- Historic Sites
After The Air Raids
An insider’s account of a startling— and still controversial—investigation of the Allied bombing of Germany
April/may 1981 | Volume 32, Issue 3
In the mornings in Flensburg, we brought lesser Nazis to the Patria for questioning—I made special note of the interrogation of Franz Seldte, a minister of labor under Hitler. Using our license to inquire into war crimes, we asked him for his views on the concentration camps. He told us with some passion that he had advised Himmler that they were an “unauthorized cruelty.” Offered a chance to visit them by Himmler, he had declined. He then asked us to consider the figures on the population of the camps and the deaths there in relation to the total population of the Reich. Statistically they weren’t so bad.
On another day, after the interrogation of Speer had ended, we drove across the border to Denmark and on to Fredericia, the old fortress city that was besieged and occupied by Bismarck. For miles above the frontier the German army was in an unbroken line as it made its way down from Norway and northern Denmark. Some pulled their gear on children’s wagons; some pushed it in baby carriages. Some officers were on bicycles. Since quite possibly we were the first Americans seen on that road, we were heroes and liberators to the Danes. Housewives reached into their baskets for flowers, and one, despairing, threw a cabbage. Orvil Anderson, against orders, had flown over Germany with his airmen; none of the rest of us had heard any shots fired in anger and only the odd ones in drunken glee. Yet our fraud was strangely pleasant.
As we strolled through the town that night, a large crowd assembled behind us, and the neighborhood barber identified himself as the head of the local resistance. Almost forcibly he turned us into his shop for a celebratory drink of Danish whisky. Paul Nitze questioned him on German atrocities and his own resistance role, but on neither was he completely satisfactory. As to atrocities, the Germans had cut off his supply of condoms, a major item of barbershop revenue, and he suspected them of feeding their troops saltpeter as a substitute. As to resistance he told us firmly that he had not shaved a single German officer since the surrender. That was now nearly two weeks before. No one should generalize from so small a sample.
In Flensburg, Galbraith and his colleagues spent several days questioning Speer about not only the German wartime economy, but also about the last days of Hitler and the Third Reich. They finished their interrogation just before the final German surrender aboard the Patria on May 23.
My notes tell with quite exceptional precision that on the morning of May 23, I got back to the Patria at 7:15 A.M. and slept until 8:15 A.M. Then, with Drew Middleton of The New York Times, I watched from an upper deck while Admirals Doenitz and von Friedeburg came smartly along the quay, saluted the ship and flag, and marched up the gangplank. The Third Reich at that moment came finally to an end. Admiral von Friedeburg, who had participated in the earlier surrenders in Rheims and Berlin and was perhaps becoming distressed by the repetition, asked to be excused to go to the washroom. There he shot himself. As we went to the airfield to fly back to Bad Nauheim, thousands of German officers were being marched away.
In Bad Nauheim my life had all the excitement enjoyed by any administrator of a large-scale statistical enterprise. In a small office off the terrace of the Park Hotel I read preliminary reports of the effect of the attacks on diverse German industries, conferred tediously on the meaning and reliability of our masses of figures, and considered where more information might be unearthed and who might be found among the German officials to interpret it. I struggled also to keep our people on the job; with the European part of the war over, travel over Germany in pursuit of fugitive information seemed much preferable to work at a desk. And not all such enjoyment could be denied. I issued an order: “Junkets are herewith prohibited except on Sundays. A junket is any business trip which if taken by anyone but yourself would be considered unnecessary.”