The Case of General der Infanterie Karl Eibl Born July 23, 1891, Killed in Action January 21, 1943
Prefatory note: it is probable that this essay will be removed by Weebly in short order, in light of the anticipated howls of certain historians discussed herein, and/or their minions. Please contact me if you want a copy.
The village (or town) of Gmunden lies near the Traunsee, one of the larger lakes in the picturesque Salzkammergut region of upper Austria. Gmunden is a popular attraction for tourists, with several castles as well as churches, small local craft industries, and beautiful scenery. On July 23, 1891 Gmunden became the birthplace of a young boy called (in honor of the boy’s father) Karl Eibl.
Karl Eibl joined the Austro-Hungarian Army and received a regular commission as a Leutnant before the outbreak of the First World War. When war came Eibl was serving as a Kompaniefuehrer in Landwehrregiment 21; at the beginning of 1915 he advanced in rank to Oberleutnant. The following year he became the regimental adjutant, a position that he seems to have held until the end of the war. Eibl received many decorations during his service in the First World War, and after its end he soon received a promotion to the rank of Hauptmann. He joined Infanterie-Regiment 6 in the new Austrian Bundesheer, where his first position was that of battalion adjutant. After twenty years’ service Eibl became a company commander, and was promoted once more, this time to the rank of Major. This was the Wehrmacht rank that Eibl took after the Anschluss with Germany in the spring of 1938.
In the autumn of 1938 Eibl became the commander of the third battalion in Infanterie-Regiment 132. The regiment had come into existence on July 28, 1938, by means of joining together Eibl’s former Infanterie-Regiment 6 with parts of five separate units of the former Oesterreichische Bundesheer. Infanterie-Regiment 132 formed part of the 44.Infanterie-Division, a predominantly Austrian unit whose other substantial elements were Infanterie-Regiment 131, Infanterie-Regiment 134, and Artillerie-Regiment 96. Another promotion for Eibl came on January 1, 1939, when he advanced in grade to Oberstleutnant. The following September, Eibl led his battalion during the invasion of Poland. In that campaign, he received both classes of the Iron Cross.
Eibl took command of Infanterie-Regiment 132 on June 8, 1940, in the midst of the campaign in France and the Low Countries. For his very successful command of Infanterie-Regiment 132 in France, Eibl received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross on August 15, 1940. After the campaign in the west, Eibl and his regiment first remained in France, and then seem to have been stationed in Slovakia for a short while. Eibl’s promotion to Oberst came on February 1, 1941. In April 1941 44.Infanterie-Division relocated from France to the General Gouvernement (occupied Poland), where it remained until the beginning of Operation Barbarossa in late June 1941.
During the first phase of the invasion of the Soviet Union 44.Infanterie-Division was subordinate to XVII.Armeekorps, 6.Armee, and Heeresgruppe Sued. It therefore advanced generally through Zhitomir, toward Kiev, and eventually took part in the first battle of Kharkov, all before the end of 1941. During the first two weeks of July the division fought a heavy engagement against Soviet armored troops near Dubno, and later broke through the Stalin Line near Zwiahel (now Novohrad-Volyns’kyy, Ukraine). After more intense fighting near Zhitomir in early August, the division went briefly into Army reserve, before taking part in the advance and kesselschlacht near Kiev. For his actions leading his troops in battle near the bridgehead at Zwiahel, Eibl received the Oakleaves to the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross on December 31, 1941.
At the beginning of January 1942 Eibl became commander of 385.Infanterie-Division, and on February 1, 1942 advanced to the rank of Generalmajor. 385.Infanterie-Division had come into existence on January 10, 1942, and was comprised of troops from Wehrkreis VI, Wehrkreis XI, and Wehrkreis X. Nevertheless, the division went into action very soon after its formation. During April and May 1942 the division fought defensive battles along the road between Roslavl and Juchnow. When Operation Blau began on June 28, 1942, it fought in support of crossings over the Tym river. It secured the left flank of the German advance to the Don river and the Caucasus, defending against strong Soviet tank attacks with only its infantry. In late July 1942 the division engaged and dispersed a strong Soviet attack by Fifth Tank Army, which was attempting to breach the flank of the German bridgehead at Voronesh. After continuous Soviet attacks on the division’s position from August to November 1942, General der Infanterie Hans von Salmuth, commander of 2.Armee, described 385th Infanterie-Division as “a rock against a surging army”. For his leadership of 385.Infanterie-Division during this difficult period, Adolf Hitler awarded Eibl the Swords to his Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross on December 19, 1942, and on the same date promoted him to Generalleutnant.
January 1943 found the German Army in the south of the Soviet Union in retreat. 385.Infanterie-Division was now part of XXIV.Armeekorps, both under 8.Italienische Armee. By January 19, German and allied forces around 385.Infanterie-Division had suffered such losses that it was necessary to break formations into several battle groups, including Armeeabteilung Hollidt and Armeeabteilung Fretter-Pico (both from 4.Panzer-Armee), and Korpsgruppe Eibl (from 8.Italienische-Armee).
In the midst of these developments, Soviet armored forces attacked and surrounded Eibl’s division, along with an Italian mountain division. The General then personally conducted a reconnaissance of the area, for the purpose of locating the point in the enemy’s line where it would be most favorable for his men to begin opening a corridor to the west so that the German and Italian troops could escape encirclement. In the dark and fog the General and his men encountered an Italian unit. Each side, as might be expected, mistook the other for the enemy, and in the ensuing firefight General Eibl was severely wounded by splinters from a hand grenade. He died of his wounds three days later. Hitler authorized Eibl’s posthumous promotion to the rank of General der Infanterie.
The death of Karl Eibl must have come as a debilitating shock to his spouse Frau Helene Eibl (nee Petzl), then residing in Vienna. For like countless other mothers and wives all over Europe, Frau Eibl had already suffered the tragic loss of two sons, Leutnant Karl Eibl, age 22, killed in action in France on May 16, 1940, and Leutnant Kurt Eibl, age 20, killed in action in Russia on June 24, 1941. Her remaining child, a twenty-two year old daughter named Ilse, was a medical student also residing in Vienna.
How were Frau Eibl and daughter Ilse to live, with all of the men in the family deceased, and no obvious ongoing income to sustain them? Fortunately, the Wehrmacht provided the family with a lump sum payment of 5,183 RM, as well as monthly annuities amounting to at least 1,625 RM. It also appears that with the return of peace (and a presumed German victory) Frau Eibl was entitled to receive additional monthly annuities totaling over 2,500 RM.
There was yet another source of financial support for Frau Eibl and Ilse Eibl, in the person of Adolf Hitler. In a letter dated April 8, 1943, Generalmajor Rudolf Schmundt, the Army’s official adjutant to the dictator, informed Frau Eibl that the Fuehrer would also provide her with a monthly annuity in the amount of 100 RM. In addition to this ongoing support, however, Schmundt advised Frau Eibl, via letter dated April 20, 1944 (Hitler’s birthday), that the Fuehrer was going to provide a lump sum gift to her in the amount of 160,000 RM in order to purchase, or satisfy the remaining mortgage on, the house and land on which she and her daughter lived in Vienna. Then, on June 26, 1944 Frau Eibl wrote directly to Hitler, asking for further financial help in satisfying the outstanding mortgage on her house in Vienna. In response, Schmundt wrote to her again on July 14, 1944, advising her that the Fuehrer was providing her with another gift in the amount of 27,000 RM in fulfillment of her request.
It is likely that some who read this will ask themselves why anyone should be concerned with the financial affairs of a widowed German woman. And the answer is that the story of Hitler’s financial support for General Eibl’s widow is relevant and important because it gives us a different perspective on an issue that is significant to both the literature of the Second World War and the people who write that literature.
In 1995 Gerhard Weinberg, an esteemed military historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, published a collection of essays written by him on various aspects of the Second World War entitled Germany, Hitler, and World War II. Among those essays is one entitled Some Thoughts on World War II, the text of a “luncheon talk” given by Weinberg before the members of the Society for Military History, and subsequently printed in the Society’s quarterly publication, The Journal of Military History. The article is of a piece with Weinberg’s thesis that Germans, and in this particular instance the members of the German General Staff of Second World War vintage, are among other things avaricious, mendacious, and barbarous. Here the author cautions historians against reliance upon the memoirs of actors (German actors, that is) in the war as sources for the writing and interpretation of history. Weinberg’s example of such dangers is the fact that in none of their memoirs did former German officers disclose “the systematic bribery of German military figures by Hitler, bribery on a colossal scale.” Weinberg states that “Practically all field marshals and four-star generals received enormous sums secretly from Hitler, partly in huge sums and partly in regular monthly supplements to their already very high pay.” He excoriates General Heinz Guderian for having accepted, and failed to disclose publicly, the “princely gift” of a large estate in Poland, presumably given to him by the Fuehrer. Weinberg then suggests that scholars “interested in the cohesion of the German army into the last weeks of World War II will want to reexamine the impact of large-scale bribery.”
More recently, the Weinbergian German thesis has been strongly supported by two stars in the field of military history. In 2000 Geoffrey P. Megargee, a graduate of the prestigious military history program at Ohio State University and an “applied research scholar” at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, published Inside Hitler’s High Command, an award-winning book whose thesis might be described generally as a broadening of the Weinberg “analysis” to state that not only are Germans (and particularly those of Second World War vintage) avaricious, mendacious, and barbarous, they are not very good professional soldiers either, the works of gullible American historians to the contrary notwithstanding.
Most recently of all, in the latest book by Robert M. Citino, The Wehrmacht Retreats. Fighting a Lost War, 1943, the author destroys (or at least endeavors to destroy) once and for all the remaining vestiges of grace that might be lingering around the corpse of the German officer corps. In the book’s final chapter---which seems clearly to have been separately written and stuck on the end of the original manuscript, perhaps to satisfy the required elements in the current academic study of German history and the Germans---Citino pulls out all the stops:
“An army defending itself to the death and bravely resisting the attacks of a superior enemy usually earns our respect….But not this army…and not these commanders. We need to write the history of war year 1943 with a complete absence of romance. The Wehrmacht was not defending the fatherland. It was fighting to hold far-flung conquests it had made in a brutal war of aggression…Every day that it stayed in the field…meant the condemnation of thousands of unfortunates to death: civilians…inhabitants of occupied countries…slave laborers….and…Jews.” (emphasis added)
And Citino goes on to suggest that one of the most important reasons for the stubborn resistance offered by the German Army when the war was clearly lost was the fact that “they [the Army’s generals] were all accepting bribes from the regime.” (emphasis added)
It will be seen, then, that the case of the widow Frau Helene Eibl has a great deal of relevance to the allegations of Messrs. Weinberg, Megargee, and Citino (and probably others) with regard to the claimed provision by Adolf Hitler of bribes to various senior German generals in the form of cash and real estate. In view of the perceived significance of the bribes in question, and preparatory to considering the relationship of the Eibl case to those bribes, it might be well to begin by asking the question “what is a bribe?”
Before answering this question, it is appropriate at this point to say a few words about the historians involved. It would be incorrect to say that Gerhard Weinberg knows nothing about the Wehrmacht. When, in the early 1950’s, the National Archives and Records Administration assembled a team of historians to go through, describe, and categorize German military documents seized by the Allies at the close of the Second World War, Gerhard Weinberg was a member of that team. He was not at the time, however, a well-established scholar in the field of military history, for these events occurred very early in his academic career. He spoke and read German, presumably fluently, owing to the fact that he had been born in Germany. His family was Jewish, and its members were prescient enough to succeed in getting him out of Germany before the Holocaust went into overdrive. Many, perhaps all, of his family members perished at the hands of the Nazis.
Gerhard Weinberg has prospered as an historian and teacher since his involvement in the NARA/Captured German Records project. He has always taught at prestigious academies and his written work has always been published. Whether his scholarship has warranted his high reputation is a matter for each individual to judge. Opinions about Weinberg, and/or his scholarship, are of no consequence, because his position within academe is unassailable. But while Weinberg and his work are immune from criticism, he is not chary about inflicting others with it. The case of the late historian Dagmar Barnouw, wherein Weinberg and his running dog protégé Frank Biess excoriated her for having the temerity to present a different interpretation of the Second World War and the involvement of Germany and the Germans in it, should have generated some thought and perhaps even criticism by others in the field, but did not. There is no limit to the disingenuousness of Weinberg’s criticism of others, as is clearly indicated by his inconsistent and dishonest “concern” for the lives of German soldiers, betrayed (as he would have it) by the willingness of their senior officers to be bribed by Hitler to continue the war for their own advantage (see below).
The career of Geoffrey Megargee is an interesting one. As mentioned herein, he obtained his doctorate in military history from what is probably the most prestigious academic institution in the field, the Ohio State University. He has worked, and perhaps is still employed by, the Holocaust Museum. His work on the Second World War has been well received, and even award-winning. It reflects, however, a rabid anti-German attitude that is ignored by the profession, as it is so often. Whether Megargee actually believes his own propaganda or merely engages in it for professional reasons does not matter. Nor, apparently, does the fact that he criticizes the work of others without ever having read that work, as in the case of R.H.S. Stolfi’s Hitler’s Panzers East. And it says much about the craft of military history in the United States that the only journal in the field (the Journal of Military History) saw fit to publish his denunciation of Stolfi’s book even though he admitted not having read it.
The case of Robert Citino is the most discouraging of the lot. Citino is a good historian, as reflected by his previous work. But his comments in his most recent book, as described herein, cast a different light on both him and his scholarship. Whereas his previous work did not reflect the endemic anti-German bias of the academic community, The Wehrmacht Retreats most assuredly does. In it, Citino caves in to the pressure asserted by his fellow historians, who believe that everyone in a nation of 80 million people, and in an army of 10 million men, was engaged in and culpable for the murder of tens of millions of people.
To return to Weinberg/Citino/Megargee and the place of bribery in recent German history, in English, the word “bribe”, when used as a noun, is defined variously as follows:
• A price, reward, gift, or favor bestowed or promised with a view to pervert the judgment or corrupt the conduct of a person in a position of trust, as an official or a voter. • Any valuable consideration given or promised with a view to corrupting the behavior of a person, esp. in his performance as an athlete, public official, etc.
At law, the noun “bribe” has the following meaning:
• Any valuable thing given or promised, or any preferment, advantage, privilege, or emolument, given or promised corruptly and against the law, as an inducement to any person acting in an official or public capacity to violate or forbear from his duty, or to improperly influence his behavior in the performance of such duty. The term “bribe” signifies any money, goods, right in action, property, thing of value, or advantage, present or prospective, or any promise or undertaking to give any, asked, given, or accepted, with a corrupt intent to Influence unlawfully the person to whom it is given, in his action, vote, or opinion, in any public or official capacity.
The common themes among these definitions of the noun “bribe” are readily apparent:
1. A “bribe” entails the giving of valuable consideration; 2. To one who holds a position of public trust; 3. For the purpose of corrupting the recipient’s official actions or judgment.
Since the bribes (if there were any) in question apparently were most often in the form of cash “donatives”, it is worth looking at the volume of money involved. But I should at first make clear that while I have read much of what Weinberg and Megargee have written on the subject, I have not yet had the opportunity to read such literature as may deal with the topic of alleged bribes with specificity. Nevertheless, for the benefit of those who wish to use these facts as the basis for discounting my point of view, particularly as it relates to these specific historians, it is worth noting that in Germany, Hitler, and World War II, Weinberg cites Stern magazine as the source for his information on the “bribes” given by Adolf Hitler to his field marshals and four star generals. As one of my professors and lifelong role models once said to me, “Time magazine is not a primary source.”
Certainly I should think that scholars such as Weinberg and Megargee, however much they may despise Germans in general and German soldiers such as Heinz Guderian in specific, would not simply make up claims of “bribery on a colossal scale” in order to heap yet more opprobrium on the heads of these people. It should be pointed out nevertheless that the only source originally claimed by Weinberg was Stern magazine. Moreover, when Citino stated that “all” German general officers were on the take, he cited no supporting documentary evidence whatever. Those who know Citino’s work will recognize that he is not prone to make assertions as to fact that are unsubstantiated. The situation, as Alice might say, gets “curiouser and curiouser”.
What sort of sums, then, were involved in the “bribes” given by Hitler to his field marshals and four star generals? Weinberg tells us in this passage:
“One wonders what German soldiers, struggling against overwhelming odds in the latter part of the war, would have thought had they known that for each month the war continued, every field marshal could secretly pocket an extra 4,000 Reichsmark, every four-star general an additional 2,000 Reichsmark? (The regular monthly pay for both was 2,000 RM).”
According to Weinberg, then, the base monthly pay rates for the two highest ranks in the German army were the same: 2,000 RM. But General Eibl’s personnel records show that his widow was entitled to a monthly annuity (exclusive of the monthly annuity of 100 RM provided to her by Hitler) of 1,625 RM, or an amount roughly equal to 80 percent of the monthly salary of a German field marshal or four star general. We are thus confronted with a conundrum: Weinberg calls the monthly salary of the field marshals and four-star generals (2,000 RM) “very high pay”. The widow Eibl, however, was entitled to receive slightly more than 80 percent of this sum every month. If, as Weinberg would have it, 2,000 RM was “very high pay” for a field marshal or colonel-general, the widow Eibl’s monthly annuity of 1,625 RM, if not “very high pay”, surely was “high pay” for the support of a widow. Are we to believe that the widow of a German general was entitled to a monthly annuity for the balance of her natural life equal to 80 percent of the pay of a field marshal or four star general? On the other hand, if 2,000 RM was not “very high pay”, but instead only “high pay”, or, mirabile dictu, merely “pay”, what was the Wehrmacht doing paying its most senior officers in so niggardly a fashion?
Apart from the question of the amount of the “bribes”, there is also Weinberg’s complaint that the “bribes” provided by Hitler to his field marshals and generals were given “secretly”. To this charge we must simply apply what is sometimes called the “reality test”. Our initial question must be whether the average German citizen knew, during wartime or otherwise, what the pay scale for Wehrmacht officers looked like. In considering this question we must keep in mind (as many historians apparently do not) that Nazi Germany was a dictatorship, one of the most brutal and secretive in history. The “representatives” of the German people were not elected in any meaningful sense. Is it likely that German citizens could or would go to the library and find documents setting forth the salary scale for the local Gauleiter? Did soldiers and civilians have ready access to the pay scales of field marshals and colonel-generals? Have any of us interested in the history of the Third Reich ever seen reference to an “East Prussian Manual” or a “Schleswig-Holstein Manual” or a “Thuringian Manual”, wherein the salary of every single state employee, down to the lowliest janitor in a grade school, is set forth?
If the pay of German field marshals and colonel-generals was not a subject bandied about in the press, to say nothing of being missing from any government document publicly available, how can a “donative” given to some or even all such officers by the dictator be called “secret”? Secret compared to what? The “donatives” provided by Adolf Hitler to the widow Eibl-----the 100 RM per month annuity, as well as the separate lump sum payments of 160,000 RM and 27,000 RM provided to Frau Eibl to enable her to own her home free and clear-----were “secret” in exactly the same sense that the Fuehrer’s “bribes” for his generals were “secret”. Which is to say, of course, that they were not “secret” at all, since everything done by the Nazi regime---- from the murder of the mentally ill to research on an atomic weapon, from Hitler’s private support of the arts and artists to the development of jet aircraft, from the Fuehrer’s relationship with Eva Braun to the creation of lists of those to be immediately liquidated after a successful invasion of England----was done (or attempted to be done) in secret.
Leaving aside for the moment the issue whether or not the amounts of Hitler’s “donatives” to his generals were unreasonably large when compared to financial gifts given by him to others, and bearing in mind the fact that such “donatives” were not secret in any meaningful sense, there remains the question whether Adolf Hitler’s “donatives”, to both Frau Eibl and the Wehrmacht’s most senior officers constituted “bribes”, either in fact or in law. What would these “donatives” to Frau Eibl have purchased for Hitler? Her loyalty? She had already given her husband and two sons. Her silence? If she had criticized the regime and its leader openly, how long would it have been before she “disappeared”? And who would have done something about it if she had disappeared?
What would Hitler have gained by “bribing” senior officers? The Weinbergian German thesis is that the “donatives” were given by Hitler to field marshals and colonel generals in order to purchase their loyalty, especially in the event of a military coup. But Weinberg, Megargee and Citino all make plain that in their opinion all Germans were Nazis at heart. If this supposition were true, then the Fuehrer would have had no need to bribe anyone to ensure that he could expect their loyalty and support in his hour of need, whenever it might come. And this conclusion is clearly supported by the fact that the overwhelming majority of German senior officers, both during and after the failed attempt on Hitler’s life of July 20, 1944, continued to do what they had done from the beginning of the war itself, namely to contribute to the success of the German war effort to the very best of their ability, no matter how tough the circumstances.
If, as the foregoing indicates, Hitler’s “donatives” were neither particularly large nor secret, did they nevertheless comprehend all of the elements of a “bribe”? Certainly, Hitler gave both Frau Eibl and his highest ranking generals “valuable consideration”, to wit, large sums of cash, and (accepting Weinberg’s assertions as true) in the case of the generals, landed estates. But did the Fuehrer give this “valuable consideration” to persons “holding positions of public trust”? The answer to this question is manifestly “no”. Clearly Frau Eibl was not in a position of public trust. And, like military officers everywhere (and for all time) the German generals of Second World War vintage were not elected to public office. There was no “contract” between them and the German people, wherein the public elected general officers and thereby created a commitment by those generals to act in the best interests of their constituents. Military officers are highly trained (such training having been paid for by the state) professionals who are agents of the state, not the people. The job of such professionals is to defend the state by winning its wars.
Finally, did Adolf Hitler provide these “donatives” to Frau Eibl and his generals “for the purpose of corrupting the recipient’s official actions or judgment”? Once again, in the case of Frau Eibl, there could have been no “corruption” in the first instance, since she did not engage in “official actions or judgment”. And as to the German generals, it is worth bearing in mind that these men did not engage in “official actions”-----they took orders. Military officers are not independent actors, and this was especially true in the Third Reich, where officers did not act without the Fuehrer’s authority, facing as they most certainly did , the very real possibility of imprisonment or death, not only for themselves but for their families as well.
The “bribery” argument of Gerhard Weinberg, Geoffrey Megargee, Robert Citino, and others has no other purpose but to convince the public that the members of the German officer corps of the Second World War were not only mendacious but cowardly, and sought to line their own pockets while they, supposedly the only ones with the power to stop the Second World War, allowed “thousands of unfortunates… civilians…inhabitants of occupied countries…slave laborers….and…Jews” to die every day.