As American post-conflict combat deaths in Iraq overtook the wartime number, the administration counseled patience. “The war on terror is a test of our strength. It is a test of our perseverance, our patience, and our will,” President Bush told an American Legion convention.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice embellished the message with what former White House speechwriters immediately recognize as a greatest-generation pander. “There is an understandable tendency to look back on America’s experience in postwar Germany and see only the successes,” she told the Veterans of Foreign Wars in San Antonio, Texas, on Aug. 25. “But as some of you here today surely remember, the road we traveled was very difficult. 1945 through 1947 was an especially challenging period. Germany was not immediately stable or prosperous. SS officers—called ‘werewolves’—engaged in sabotage and attacked both coalition forces and those locals cooperating with them—much like today’s Baathist and Fedayeen remnants.”
Speaking to the same group on the same day, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld noted,
One group of those dead-enders was known as “werewolves.” They and other Nazi regime remnants targeted Allied soldiers, and they targeted Germans who cooperated with the Allied forces. Mayors were assassinated including the American-appointed mayor of Aachen, the first major German city to be liberated. Children as young as 10 were used as snipers, radio broadcasts, and leaflets warned Germans not to collaborate with the Allies. They plotted sabotage of factories, power plants, rail lines. They blew up police stations and government buildings, and they destroyed stocks of art and antiques that were stored by the Berlin Museum. Does this sound familiar?
Well, no, it doesn’t. The Rice-Rumsfeld depiction of the Allied occupation of Germanyis a farrago of fiction and a few meager facts.
Werwolf tales have been a favorite of schlock novels, but the reality bore no resemblance to Iraq today. As Antony Beevor observes in The Fall of Berlin 1945, the Nazis began creating Werwolf as a resistance organization in September 1944. “In theory, the training programmes covered sabotage using tins of Heinz oxtail soup packed with plastic explosive and detonated with captured British time pencils,” Beevor writes. “… Werwolf recruits were taught to kill sentries with a slip-knotted garrotte about a metre long or a Walther pistol with silencer. …”
In practice, Werwolf amounted to next to nothing. The mayor of Aachen was assassinated on March 25, 1945, on Himmler’s orders. This was not a nice thing to do, but it happened before the May 7 Nazi surrender at Reims. It’s hardly surprising that Berlin sought to undermine the American occupation before the war was over. And as the U.S. Army’s official history, The U.S. Army in the Occupation of Germany 1944-1946, points out, the killing was “probably the Werwolf’s most sensational achievement.”
Indeed, the organization merits but two passing mentions in Occupation of Germany, which dwells far more on how docile the Germans were once the Americans rolled in—and fraternization between former enemies was a bigger problem for the military than confrontation. Although Gen. Eisenhower had been worrying about guerrilla warfare as early as August 1944, little materialized. There was no major campaign of sabotage. There was no destruction of water mains or energy plants worth noting. In fact, the far greater problem for the occupying forces was the misbehavior of desperate displaced persons, who accounted for much of the crime in the American zone.
The Army history records that while there were the occasional anti-occupation leaflets and graffiti, the GIs had reason to feel safe. When an officer in Hesse was asked to investigate rumors that troops were being attacked and castrated, he reported back that there had not been a single attack against an American soldier in four months of occupation. As the distinguished German historian Golo Mann summed it up in The History of Germany Since 1789, “The [Germans’] readiness to work with the victors, to carry out their orders, to accept their advice and their help was genuine; of the resistance which the Allies had expected in the way of ‘werewolf’ units and nocturnal guerrilla activities, there was no sign. …”
Werwolf itself was filled not so much by fearsome SS officers but teenagers too young for the front. Beevor writes:
In the west, the Allies found that Werwolf was a fiasco. Bunkers prepared for Werwolf operations had supplies “for 10-15 days only” and the fanaticism of the Hitler Youth members they captured had entirely disappeared. They were “no more than frightened, unhappy youths.” Few resorted to the suicide pills which they had been given “to escape the strain of interrogation and, above all, the inducement to commit treason.” Many, when sent off by their controllers to prepare terrorist acts, had sneaked home.
That’s not quite the same as the Rumsfeld version, which claimed that “Today the Nazi dead-enders are largely forgotten, cast to the sidelines of history because they comprised a failed resistance and managed to kill our Allied forces in a war that saw millions fight and die.”
It’s hard to understand exactly what Rumsfeld was saying, but if he meant that the Nazi resisters killed Americans after the surrender, this would be news. According to America’s Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq,a new study by former Ambassador James Dobbins, who had a lead role in the Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo reconstruction efforts, and a team of RAND Corporation researchers, the total number of post-conflict American combat casualties in Germany—and Japan, Haiti, and the two Balkan cases—was zero.
So, how did this fanciful version of the American experience in postwar Germany get into the remarks of a Princeton graduate and former trustee of Stanford’s Hoover Institute (Rumsfeld) and the former provost of Stanford and co-author of an acclaimed book on German unification (Rice)? Perhaps the British have some intelligence on the matter that still has not been made public. Of course, as the president himself has noted, there is a lot of revisionist history going around.