The Enigma of General Blaskowitz, by Richard Giziowski, Hippocrene Books, New York, 1997, $29.95.
Colonel-General Johannes Blaskowitz was the man who both the Allies and the German high command believed deserved to be promoted (along with General Heinz Guderian) to the exalted rank of field marshal–but was not. Indeed, within the Wehrmacht Blaskowitz was known as “the field marshal without baton.” Instead, on July 19, 1940, in a celebrated Reichstag session in Berlin, his Führer and Reich Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, chose to publicly humiliate him by promoting several junior officers above him. Nevertheless, his military reputation–as well as his moral credentials–survived the war intact.
The reason was simple: He was the only German army general to protest–both orally and in written reports–the wartime atrocities of both the Waffen SS and the “Special Purpose Groups” in Poland in 1939, where the first stirrings of the later full-blown Holocaust were felt. In addition, he angered Hitler and Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler by telling them that the Führer’s elite bodyguard regiment was not yet fit for front-line combat. He also wanted to arrest its commander, General Josef “Sepp” Dietrich, for war crimes against the Poles.
Blaskowitz’s written reports were shelved, however, by Luftwaffe Field Marshal Erhard Milch and German high command chief Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, so it is not known for sure if Hitler ever saw them. The Führer pardoned the SS killers in Poland as a matter of state policy. For two months, Blaskowitz directed the army occupation of defeated Poland from Russian Czar Nicholas II’s former imperial hunting lodge at Spala. There he came into conflict with Hitler’s handpicked governor-general, Hans Frank. The latter asked Hitler to fire Blaskowitz, but the Führer demurred and sent him to occupied France to await the expected Allied invasion.
Thus, like Erwin Rommel, Blaskowitz was one of the few top German field commanders of World War II who saw no action on the Eastern Front against the Red Army–perhaps because he likely would have protested Hitler’s “Commissar Order” to summarily shoot all captured Communist Party officials. Indeed, Rommel might have done so as well, since he tore up the “Commando Order” in North Africa.
Although Blaskowitz was well thought of within the upper echelons of the German army after the 1938 union with Austria, Hitler saw Blaskowitz as “a general with no capacity to lead tank units.” But Blaskowitz mobilized his troops and occupied Bohemia in March 1939 on less than a day’s notice and, with Hitler, entered the Hradschin Palace in Prague in triumph. He led a model occupation of Bohemia, with few problems reported on either side until the establishment of the Reich Protectorate on April 16, 1939, under Baron Constantin von Neurath.
Later that year, the general conquered Warsaw, a feat he attributed to army artillery and mortars, not to the Luftwaffe’s vaunted Junkers Ju-87 Stuka dive bombers. His next combat activity was against the French underground in southern France, during the American invasion of that area in August 1944. He later fought against the British, to whom he surrendered on May 5, 1945.
Allied prosecutor Brig. Gen. Telford Taylor put Blaskowitz on trial for war crimes in 1948, but on the second day of the trial–February 5, 1948–Blaskowitz either committed suicide by jumping from an upper tier of the Nuremberg prison or was pushed to his death by four Estonian SS murderers. According to the author, the question of exactly how he died remains unanswered.
This is an excellent book that will be enjoyed by all World War II aficionados.