Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Military Philadelphia

Canaris and Lahousen

{Harry Carl Schaub}
Harry Carl Schaub

Our member, Harry Carl Schaub, J.D. is the Austrian Consul-General in Philadelphia, was once a member of the American Intelligence Service and is now Of Counsel to the Montgomery, McCracken law firm. In recent years, he has taken an interest in the German Intelligence Service during World War II, and with sufficient prodding intends to write a book about the astonishing betrayal of the Nazi effort by the Chief of their Intelligence Service, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris. Canaris enlisted the top fifty officers of the Abwehr, the Intelligence Service, in his conspiracy to defeat and overthrow the Nazi leadership. All fifty -- except for one, Colonel Erwin Lahousen, Edler von Vermont -- were caught by the Nazis and executed in gruesome ways, after the plot was exposed by the failure of a bomb in Hitler's headquarters to eliminate the top Nazis. Lahousen was the first witness called by the Nuremberg Trials.

{Admiral Wilhelm Canaris}
Admiral Wilhelm Canaris

Admiral Canaris, called the "most knowledgeable man in Germany" , reached his position of Intelligence Chief of the Third Reich as a result of distinguished naval service in World War I, much solidified internationally by his secret negotiations to persuade General Franco to bring the Spanish Moroccan Army to start and win the Spanish Civil War in Spain itself. (Several prominent Philadelphians were involved in these maneuvers, notably William Bullitt.) Canaris was an aristocrat and saw to it that at least the top fifty officers of the Abwehr were also aristocrats hostile to the Nazi regime, using professionalism as an excuse for the exclusion of any officer with Nazi sympathies in the service under his command. Canaris was slowly filling in the blanks in his plans, for years.

{Adolf Hitler}
Adolf Hitler

The military aristocracy was convinced that by 1940, Germany had already won the war in Europe, with only Great Britain left standing unconquered, and an alliance with the Russians protected the Eastern Front. Canaris was close enough to Hitler to believe he was stark raving mad, and as a result of recklessness and blind ambition was about to embark on the two things which professional soldiers had been trained to fear most: a betrayal of the Russian allies and counter-invasion by them, and a land-sea invasion of England. Hitler, for no purpose they could imagine, was about to discard a complete victory in continental Europe and enter into a two-front war. Later on, Hitler committed another gross stupidity in their eyes, of declaring war on America after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. This entirely unnecessary action by Hitler allowed America to follow an established principle of warfare, which is to attack the strongest of your enemies first. Added to what they saw as appalling blunders of getting into a two-front war while stirring up civilian disloyalty with their Jewish, Gypsy and homosexual extermination campaigns, the man they could personally see was mentally unstable was about to convert total German victory into total German defeat. Some of these things might prove to be successful, but sooner or later this madman was going to lead Germany into a catastrophic defeat, so he must be removed before that could happen. While it still remains almost unbelievable that such high-placed officers could risk their lives to betray their own leader, their analysis was absolutely accurate, and correctly predicted the decades of devastation Germany would endure if Hitler could not be overthrown.

{Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg}
Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg

And they were probably quite accurate in predicting their own punishments if they failed. Lahousen escaped because he had been assigned to a combat division and was lying severely wounded in a hospital before von Stauffenberg's bomb failed to go off properly in Hitler's staff room. The Gestapo rounded up every other member of the fifty conspirators and tortured them to death, mostly by impaling them on meat hooks. No doubt, they also exterminated a great many innocents, just to be sure they did not miss any conspirators. Canaris himself was strangled to death four times, by the process of reviving him just before he died, and then strangling him again.

{Erwin von Lahousen}
Erwin von Lahousen

And, indeed, Lahousen was apparently even mistreated as a prisoner by the British. During the war, one of Lahousen's projects was to stir up the Irish Republican Army in Great Britain, and indeed the guerrilla warfare between the IRA and the Protestant section of Northern Ireland lasted more than twenty years after the end of the war. The Brits were not amused.

Originally published: Friday, November 27, 2009; most-recently modified: Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Might you have high resolution WW2 photos of Canaris and von Lahousen you could send? I want good copies for a book. I will acknowledge your name and the blog in the foreword and under the photos. MANY thanks.
Posted by: Bernard O'Connor   |   Oct 15, 2016 8:17 AM
There are a BUNCH of questionable and wrong statements in the piece.
Posted by: Del K   |   Jun 7, 2011 10:15 AM
That meat hook portion as well as Canaris being strangled repeatedly are both total fabrications. See HW Koch's book "In the Name of the Volk." He corrects these lies.
Posted by: Baldrich   |   Apr 30, 2011 3:14 AM