Himmerod memorandum

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Himmerod Memorandum (German: Himmeroder Denkschrift) was a 40-page document produced following a 1950 secret meeting of former Wehrmacht high-ranking officers invited by Chancellor Konrad Adenauer to the Himmerod Abbey to discuss West Germany's Wiederbewaffnung (rearmament). The resulting document laid foundation for the establishment of the new army (Bundeswehr) of the Federal Republic.

The memorandum, along with the public declaration of Wehrmacht's "honor" by the Allied military commanders and West Germany's politicians, contributed to the creation of the myth of the "clean Wehrmacht".[1][2]

Post-World War II context

The Potsdam Conference held by the Soviet Union, United Kingdom and United States from 17 July to 2 August 1945 largely determined the occupation policies that the defeated country was to face. These included demilitarization, denazification, democratization and decentralization. The Allies' often crude and ineffective implementation caused local population to dismiss the process as "noxious mixture of moralism and 'victors' justice'".[3]

For those in the Western zones of occupation, the arrival of the Cold War undermined the demilitarization process by seemingly justifying the key part of Hitler's foreign policies — the "fight against Soviet bolshevism".[4] In 1950, after the outbreak of the Korean War, it became clear to the Americans that a German army would have to be revived to help face off against the Soviet Union. Both American and West German politicians were faced with the prospect of rebuilding the armed forces of the Federal Republic.[5]

Himmerod Abbey conference

From 5 to 9 October 1950, a group of former senior officers, at the behest of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, met in secret at the Himmerod Abbey (hence the memorandum's name) to discuss West Germany's rearmament. The participants were divided in several subcommittees that focused on the political, ethical, operational and logistical aspects of the future armed forces.[6]

The resulting memorandum included a summary of the discussions at the conference and bore the name "Memorandum on the Formation of a German Contingent for the Defense of Western Europe within the framework of an International Fighting Force". It was intended as both a planning document and as a basis of negotiations with the Western Allies.[6]

The participants of the conference were convinced that no future German army would be possible without the historical rehabilitation of the Wehrmacht. Thus, the memorandum included these key demands:

  • All German soldiers convicted as war criminals would be released;
  • The "defamation" of the German soldier, including those of the Waffen-SS, would have to cease;
  • The "measures to transform both domestic and foreign public opinion" with regards to the German military would need to be taken.[5]

Immediate aftermath

Adenauer accepted these propositions and in turn advised the representatives of the three Western powers that German armed forces would not be possible as long as German soldiers remained in custody. To accommodate the West German government, the Allies commuted a number of war crimes sentences.[5]

Public declaration from Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower followed in January 1951, attesting to Wehrmacht's "honor". Prior to signing the declaration and discussing it with the press, Eisenhower met with former Wehrmacht generals Adolf Heusinger and Hans Speidel, both participants in the Himmerod conference, and was positively impressed by them. The declaration read in part:[1][2]

I have come to know that there was a real difference between the German soldier and Hitler and his criminal group. (...) For my part, I do not believe that the German soldier as such has lost his honor.

In the same year (1951), some former career officers of the Wehrmacht were granted war pensions under the Article 131 of the Common Law.[7] Eisenhower's public statement gave the former Wehrmacht generals the ability to expand on the revisionist work they had already done for the U.S. Army Historical Division, getting their message beyond the small circle of Allied intelligence officers.[2]

Chancellor Adenauer made a similar statement in a Bundestag debate on the Article 131 of the Common Law, West Germany's provisional constitution. He stated that the German soldier fought honorably, as long as he "had not been guilty of any offense". These declarations laid the foundation of the myth of the "clean Wehrmacht" that reshaped the West's perception of the German war effort, leading to Wehrmacht's eventual rehabilitation in the eyes the public and the Allied authorities.[1]

Impact on Bundeswehr

Participants

References

Citations

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Wette 2007, pp. 236–238.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Smelser & Davies 2008, pp. 74–76.
  3. Large 1987, pp. 79–80.
  4. Large 1987, p. 80.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Smelser & Davies 2008, pp. 72–73.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Abenheim 1989, pp. 53–54.
  7. MacKenzie 1997, p. 136–137.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Wette 2007, p. 237.

Bibliography