Suddenly Applicable History: The Middle Managers Of The Third Reich

Another possibly relevant note from history. This one comes pre-Godwin’d – it’s about the fall of the Third Reich.

Hopefully you’ve seen “Downfall” (if you haven’t, please do, it’s an extremely good movie and historically accurate) and know how Hitler met his end at the tip of the very, very angry Soviet spear. But let’s spare a moment for the middle managers of Nazi Germany.

Because Nazi Germany had a LOT of them. Despite the perception of “fascist efficiency” that has incorrectly trickled down through the years, Germany was actually hideously, awfully inefficient in literally every way possible.

A state police agency? Germany had at least 4, all watching each other. A rifle for the Army? Take your pick, there were 21 (not counting pistols or machine guns). Tanks? Whoa nelly. All the tanks you could ever want. Dozens. Because every competing rifle, every competing tank design, had a good fashy middle manager who wanted HIS design to win out over everyone else’s.

Meanwhile, the US made… 2 rifles, the M1 Garand, and the M1 Carbine. The Soviets made basically one tank, the T-34. And they both made a LOT of them. Unsurprisingly, they then proceeded to win the war. Turns out the German Panther tank was really, really good, but 5 Shermans were better.

As the war ended, the middle managers panicked. In good Nazi German fashion, they could not imagine a world… well, without them. How could Germany even exist without the SS and its independent military arm and separate police force? Heinrich Himmler was SURE the Allies would understand how necessary he was. All he had to do was explain how necessary he was. (Turns out running a genocidal militia known for exterminating not only prisoners of war but entire races of people tends to cancel that out a bit.)

The war ground to an end, far later than it should have, because Hitler himself, abetted by all those ambitious fascist middle managers, never surrendered, even when it was utterly, completely clear Germany had lost the war.

So we arrive at May, 1945. If you’ve watched “Downfall”, this is a month after Hitler shoots himself in the bunker and Berlin surrenders. Yet… the middle managers keep on keeping on.

They congregated in a small town called Flensburg, near the border of Denmark, and one of the few places in Germany not under occupation. They then notified the Western Allies (not the Soviets, they were just too brutish, you see) that they were prepared to engage in terms of ending the war so that the German government could continue.

You see, the people in Flensburg – Karl Doenitz, the mostly sidelined leader of the Navy, Albert Speer, the urbane architect who was all too ready to excuse his own conduct as not one of THOSE people, and Alfred Jodl, one of the last generals still standing after the military collapse – they were convinced they were NECESSARY. Germany could not exist without order. Germany could not exist without them. As what little remained of Germany collapsed around them, they continued to give out awards, contact foreign governments, set goals for next year’s budget, all the very normal things you would expect a government that ruled more than 50 square feet to accomplish.

Dwight Eisenhower, who had seen concentration camps first hand, had had enough. The entire Flensburg “government”, as seen in the picture below, was arrested on the 23rd of May, 1945.

And the middle managers found out they were not that necessary after all.

(Most of the lower-level Flensburg “ministers”, many of whom were “ministers” for about a week or so, served a brief, perfunctory jail sentence as part of Germany’s de-Nazification. Albert Speer, who was a long-term minister in the Nazi government and directly oversaw the use of genocidal slave labor, served a 20 year sentence thanks to his pleading guilty. Karl Doenitz served 10 years thanks to his general non-involvement in the war effort, and Alfred Jodl was hanged for numerous well-documented war crimes.)