Germany’s surrender order under the hammer

Marooned on a naval base in northwest Germany, pinned down by advancing Allied forces and Adolf Hitler dead, the last leader of the Third Reich hammered out the surrender order.

Germany's surrender order under the hammer
Admiral Dönitz (m) with Albert Speer (l) and General Alfred Jodl (r). Photo: DPA

Seventy years later the telex will go on auction in New York, the flimsy sheet of pink paper valued at $20,000 to $30,000, and an incredibly rare relic from the world's deadliest conflict.

In it, Karl Doenitz tells the head of the Luftwaffe, Field Marshal Robert von Greim, that he has signed an unconditional surrender and that all hostilities will cease at 1:00 am on May 9, 1945.

"This was unavoidable in order to prevent the complete destruction of certain parts of the front, which was expected to occur in a short time, and, in so doing, to save as many people as possible for Germany," the telegram explains.

Tom Lamb, history expert and curator of Wednesday's sale at Bonhams, said it was the first German telegram he had ever seen.

"The Germans had a scorched earth policy as they pulled out so they burnt, destroyed every piece of paper they had," he told AFP.

"And if they didn't do it, the Russians did it, so the survival of this is extraordinary."

Von Greim received the telegram at 10:40 pm on May 8. He fled Germany and was arrested by US forces outside Prague, the telegram found in his attache case.

SEE ALSO: Second World War still key to German identity

More than 300 lots

It was kept by the interrogating officer of the US Army and is being offered for sale by a private American collector.

Von Greim was to be swapped in a prisoner exchange with the Soviets, but committed suicide with cyanide on May 24, 1945.

Lamb expects significant interest in the document, not only from American buyers by German and British as well.

"This is a very important historical document and it could go to any country that values that," he said.

More than 300 lots of World War II memorabilia, the majority collected by veterans, are up for grabs in the auction. There are flags, uniforms, recordings, notes, cigarette cases and mementos of all kinds from Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Russia and the United States, as well as India, China and Japan.

The most expensive lot is two log books valued at $150,000-200,000 and owned by Robert Lewis, American co-pilot of the Enola Gay B-29 bomber that dropped the world's first atomic bomb.

Lewis, who shunned the spotlight during his lifetime, wanted the items sold only after his death, a wish that his youngest son is working to honor, and to find a publisher for his father's book.

"He didn't want of this stuff to sit in a basement, in a dark room on a shelf in a cardboard box with the door marked museum archives," Steven Lewis said in an interview.

"He wanted the public to know."

'My God, what have we done?'

The Lewis collection includes his flying logs from 1942-47, plans for the August 6, 1945 Enola Gay mission and photographs.

The atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima killed 140,000 people by December 1945. When Lewis saw the huge mushroom cloud, he uttered the famous remark "My God, what have we done?"

Japan eventually surrendered on August 15, 1945, after the Americans dropped a second atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki.

Steven Lewis says his father was never conflicted about the mission despite the catastrophic loss of life.

"He said 'Steven, I couldn't get over the power' and he said 'I hoped that it would be enough to end the war' and that's the way he felt," the younger Lewis recalled.

"That was a mission that he got chosen because he was the best at what he did and everyone on that crew was."

World War II memorabilia auctions are a relatively new field, but Lamb expects interest to grow as the last veterans pass away and collections shift into second and third generations.

"What I'm trying to do here is to bring to the public attention that this is a valid field," he said.

It was "an extraordinary, extraordinary conflict. There has never ever been a struggle or a battle as long, as involved, as expensive in lives, in money, in the history of mankind," Lamb added.

SEE ALSO: Göring's daughter fails in bid to win father's assets

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German justice contaminated by Nazis in post-war years

Germany's justice system was still filled with former Nazis well into the 1970s, as the Cold War coloured efforts to root out fascists, according a damning official inquiry presented Thursday.

Professors Friedrich Kießling and Christoph Safferling present their report
Professors Friedrich Kießling and Christoph Safferling present their report "State Security in the Cold War". Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uwe Anspach

In the 600-page collection of findings entitled “State Security in the Cold War”, historian Friedrich Kiessling and legal scholar Christoph Safferling focused on the period from the early 1950s until 1974.

Their research found that between 1953 and 1959, around three in four top officials at the federal prosecutor’s office, which commissioned the report, had belonged to the Nazi party.

More than 80 percent had worked in Adolf Hitler’s justice apparatus, and it would take until 1972 before they were no longer in the majority.

“On the face of it they were highly competent lawyers… but that came against the backdrop of the death sentences and race laws in which they were involved,” said Margaretha Sudhof, state secretary at the justice ministry, unveiling the report.

“These are disturbing contradictions to which our country has long remained blind.”

‘Combat mission’

It was not until 1992, two years after Germany’s national reunification, that the last prosecutor with a fascist background left the office.

“There was no break, let alone a conscious break, with the Nazi past” at the federal prosecutor’s office, the authors concluded, stressing “the great and long continuity” of the functions held and “the high number” of officials involved in Hitler’s regime.

Chief federal prosecutor Peter Frank commissioned the study in 2017. The federal prosecutor’s office is one of Germany’s most powerful institutions, handling the most serious national security cases including those involving terrorism and espionage.

With more than 100 prosecutors, it is “the central actor in the fight against terror,” the report authors said, underlining its growing role in the decades since the September 11th, 2001 attacks in the United States.

The researchers were given unfettered access to hundreds of files labelled classified after the war, and found that rooting out alleged communists was often prioritised over other threats, including from the far right.

“In the 1950s the federal prosecutor’s office had a combat mission – not a legal but a political one: to pursue all the communists in the country,” the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung said in a summary of the report.

‘Recycling’ Nazis

The fact that West Germany widely used former officials from the Nazi regime in its post-war administration had long been known.

For example, Hans Globke served as chief of staff and a trusted confidant to former conservative West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer between 1953 and 1963 and was responsible for recruitment to top posts.

However, Globke had also been a senior civil servant in the Nazi-era interior ministry and was involved in the drafting of the 1935 Nuremberg race laws that imposed the first dramatic restrictions on Jews.

In recent years, systematic digging into the past of key ministries and institutions has unearthed a troubling and previously hidden degree of “recycling” of Third Reich officials in the post-war decades.

A 2016 government report revealed that in 1957, more than a decade after the war ended, around 77 percent of senior officials at the justice ministry had been members of the Nazi party. That study, also carried out by Safferling, revealed that the number of former Nazis at the ministry did not decline after the fall of the regime but actually grew in the 1950s.

Part of the justification was cynical pragmatism: the new republic needed experienced civil servants to establish the West German justice system. Furthermore, the priorities of the Allies who won the war and “liberated” the country from the Nazis were quickly turned upside down in the Cold War context.

After seeking to de-Nazify West Germany after 1945, the aim quickly shifted to building a capitalist bulwark against the communist threat. That approach often meant turning a blind eye to Germans’ previous involvement in the Third Reich.

In recent years, Germany has embarked on a twilight attempt to provide justice for concentration camp victims, placing several former guards in their 90s on trial for wartime crimes.