By JOHN VINOCUR, SPECIAL TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (NYT) 1032
Published: January 7, 1981
The funeral wreaths lay piled in the snow, and around them stood the men of
Germany's past, shaking hands, introducing wives, and turning the funeral of
Adolf Hitler's successor into a final grasp at justifying their part of history.
''To our Reich's President,'' the gold letters on the black and white ribbon
of one of the wreaths said. ''Alles fur Deutschland,'' ''Grand Admiral Karl
Doenitz, in honor and fidelity - the survivors of U-Boat 309,'' ''Courage to the
end,'' read some of the other inscriptions, the old phrases and the Gothic
script perfect symbols of the mood outside the red brick church at the edge of a
forest 15 miles from Hamburg.
About 2,500 people, some with Knight's Crosses tied with red and black
ribbons around their necks, many in the cashmere overcoats of postwar West
German prosperity, came to the church for the burial of Karl Doenitz, the Grand
Admiral who administered the German Reich for 23 days in 1945 until the
unconditional surrender that ended World War II in Europe. Convicted by the
Nuremberg tribunal of war crimes and crimes against peace, Admiral Doenitz
served a 10-year sentence, and then lived out his life in this handsome suburban
village until his death at 89 on Christmas Eve.
Although the West German Government paid Admiral Doenitz the pension due his
rank, and technically maintained his name on the list of retired officers in
spite of his Nuremberg conviction, the Defense Ministry refused to send a
representative to the funeral and forbade members of the armed forces to attend
in uniform. Old Soldiers Are Angered
This infuriated the men from the old soldiers' leagues and rightwing
organizations who stood in knots in the snow outside the church, berating West
German television reporters, telling them they did not dare to broadcast ''the
truth about the Grand Admiral and the shameregime in Bonn,'' and then refusing
to give their names to go with their statements. Controversy had grown up around
the funeral in the past few days after a number of British newspapers published
commentaries in which the former admiral was portrayed essentially as a
remarkable submarine commander rather than a blind toady of Hitler.
''He did his duty, what any decent soldier would do,'' a man wearing the
naval-type cap of a veterans organization shouted before the service began. A
friend with a scarf in the red, black and white colors of the Imperial Navy
around his neck raised his voice even louder. ''He was sentenced by a criminal
Allied tribunal that broke every international standard to send him to jail! He
was a hero of the German people!''
By contradiction, Admiral Doenitz was described last week by Robert M.W.
Kempner, the deputy United States counsel at the Nuremberg trials, as a loyal
assistant to Hitler. West German historians have described the admiral as rigid
and remorseless, and there was testimony at the war crimes hearings that he
advocated the killing of captured Allied merchant seamen. ''The German people,''
Admiral Doenitz said in 1944, ''have the Fuhrer to thank for everything,
absolutely everything. If we hadn't been given the Fuhrer, there would be no
people left in Germany.''
In military terms, of the 863 submarines under Admiral Doenitz's command, 756
were lost. Of the approximately 36,000 U-boat crew members, close to 28,000 were
killed. But over the years Admiral Doenitz's hindsight remained similar to that
of the men who attended his funeral: Alfred Speer, Hitler's Minister for War
Production, who spent time with the admiral in Spandau Prison, insisted Admiral
Doenitz told him that if he had another chance, he would have done it all again,
exactly the same way. 4 Eulogies for Admiral
There were four eulogies for the admiral, whose coffin, draped with the red,
black and yellow flag of West Germany, was carried by 10 men wearing Knight's
Crosses. During the ceremony, Admiral Doenitz's dagger was placed on the coffin,
before which stood an attendant holding a pillow bearing the admiral's
Admiral Doenitz was praised by Edward Wegener, a retired rear admiral, for
his ''unshakable fidelity to the leadership of the state'' and as a man
favorable to reform and new ideas. He also expressed an occasional, curious
distance from the admiral at some points, suggesting that although Admiral
Doenitz was not a member of the Nazi party, he was ''woven into the guilt of its
leadership'' and that questions had to be asked today about whether obedience
alone was sufficient justification for soldiers' actions.
But this was only a slight, fleeting modulation in tone. The Bonn Government,
Mr. Wegener said, acted shamefully in trying to disassociate itself from the
admiral, and the crowd outside the church, as if at a political rally, hooted
with him in derision. When another speaker, Horst Niemack, a retired major
general, insisted that Admiral Doenitz's Nuremberg sentence was a political
rather than a judicial decision, the crowd cheered. ''Ja, ja, so it was,'' came
When the service ended, the crowd trying to pay respects at the bier was so
great that the village pastor, the Rev. Hans Joachim Arp, had to ask them not to
continue. The men in their 50's and 60's then turned to the churchyard, a few
hundred yards away, where the admiral's grave had been dug. They walked to its
edge, patted the backs of old friends, and sang bits of the national hymn, known
outside Germany as ''Deutschland Uber Alles.''
A few young people, including a West German army officer in uniform, were
mixed in with the faces from the past. In Bonn, a Defense Ministry spokesman,
learning that a soldier had defied the nonattendance order, said that
theoretically he could be expelled from the armed forces or suffer loss in rank
as a result of his disobedience. The spokesman added that he expected neither to