Thursday, October 16, 2014
And, yes, in case...
When we arrived at Hitler's headquarters several flights of stairs below ground level, the situation briefing had just begun. General Weidling was announced to Hitler and immediately admitted to the briefing room. I waited in the large outer chamber with detailed maps that Weidling might need. The bunker smelled damp, and the sound of the small engine that ran the exhaust system provided a constant background noise. The ever-present Martin Bormann accosted me again. I had one of Bormann's sandwiches and filled him in on the battle that was being waged above ground.
After about forty-five minutes, the meeting in the briefing room ended. Hitler emerged, followed by Dr. Goebbels, General Krebs, General Weidling, and some other people. I saluted, and Hitler walked toward me. As he neared, I was shocked by his appearance. He was stooped, and his left arm was bent and shaking. Half of his face drooped, as if he'd had a stroke, and his facial muscles on that side no longer worked. Both of his hands shook, and one eye was swollen. He looked like a very old man, at least twenty years older than his fifty-six years.
Weidling presented me to Hitler: "Major Knappe, my operations officer."
Hitler shook my hand and said, "Weidling has told me what you are going through. You have been having a bad time of it."
Being accustomed to saying, "Jawohl, Herr General," I automatically said, "Jawohl, Herr . . ." and then, realizing that this was wrong, I quickly corrected to "Jawohl, mein Fuhrer." Hitler smiled faintly, and Goebbels smiled broadly -- but Weidling frowned because his subordinate had made a social error.
Hitler said goodbye, shook my hand again, and disappeared in the general direction of Goebbels's quarters. Although his behavior had not been lethargic, his appearance had been pitiful. Hitler was now hardly more than a physical caricature of what he had been. I wondered how it was possible that in only six years, this idol of my whole generation of young people could have become such a human wreck. It occurred to me then that Hitler was still the living symbol of Germany -- but Germany as it was now. In the same six years, the flourishing, aspiring country had become a flaming pile of debris and ruin.