Walter Hewell

Publié le par Spartacus Educational

Walter Hewell

Walther Hewel, the son of Anton and Elsa Hewel was born in Cologne on 2nd January 1904. His father ran a cocoa factory. As a teenager he became active in politics and was with Adolf Hitler during the Munich Putsch in November 1923. He was imprisoned in Landsberg Castle because of his involvement in the attempted overthrow of the government. During this period he served as Hitler's valet.

Walter Hewell

On his release Hewel went to work as a coffee salesman and planter for a British firm in the Dutch East Indies. He remained active in politics and formed a local branch of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) for German expatriates living in the area.

After Hitler gained power in 1933 he returned to Germany. He joined Germany's diplomatic service and sent to Madrid. It is claimed that during the Spanish Civil War he worked for Wilhelm Canaris as an agent of Abwehr. In 1938 he was recalled to Germany where he became head of the Reich Foreign Minister's personal staff. In 1940 Hewell was given responsibility for liaison between Joachim von Ribbentrop, the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Hitler. On one occasion Hitler described Hewell as an "excellent diplomat... one has to be to become an intermediary between Hitler and Ribbentrop".

Traudl Junge, the author of To The Last Hour: Hitler's Last Secretary (2002) points out that Hewell was a popular member of Hitler's inner-circle: "Walther Hewel, the liaison officer from the Foreign Office, was a favourite butt. Hewel was still relatively young for his high rank, and unmarried. He was about forty years old. His pleasing charm, typical of a Rhinelander, made him popular. He had lived in India for years and had many amusing tales to tell of his time there. Hitler asked him, 'So when are you finally going to write your book From Machete to Diplomatic Dagger? But then you're no diplomat! More of a giant diplomatic cowboy!' The tall, dignified Hewel responded to this sally only with hearty laughter. 'If I weren't a diplomat I couldn't stand between you and Ribbentrop, my Fuhrer,' he replied. Hitler had to acknowledge the truth of this, for he knew what a difficult character the Foreign Minister was. But the fact that Hewel was still unmarried made him the object of daily teasing."

Albert Speer claims that Hitler was very close to Hewel: "Hitler also took delight in having Ambassador Hewel, Ribbentrop's liaison man, transmit the content. of telephone conversations with the Foreign Minister. He would even coach Hewel in ways to disconcert or confuse his superior. Sometimes he stood right beside Hewel, who would hold his hand over the mouthpiece of the telephone and repeat what Ribbentrop was saying, while Hitler whispered what to answer. Usually these were sarcastic remarks intended to fan the nervous Foreign Minister's suspicions that unauthorized persons might be influencing Hitler on questions of foreign policy, thus infringing on his domain."

According to Hitler's valet, Heinz Linge, he wanted Hewell to marry Sigrid von Laffert: "One day Frau von Dirksen introduced her niece to Hitler. Sigrid von Laffert was one of the most beautiful women I ever saw in Hitler's entourage and enchanted everybody. Hitler invited her to all festive occasions. Her unusual beauty and spirit lent Hitler's parties a special glamour, and generally she would be the centre of attention of all the guests. In order to secure her for his close circle, Hitler wanted her to marry the Foreign Ministry representative Hewel, but she was apparently only interested in Hitler. It was not unusual for me to hear him urging Hewel to make himself known as a suitor, but nothing came of it. Sigrid von Laffert, painted by Ferdinand Staeger at Hitler's request, eventually married a titled nobleman at the Germany embassy in Madrid."

Hitler also tried to persuade Hewell to marry Gretl Braun, the sister of Eva Braun. Hitler's secretary, Traudl Junge has argued: "For a while those around him (Hitler) thought he wanted Hewel to marry Eva's sister Gretl Braun. But Hewel himself didn't fancy the idea." According to Nerin E. Gun, the author of Eva Braun: Hitler's Mistress (1969): "Hitler promised Hewell that after marrying Gretl he would appoint him ambassador in Rome. Hitler was so angry when Hewell married someone else he banished him from his presence. However, he eventually forgave him and he returned to his inner circle."

In January 1945, the Soviet troops entered Nazi Germany. On 16th January, following the defeat in the Battle of the Bulge, a small group, including Adolf Hitler, Eva Braun, Gretl Braun, Joseph Goebbels, Magda Goebbels, Hermann Fegelein, Rochus Misch, Martin Bormann, Julius Schaub, Erich Kempka, Heinz Linge, Julius Schreck, Traudl Junge, Ernst-Gunther Schenck, Otto Günsche, Christa Schroeder and Johanna Wolf, moved into the Führerbunker in Berlin. Hitler was now nearly fifty-five years old but looked much older. His hair had gone grey, his body was stooped, and he had difficulty in walking. His voice had become feeble and his eyesight was so poor that that he needed special lenses even to read documents from his "Führer typewriter". Hitler also developed a tremor in his left arm and leg. He had originally suffered from this during the First World War and also after the failure of the Munich Putsch in 1923. It was a nervous disorder that reappeared whenever Hitler felt he was in danger.

The situation became so desperate that on 22nd April, Hitler sent his two secretaries, Christa Schroeder and Johanna Wolf, away. Schroeder later recalled: "He received us in his room looking tired, pale and listless. "Over the last four days the situation has changed to such an extent that I find myself forced to disperse my staff. As you are the longest serving, you will go first. In an hour a car leaves for Munich."

Erich Kempka, recalled in I Was Hitler's Chauffeur: The Memoirs of Erich Kempka (1951) that Hewel brought in a Russian leaflet that said what it intended to do to Hitler and his inner-circle: " I recall the great shock we all felt when Hewel, the foreign minister's liaison officer to the Führer, read us a leaflet by the famous Russian poet Ilya Ehrenburg. These leaflets had been dropped by Russian aircraft for distribution amongst their troops as they crossed the German border. Hewel had obtained one of the leaflets from a Russian POW (prisoner of war), and had had it translated. He read it to the members of Hitler's close circle that day in the Führer-bunker, and the words have remained imprinted indelibly in my memory."

When the Soviet troops first entered Berlin it was suggested that Hitler should try to escape. Hitler rejected the idea as he feared the possibility of being captured. He had heard stories of how the Soviet troops planned to parade him through the streets of Germany in a cage. To prevent this humiliation Hitler decided to commit suicide. By the end of April soldiers of the Red Army were only 300 yards away from Hitler's underground bunker. Although defeat was inevitable, Hitler insisted his troops fight to the death. Instructions were constantly being sent out giving orders for the execution of any military commanders who retreated. Hitler made a will leaving all his property to the Nazi Party.

On 30th April, 1945, Adolf Hitler locked himself in his room with Eva Braun. Hitler's bodyguard, Rochus Misch commented: “Everyone was waiting for the shot. We were expecting it.... Then came the shot. Heinz Linge took me to one side and we went in. I saw Hitler slumped by the table. I didn’t see any blood on his head. And I saw Eva with her knees drawn up lying next to him on the sofa – wearing a white and blue blouse, with a little collar: just a little thing.” Albert Speer commented: "Eva's love for him, her loyalty, were absolute - as she proved unmistakably at the end."

Those left in the Führerbunker were undecided what to do next. Some men committed suicide whereas others armed themselves with the intention to fight the enemy troops. Traudl Junge pointed out that "Hewel can't make up his mind what to do. He always was an indecisive character. Now he doesn't know where to die - should he take his poison or join our fighting group?" Hewel eventually decided to leave the Führerbunker on 1st May, 1945. Other members of the group included Junge, Martin Bormann, Erich Kempka, Heinz Linge and Ernst-Gunther Schenck.

Junge later recalled: "It could be about eight-thirty in the evening. We are to be the first group leaving the bunker... we make our way through the many waiting people and go down underground passages. We clamber over half-wrecked staircases, through holes in walls and rubble, always going further up and out. At last the Wilhelmsplatz stretches ahead, shining in the moonlight. The dead horse still lies there on the paving stones, but only the remains of it now. Hungry people have come out of the U-Bahn tunnels to slice off pieces of meat... Soundlessly, we cross the square. Sporadic shots are fired, but the gunfire is stronger further away. Then we have reached the U-Bahn tunnel outside the ruins of the Kaiserhof. We climb down and work our way on in the darkness, over the wounded and the homeless, past soldiers resting, until we reach Friedrichstrasse Station. Here the tunnel ends and hell begins. We have to get through, and we succeed. The whole fighting group gets across the U-Bahn bend uninjured. But an inferno breaks out behind us. Hundreds of snipers are shooting at those who follow us."

Some of the group eventually reached an old beer cellar of a brewery now being used as a bunker. According to Ernst-Gunther Schenck Hewell killed himself when the Red Army arrived on 2nd May 1945. "A Soviet negotiator was followed by a Russian officer and four men. As they came through the entrance there were two loud reports inside the room. Hewel had put a pistol to his temple and squeezed the trigger as he bit on a cyanide capsule. I went to him immediately: he was dead. I could see it at a glance. The thought struck me at once that this was how Hitler had died and Hewel had copied him, biting on a cyanide capsule and shooting himself at the same instant. I needed no second look."

Primary Sources

(1) Heinz Linge, With Hitler to the End (1980)

One day Frau von Dirksen introduced her niece to Hitler. Sigrid von Laffert was one of the most beautiful women I ever saw in Hitler's entourage and enchanted everybody. Hitler invited her to all festive occasions. Her unusual beauty and spirit lent Hitler's parties a special glamour, and generally she would be the centre of attention of all the guests. In order to secure her for his close circle, Hitler wanted her to marry the Foreign Ministry representative Hewel, but she was apparently only interested in Hitler. It was not unusual for me to hear him urging Hewel to make himself known as a suitor, but nothing came of it. Sigrid von Laffert, painted by Ferdinand Staeger at Hitler's request, eventually married a titled nobleman at the Germany embassy in Madrid.

(2) Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich (1970)

Hitler also took delight in having Ambassador Hewel, Ribbentrop's liaison man, transmit the content. of telephone conversations with the Foreign Minister. He would even coach Hewel in ways to disconcert or confuse his superior. Sometimes he stood right beside Hewel, who would hold his hand over the mouthpiece of the telephone and repeat what Ribbentrop was saying, while Hitler whispered what to answer. Usually these were sarcastic remarks intended to fan the nervous Foreign Minister's suspicions that unauthorized persons might be influencing Hitler on questions of foreign policy, thus infringing on his domain.

(3) Traudl Junge, To The Last Hour: Hitler's Last Secretary (2002)

Conversations at table were usually trivial and cheerful. Hitler talked about the pranks he had played at school and reminisced about the early struggles of the Party. He often teased his colleagues. Walther Hewel, the liaison officer from the Foreign Office, was a favourite butt. Hewel was still relatively young for his high rank, and unmarried. He was about forty years old. His pleasing charm, typical of a Rhinelander, made him popular. He had lived in India for years and had many amusing tales to tell of his time there. Hitler asked him, "So when are you finally going to write your book From Machete to Diplomatic Dagger? But then you're no diplomat! More of a giant diplomatic cowboy!' The tall, dignified Hewel responded to this sally only with hearty laughter. "If I weren't a diplomat I couldn't stand between you and Ribbentrop, my Fuhrer," he replied. Hitler had to acknowledge the truth of this, for he knew what a difficult character the Foreign Minister was. But the fact that Hewel was still unmarried made him the object of daily teasing. "I expect you're looking for one of those Indian tree monkeys," said Hitler. But seriously, the Führer really was looking out for a suitable wife for his favourite liaison officer. For a while those around him thought he wanted Hewel to marry Eva's sister Gretl Braun. But Hewel himself didn't fancy the idea...

Unfortunately differences of opinion and intrigues surfaced in Hitler's entourage soon after he had joined us. Fegelein, who was an entertaining, sociable person, soon attracted the attention of Eva Braun and her sister Gretl. The latter in particular was the object of handsome Hermann's attentions. It's true that before he knew she was Eva's sister he had said, "What a silly goose!" But he was quick to change his mind in view of her family connections. Everyone was surprised when Fegelein's engagement to Gretl Braun was announced. It reinforced Fegelein's position personally too. Hewel the liaison officer, who had married now himself and was at present in hospital, injured, after his plane accident, was the only man to have a good enough personal relationship with Hitler to be an obstacle in Fegelein's way. So Fegelein used Hewel's absence to slander him to Hitler, and he succeeded. Hewel, who couldn't defend himself, fell into disfavour, and Hitler refused even to meet his wife.

(4) Nerin E. Gun, Eva Braun: Hitler's Mistress (1969)

The story, told to me by Eva's sister, who was present at the time, is absolutely authentic, for it is also quoted in Hitler's Table Conversations. One of the protagonists was an embassy counsellor, a friend of Hewel. (As the man responsible for liaison between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Hitler, Hewel was a member of the intimate circle. In fact Hitler, who was very kindly disposed towards him, tried for a long time to marry him to Eva's sister Gretl and had promised Gretl to appoint him ambassador in Rome immediately after the marriage.)

(5) Erich Kempka, I Was Hitler's Chauffeur: The Memoirs of Erich Kempka (1951)

Although everybody - so far as I can determine - was resolved to remain loyal to his oath to the last hour, we were also strongly affected by passing events. I recall the great shock we all felt when Hewel, the foreign minister's liaison officer to the Führer, read us a leaflet by the famous Russian poet Ilya Ehrenburg. These leaflets had been dropped by Russian aircraft for distribution amongst their troops as they crossed the German border. Hewel had obtained one of the leaflets from a Russian POW (prisoner of war), and had had it translated. He read it to the members of Hitler's close circle that day in the Führer-bunker, and the words have remained imprinted indelibly in my memory. After the war I discovered that Hewel shot himself in the cellar of the Schultheiss Brewery on Berlin's Schonhauser-Allee after the break-out from the Reich Chancellery. Mentioning the Ehrenburg leaflet, Hewel had previously promised to take his own life to avoid capture. If I recount such details here, I do so in order to provide the most accurate impression possible of the mood that animated the men in the last FHQ.

(6) Traudl Junge, To The Last Hour: Hitler's Last Secretary (2002)

The big storerooms stocked with provisions by the household manager are emptied. There are scarcely enough takers for all the canned food, bottles of wine, champagne and schnapps, chocolate. These things have lost their value. But everyone gets weapons from the leader of the escort commando. We women are each given a pistol too. We are not to fire it, we are told, except in the utmost need. Then we get practical clothing. We have to go over to the camp at the very back of the bunker, on Vossstrasse. It means passing through the operating theatre. I've never seen a dead body before, and I've always run away from the sight of blood. Now, empty-eyed, I see two dead soldiers in a terrible condition lying on stretchers. Professor Haase doesn't even look up as we come in. Sweating and concentrating hard, he is working on a leg amputation. There are buckets full of blood and human limbs everywhere. The saw grates as it works its way through bone. I see and hear nothing, the pictures don't penetrate my conscious mind. Automatically, I let someone hand me a steel helmet, long trousers and a short jacket in the room next door, try on boots and go back to the other bunker.

The new clothes feel odd hanging on my body. Now the men arc in full marching gear too. Many of them have removed their epaulettes and decorations. Captain Baur has taken the oil painting of Frederick the Great out of its frame and rolled it up. He wants it as a souvenir. Hewel can't make up his mind what to do. He always was an indecisive character. Now he doesn't know where to die - should he take his poison or join our fighting group? He decides on the latter, and so does Admiral Voss. And so do Bormann, Naumann, Kempka, Baur, Schwagermann, Stumpfegger, they all want to get out.

I suddenly remember the children. There's no sign of Frau Goebbels. She has shut herself in her room. Are the children still with her? Some girl from the kitchen, or maybe it was a chambermaid, had offered to take the six children out with her. The Russians might not harm them. But I don't know if Frau Goebbels accepted this offer.

We sit around and wait for evening. Only Schadle, the wounded leader of the escort commando, has shot himself. Suddenly the door of the room occupied by the Goebbels family opens. A nurse and a man in a white coat are carrying out a huge, heavy crate. A second crate follows. My heart stands still for a moment. I can't help thinking of the children. The size of the crate would be about right. So my dulled heart can still feel something after all, and there's a huge lump in my throat.

Krebs and Burgdorf stand up, smooth down their uniform tunics, and shake hands with everyone in farewell. They are not leaving, they're going to shoot themselves here. Then they go out, parting from those who mean to wait longer. We must wait for darkness to fall. Goebbels walks restlessly up and down, smoking, like a hotel proprietor waiting discreetly and in silence for the last guests to leave the bar. He has stopped complaining and ranting. So the time has come. We all shake hands with him in farewell. He wishes me good luck, with a twisted smile. "You may get through," he says softly, in heartfelt tones. But I shake my head doubtfully. We are completely surrounded by the enemy, and there are Russian tanks in the Potsdamer Platz...

One by one we leave these scenes of horror. I pass Hitler's door for the last time. His plain grey overcoat is hanging from the iron coat-stand as usual, and above it I see his big cap with the golden national emblem on it and his pale suede gloves. The dog's leash is dangling beside them. It looks like a gallows. I'd like to take the gloves as a memento, or at least one of them. But my outstretched hand falls again, I don't know why. My silver fox coat is hanging in the wardrobe in Eva's room. Its lining bears the golden monogram E.B. I don't need it now, I don't need anything but the pistol and the poison.

So we go over to the big coal-cellar of the New Reich Chancellery. Otto Günsche leads us through the crowds; his broad shoulders forcing a way for us four women (Frau Christian, Fraulein Kruger, Fraulein Manziarly and me) through the soldiers waiting here ready to march. Among them I see the familiar faces of Bormann, Baur, Stumpfegger, Kempka, Rattenhuber and Linge, all now wearing steel helmets. We nod to each other. Most of them I've never seen again.

Then we wait in our bunker room to be fetched. We have all destroyed our papers. I take no money with me, no provisions, no clothes, just a great many cigarettes and a few pictures I can't part with. The other women pack small bags. They are going to try to find their way out through this hell too. Only the nurses stay behind.

It could be about eight-thirty in the evening. We are to be the first group leaving the bunker. A few soldiers I don't know from the guards battalion, we four women, Otto Günsche, Mohnke, Hewel and Admiral Voss make our way through the many waiting people and go down underground passages. We clamber over half-wrecked staircases, through holes in walls and rubble, always going further up and out. At last the Wilhelmsplatz stretches ahead, shining in the moonlight. The dead horse still lies there on the paving stones, but only the remains of it now. Hungry people have come out of the U-Bahn tunnels to slice off pieces of meat ...

Soundlessly, we cross the square. Sporadic shots are fired, but the gunfire is stronger further away. Then we have reached the U-Bahn tunnel outside the ruins of the Kaiserhof. We climb down and work our way on in the darkness, over the wounded and the homeless, past soldiers resting, until we reach Friedrichstrasse Station. Here the tunnel ends and hell begins. We have to get through, and we succeed. The whole fighting group gets across the U-Bahn bend uninjured. But an inferno breaks out behind us. Hundreds of snipers are shooting at those who follow us.

For hours we crawl through cavernous cellars, burning buildings, strange, dark streets! Somewhere in an abandoned cellar we rest and sleep for a couple of hours. Then we go on, until Russian tanks bar our way. None of us has a heavy weapon. We are carrying nothing but pistols. So the night passes, and in the morning it is quiet. The gunfire has stopped. We still haven't seen any Russian soldiers. Finally we end up in the old beer cellar of a brewery now being used as a bunker. This is our last stop. There are Russian tanks out here, and it's full daylight. We still get into the bunker unseen. Down there Mohnke and Günsche sit in a corner and begin to write. Hewel lies on one of the plank beds, stares at the ceiling and says nothing. He doesn't want to go on. Two soldiers bring in the wounded Rattenhuber. He has taken a shot in the leg, he is feverish and hallucinating. A doctor treats him and puts him on a camp bed. Rattenhuber gets out his pistol, takes off the safety catch and puts it down beside him.

A general comes into the bunker, finds the defending commander Mohnke and speaks to him. We discover that we are in the last bastion of resistance in the capital of the Reich. The Russians have now surrounded the brewery and are calling on everyone to surrender. Mohnke writes a last report. There is still an hour to go. The rest of us sit there smoking. Suddenly he raises his head, looks at us women and says, "You must help us now. We're all wearing uniform, none of us will get out of here. But you can try to get through, make your way to Donitz and give him this last report."

I don't want to go on any more, but Frau Christian and the other two urge me to; they shake me until I finally follow them. We leave our steel helmets and pistols there. We take our military jackets off too. Then we shake hands with the men and go.

An SS company is standing by its vehicles in the brewery yard, stony-faced and motionless, waiting for the order for the last attack. The Volkssturm, the OT men and the soldiers are throwing their weapons down in a heap and going out to the Russians. At the far end of the yard Russian soldiers are already handing out schnapps and cigarettes to German soldiers, telling them to surrender, celebrating fraternization. We pass through them as if we were invisible. Then we are outside the encircling ring, among wild hordes of Russian victors, and at last I can weep.

Where were we to turn? If I'd never seen dead people before, I saw them now everywhere. No one was taking any notice of them. A little sporadic firing was still going on. Sometimes the Russians set buildings on fire and searched for soldiers in hiding. We were threatened on every corner. I lost track of my colleagues that same day. I went on alone for a long time, hopelessly, until at last I ended up in a Russian prison. When the cell door closed behind me I didn't even have my poison any more, it had all happened so fast. Yet I was still alive. And now began a dreadful, terrible time, but I didn't want to die any more; I was curious to find out what else a human being can experience. And fate was kind to me. As if by a miracle, I escaped being transported to the East. The unselfish human kindness of one man preserved me from that. After many long months, I was at last able to go home and back to a new life.

 

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