740.00119 European War 1939/2635

Memorandum by Brigadier General John Magruder, Deputy Director of Intelligence Service, Office of Strategic Services, to Mr. Fletcher Warren, Executive Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State (Berle)

Attention: Mr. A. A. Berle, Jr.

Subject: Overtures by German Generals and Civilian Opposition for a Separate Armistice.

There is enclosed herewith copy of a document90 concerning the above subject, which has been prepared by this agency. The information contained therein was obtained from a series of cables from our Bern office, the most recent of which is dated May 13.

A copy of this document has been transmitted formally to the Secretary of State by the Acting Director, OSS.91

John Magruder

Overtures by German Generals and Civilian Opposition for a Separate Armistice

Since early 1944 the OSS representative in Bern92 has been approached periodically by two emissaries of a German group proposing [Page 511]to attempt an overthrow of the Nazi regime. The group includes Leuschner,93 socialist leader and former Minister of Interior in Hesse; Oster,94 a general formerly the right-hand man of Canaris, arrested in 1943 by the Gestapo, kept under surveillance after his release, and recently discharged from official functions by Keitel; Goerdler,95 former Mayor of Leipzig; and General Beck.96 The last two men have been described by the OSS representative as leaders of the group; it is from them that the two emissaries have brought proposals for negotiation.
Early in April the emissaries talked with the OSS representative in Bern, conveying the suggestion of a deal between this German opposition group and the Western Allies. The group expressed their willingness and preparation to attempt ousting Hitler and the Nazis. They stated their belief that the time in which successful action could be carried out was rapidly shortening. They said they were the only group able to profit by personal approach to Hitler and other Nazi chiefs, and the only one controlling enough arms and enough influence in the Wehrmacht to accomplish the purpose of Nazi overthrow. The group stated that the German generals now commanding in the West—particularly Rundstedt and Falkenhausen—would be ready to cease resistance and aid Allied landings, once the Nazis had been ousted. They thought that similar arrangements might be worked out for the reception of Allied airborne forces at strategic points in Germany. While ready to attempt a coup, the group did not guarantee success.
The condition on which the group expressed willingness to act was that they would deal directly with the Western Allies alone after overthrowing the Nazi regime. As precedent for excluding the USSR from all negotiations they cited the recent example of Finland, which they said dealt solely with Moscow.97 This condition the group based on the conservative character of their membership and supporters. However, the group declared their willingness to cooperate with any leftist elements except the Communists; in February they had described Leuschner as an acceptable type of head for an interim government, assuming that neither the military nor the Communists would dominate during the transition period. The group feared political and ideological sway over Central Europe by Bolshevism, with a mere exchange of Nazi totalitarianism for a totalitarianism of [Page 512]the radical left accompanied by the submergence of democracy and Christian culture. They stated that if capitulation were to be made primarily to the Soviet Union, it would have to be carried out by another group in Germany.
The OSS representative expressed to the emissaries his conviction that the United States and Great Britain would not act regarding Germany without the concert of Russia. In commenting on the opposition group’s proposal, he expressed skepticism of their capability since Beck and Goerdler have been so prominently mentioned as potential leaders that the Gestapo must be aware of the situation and is only waiting to crack down until plans have gone farther or because the Gestapo may wish to keep an anchor to westward.
In May 1944, approximately one month after the April visit of the emissaries to the OSS representative, they received an oral message by courier from the opposition group. Now mentioned as members were also Halder,99 Zeitzler,1 Heusinger2 (chief of operations for Zeitzler), olbr[i]cht3 (chief of the German Army Administration), Falkenhausen, and Rundstedt. The group was reported ready to help Allied units get into Germany if the Allies agreed that the Wehrmacht should continue to hold the Eastern Front. They proposed in detail: (1) three Allied airborne divisions should land in the Berlin region with the assistance of the local Army commanders, (2) major amphibious landings should be undertaken at or near Bremen and Hamburg, (3) landings in France should follow, although Rommel4 cannot be counted on for cooperation, (4) reliable German units in the area of Munich would isolate Hitler and other high Nazis in Ober Salzburg. The opposition group is reported to feel that Germany has lost the war and that the only chance of avoiding Communism in Germany is to facilitate occupation of as large a section of Europe as possible by American and British forces before collapse on the Eastern Front.
The emissaries, who had remained in Switzerland, replied to the courier that discussion of the plan would be unavailing because of the proviso concerning the USSR. Later the group dispatched to them a telegram advising no further action “for the time being”. The emissaries think nevertheless that the subject is still open. They have characterized the group’s proviso as unrealistic, and regard as the core of the proposal only the plan that American and British forces should become entrenched in Germany before the Russians; [Page 513]they urged that it was entirely a military matter if some of the German generals wish to assist the Allied invasion and try to take over the Nazi regime. The OSS representative reiterated to the emissaries that Great Britain and the United States would adhere to their Russian commitments. In answer to the objection that point (1) of the group’s plan (paragraph 5, above, on page 3) might be regarded by the Allies as a trap, they stated that since they were not military men they could only say that sufficient opportunity for requisite precautions would be presented in the form of direct prior contact with German military authorities. The emissaries said that Zeitzler had been won over by Heusinger and Olbr[i]cht; they added that he was preoccupied in respect of military matters with the Eastern Front, that he would cooperate in any plan to bring about a systematic liquidation of that front in order to escape the blame for a military disaster there—which he greatly fears.
One of the opposition group’s emissaries acknowledged his lack of confidence in the political courage of the German generals, on the basis of past experience, and said the Allies might do well to ignore their propositions if there were assurance of early victory and a speedy Allied occupation of Germany. The OSS representative at Bern is convinced of the sincerity of this intermediary, as the result of investigation and of experience with him. The representative is of the opinion that there are some German generals who wish to liquidate their responsibility in the war by collaborating in the construction of an Anglo-American bulwark against the pressure of the USSR in Europe, and he is convinced that the two emissaries are in contact with such a group. Doubtful that the group would have the determination to act effectively at the appropriate time and sensitive to the problem of Soviet relations in the effectuation of any plan in which the group might participate, he believes that the group’s activities may nevertheless be useful to undermine the morale of the top echelon in the Wehrmacht.
  1. The substance of the enclosed document was transmitted in aide-mémoire dated May 24, 1944 (not printed), to the British and Soviet Embassies in Washington.
  2. G. Edward Buxton.
  3. Allen W. Dulles.
  4. Wilhelm Leuschner.
  5. Maj. Gen. Hans Oster, Chief of the Central Office of German Military Intelligence until 1943.
  6. Carl Friedrich Goerdeler.
  7. Col. Gen. Ludwig Beck, Chief of the General Staff of the German Army, 1935–1938.
  8. For correspondence regarding the failure of Finland to withdraw from the war with the Soviet Union, and the rupture of American-Finnish relations, see vol. iii, pp. 556 ff.
  9. Col. Gen. Franz Halder, Chief of the General Staff of the German Army, from 1938 until his retirement in 1942.
  10. Col. Gen. Kurt Zeitzler, Chief of the General Staff of the German Army.
  11. Lt. Gen. Adolf Heusinger, Director of the Military Operations Branch and Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the German Army.
  12. Gen. Friedrich Olbricht, Deputy Commander of the German Home Army.
  13. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.