As the sun began to dim on Austria, a small SS staff car drove towards Obersalzberg with an vital mission. Two SS-Sturmbannfuhrer officers were assigned by SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Heinrich Mueller to take a particular condemned man to be shot by who used to be called Hitler's second-in-command. Wilhelm Canaris was involved against the Nazi regime ever since the Anschluss of Austria. His co-conspirator, Hans Oster (famous for the Oster Conspiracy), was personally shot by SS-Oberstgruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich shortly after the latest attempt on Hitler's life. Canaris himself had been 'spared' by the Blonde Beast for several months until recently. The former Abwehr chief and Heydrich had a complicated rivalry that lasted nearly as long as the Reich itself. Heydrich had Canaris sent to the Flossenburg concentration camp for slave labor for several months. The experience scarred the old German for life. In early April, Heydrich knew that Flossenburg would eventually be liberated, so he ordered Canaris to be transferred to his personal headquarters. But the rest of Flossenburg's surviving inmates, as well as the commandant himself, were shot by SS soldiers. Then their bodies were thrown into a mass grave, incinerated, buried, and then the whole camp was demolished. The rest of the staff at Flossenburg were told to go home, yet they were traumatized by the massacre, as well as the soldiers who carried it out. Unfortunately, this was the policy in almost all concentration camps that the Nazis held. Heydrich saw no point in letting any survivors live if they were predetermined to die anyways. Although highly reluctant, Himmler, as well as Bormann, ultimately allowed this order to be carried out. Eventually, Heydrich told Hitler the truth of his old rival's involvement against the regime. So it was decided that the former Reichsmarschall, Hermann Goering, would be the one to end the life of Canaris. The erstwhile Luftwaffe chief had to recently leave and destroy his old-time home, Carinhall, due to threat of Allied capture, so he was put under house arrest in his estate in Obersalzberg. Hitler had not forgotten Goering's telegram to "seize power", so the disgraced Nazi and his family were to be surrounded by SS men for the rest of the war. Eventually, the staff car arrived on the estate's roadway, and Canaris was forced out of the vehicle. The two officers then dragged the old man until they reached the front door. They knocked on the door to get the residents' attention.
"Herr Goering", one of the officers shouted, "We have an important guest for you!" They waited for a while until they started to hear footsteps heading for the door. When it opened, Hermann Wilhelm Goering was on the other side of the doorway. In contrast to the SS officer's mood, Goering was quite flamboyant, being dressed in one of his finest Reichsmarschall uniforms.
"Oh, Canaris", Goering jubilantly proclaimed, "What a surprise! I never thought I'd see you here. Please, come in and feel comfortable. Officers, would you kindly release my old comrade? I may have founded the Gestapo but I won't accept such brutality in my presence unless I say so!" With that, Canaris was released by the SS men and shakily stood on his two feet. After a few seconds of waiting, Goering walked towards a hallway and Canaris followed him with anxiety. Although Goering was appropriately dressed, Canaris was almost certain that the fat German had painted fingernails beneath his gloves. And that was one of the most mild rumors spread about the infamous Nazi. But Goering, despite his extreme indulgence in morphine and declining health, still had traces of his grand charisma and dark personality left in him, and Canaris knew it. By the end of the war, both Hitler and Goering were shells of their former selves, with drugs being significant factors in their respective declines. And yet they were still the most powerful men in the crumbling Reich. Eventually, the two men entered into the dining hall, where Goering's wife, Emmy, and their daughter, Edda, were already eating. Also present was Hans Lammers, the former head of the Reich Chancellory. He had persuaded Goering to write the telegram, so Hitler ordered Lammers to be arrested as well.
"Everyone", Goering announced, "Allow me to present our grand chief of the Abwehr, Wilhelm Canaris!" Immediately, the room was filled with applause while Goering and Canaris humbly took their seats at the dining table.
"We have heard so much about you, Herr Canaris", Emmy Goering sweetly stated, "Did the Fuhrer send you, or did you just want to socialize with us? Has Hermann been forgiven for his mistake?"
"I don't know for sure", Canaris responded, "But I no longer hold that position. After investigations by the S.S., the Fuhrer has seen to it that the Abwehr would be molded into the Gestapo. I am in disgrace myself.
"Oh, don't worry about it", Hermann Goering reconciled, "We have both done our honorable services to the Reich while it lasted. At least we had twelve decent years. But the Allies ought to find some use in us. Who else is going to oust the communists out of Europe? All we have to do is let them tear apart the S.S. and our careers can continue. The Fuhrer and I are too important to Germany for us to be completely disposed of. The S.S. is doomed, but I'm in the clear". As Goering was speaking, the two same SS-Sturmbannfuhrer officers entered in hastily. One of them was holding a personal telegram from Hitler to Goering. The other officer was holding a pistol, which was meant for when Goering would kill Canaris. They handed the jubilant fat-man these elements while he was continuing to speak.
"The Soviets can't fight the Reich AND the Western Allies", Goering continued, "Too many Bolsheviks had perished for them to overpower the rest of Europe. Stalin's policies have caused the elimination of 40 million Russians at the very minimum. It would be hypocritical for the Reich to suffer for its "crimes" and the Reds to get off scot-free. Everything's going to be alright". Goering started to read the telegram and then his entire mood changed. It was noticeable in his face expressions and everyone around him could see it. And considering what Goering was reading, who could have blamed him?
I have taken further insight into your telegram and I have concluded that your 'treason' may be dubious. However, your current health prevents you from receiving proper duty at the time being. I do have great news, however. I will heading to the city of Flensburg to officially surrender to the Allied Powers. As Arthur Nebe has been already sentenced, none of the top officials of the Reich will be prosecuted. At least that's what I have been told from a recent telegram from Eisenhower. I have sent a traitor to your estate for you personally shoot. Wilhelm Canaris is to die for treason to the Reich. As soon as you have completed this task, I want you to head to Flensburg as quick as possible. I do need someone as skilled as you to argue for as few territorial changes as possible. I will waiting for you, my grand Reichsmarschall!
Your Beloved Fuhrer,
Hitler deliberately lied, but the telegram had done its purpose. Goering had a neutral face when reading the telegram and when he was finally finished, he stood up and looked at everyone at the table.
"Are you okay, Hermann?", Goering's wife asked out of of concern.
"I'm alright, Emmy", Goering expressed, "Would you mind if Canaris and I talk alone outside for a few minutes? If you hear any gunshots outside, it's just an SS recruit practicing his aim". Canaris gloomily followed Goering out into the yard, where the two men were stationed at opposite positions on the grass beneath them. Goering's hand was on the pistol in his pocket.
"You are probably aware that you are done for", Goering coldly spoke, "Comrade or not, traitors to the Reich must be eliminated. And the Fuhrer will forgive me for my past errors if I go through with this. Therefore, you must be purged!" Goering was determined to get back his honor, as he lifted his pistol at the old German. But Canaris was equipped to say otherwise.
"Goering, why are you doing this?", Canaris sympathized, "I thought you never wanted this war. Why would you kill me this late?"
"You don't understand", Goering projected, "I've been out of the Fuhrer's favor for far too long. It's a miracle that the Fuhrer even requested for my appearance, as Bormann, Himmler or Goebbels could have suggested otherwise. And I will not disobey Adolf Hitler ever again!"
"But you know that your international reputation is bad as it is", Canaris protested, "You have a opportunity to redeem yourself to the Western Powers. What if you take me with you on the way to Flensburg? You and Hitler could possibly get more sympathy and thus achieve more of your territorial requests". In truth, Canaris knew that little sympathy would be given to the Nazi leaders otherwise. He even doubted that Hitler would be willing to negotiate a surrender. But it was still an effective strategy to convince Goering to spare him.
"Very well", Goering eventually decided, "I will take you to Flensburg as a POW and the Allies will decide your fate. We will going with my family and Herr Lammers in order to make sure the Allies know of our intentions. But be warned, the Fuhrer is far less forgiving than I am". With that, Goering strolled back into his estate with a obscene level of confidence. Canaris sat down onto the ground with his mind conflicted. On one hand, the war would soon be over and Hitler would finally be stopped. On the other hand, he was concerned on what would happen to Germany's core territories and the fate of the German people themselves. Wilhelm Canaris knew that Germany would soon fall on hard times, yet again.
While Goering was preparing for his trip for Flensburg, Berlin was strangely calm. Hitler had ordered for defenses to weaken. It was no longer a priority to defend the entirety of Berlin, but rather strategic paths so that Hitler and his selected entourage could escape. In the Reich Chancellory, bombs were still dropping nearby, so there was rarely any silence in the air. Inside the Chancellery, a special occasion was being held. Hitler was having a lunch celebration with his top generals as a special token before he was set to escape from Berlin. He had not eaten with the officers in over 2 years, as he had previously grown to distrust them later in the war. But the purpose of the celebration was not solely to mend to old ties. Everyone was discussing about the future of Germany's government, cooperation with the Allies, and the survival of their Fuhrer. Heinz Guderian, the ringleader of the operation, put forth that the generals should maintain real order in Germany after the war. Hitler, to the surprise of many, agreed with the proposal and the "Council of German Officers" was officially established. Guderian himself was declared chief of this new council. Other initial members included Erwin Rommel, Erich von Manstein, Gerd von Rundstedt and Karl Doenitz. On Hitler's request, Wilhelm Keitel, Alfred Jodl, Sepp Dietrich and Albert Kesselring were also included. Georg von Kuchler, Kurt Zeitzler and Wilhelm von Leeb declined to take part in it. The council refused to let Walther von Reichenau and Theodor Eicke become members, which Hitler reluctantly accepted. In exchange, Hitler refused to allow Walther von Brauchitsch or Franz Halder become members, yet neither were in attendance anyway. Wilhelm Mohnke was assigned to be the council's official ambassador. Hans Krebs and Wilhelm Burgdorf chose to leave with the Fuhrer.
"So, there is still much to be considered about the other sections of the Reich", Guderian humbly said, "Since you are no longer going to be in Germany, my Fuhrer, there is little point of keeping of the Sturmateilung and the Schultzstaffel in operation".
"Very well", Hitler accepted, "The SA and the SS are to be disbanded and their respective officers are to be converted into the Wehrmacht. However, the SS guards coming with me out of Germany will still maintain their status. All other officials of the Reich are to retire immediately and are not go into public service unless permitted by the CGO beforehand. When I feel that it is right to return to the Fatherland, I will be reinstated as the Fuhrer and the regular government will be restored!"
"A excellent choice of actions, my Fuhrer", Guderian proclaimed, "but it is likely that the Allies will ask for certain officials to face punishment for the war. Our loyalty to you is eternal and we will vow to keep your selected entourage in secrecy as well. Yet I still fear that generals will face persecution if we were to publicly take power in Germany. We will need figureheads to visibly appear as the "leaders" of the Reich and take responsibility for the carnage that happened, while our council administers real power. We all know that Bormann has been ousted and I have heard that Speer and Goering are also in disgrace". Suddenly, The German dictator developed a dark idea.
"Wait", Hitler exclaimed, "that gives me an excellent idea! Guderian, your genius is on par with Himmler! Goering, the corpulent and incompetent bastard, will be declared as President of the Reich! Speer, who claims that he would work fine with the Allies, will be the Chancellor! And that deadbeat Bormann will be the head of the Nazi Party! They will all sign the surrender and then be prosecuted by the Allied powers! They will hang like cattle for the pleasure of Stalin! Meanwhile, you all will be comfortable in your headquarters, making important negotiations to keep Germany alive and giving yourselves a grand reputation in reforming the Reich after this merciless war! And I, with my selected associates, will be watching television broadcasts of the Western Powers and the Bolsheviks bickering while I am reclining in comfortable secrecy!" Hitler began to laugh hysterically, followed by most of the other generals in the room. Even Guderian was snickering at the scene. Notably, only Rommel wasn't laughing in the slightest. He thought it was disgusting that they would be willing to throw others under the bus to save their own hides. After a while, Hitler calmed down and he gestured for the rest to do the same.
"But rest assured, gentlemen", Hitler calmly addressed, "None of you will suffer any punishment for any crime committed by the Reich. Goering, Speer and Bormann will be the ones hanging, but in the case that I am captured and brought back to Germany, I shall take all responsibility for any crime committed by the Wehrmacht! If they demand that you turn officers for prosecution, hand them this document that states that in my death, I shall take responsibility for all war crimes. If they refuse to relent, the officers being targeted are to commit suicide with the cyanide capsule I gave to each of you priorly. Never be pushovers to the ruthless Allies! Now, I know that Goering would go to Flensburg as soon as possible and Bormann is already in custody. But Speer has yet to be located. Ambassador Mohnke, do you have any significant intel?"
"My Fuhrer", Mohnke expressed, "Albert Speer is currently in Flensburg awaiting negotiation with Allied diplomats. Since the CGO is set to go to Flensburg for the official surrender, I will personally apprehend Herr Speer if you wish of me to do so".
"Such would be deeply appreciated, Mohnke", Hitler genuinely spoke, "I would like to thank you all for your services during this eventful war. If I were to ever return, I would award all of you with the highest honors. You are truly honorable officers and have done the Reich proud". Hitler shakily commenced standing up and began to individually shake hands with all officers in the room. This continued until Hitler finally came up to Keitel. Out of the generals, Keitel was easily the most obedient to the Fuhrer. Other generals even had a nickname for him: Lakeitel, because he was essentially just the Fuhrer's lackey. Yet, Hitler had a special bond with the old Prussian general for his loyalty.
"My dear Keitel", Hitler warmly spoke, "I am especially appreciative of your loyalty during the entire war effort. Whilst I always had to argue with other generals about I wanted, you always stood by my orders and never swayed in your loyalty. Truly a role model officer of the highest brand! I wish you the best in your future career. I hereby honor you with my personal Golden Party badge for your admirable services".
"Thank you, my Fuhrer", Keitel tearfully responded, "And I will make sure that the Reich will remain loyal to you, whether you return or not". Hitler also had tears in his eyes as he gave the badge to Keitel. Eventually, Gunsche arrived in the Reich Chancellery and Hitler was ready to head to the Fuhrerbunker for the last time. All of the generals gave a firm, yet silent, salute to the Fuhrer, as Hitler returned the favor. Not a word was uttered, but the emotion in the room more than compensated for the quiet atmosphere. Hitler and Gunsche slowly stepped out of the room, with Krebs and Burgdorf quickly following behind. The room was ominous for several moments until Guderian broke the silence.
"Well, we have been given the cue", Guderian confidently projected, "We head to Flensburg right now! Germany's fate now rests on our hands! Mohnke, please grab Bormann so that we can begin our exodus". Mohnke saluted and then rushed to get the disgraced Nazi from custody. While the other generals were getting ready, Rommel pulled Guderian aside to speak with him.
"I can't believe what we are doing", Rommel admonished, "Not only are we letting Hitler and vital SS leaders escape, after they committed some of the heinous crimes in human history. But we're also ratting out Reich officials in order to keep ourselves safe. I can understand giving away Bormann or Goering, but should we really sacrifice Speer? Especially as we are letting Heydrich and Himmler escape scot-free?! We can't just take responsibility off of our shoulders!" While the two generals were as equally gracious, Rommel was easily the more moral general. He believed that any person who committed a crime should be justly punished. It was this attitude that won him admiration from the Allies. While Guderian certainly had more moral virtue than Keitel, Jodl and especially von Reichenau, he was much more charismatic and opportunistic than Rommel could have ever hoped to be.
"It's called being clever", Guderian rebutted, "Let's be honest, you and I never committed any war crime that would get us punished. In fact, we are still be revered by the Allied powers. They will more than willing to let us help repair Germany after such a brutal period. Goering's despised in the international community and you know that Speer was key in slave labor in the Reich! All three men deserve justice because they are far more guilty than the vast majority of Wehrmacht officials. Do you want to see an old officer like von Rundstedt be shot like a dog because of orders from Hitler?! Hitler and the SS are no longer going to be involved in the German government, and if they get captured, then they'll suffer their worth".
"But that still doesn't excuse our conduct", Rommel objected, "Almost all German officials were aware of the atrocities, yet they all merely followed the words of Hitler. The vile von Reichenau butchered Slavs in Russia, yet Hitler didn't order it to cease. Heydrich sent French partisans to be killed in camps, yet Hitler did let it continue. Himmler exterminated practically every single European Jew, and Hitler had wanted it! No one is guiltless in this war, except those who faced the persecution firsthand. I can't be the only German to feel any guilt over what happened!" By then, Guderian himself was visibly upset. But he had an arsenal of his own.
"What are we doing is not immoral", Guderian snapped, "And if you are so passionate about bringing justice to the crimes committed, why didn't YOU do anything?! You obviously have more knowledge on it than I do. So you had more opportunities to end the bloodbath. You could've shot Heydrich dead in his office, arrested Himmler when he was alone, or even kill Hitler immediately after the bomb back in July! But you didn't, because you had no will to do so!" Soon afterwards, tears started to roll down Rommel's face, as the pain was too much for him to bear. Guderian's frustration begun to melt away and he felt guilty for his outburst.
"Listen, Rommel", Guderian soothed, "This has truly been a grueling experience for everyone. But it's over now. Our job is help Germany and the rest of Europe to get back on their feet. We will fight to keep Germany's core territory at all costs, but if we are obliged to give vital reparations to countries like Poland or to the Jewish people, we will do our worth to repay for crimes committed by the Reich. Truly, Adolf Hitler is a man who has done great things. Albeit, a large fraction of them were terrible things, but all of them were great. Yet, the man himself admits that we must reform Germany, and I pray to the heavens that we succeed in doing so. We can make progress possible". As soon Guderian was finished, Mohnke reported back with Bormann in his official custody. With that set, Guderian signaled for the other generals to leave. Not another word was spoken by any of them as they walked out of the Reich Chancellery for the last time. Their cars were already lined up as they climbed inside each respective vehicle. They immediately drove up to Flensburg, so that they could finally end the war in Europe.
Meanwhile, Gunsche, Hitler, Krebs and Burgdorf arrived in the Chancellory's garage, where they were expecting for the people who were invited to escape Europe with their Fuhrer. Prior to their arrival, all of them were discussing important matters relating to their departure.
"And von Ribbentrop is not to be informed", Hitler continued, "That man was more useless than Bormann! If the Allies want to hunt him down, then let them. Now please give me a report on those who I had invited, Gunsche."
"Outside of Himmler, his SS officials and everyone selected in the Fuhrerbunker, only three Reich officials are coming", Gunsche responded, "Their names are Julius Streicher, Robert Ley and Fritz Sauckel. It was relatively easy to convince Herr Streicher and Dr. Ley, but it took me a while to coax Herr Sauckel, since he does have 10 children. Speaking of children, I informed all three of them that they needed to send their wives and children to Switzerland for their own safety. That was the reason why Herr Sauckel was so upset. But it was even more difficult for us to get Frau Goebbels to take her children and herself to Switzerland. She heavily insisted on going with us out of Berlin, but Dr. Goebbels was firm that your order was to obeyed".
"Ah, yes", Hitler spoke with satisfaction, "Goebbels has always been obedient to my orders. Streicher and Ley are admirable Germans and I'm glad that they're coming with us. I don't care what others think about them, because I will always be on their side! Sauckel has always been a rather weak man, but I'd rather spend the rest of my days consoling him than having to look at Speer's selfish face ever again! Arrogant swine! And to think I actually was friendly with him for so many years! Back onto Sauckel, the fact that he actually chose to come with me makes him a truly respectable man. Krebs, are the necessary defenses of roadways still in place?
"Affirmative, my Fuhrer", Krebs projected, "Our soldiers are putting up strategic defenses to make sure we escape Berlin without incident and it should be able to hold out for a couple of hours. They have been told to surrender as soon as we leave the capital". Eventually, a sleek black Nazi staff car drove near where the four men were standing until stopping nearby. A S.S. officer, who had driven the vehicle, strode out to salute the Fuhrer and then opened the car door. The first person to exit was Streicher, who appeared more than confident. After him was Sauckel, who had far less confidence and was noticeably overwhelmed. The last to exit was Dr. Ley, who appeared much less drunk than usual but still appeared slightly inept. All three immediately saluted their Fuhrer, right before he returned the gesture.
"Ah, perfect timing", Hitler quipped, "Welcome, gentlemen! It is truly more than a blessing to you all prepared to flee with me!"
"It is the very least we c-can do, my Fuhrer", Ley stuttered, "If you decide that it is no longer stay safe to stay in Germany, then we'd certainly follow your lead. Even when you are dead, you will always r-remain the true Fuhrer!"
"Of course", Streicher proclaimed, "The Fuhrer always makes the most incredible decisions out of any human on Earth. I wasn't surprised when Goering committed such vile treason, as well as Speer. I'd kill both those Jew-lovers myself if I was permitted to!"
"Relax, Streicher", Hitler coaxed, "Those traitors will suffer in due time. The Allies will butch them in the name of 'justice'! Though, I seemed to have shifted a lot of dead weight from the ranks recently. Bormann has been ousted and von Ribbentrop is a joke. You all are some of the rare exceptions of true Nazi followers".
"My Fuhrer", Sauckel stammered, "Our families are going remain safe while we're gone? Are the Allies going to do anything to our wives and children in order for us to come out of hiding? My ten children will have grow up without a father to be there for them!" Sauckel began to sob quietly, much to the disgust of Streicher and Ley. But Hitler put a hand on Sauckel's shoulder as a rare sign of sympathy, which shocked everyone around him.
"It's going to be alright, Sauckel", Hitler soothed, "Your family is going to be safe in Switzerland and I doubt the Allies will be looking for them. If they are captured, the CGO will make sure they are properly looked after. But our loved ones are going to be much safer here than with us. You must stay strong!" Sauckel seemed to calm down significantly after that, seeming to have reviewed the confidence boost he needed. Afterwards, Hitler looked around the garage in silence. This would be the last time he would see Berlin. Everything was coming into fruition for his escape. He smiled tearfully. But unbeknownst to him, fate would not let the Nazis off so easily.