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Op-Ed: Hitler told the world the Third Reich was invincible. My German grandfather knew better

Kellner OpEd
The last two pages of the three-page diary entry of April 25, 1943, about the Atlantic Wall fortifications.
(Courtesy of Robert Scott Kellner)

“Their soldiers have other ambitions,” laughed Reich Marshal Hermann Goering, explaining to an exuberant gathering in the Berlin Sports Palace why U.S. troops were not yet in Europe in 1942, a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor,

“They’ll wobble on a dance floor for 72 hours,” Goering continued, according to news reports, “with contorted limbs, rolling eyes, and a completely dopey look to be crowned marathon king. … Such things are not soldiering, and the U.S.A. will not impress us with bluff.”

Friedrich Kellner was one German who was not amused by the jovial Luftwaffe commander; he knew where the bluff really lay.

“Our leaders ridiculed America in the First World War, too, claiming their soldiers would never come to Europe, but the American army made the difference in every respect, morally and honestly,” noted Kellner in his diary in 1942. A court administrator in the Upper Hesse village of Laubach, Kellner would welcome the Allied assault when it came two years later: D-day, June 6, 1944.

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As a political organizer for the Social Democrats, Kellner had opposed the Nazis from the beginning, campaigning against them throughout the duration of the ill-fated Weimar Republic. When Adolf Hitler came to power, he began a journal to record the Third Reich’s crimes and the German people’s complicity in the Nazi reign of terror. Because he sometimes failed to limit his “defeatist” thoughts to his diary, Kellner and his wife, Pauline, were marked by the Nazi authorities as a “bad influence” and placed under surveillance by the Gestapo.

The Allies ... sent an unstoppable armada across the English Channel. True to form, Hitler, Goering, Goebbels and their lackeys were not shamed into silence.

The Kellners were my grandparents. They had sent their only son, Fred, at 19, to the United States rather than see him drafted by the Third Reich. After Fred, my father, committed suicide in 1953, Friedrich and Pauline lost contact with their American descendants. When I reconnected with them in 1960, Friedrich showed me the meticulous record he’d kept from 1939 to 1945. “Mein Widerstand” — “My Opposition”— he called it.

“I could not fight the Nazis in the present, as they had the power to still my voice,” my grandfather told me, “so I decided to fight them in the future. … My eyewitness account would record the barbarous acts, and also show the way to stop them.”

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The 10-volume diary — a compendium of news clippings and commentary — includes an entry about the first German bluff of World War II, when Hitler rattled his saber in 1938 and gained part of Czechoslovakia without firing a shot. Germany was not yet ready for war, but the German dictator easily intimidated the man who presided over the British Empire. “He is a nincompoop,” wrote Kellner of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. “He should have been a parson in a small village, not the foremost statesman of a world power.”

German bluff and bluster knew no bounds. The “hard-as-steel, invincible” Germans were destined to trounce their “confused” and “hopeless” opponents, declared Hitler, labeling Germany’s enemies as “zeros, fools, gangsters, mafia bosses, crooks, crazy, retarded and drunkards.”

“When he spits out such phlegm,” wrote Kellner, “all the other little Hitlers do it too — though sometimes a bit more elegantly.”

The self-proclaimed “master race” began the war with highly successful surprise attacks. Deceit and egotism could carry them only so far, however, and retaliation was painful. “Marshal Goering proclaimed that our industrial areas would not be subjected to a single enemy bomb,” said Kellner. Nevertheless, the bombs rained down. German cities were turned to rubble.

But the arrogance remained intact. “We bid the English a cordial welcome, and hopefully they will bring along a few Americans,” taunted propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, daring the Allies to land on the continent.

“Goebbels is impudent and infantile,” Kellner noted, “posing as the strong man. When the Allies arrive, they will not be carrying golf clubs or tennis rackets.”

The Nazis’ biggest bluff was their pronouncement that German troops could prevent an invasion from England. A line of fortifications went in along the entire west coast of France, but it was too long to be adequately guarded. “Such an extravagant ‘fortification’ is merely a sham,” remarked Kellner.

Hitler could not refrain from a personal poke at Churchill: “It makes no difference at all which place he chooses to land because it will only be a matter of luck if he remains nine hours ashore!”

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As added insurance, Germany’s most famous war hero was ordered to inspect the fortifications and give credence to the Atlantic Wall’s defensive capabilities. Kellner described the assignment: “General Field Marshal [Erwin] Rommel, the great retreater, ... is being brought out of mothballs. His blemished fame will fill the forgetful ones with hope. But neither Rommel … nor the fabled Atlantic Wall will be able to repel the forthcoming American and English attacks. … Our enemies’ far superior striking power will force us to retreat.”

The Allies indeed sent an unstoppable armada across the English Channel. True to form, Hitler, Goering, Goebbels and their lackeys were not shamed into silence even after the “dopey” marathon kings proved Kellner’s assessment correct. The Nazi leaders ominously promised certain death for any Allied soldier who dared step on German soil.

“A big mouth is the most outstanding characteristic of these Nazi creatures,” was Kellner’s comment. Then he allowed himself to rejoice. The Allied assault had succeeded: “The well-deserved final defeat moves closer. The end of terror!”

Robert Scott Kellner is a retired English professor. He is the editor and translator of the English edition of his grandfather’s journal, which was published last year as “My Opposition: The Diary of Friedrich Kellner — A German Against the Third Reich.”

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