Oberst i.G. Henning von Tresckow greeted Feldburg in a relaxed manner, offering him a cigar. He settled himself casually, half-seated on the front of his desk, and started to chat about inconsequential things.
Tresckow had only met Feldburg once, on that day in December of the previous year when Philip had passed through Army Group Center. Nevertheless, Tresckow had since had ample opportunity to observe him from a distance. Aside from the official orders and reports, both written and verbal, Tresckow had spoken at length with Rittenbach about his Ia and heard reports from the officers of the neighboring divisions, from Corps, and from the 9th Army, as well. Up to now Feldburg, had appeared to be a competent, alert, and outspoken officer. Tresckow had been impressed by his incisive analytical ability and convinced of his sound character. He was now confronted by a listless officer wearing chipped glasses smeared with fingerprints.
Feldburg answered Tresckow’s questions with extreme reticence—almost reluctance—although the questions themselves were harmless. Disappointed by his failure to establish some rapport between them, Tresckow stopped trying and asked directly, “Could you tell me something more specific about the circumstances that led you to request a transfer back to Army Group?”
“It’s very simple, Herr Oberst,” Feldburg replied, with a shrug and no greater reluctance than with the previous questions. “One of our companies was loaned to the SS for what were ostensibly anti-partisan operations. Instead, they were used for ‘racial warfare’ against Gypsies and Jews.” Feldburg wasn’t looking at Tresckow as he spoke----he was gazing blankly at nothing. He didn’t notice that Tresckow had stopped smoking his cigar and was staring at him. Feldburg continued in his monotone, “Women, children, and old people who had surrendered to us were shot without investigation or trial.”
Tresckow leapt to his feet, went around the back of his desk, reached for the phone, and then stopped himself. He sat down in his chair. “Go on,” he urged.
Feldburg stared at him, confused. “But there isn’t any more.”
“You’re telling me a company of the 144th Infantry Division shot women and children in cold blood—not by accident? Not while fighting partisans?”
“Correct, Herr Oberst. They had surrendered and were begging for mercy.”
“Why wasn’t this reported immediately? Why wasn’t there a court-martial?”
“General Wittig explicitly rejected my demand for a court-martial. That’s the reason I offered my resignation.”
“Why didn’t you pick up the phone and inform me!” Tresckow retorted angrily. “Why didn’t you call me at once?!” He looked distressed, as if he’d failed in some way.
Feldburg only shrugged. “What could Herr Oberst have done? The people were already dead, and protests are pointless. From Blaskowitz to Rittenbach—all our protests against these policies have been a waste of breath. Women and children were gunned down mercilessly, and I resigned like some small-town councilman distressed over the traffic ordinances.”
“If only the field marshals would show so much decency!” Tresckow flung back at him. “If the Army Group Commanders had all resigned, maybe we wouldn’t have the Commissar Orders or Barbarossa Instructions!”
“Of course, we would, Herr Oberst,” Feldburg told him flatly. “If Leeb, Bock and Rundstedt had resigned, it would only have saved him the trouble of firing them later. There will always be ambitious generals—Models and Wittigs— happy to take the place of the men who quit. And, regardless of who commands our divisions and corps, the SS will continue to do as they please behind our lines. What’s the point of protesting anymore?”
“By God, Feldburg! Are you seriously suggesting we should just resign ourselves to the injustice? That we should close our eyes to these atrocities? That we should accept crimes of this magnitude?”
“What choice do we have, Herr Oberst? Nothing will change until there is a change at the source, until those responsible for these policies have been removed or eliminated.” Feldburg intended this remark as the final argument which ended their futile discussion.
Tresckow appeared to misunderstand him. “Correct. Do you think you’re the first person intelligent enough to recognize that?”
Philip was shocked out of his apathy. He stared at the senior officer. “What does Herr Oberst mean?”
“In the words of Friedrich II, ‘A people is no longer bound by its oath of loyalty if a ruler violates his highest duty to serve the interests of his subjects.’ Hitler has not only failed to serve the interests of the people, he has led them into a morass of misery and amorality. He must be removed from power.”
“That will never happen without a revolution,” Philip scoffed. “The masses idolize him!” His contempt for the complacent citizens at home who adored their Führer oozed from his bitter tone.
“We are not democrats dependent on majority will, but German officers with a responsibility to our country. The entire nation—the innocent along with the guilty—will be held to account for the crimes committed by that man in the name of Germany. Individual innocence will be drowned in collective guilt.”
“To hold the innocent responsible for the crimes of the guilty is like shooting a whole village because one or two villagers are partisans.”
“You’re absolutely right, but don’t deceive yourself that our conquerors will be discriminating or just. Each innocent victim we murder today will cost the lives of more innocent victims later. You swore an oath, Freiherr v. Feldburg, to defend your country and countrymen. A madman is threatening the very existence of the nation and virtually the entire population as well! You have a duty to stop him.”
“And what am I supposed to do to stop him?” Philip snapped back. “Christ himself couldn’t stop this war alone!”
“But you’re not alone,” Tresckow repeated softly.
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