With himself and Wengler removed, the work of his section in the Abwehr came virtually to a halt. In fact it only went on at all because Oxé was allowed to take files into prison and consult him as to how cases should be handled. During the remaining fifteen months of the war, the number and gravity of the Nazi offences against international law undoubtedly increased. To some extent this was due to the fact that, as defeat came to look more inevitable, fanatical Nazis stopped at less and less in their efforts to avert it, reckoning that even if it could not be averted, they would bring down along with themselves as many other people as they could. Thus Helmuth, even if he had remained active, would probably have had increasing difficulty in limiting the cruelty. But it is hard to believe that he would not have achieved some successes which his remaining colleagues found beyond their reach.
When Adam von Trott had been in Istanbul in June 1943, Leverkühn (for whom Adam had at one stage in the past worked) asked him if he could help a young fellow-townsman from Lübeck called Erich Vermehren who was with his wife employed in the Abwehr and wanted a transfer to Leverkühn’s staff. To obtain a visa, they needed a recommendation from someone in the AA, and this Adam agreed to provide. Shortly afterwards, the couple were able to move to Istanbul. Vermehren was also a friend of Kiep who had nominated him for a Rhodes scholarship which he had been refused because of his ‘negative’ attitude to Nazism. Shortly after Kiep and Helmuth had been arrested, the Vermehrens were ordered to return to Berlin. In view of all the circumstances, including Helmuth’s recent visits, they put the worst possible interpretation on this order, got promptly in touch with British agents and early in February defected. They subsequently denied a story that they had committed the deadliest of sins by taking the Abwehr cypher book with them, but this was widely believed in Germany at the time and in addition the publicity which the British gave to their action did no good to their family and friends in Germany. As it happened, two other Abwehr agents in Turkey had fled shortly before. At this moment Canaris roused Hitler’s wrath by submitting a pessimistic report on German prospects in the east. All these factors combined in helping Himmler, Kaltenbrunner and the SD to take the penultimate stage of their victory over the Abwehr. On 18 February Hitler signed a decree placing the main Abwehr divisions under Himmler as chief of a unified Intelligence and Sabotage Service, while the Foreign Division in which Helmuth had worked became part of the Command Staff of the Armed Forces/Wehrmachtführungsstab. Canaris was removed from his post and given extended leave of absence; at the beginning of July he was made head of the HWK* which by that time must have been an almost complete sinecure. Before he went, he succeeded in appointing as Oster’s successor in Department Z a Colonel Hansen who was also sympathetic to the Widerstand and continued to pass on valuable information until the whole organisation was finally broken up (and Hansen hanged) after 20 July. But the eclipse of the Abwehr as an effective centre of oppositional planning, which had begun with Oster’s removal and Dohnanyi’s arrest, was now virtually complete. Its place was taken by the General Army Office (AHA) under Olbricht and Claus von Stauffenberg.
Dr Gerstenmaier has assured us1 that, after Helmuth’s arrest, his friends continued their discussions about various aspects of the planning and we know, for example, that the vexed question of denominational schools was discussed in June. Dr van Husen has put it on record that the meetings became even more intensive and frequent Steltzer, however, claimed that ‘our political work as a joint operation ended (especially as regards the choice of Land Commissioners) and what happened thereafter was the responsibility of each individual’.3 Peter Yorck told a colleague of Knig’s that all the work had come to a halt.4 What seems probable is that a large part of the time and energies of the group was devoted to the question of co-operation with Claus Stauffen-berg.
KeywordsVexed Question German People Command Staff Penultimate Stage German Position
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