- 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
The guests at Mondorf were not a terribly useful source of information. Goering, heaped pathetically on his mattress, knew little of Luftwaffe operations for which, nominally, he had been responsible and even less of economic and military matters in general. He gave whatever answers he thought would most likely please his four interrogators or would foreclose the subject and get us away. The air attacks, he said, had devastated German war production, which was not so, but it was what he thought Americans would wish to hear. Others were uneasily sensitive to the darker corners of their past, a matter which came up because we had been asked to get them on the record, to the extent possible, on war crimes. Field Marshal Keitel had been head of the army honor court that had hung those officers with complicity, real or suspected, in the July 20,1944, attempt on Hitler’s life. When first questioned, he couldn’t remember that anyone at all had been sent to the meat hooks. The penalties for lying to his captors, possibly exaggerated for the occasion, were then made known to him, and his memory improved. He sought us out not once but twice with upward revisions. Ribbentrop had no knowledge at all of the concentration camps until his memory was similarly assisted. Then he told of hearing of them while ambassador to London and warning Berlin of their adverse diplomatic effect.
As a matter of much interest, Ribbentrop was pressed on why Hitler had declared war on the United States after Pearl Harbor, an act with such an electric and unifying effect. He told of Hitler’s belief that for all practical purposes the United States was already at war with Germany, an incredible thought for anyone who had been in Washington in those days. And he cited Germany’s treaty obligations to Japan. A Lieutenant Stein who was handling translations then asked a further question on his own: “Why was that particular treaty the first one you decided to keep?”
In those sunny early summer days, the inmates, not a bookish group, spent most of their time walking on the long veranda. Julius Streicher always walked alone. Once we saw him turn to the dry hole in front of the hotel and come to attention, his arm raised in the Nazi salute. We judged that he was back at Nuremberg, and a battalion of brown shirts was marching by. After a few minutes he relaxed, lowered his arm, and resumed his solitary walk.
The generals at Mondorf had remnants of bearing and dignity. General Jodl had gone so far as to rebuke one of his early interrogators, our military adviser Major General Orvil Anderson, and my notes have his exact words: “You are trying to kill Germany; we want to fight wars in the old way and give up a province or two when we lose.” Why now an unsporting animosity? In contrast to the soldiers, the civilian Nazis looked shabby, depressed, and wholly repellent. Stripped of neckties and belts to deter suicide and extensively unshaven, they would have fitted in easily at Leavenworth.
When we were finished at Ashcan, I flew back down the Moselle to Frankfurt and on to my headquarters at Bad Nauheim. Our work was important enough for airplanes but not in my case for a safe one. So I had a Canadian C-64, underpowered by its one engine for the six passengers it was meant to carry. That day I was alone with the pilot, an Americanized Belgian who had wanted to fly fighters and who did the best with what he had. (A few days later he survived a crash, and so did I from not being with him. ) On the morning of our flight he had, with my help, persuaded Colonel Burton C. Andrus, the jailer at Mondorf as later at Nuremberg, to take him on early rounds through the hotel. The effect had been deeply depressing. He had always supposed from the vast scale of the conflict that our opponents were heroes. A few weeks later I was to write of his disillusion:” Who’d have thought that we were fighting this war against a bunch of jerks?”
My passage to Mondorf and Bad Nauheim had begun in the winter of 1945. The yet earlier and deeper origins were in the nature of aerial warfare, now forever to me a hideous thing. All the wartime bombing, accidents apart, being on the far side of enemy lines, knowledge of the destruction depended on the reports of those in the bombers or later aerial reconnaissance. Neither source was given to understatement; neither air crew nor photographs minimized the admittedly ghastly consequences. Accordingly, in the autumn of 1944, George Ball, counsel to the Foreign Economic Administration, was asked to assess, ex post facto, the support given by the Air Force to the Normandy landings and the success of the airmen in denying the Germans access to the front. He went on to propose a much more ambitious assessment of the results of the strategic bombing of Germany. Similar suggestions came from the Air Force itself, and President Roosevelt, reflecting on the claims of the air generals, also urged such a study on Secretary of War Henry Stimson. Out of the several proposals in November, 1944, came the United States Strategic Bombing Survey. It was to be independent of the Air Force, although advised and supported by it, and independent and accurate in its findings. Accuracy to many of the Air Force generals had a somewhat specialized connotation; it meant establishing with some clarity that the bombers won the war.