Paul Hartal

The Fuehrer's Successor - Poem by Paul Hartal

On an autumn day during the Great War
a submarine of the German Imperial Navy,
SM UB-68, attempted to attack
an allied convoy in the Mediterranean.

In the sea battle that occurred
on the 4th of October,1918, south of Italy,
the British sloop Snapdragon
blasted the German U-boat until sinking.

There were thirty-three survivors,
including the U-boat's commander,
twenty-seven year old Karl Doenitz.

While a prisoner of war camps,
in Malta and Sheffield,
Doenitz worked on the "wolfpack" tactic
of marine warfare.

He was released from the camp in July 1919,
returning to a defeated Germany
in social turmoil,
economic collapse and political chaos.

Nevertheless, in the interwar period
Doenitz continued and advanced rapidly
in his naval career;
and during the Second World War
he rose to the rank of Grand Admiral
and became Commander-in-Chief
of the German Navy.

However, Adolf Hitler's dream
of the Thousand Year Reich
crumbled in blood, ruins and fire.
On 30 April,1945,
the Nazi Dictator committed suicide
in his underground bunker in Berlin.

On the previous day the Fuehrer dictated
to his secretary, Traudl Junge,
his Last Will and Testament,
in which he named Admiral Karl Doenitz
his designated successor,
the President and Supreme Commander
of the Armed Forces of the Third Reich.

Thus, it was Admiral Doenitz
who on 1 May,1945, announced
on Radio Berlin that Adolf Hitler died.
He also informed the German people
that the dictator appointed him
as the new leader of the Reich.
However, the Grand Admiral managed
to rule over the swiftly shrinking
and collapsing Nazi empire
only for three weeks.

On the second day of May,1945,
Himmler arrived for a visit in Flensburg,
a town in Southern Schleswig,
near the Danish border, which was then
the seat of the Doenitz-led government
of National Socialist Germany.

Mind you, Himmler did not come alone.
He was accompanied
by six armed SS officers.
The admiral offered the Gestapo chief a chair
but on his desk, concealed amid papers,
he kept a pistol with the safety catch off.

Once one of the most powerful men
in Nazi Germany and a chief perpetrator
of the Holocaust, Heinrich Himmler
did not waste time for idle chatter.
He straightaway told Hitler's heir
that he wanted to become
the second man in Doenitz' state.
The admiral replied that this was
out of the question and refused to offer
any role to Himmler in the new government.

In any event, on 23 May,
the Doenitz government dissolved
and its members surrendered
to British troops in Flensburg.

Now, with his mouth firmly compressed,
the former grand admiral and last leader
of Nazi Germany sat in his prison cell
in Nuremberg, awaiting his trial.
He often complained
about his annoying rheumatism,
particularly in his left wrist.

And then, he showed an American visitor
a suicidal one-man torpedo,
which he particularly liked.

The admiral also talked about his two sons.
Both of them were killed in action in the war.
The younger, Peter Doenitz, perished in 1943
on the submarine U-954,
which sunk in the North Atlantic;
whereas the older brother, Klaus,
died a year later on the fast boat S-141
during an attack on the English coast.
Speaking about his sons,
the grand admiral said:
"You know, people are killed in wars."

Karl Doenitz was an admirer of Hitler
and a staunch supporter of Nazi ideology.
At his trial in Nuremberg he claimed
that he was unaware of any atrocities,
extermination camps,
or the mass murder of the Jews.
According to him, Hitler was a good man.

At the Nuremberg Trials
Doenitz was indicted as a major war criminal.
The Grand Admiral was found guilty
on counts of planning and waging a war
of aggression and crimes against the laws of war.
He was sentenced for 10 years,
which he served at the Spandau Prison in Berlin.

During the war,
while Doenitz's two sons fought in naval battles,
Albert Speer (the Fuehrer's chief architect
and Third Reich minister) and his spouse
would bring their own violinists and pianists
for concerts to entertain the Grand Admiral.

There were lovely musical evenings
at the house of the German Navy Commander.
The Grand Admiral even played the flute.
However, the sound of violin had brought up
in him rather mixed feelings.
He did not like the fiddle.
In his childhood
he refused to take violin lessons, he said,
because the violin sounded like a cat,
caught in the door with its tail.

Topic(s) of this poem: war

Poet's Notes about The Poem

This narrative poem is based on historical facts and research. Among other sources, the author perused an American psychiatrist's conversations with Karl Doenitz and other Nazi war criminals as documented in Leon Goldensohn, "The Nuremberg Interviews", Edited with an Introduction by Robert Gellately; New York: Vintage Books,2005.

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, May 22, 2014

Poem Edited: Friday, May 30, 2014

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