The Axmann Conspiracy Excerpt
FROM THE PROLOGUE
Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them “I offer you struggle, danger and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet.
BERLIN, APRIL 30, 1945
For those of Hitler’s men still in the heart of the city’s government sector, the Battle of Berlin was almost lost.
Shell after shell sent deafening explosions through the Reich Chancellery garden above Hitler’s bunker, kicking up debris and shrapnel. Artur Axmann, to get from his command post in the cellar of the Party Chancellery at Wilhelmstrasse 64 to Hitler’s bunker, was forced to run across exposed territory. En route, he passed the skeleton of a horse whose body had been stripped of meat by people hungry enough to risk enemy fire in search of food.
Axmann wore a moistened bandana across his mouth and nose, like a bank robber in a Western—not to conceal his identity, but rather to make the noxious air, full of fumes produced by the Soviets’ white phosphorus shells, marginally more breathable.
He wet his bandana with wine, as it was more plentiful than water—the only running water was in the bunker itself. Even with the bandana, the air still smelled of ash and of death.
Axmann reeled from exhaustion. He was dirty, and a scruffy beard was growing on his chin. Before these last days of the war, he was always meticulously dressed in his uniform and clean-shaven.
Of slight build, Axmann stood just over five and a half feet. He was young and handsome, with dark blond hair that flowed over his scalp in waves. His sharp chin and sculpted cheeks off set his piercing gray blue eyes. His most noticeable feature, though, was the result of an earlier war injury—Axmann had no right forearm, which meant that he was also missing a hand. Where it used to be, he now managed instead with a prosthetic device he partially covered with a glove.
The scream of the explosions rocking the cellar he employed as his command post, combined with the fatigue of fighting a battle he knew was lost, had culminated in a bad case of insomnia. Moreover, without running water in his command post, he could not properly bathe. Once in the bunker, Axmann asked Hitler’s forgiveness for not being presentable, to which Hitler replied, “You look like I did during the First World War.”
Axmann’s soiled uniform bore the insignia of a Reichsjugendführer—head of the Reich’s young people—a position he’d occupied for five years. This meant Axmann was in charge of the Hitler Youth (Hitler Jugend, “HJ”) and its female counterpart, the League of German Girls in the Hitler Youth (Bund Deutscher Mädel, “BDM”).
As Reichsjugendführer, thirty-two-year-old Axmann reported directly to Adolf Hitler himself. This was an enormous step up from his humble working-class origins.
Axmann commanded Hitler Youth—some as young as twelve years old—to defend Berlin to the death, despite the fact that the fight against the Russians was futile, as even the most dedicated Nazi could now see. The Red Army encircled the city, and were so near the Führerbunker that Russian snipers could fire upon anyone brave or foolish enough to go outside.
Even so, Axmann ordered HJ members to continue the fight against the better equipped, trained, and experienced Russian troops. In the weeks leading up to the Battle of Berlin, he’d put together an antitank brigade comprised of HJ members. These boys used throwaway, portable grenade launchers called Panzerfaust (“tank fist”) to take out Soviet tanks. To successfully blast an enemy tank, the boys had to venture dangerously close to it. Sometimes they succeeded, but in the process, they were killed in large numbers.
In late March, Axmann announced these HJ anti-tank groups in the official Nazi newspaper: “From the Hitler Youth has emerged a movement of young tank busters. . . . There is only victory or annihilation. Know no bounds in your love to your people; equally know no bounds in your hatred of the enemy. It is your duty to watch when others are tired; to stand when others are weak. Your greatest honor, however is your unshakeable faithfulness to Adolf Hitler.”
Many of the boys who survived this fighting were badly injured. The same day that Axmann’s article came out, the leader of a group of HJ fighting in Vienna, Austria, wrote in his diary: “Here they are, Willi with his artificial lower leg, Hubert with his shot-off thigh, Hannes with his damaged foot, Schorschi with a prosthesis and head bandage, Karl with his empty sleeve, and all the others, those already recuperated or barely so.” And these were the boys who were considered fit enough to fight.
The goal of these boys’ fighting and dying was not to stop the Russians from conquering Berlin, which was not even remotely possible. They died to buy Axmann and the Führer a little more time and keep open the possibility of their escape. Axmann had previously offered to lead two hundred HJ boys in a desperate maneuver to evacuate the Führer from Berlin, using them as a human shield. Hitler had turned down Axmann’s offer, then “shook Axmann’s hand and thanked him for his loyalty.”
The day before, Axmann and Hitler had had a long, personal talk. Shortly before this conversation, Hitler received the distressing news that the Soviets were about a mile away and that Communist partisans had executed his former ally, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. His corpse had been mutilated and hung upside down in front of jeering crowds in Milan. Axmann attended a military conference in the bunker in which “it was once touched upon . . . that Mussolini’s body had been hanged by its feet in Milan and I felt immediately that that had impressed Hitler very profoundly.”
Axmann knew that his Führer planned to kill himself rather than risk the Soviets taking him prisoner.
© 2012 by Scott Andrew Selby. Citations removed from excerpt.