The Unlikely Death of Heinrich Himmler (3)

Heinrich-Himmler-519031Almost nothing is known about the name on the ID that this man used as a cover (other than that he was known to bear a remarkable resemblance to Heinrich Himmler – to such an extent that he was almost his double/twin). He also had the same first name which certainly helped.

One theory is that Hitzinger was a rural policeman who in the beginning of 1945 had been tried by an infamous Volksgerichtshof (“People’s Court) for defeatism. At the time such a charge meant an automatic death sentence so he was probably promptly beheaded (even during the last days of the Third Reich its courts and executioners were ruthlessly efficient).

The story has it that one day (well before May) Himmler happened to see Hitzinger’s identity papers and appropriated them “for his own purposes”. Most likely, he asked the RSHA forgery department to produce fake GFP ID using the real pictures of Hitzinger from the dossier.

On May 11th, five days after the real Heinrich Himmler safely landed in Spain (it probably took some time to deliver this message to his impersonator), the man who claimed (initially) to be “Heinrich Hitzinger” set out on his final journey from Flensburg. Thus starting one of the most creative cover-ups in the history of secret ops.

“Hitzinger” traveled in a group of fifteen (!) men united only by their allegiance to their Reichsfuhrer – almost all were members of his staff. There is little (if any) doubt that they have been aware of the substitution and each one knew precisely what to do (and what not to do) and what to say (and what not to).

The most notable members of the party were SS Obergruppenführer Dr. Karl Brandt, Hitler’s personal physician; SS Obergruppenführer Karl Gebhardt, Himmler’s surgeon; SS Obergruppenführer Otto Ohlendorf; SS Sturmbannführer Josef Kiermaier, Himmler’s personal aide and secretary, and Himmler’s adjutants, Waffen SS Obersturmbannführer Werner Grothmann and Sturmbannführer Heinz Macher. The group also included two officers from the escort battalion of the Waffen SS, and seven non-commissioned officers from Himmler’s personal staff.

The obvious question is: why did they agree to take part in this deception and not to try to go into hiding by themselves (as many of their SS comrades did)? They obviously knew that they could be prosecuted for the crimes that they committed while in offices and even if not, they were guaranteed a lengthy stay in POW camps.

The answer to this all-important question is surprisingly simple. First, they all were SS officers who took the oath to unquestionably obey any order given by their commander – even if it meant a certain death (in this respect they were, indeed, similar to the Japanese Samurai).

Second, they were not aware of how seriously and passionately the Allies intended to go after the Nazi war criminals (for one, the former desperately needed to cover up their own war crimes). And how harsh the sentences dispensed by the Allied military courts could be.

When it became obvious how wrong they were on the second count, at least one of them – the abovementioned Otto Ohlendorf – began to spread rumours that Himmler was still alive.

Rumors were picked up by Göring, who in August 1945 wondered aloud to his interrogators at Nuremberg ‘if SS-Reichsfuhrer was really dead’. These rumors most likely, became one more reasons to exhume “Himmler’s” body and conduct the second autopsy five months later.

None of the members of the party had any insignia on his uniform and all of them carried military document that identified them as members they were a newly demobilized unit of the GFP who were sick and on their way to Munich hospital under the supervision of Dr. Gebhardt..

Which was a 100% guarantee of them being detained by the first Allied patrol they encountered – the fact that Himmler, with his incredible memory, access to intelligence and no less remarkable data processing abilities was obviously well aware of.

And still he chose for his group the documents that attracted the most (not the least) attention of the enemy (hell, the Soviets could very well have shot them right then and there – without any trial or even a semblance of due process).

The presence of almost all Himmler’s entourage makes it seem unlikely that Hitzinger was anyone but Himmler, yet what better way to establish the identity of a leader than surround him with his customary crew?

It is difficult to believe that such a smart, cunning, knowledgeable and politically experienced man as Himmler could choose to behave in such an obvious and dangerous way.

The group’s progress south through Schleswig-Holstein was slow. Having left Flensburg in four large cars on 10 May, they took two whole days to cover the sixty-odd miles to Marne, in the south-west corner of the peninsula.

At the north bank of the Elbe estuary, they then had to abandon their vehicles and take a ferry to the small town of Neuhaus on the southern shore. From there on they had to proceed on foot.

By 18 May they had got no further than Bremervörde, a little town on the river Oste some 25 miles south-east of Marne, where they made a decision that made no sense at all… unless they really wanted to get caught.

They could have easily crossed the river upstream of the town, as hundreds of other refugees were doing, or they could have headed south across country, avoiding the river altogether. Instead of these simple options they chose to cross on one of the bridges guarded by the British army with its very visible checkpoints. Looks like they really, really wanted to get caught.

A witness confirmed that stating later that “these people” were crazy to use the bridge at all, as they could easily have avoided the checkpoint by wading across the river like everyone else.

Not surprisingly, they were all arrested… except Macher, Grothmann and Hitzinger were nowhere to be seen. Incredibly, their comrades notified the British about that fact (which made sense only if they really wanted “Hitzinger” to be arrested by the British).

The British soldiers were of the same opinion. If the first twelve men had been allowed through unhindered, it would have made sense for them to draw attention to their sick companions; but after they had been arrested, it seemed crazy (or at least extremely disloyal) to inform their captors about the existence of missing men.

To make the undercover party’s very strange behavior (to put it mildly) even more bizarre, on a later visit to the farm Britton discovered a valise in a loft, which contained pajamas, slippers and a manicure set, helpfully engraved with the letters R.F.SS.

What man intent of going into hiding and facing a certain death if discovered arms himself with possessions bearing inscriptions revealing his true identity? Definitely not Heinrich Himmler… unless he wanted his impersonator to be caught.

24 hours later, having attracted sufficient attention from the British, the three “missing persons” finally showed up. on the afternoon of 22 May, the bizarre trio walked openly through the town of Bremervörde along the straight, east–west high street.

Himmler’s adjutants, wearing long, dark green overcoats with felt collars, were clearly military men. They flanked a far less impressive figure wearing an odd collection of civilian clothes under a blue raincoat.

They moved slowly, and the third man seemed especially reluctant to hurry. As soon as the British saw them, they got the impression that the two tall officers were in charge of the smaller man.

They drew even more attention to themselves (which was their objective from the beginning of the whole endeavor), one witness recorded, by the way the officers glanced around from time to time as if ‘to ensure that their charge was still there’.

Not surprisingly, they were immediately stopped by the British and (unexpectedly politely) asked for their IDs. They all claimed to be Unterfeldwebels (Sergeants) but, in addition to identifying tem as the NCOs of GFP (by itself more than sufficient for detention), their documents looked faked.

Had the third man been Himmler, surely he would have arranged to equip himself with discharge papers of a decent caliber (forgers at RSHA were very, very good at their jobs and could fool even the most diligent investigator).

Given the resources it had enjoyed until a few days before, the group could have furnished itself with any fake identity it chose. But instead of assuming the name of some harmless unit, it opted to identify its members as belonging to the Geheime Feldpolizei, an organization that was on every Allied automatic arrest list (the fact that could not have been missed by Himmler as he had a copy of such list on his desk).

It is very important to note that despite obvious problems with his documents, None of the British recognized their weedy-looking third prisoner as anybody special, and his identity as ‘Heinrich Hitzinger’ surprisingly survived preliminary investigation.

Still, his impressive personal magnifying glass with its tell-tale eagle wings was confiscated). The prisoner was fast running out of personalized items that would serve to prove the identity he was so carelessly trying to conceal.

At 7 a.m. the next morning, Wednesday May 23rd, three captives set off for the civil internment camp at Westertinke, and for the rest of the day they moved in fits and starts (mostly due to a total mess that the German roads were in at that time).

Finally, almost 12 hours later, they reached the special interrogation camp at Kolkhagen (that hosted the officers and NCOs of SD and GFP), on the western edge of the village of Barnstedt, near now-famous town of Lüneburg (about 60 km from Hamburg airport and 215 km from Berlin).

By that time, “Hitzinger” had been subjected to several interrogations and none of his captors had even a suspicion that he had been talking to the SS-Reichsfuhrer. Fearing that the British either were much more stupid (or ignorant, or both) than was initially thought or simply did not care enough (which put the whole deception in jeopardy), the impersonator decided to help them. And in a big way. A very dig way. A colossal way.

he and his two companions soon began making a fuss and demanding an interview with the camp commandant, Captain Thomas Selvester. Which was extremely strange, bordering on bizarre, because usually, the SS officers (and even the NCOs) were the quietest and most docile of the prisoners. Hoping to live down their reputations, they behaved as meekly as possible and strove to create a good impression.

They were ignored for a while but sometime later they became so so boorish and abusive that they finally succeeded in getting themselves brought before the commandant.

When the trio entered the commandant’s office, the first man to come in, according to Selvester, was ‘small, ill-looking and shabbily dressed’ and still wearing his eye patch.

Which he promptly removed, put in his glasses and calmly stated: “I am Heinrich Himmler”.

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