We tend to think of the Nazis as an almost supernatural force for evil. They supposedly marched in horrifying harmony toward a single terrible purpose, and it was a minor miracle they were stopped at all. But the Nazi government had petty infighting and political scandals just any other -- except much, much dumber, because they were, you know, Nazis. And because we live in a time when prominent commentators are openly defending the "good parts" of the Nazi regime, it's important to remember that they were gigantic morons from start to finish.
So let's go back to 1938. Hitler was a year away from starting World War II by launching Operation Hitler's A Huge Butthole, but two key German generals, Werner von Blomberg and Werner von Fritsch, were expressing reservations -- and not just because their identical first names led them to wonder if they were living in a bizarre simulation.
Neither man was a member of the Nazi Party, although their objections were less "We think Hitler should be building daycares instead of tanks, dude needs to chill," and more "We're totally down with the Nazi plan to build a totalitarian militarist empire! We just think it would be safer to wait until 1942 to go on a conquering rampage that purges Europe of those nefarious Jews. It never hurts to be extra prepared!" And for the clear disobedience and cowardice of suggesting the possibility of a military defeat, top Nazis decided that the Werners had to go.
First came Blomberg, who was so loyal to Hitler that it was his idea to make soldiers swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler personally instead of to Germany and its citizens. But he bickered with other top Nazis, in part because the Wehrmacht and the Nazi Party distrusted each other's capabilities and influence, and in part because Hitler's leadership style of keeping himself at the top by encouraging grudges and backstabbing through contradictory orders and overlapping responsibilities was better-suited to conquering a Big Brother house than Europe.
Blomberg, a 59-year-old widower, had just married a 25-year-old secretary employed at the nefarious Reich Egg Marketing Board. But before she had become a propagandist for Big Egg, she had posed for pornographic pictures and, like her mother, worked as a prostitute. Her police file came into the hands of Nazi big shot Hermann "Oops, Was Too Busy Stealing Art To Fight The Battle Of Britain Properly" Goering. He seized the opportunity to destroy Blomberg by snitching to a shocked Hitler, who had served as a witness at the wedding and subsequently demanded that Blomberg annul the marriage on the pretext of avoiding a scandal that would ruin the prim and proper reputation of both Hitler and the army.
Blomberg refused to end the marriage, insisting that his love was true and essentially saying, "Screw you for treating me this way, I'm quitting and taking my hot young wife to Capri! Call me if you need any help with your dumb war plans!" And somehow it only got stupider from there.
Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, horrified by the terrible slight that Blomberg had committed against the dignity of the military by defending his wife, sent Blomberg's old assistant to follow him around on his honeymoon and demand that he get a divorce. The ludicrously overzealous adjunct instead repeatedly demanded that Blomberg commit suicide, at one point even trying to force a pistol into his hands while telling him to "do the honorable thing." So the onetime commander-in-chief of the Nazi war machine was reduced to having some doofus assistant to the regional Nazi telling him to kill himself while he was trying to enjoy his honeymoon.
Emboldened by Blomberg's ousting, Goering, Heinrich "Even Hitler Thought He Was An Awkward Weirdo" Himmler, and Reinhard "Helped Get Himself Assassinated Because He Insisted On Stopping To Fight His Attackers" Heydrich decided to also get rid of Fritsch. Like Blomberg, he was totally onboard with war and genocide. But he was also a conservative aristocrat who didn't like the SS, so he had to go. The only problem was that there was no dirt on him. So his enemies simply invented some.
Berlin was home to a male prostitute named Schmidt who had a habit of blackmailing notable customers. He was on police record claiming to have extorted an officer named Fritsch back in 1935, and the Nazi trio decided to pretend he was referring to the Fritsch they wanted to get rid of. They presented their "case" to Hitler, arguing that the general being unmarried and career-driven must mean that, ew, he secretly liked men. Then, in a moment straight out of a bad movie, Hitler called Fritsch in for questioning, and when he denied everything, Hitler supposedly threw open a door in his office and let Schmidt into the room to declare "That's him!"
This let to a court martial which infuriated the Wehrmacht's officer corps, especially once they put together that the charge had been invented. The army couldn't complain too much about the machinations of powerful SS men, but the SS couldn't piss off the army too much either, so a compromise was produced whereby Fritsch lost his influence but was rehabilitated in a theatrical court session, during which Schmidt "admitted" that he had been "mistaken."
Disgusted resignations and a massive reorganization of the military followed what creatively became known as the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair, with the end result being that dozens of men in key positions who supported Hitler but were willing to critique his bad ideas were replaced with men who would have said "You're right, Adolf, I should shoot myself in the penis" if he suggested it. From then on, Hitler and friends enjoyed having absolute power in a government composed almost entirely of fawning yes-men (and some angry conspirators) right up until around 1943 or so, when they began to discover its major downsides.
But what happened to the key players in this very stupid drama? *Cue the song from The Breakfast Club*
Blomberg sat on the sidelines and watched the war unfold precisely as he had feared it would. He was eventually detained by the Allies, and was set to serve as a very bitter witness for the prosecution at Nuremberg before dying of cancer in 1946. His wife went on to run a West German massage parlor.
Fritsch practiced his dueling skills with the intent of challenging Himmler, but to history's tremendous loss, the duel wasn't allowed to take place. Instead, he was given honorary command of an artillery regiment. When war broke out in 1939, Fritsch performed a ceremonial inspection of his troops, got clipped in the leg by a Polish potshot, and promptly bled to death.
Schmidt was murdered by the Gestapo not long after the affair, even though they had assured him that they totally wouldn't do that. Shockingly, the Gestapo were not very trustworthy.
The man who replaced Fritsch, Walther von Brauchitsch, immediately had a scandal of his own when he divorced his wife to marry a younger woman. He insisted that she was merely a more committed Nazi, but the divorce courts disagreed and ordered a huge settlement in favor of his ex-wife, which an annoyed Hitler had paid with money from a massive slush fund set up to bribe top military officers with taxpayer land and money. Brauchitsch then managed to perjure himself at Nuremberg over this, because again, the Nazis were dumb.
The honor-obsessed Admiral Raeder also got on Hitler's nerves by abusing that already-abusive fund, constantly demanding more payments and estates while also requesting a lifetime exemption from income taxes. (We know this is going to sound crazy, but there may have been a certain level of hypocrisy within Nazi Germany.)
So that's the story of how, just a year before World War II, a gaggle of corrupt idiots were involved in antics and backstabbing more in line with the plot of a CW teen drama than one of the most powerful governments in the world, and all in the service of unwittingly dooming themselves to total defeat. It's a fun story to keep in mind the next time you see a bunch of neo-Nazis spouting off about how brilliant and logical their ideals are.
For more, check out How America Accidentally Invented The Nazis:
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