Description

    Rommel explains his loss at Normandy just thirteen days before his forced suicide

    Erwin Rommel Autograph Letter Twice Signed to Adolf Hitler. Three pages of a bifolium, 8.25" x 11.75", in German, October 1, 1944. Writing just less than two weeks before his forced suicide on charges of high treason, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel discusses the failures of the German army to hold back the Allies at Normandy and the arrest of his former chief of staff, General Hans Speidel, who three weeks earlier was arrested by the Gestapo as a member of the conspiracy to bring down Adolf Hitler. The letter reads, in full and in translation:

    "My Führer!

    "Unfortunately, my health is not yet as I could have wished. The 4 fractures of the skull, the unfavorable development of the situation in the West since I was wounded, and not least the removal from his post and arrest of my former chief of staff, Lieutenant General Speidel - of which I learned only by chance - have made demands on my nerves far beyond endurance. I no longer feel myself equal to further trials.

    "Lt. Gen. Speidel was assigned to me as chief of staff in mid-April 1944, in succession to Lt. Gen. Gause. He was very well reported by Col. Gen. Zeitzler and by his former army commander, General Wöhler. Shortly before taking up office with the Army Group, he had been awarded the Knight's Cross by you, and had been promoted to lieutenant general. In his first weeks in the West, Speidel showed himself to be an outstandingly efficient and diligent chief of staff. He took firm control of the staff, showed great understanding for the troops and helped me complete the defenses of the Atlantic Wall as quickly as possible with the available means. When I went up to the front, which was almost every day, I could rely on Speidel to transmit my orders - as discussed beforehand - to the Armies, and to carry on all talks with superior and equivalent formations along the lines I required.

    "When the battle in Normandy began, Speidel did not spare himself to bring success in the struggle with the enemy, who set us a difficult task, above all with his air superiority, his heavy naval guns, and his other material superiority. Up to the day when I was wounded, Speidel stood loyally at my side. Field Marshal von Kluge also seems to have been satisfied with him. I cannot imagine what can have led to Lt. Gen. Speidel's arrest and removal. Oberst-Gruppenführer Sepp Dietrich and Speidel were good friends and met often.

    "Unfortunately, it proved impossible to fight at Normandy in such a way that the enemy could be destroyed while still on the water or at the moment of landing. The reasons for this I provided in the attached report, which Gen. Schmundt no doubt placed before you while he was still with you.

    "When Field Marshal von Kluge assumed command in the West a hostile scene occurred at Army Group B, in the presence of my chief of staff and the Ta [?]. I did not take the charges leveled against me silently, but spoke my mind in private to Field Marshal von Kluge and asked him on the following day to let me know what grounds he had for making them. The charges were withdrawn verbally in the course of a conversation in which I pressed Field Marshal von Kluge, with all urgency, to report the situation at the front to you quite openly and not to conceal unpleasant facts; for only by such service could you my Führer be able to see clearly and come to the right decision. My last situation report went to Army Group D the day before I was wounded and was, as Kluge later said to me, sent on to you with an additional note by him.

    "You my Führer know how I have exerted my whole strength and capacity in the Western Campaign 1940 or in Africa 1941-1943 or in Italy 1943 or again in the west 1944. One thought only possesses me constantly, to fight and to win for your new Germany.

    "Heil, mein Führer!

    "E. Rommel"

    This hugely significant letter was never mailed to Hitler, but was retained by Rommel's aide-de-camp, Capt. Hellmuth Lang. It has remained in the possession of the Lang family ever since.

    The government of Adolf Hitler remained popular with the majority of Germans through 1944, but support for the Nazis was by no means universal and open opposition to Hitler was suppressed through the efforts of the Geheime Staatspolizei, more commonly known as the Gestapo, and the Sicherheitsdienst, the intelligence arm of the SS commonly referred to as the SD. Resistance, which remained sporadic and loosely organized, came from Communists, Socialists, and trade unionists, many of whom were arrested and imprisoned in concentration camps.

    Opposition, however, was not reserved for leftists and there existed a highly organized, clandestine movement amongst members of the aristocracy and senior officers of the German Army, known as the Schwarze Kapelle (Black Orchestra). The Kapelle believed that overthrowing the Nazi government would end the war and allow for the preservation of German sovereignty.

    Though he was an early admirer of Hitler, Rommel, Germany's most well-known and popular general, was never a member of the Nazi Party. His faith in Hitler and in Germany's ability to defeat the Allies was shaken in 1943 when he saw the devastation of Allied bombing raids on German cities and learned of the atrocities committed by the Nazis against Jews and others deemed sub-human. In early 1944, he was convinced to join the opposition to Hitler. Organized by his chief of staff, General Hans Speidel, Rommel met with members of the Schwarze Kapelle, who informed him of a plot assassinate the Führer and arrest the leaders of the party. Despite his support for the planned coup, known as Operation Valkyrie, Rommel was opposed to Hitler's murder, believing he should be arrested and tried so as not to make a martyr of him.

    Four attempts were made on Hitler's life between March 1943 and March 1944. Heinrich Himmler, the overall commander of the SS and arguably the second most-powerful man in Germany, and his Gestapo began to suspect senior officers of the army of plotting against the government. Time was running out for the conspirators and on July 20, 1944, Operation Valkyrie was put into action.

    Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, General Friedrich Fromm's chief of staff, joined Hitler at his daily military conference in the Wolf's Den, Hitler's Eastern Front military headquarters located near the town of Rastenburg, East Prussia. Von Stauffenberg set a briefcase containing an explosive under the table near Hitler. A planned phone call allowed him to excuse himself from the room before the bomb detonated, but Hitler survived the resulting explosion. In the aftermath, over 7,000 people were arrested (the majority of whom had no connection with the plot) and nearly 5,000 were executed.

    Five days before the launch of Valkyrie, Rommel sent a letter to Hitler from France urging him to end the war while Germany might still receive favorable terms, but the letter's arrival was delayed. Two days later (three days before the July 20 assassination attempt), Rommel's staff car was strafed by a British aircraft as he left a meeting with Waffen-SS General Josef "Sepp" Dietrich. The vehicle drove off the road and crashed into the trees, throwing Rommel into the windshield. The left side of his face was injured by glass and his skull was fractured. While recovering in the hospital, Rommel was implicated in the July 20 bombing, though to this day the extent of his involvement is unknown.

    Regardless, Hitler was furious and wanted Rommel eliminated, but how was another matter. Rommel was the people's general and he could not just order his execution. Unfortunately for Rommel, the injuries suffered during the attack on his car offered Hitler the perfect opportunity. In early October 1944, the field marshal was ordered to Berlin by Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel to receive his next assignment. Wary, he excused himself from travel citing his injuries. Keitel informed him that he would instead send Generals Wilhelm Burgdorf and Ernst Maisel to him with the details.

    Upon their arrival on October 14, the three men entered Rommel's study where he was informed that he had been named as a conspirator to the July 20 plot. He was given the choice between suicide or facing a People's Court, where his wife and son would likely suffer. Rommel chose the former. He headed upstairs and told his wife and, shortly after, his son. He exited the house with the two generals and the car's driver, an SS sergeant named Heinrich Doose. The men drove up the road where Rommel bit down on a cyanide capsule. Five seconds later, he was dead.

    The official cause of death, as announced to the public, was an aneurysm caused by the head injury suffered in July. Hitler proclaimed a day of mourning and he was given a state funeral. The truth of what happened to Field Marshal Rommel was not known until after Germany's surrender (and Hitler's own suicide) the following spring.

    Condition: Folds. Light staining along the upper edges of both pages with spots of light staining on page two at the central vertical fold. Folds are weakened with slight separation at the edges and very minor loss of paper at the intersections of the folds on both places with not affecting the text.


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