Erwin Rommel: The Nazi We Liked
We don’t much think of war now as the gentleman’s conflict. However, WWII had a Nazi, of all people, who would prove to be one of the last glimmers of civilization. We discussed in class how Erwin Rommel earned the respect of his enemies by not just pure strategic value, but in his gentlemanly approach to the casualties of war. He knew that war caused casualties, but was opposed to any unnecessary loss of life. Indeed, it was likely not until the 20th century that massive civilian casualties became the norm, large meetings on far away battlefields being a thing of the past. Rommel had an aphorism he often said, “Germany will need men after the war (Lewin 1998).” This is especially interesting as we note that the final years of WWII were the bloodiest, as Hitler became more of a megalomaniac and had increased disregard for human life. Rommel became famous as a humanitarian, as he was one of the few Germans who openly disobeyed Hitler (Lewin 1998). He was chivalrous to POWs, occasionally meeting with higher-ranked officers that were captured, and remarked that it was a shame that Britain and Germany were not allies in both world wars (Brighton 2008). In the end, Rommel became sympathetic to the conspirators in the 20 July plot, yet differed in the fact that he preferred to see Hitler brought to trial rather than executed (Speidel 1950). As the plan eventually failed and his name came to light, he was given a choice to face public trial and have his staff and family executed, or end his own life and receive a hero’s funeral. Now, naturally this was all Hitler trying to do damage control, as showing that Germany’s most cherished officer was against the regime. After these ideas surfaced at the end of Rommel’s life, his image was greatly improved among Allied countries, and several fictionalized accounts were made of his life, casting him in a positive light.
Brighton, Terry. Patton, Montgomery, Rommel: Masters of War. New York: Crown, 2008.
Lewin, Ronald. Rommel As Military Commander. New York: B&N Books, 1998.
Spiedel, Hans. 1944: Rommel and the Normandy Campaign. Chicago: Henry, Regnery, 1950.