means all prisoners condemned discrimination against, and the murder of, the Jews. On the contrary, even those prisoners whom the British considered ‘anti-Nazi’ on the basis of their political attitude supported the Jewish policy of the Nazi State. Reimann declared: ‘The business with the Jews in Germany was quite right, only it should have been done quietly’ (Document 40). Eberbach could accept the extermination of ‘a million Jews, or as many as we have killed’, although he drew the line after adult males: with respect to Jewish women and children, ‘that (was) going too far’. To this his son replied, ‘Well, if you’re going to kill off the Jews, then kill the women and children too, or the children at least’ (Document 37). Racial-political discourses appear only rarely in the transcripts. Occasionally key words would crop up in the conversations such as ‘Jewish Commissar’, ‘Jewish Bolshevism’ or condemning Jews as ‘the plague of the East’.213 Crüwell used National Socialist racial terminology.214 He was certain that the United States was motivated by ‘the Jewish poison’, and this poison was behind the devastating bombing raids on Hamburg in July 1943. He also had proof, so he said, ‘that it is the J e w s, who want to destroy us down to the last man’ (Document 13). When


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Thoma objected that in World War I highly decorated Jewish soldiers had been deported, Crüwell replied, ‘Such things are of course appalling, but one should not [. . .] forget how the Jews have plagued us [. . .] have been a miserable rabble [. . .] how they exploited us. Therefore it came to pass that no Berlin city hospital had an Aryan doctor in a leading role.’215 He added that ‘the step against the Jews had to happen legally.’216 The Trent Park generals attempted to conceal their own involvement in war crimes for understandable reasons. Nearly always they would point to the SS as the perpetrators:217 the culpability of the Wehrmacht – and therefore their own person – was only touched upon exceptionally. The demarcation line between Wehrmacht and SS became tangible when SS-Brigadeführer Kurt Meyer was given an icy welcome by his fellow prisoners at Trent Park (Document 114).218 Protests were also made against Anton Dunckern, former leader of SS and police at Metz, being brought to the centre (Document 115).219 On the day of his arrival at Trent Park, Graf Rothkirch hit the nail on the head by admitting that in everything he said, he made sure to put it in such a way that the officer corps came out clean.220 Only very few generals admitted at Trent Park to their own war crimes, and where they did they provided the justification for it as well.221 Generalleutnant Menny, for example, admitted the immediate court martial and execution of men on the Eastern Front after the Russians broke through a gap created by troops leaving positions without authority. The executions were performed ‘there and then’ as an example to the others (Document 103). Freiherr von der Heydte admitted once having shot dead Allied prisoners in Normandy when his Fallschirmjäger-Regt. 6 needed to cross a river and the prisoners would have hampered their progress. General Ramcke stated that he had completely demolished Brest (Document 112); General Spang was uncomfortable with having signed a number of death warrants during actions against partisans in Brittany (Document 101).223 General von Choltitz told von Thoma that the heaviest burden which he had to discharge was ‘the liquidation of Jews’ (Document 106). His involvement was unknown to researchers before this protocol came to light. The executions must have taken place in the Crimea. Unfortunately nothing further is known due to the poor documentary source. The mixture of crimes, guilt, denials of responsibility and explanations is especially clear in conversations about the Commissar Order. Thoma alleged that Brauchitsch and Halder had raised strong protests against it, but the files show the opposite.224 He also swore on oath that no Commissars had been shot by his units (Document 6). In Halder’s War Diary this attitude appears confirmed initially. On 21 September 1941 he wrote: ‘General von Thoma: Report about the engagements of 17.Pz.Div. on the Desna. Interesting here [. . .] (d) attitude of the unit towards Commissars (are not being shot)’.225


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Socialist Government now and then fought on, would they manage to achieve peace? THOMA: It’s not as easy as all that.

Document 6 CSDIC (UK), SRX 1587 [TNA, WO 208/4169] WILHELM RITTER VON THOMA – General der Panzertruppe – Captured 4 Nov. 42 in North Africa. HANS DIETRICH TIESENHAUSEN – Kapitänleutnant (Lieut. Cmdr in command of U-331) – Captured 17 Nov. 42. Information received: 15 Feb. 43

THOMA: HITLER imagined he could break his word time and again, if you examine his political career, it has been nothing but breaches of faith. One always forgets that. The written agreements with CHAMBERLAIN6 and all that sort of thing were all broken, so that the world has no faith in him! People shouldn’t be surprised if they now say quite definitely: ‘It doesn’t matter what it is, right to the end, to the complete and unconditional surrender and even the least vestige of such a system must disappear,’ – that’s quite understandable. Of course the others are hypocrites, one should realise that clearly, because ROOSEVELT is just as much of an autocrat as HITLER7 or CHURCHILL, but it isn’t brought home to them quite so much. [. . .] The KAISER was as gentle as a nun in comparison with ADOLF HITLER. The former did at least let you speak your mind – the latter won’t let you open your mouth. I’ve seen it myself, but I didn’t give way, I should still be ashamed today if I had given way to HITLER. If there’s any dirty business afoot I won’t take part, I shouldn’t dream of it. How could I bring myself to do it? How could I order my men to commit murder? I wouldn’t dream of it. None of my superiors has the right to order me to do his dirty work, let him do it himself! I’ve said so straight out. I can swear a solemn oath that not a single man has been shot by my people,8 but men were often brought before me. I remember once there were two or three commissars, they thought that now they would be shot. I said: ‘No, take off your badges, it’s better and don’t let anyone else know that you are commissars.’ They realised at once what was up. They took them off, too. I remember that last spring in the conferences with HQ, the army commanders were there and they told us about conversations they had had with the FÜHRER, ‘THE FÜHRER is personally firmly convinced that the country in EUROPE which is nearest to communism is ENGLAND.’ He actually said that last year. That’s complete madness,


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Documents

that’s a sign that the man has never been out in the world. Then I burst out – it was with Feldmarschall KLUGE9 – I said: ‘Sir, if any country is going communist, ENGLAND will certainly be the very last to do so.’ He said: ‘Yes, I didn’t say that, it was the FÜHRER who said it.’ That’s the sort of stuff the Generals are being fed on! It’s a foul business, a misunderstanding of the situation.

Document 7 CSDIC (UK), SRX 1603 [TNA, WO 208/4162] HANS DIETRICH TIESENHAUSEN – Kapitänleutnant (Lieut. Cmdr in command of U-331) – Captured 17 Nov. 42. LUDWIG CRÜWELL – General der Panzertruppe – Captured 29 May 42 in North Africa. WILHELM RITTER VON THOMA – General der Panzertruppe – Captured 4 Nov. 42 in North Africa. Information received: 18 Feb. 43

THOMA: (After listening to GOEBBELS’s speech): It’s a scandal! It’s shameful! Regarded objectively it is a speech of despair. Does anyone get a different impression of it? To me it seems to be a speech of sheer desperation.10 CRÜWELL: Yes, at the beginning I thought something was coming. The object of the whole speech is simply to urge the people to accept measures which are already in existence. THOMA: Just a disgusting inflammatory speech! The net result will be that tonight – well, no, not tonight because the Jews are not allowed out – but tomorrow, when they come along wearing the Star of David, a few of them will be murdered. That’s all! C RÜWELL: What absolute rubbish! That piece at the end! He spoke too long. But it was quite senseless not to close on the note of confidence in the F ÜHRER ; that ought to have been the conclusion; but no, off he went again, demanding more of the women. At first I thought: ‘Good Heavens, what is he talking about now?’ THOMA: I thought he was going to announce something of special importance, too. CRÜWELL: It seems to me that if these measures are necessary, one can only ask: ‘Why didn’t they introduce them sooner?’ But why must he always unceasingly stir the people? THOMA: Absolutely disgusting! It ought to have been a short concise speech, couched in serious terms, lasting half an hour at the most, but it was a typical beer-house tirade. He’s always talked like that. He’s been doing it for twenty years. It’s disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful! And to collect a rabble like that and compel them to go in and shout because


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there’s a man standing behind them. I am ashamed of the impression these fellows make on the world. I feel thoroughly ashamed. [. . .] THOMA: It wasn’t at all a good speech. I could have imagined it in a much more dignified way. Quite apart from his digression when he stirred up hatred of the Jews again – the first half of his speech was about nothing but the Jews – the poor Jews, who have really had nothing to do with all this – and then his malicious way of saying: ‘We will drive them out completely,’ – what’s that got to do with the present war situation? It shows a complete misunderstanding of the whole business. What can the people at home be thinking? It’s sheer impudence for the fellow to reprove the middle-class – they’re having by far the worst time. CRÜWELL: Who has upheld our culture in the last hundred years, for hundreds of years! THOMA: And then a typical GOEBBELS touch, ‘That is all being destroyed now; but it is guaranteed that it will all be built up again immediately.’ He treats the subject as though it were a house of cards. It’s affrontery! He ought to realise that there are other people who give some thought to the matter and have devoted some attention to it. CRÜWELL: Above all, people will ask why they didn’t do it sooner. THOMA: I should like to have GOEBBELS one evening in quite a small circle. I’ve heard a lot about how delightful and charming he can be, from people who know him well. But in those matters – no! A man who was there told me that he gave a lecture on the conduct of propaganda, at the Tank School last year, at which not only the senior officers were present but the youngest officers and women were as well. He held forth and the gist of the whole thing was: ‘The masses themselves are stupid, you can do what you like with them.’ That’s how he talked to those people. They were amazed. CRÜWELL: He knows something about the matter, there’s no doubt about that. THOMA: He really let the cat out of the bag, when he asserted: ‘The masses themselves are stupid, you can do what you like with them.’ They didn’t like that at all. [. . .]

Document 8 CSDIC (UK), SR REPORT, SRGG 5 [TNA, WO 208/4165] LUDWIG CRÜWELL – General der Panzertruppe – Captured 29 May 42 in North Africa. HANS CRAMER – General der Panzertruppe (G.O.C. German Afrikakorps) – Captured 12 May 43 in Tunisia. Information received: 16 May 43


Tapping Hitlers Generals