Friday, 9 November 2018

An Honourable Death

Noble Soldier

We grew up in a post-World War II home.  Our father had fought against Rommel in the Desert Campaign.  In retrospect there was an oddity associated with our parents' recounting of that campaign.  The Desert Fox was always spoken of with great respect.

Rommel's reputation amongst other things was that of being a stickler for the standards, rules, and regulations of the Geneva Conventions of warfare.  At one point we learned that the Allies were treating German prisoners in a "vigorous" manner, shall we say.  Word got around.  Rommel took to the airwaves and rebuked the Allied commanders to the effect that if such breaches continued, he would be forced to retaliate.  The upshot?  The Allied commanders immediately cleaned up the acts of a minority of their troops.

Rommel was not a Nazi: he never joined the party.  He was a product of the Prussian military aristocracy.  He and his family were professing Christians.  As more of the depredations of Hitler and the Nazis became known to him, the more uncomfortable Rommel became--even to the point of becoming involved in the famous plot to assassinate the Fuhrer.

He was "informally" executed by the Nazis.
  They feared a public execution which, given Rommel's celebrity, would have had a significant negative propaganda effect throughout the Reich.  The Gestapo visited him at his home.  He could either go with them and ingest the poison they had in their vehicle, leaving his family alone, or they would take him by force along with his wife and son, and execute them all.

Here is the account from Rommel's fifteen year old son, Manfred:
 At about twelve o'clock a dark-green car with a Berlin number stopped in front of our garden gate. The only men in the house apart from my father, were Captain Aldinger [ Rommel's aide] , a badly wounded war-veteran corporal and myself. Two generals - Burgdorf, a powerful florid man, and Maisel, small and slender - alighted from the car and entered the house. They were respectful and courteous and asked my father's permission to speak to him alone. Aldinger and I left the room. 'So they are not going to arrest him,' I thought with relief, as I went upstairs to find myself a book.

A few minutes later I heard my father come upstairs and go into my mother's room. Anxious to know what was afoot, I got up and followed him. He was standing in the middle of the room, his face pale. 'Come outside with me,' he said in a tight voice. We went into my room. 'I have just had to tell your mother,' he began slowly, 'that I shall be dead in a quarter of an hour.' He was calm as he continued: 'To die by the hand of one's own people is hard. But the house is surrounded and Hitler is charging me with high treason. ' "In view of my services in Africa," ' he quoted sarcastically, 'I am to have the chance of dying by poison. The two generals have brought it with them. It's fatal in three seconds. If I accept, none of the usual steps will be taken against my family, that is against you. They will also leave my staff alone.'

'Do you believe it?' I interrupted. 'Yes,' he replied. 'I believe it. It is very much in their interest to see that the affair does not come out into the open. By the way, I have been charged to put you under a promise of the strictest silence. If a single word of this comes out, they will no longer feel themselves bound by the agreement.' []

Rommel chose the only courageous and honourable course.  We consider him a true hero.

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