Although VE day was on the 8th of May 1945 and the German troops had surrendered, Admiral Doenitz was still the President of the German Reich or at least what was left of it.
The government was known as the Flensburg Government sometimes also referred to as the Cabinet of Schwerin von Krosigk after Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk who had been appointed Prime Minister by Doenitz.
The administration was referred to as the “Flensburg Government” because Dönitz’s headquarters had been relocated in the port of Flensburg in northern Germany on 3 May 1945.
Due to the rapid Allied advance, its nominal jurisdiction at the outset was limited to a narrow wedge of territory running from the Austrian border through Berlin to the Danish border; which, since 25 April 1945, had been cut in two by the American advance to join with Soviet forces at Torgau on the Elbe. Following the capitulation of all German armed forces on 8 May, the Flensburg government lost all direct territorial, military or civil jurisdiction, and all diplomatic relations were withdrawn. The western Allies allowed it to continue to meet and conduct what business it could until 23 May.
Once it became apparent that Hitler intended to stay and die in the besieged city of Berlin, effective overall command of German armed forces was exercised by the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (German High Command), who had relocated to Rheinsburg. On 28 April Wilhelm Keitel and Alfred Jodl, of the Army High Command, met at Rheinsburg with Karl Dönitz and Heinrich Himmler to discuss the war situation now that the fall of Berlin could not be averted. Himmler took the chair as the acknowledged deputy Führer; and, since the disgrace and dismissal of Hermann Göring, Hitler’s expected successor. That day however, the British and Americans published Himmler’s secret proposals for a separate peace in the West (which they had rejected). On 29 April Dönitz received a telegram from Martin Bormann announcing Himmler’s dismissal from all posts, and ordering his arrest for treason. Dönitz confronted Himmler with the accusations on 30 April, but he denied them as fabricated propaganda. When a further telegram confirmed both the dismissal and Dönitz’s appointment as Hitler’s successor, Himmler’s position became untenable.
With Himmler and Göring standing accused of treasonable negotiation with the enemy, Hitler in his political testament had named Grand Admiral Dönitz his successor as Reich President and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and designated Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels head of government as Reich Chancellor Goebbels committed suicide in the Berlin Führerbunker on 1 May.
The same day Dönitz accepted the offices of Supreme Commander and Head of State in separate broadcast addresses to the German armed forces, and German people.Residual ministers of the Hitler cabinet, who had fled from the fall of Berlin to join Dönitz at the Wehrmacht barracks near Plön in Holstein, resigned the next day. Suspecting that Bormann might also have escaped from Berlin and be intending to seize power, Dönitz met with Hitler’s former Finance Minister Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk and asked him to constitute a new Reich government.
In a melodramatic series of events, Martin Bormann was killed in Berlin
en route to Admiral Dönitz, other ranking officials failed to arrive, and no copies of the pertinent documents ever reached Dönitz. Apparently it never occurred to the officials in the beleaguered chancellery that the entire texts of the pertinent documents could have been radioed to Dönitz. At this point, he did not even know of the subsequent suicide of Goebbels on 1 May. Dönitz correctly felt that he must make his own govern mental appointments in order to function at all. He could not logically appoint officials whose whereabouts he did not know (he did not in fact know whether they were alive or dead), or whose prominence in the Hitler government might prejudice negotiations with the Allies. Of this fateful date, 1 May 1945, Dönitz summarized the situation in his Memoirs: “… while out at sea transports filled with wounded, with refugees and with troops hurried westward, the columns of refugees fleeing overland pressed on towards their salvation and the armies in Pomerania, in Brandenburg and in Silesia continued to retire in the direction of the Anglo-American demarcation line
Von Krosigk’s cabinet first met in Eutin, to which he and his ministerial staff had been evacuated, on 2 May. Later on 2 May, and in view of the rapidly advancing British Second Army forces which were approaching Lübeck, Dönitz met with von Krosigk, Paul Wegener, Himmler and Keitel to discuss the urgent necessity of a further relocation. Himmler argued for a move to Prague then the last major central European capital city in German hands, and closer to advancing American forces with whom he hoped to negotiate personally; but Dönitz refused to sanction any move outside the borders of Germany. Moreover, the political situation of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was highly unstable. Dönitz decided instead to proceed to the Mürwik naval academy in Flensburg near the Danish border.
The German High Command, which had moved from Rheinsburg to Neustadt in Holstein two days before, then also relocated to Flensburg; while the SS leadership had been gathering at Flensburg since 28 April.
etaining some members from the previous Hitler cabinet, Schwerin von Krosigk’s government consisted of the following people:
|Cabinet of Schwerin von Krosigk
2 May 1945 – 23 May 1945
|Leading Minister||Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk||None|
|Minister for Foreign Affairs||Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk||None|
|Minister of the Interior||Wilhelm Stuckart||NSDAP|
|Minister of Justice||Otto Georg Thierack||NSDAP|
|Minister of Finance||Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk||None|
|Minister for Economics||Albert Speer||NSDAP|
|Minister for Food and Agriculture||Herbert Backe||NSDAP|
|Minister for Labour||Franz Seldte||NSDAP|
|Minister of War||President Karl Dönitz (as OKW Chief from 1 May 1945)||NSDAP|
|Minister of Transport||Julius Heinrich Dorpmüller||NSDAP|
|Minister for Postal Affairs||Julius Heinrich Dorpmüller||NSDAP|
|Minister for Armaments and War Production||Albert Speer||NSDAP|
The Dönitz government took form, then, to prevent famine; to restore communications, business and industry; to rebuild housing and obtain temporary quarters for the homeless; to try to hold the value of the currency and re-establish banking systems, and to aid the refugees and absorb the additional millions of Germans and non-Germans fleeing the Russian-occupied areas. Some held secondary posts in the Hitler government but all were essentially non-political men with bureaucratic experience and technical knowledge in their fields. The choice of Speer was an unfortunate one as the man was a self-seeking chameleon and opportunist, although able in his technical fields. Speer at once initiated an internal campaign to convince the Dönitz government to resign. As Dönitz put it: “Speer was emphatic in his opinion that we [the government] should resign. But he thought that, as far as he himself was concerned, the Americans would continue to cooperate with him.”Schwerin-Krosigk took a sounder view-that only the Armed Forces had surrendered, the German state continuing to exist with Dönitz as its legal head. As Dönitz remarks: “.The enemy themselves had recognized the fact when they insisted on my conferring plenipotentiary powers on the Chiefs of the three services, who were to sign the instrument of surrender … I and my provisional government could not voluntarily resign. If we did, the victors could say with justification: since the properly constituted Government … had run away, we have no option but to set up independent German governments in the individual zones and to allow our military government to exercise authority over all. of them … I should stay until I was removed by force. Had I not done so, then … I should have supplied the political pretext for the division of Germany that exists today”
Some acknowledgement of Nazi war crimes became unavoidable. The departure of the SS leadership from Flensburg opened the way for the Dönitz government to offer its own version of how the murder squads, concentration camps and killing facilities had come into being. Their response was that all these atrocities had been undertaken in secret, and entirely by Himmler and the SS. Dönitz and Jodl issued a joint public statement “that neither the German Wehrmacht not the German people had knowledge of these things.” While this statement was wholly untrue, the consequent myth of the “good Wehrmacht” as having been deceived and betrayed by the “evil SS” was to achieve wide currency for decades in post-war Germany.
On 12 May, American Major General Lowell W. Rooks and his British deputy, Brigadier E. J. Foord, arrived in Flensburg and established their quarters in the passenger ship Patria, docked in Flensburg harbour.
Their mission was to liaise with the Dönitz “acting government” (as it was then referred to by the SHAEF) and to impose the will of the victorious Allied Powers on the German High Command. Although the liaison mission arranged meetings with members of the Flensburg government, these only confirmed that neither Dönitz nor his ministers had been able to establish any degree of civil authority. Churchill withdrew his protection once it became clear that the Soviet High Command would have to be represented in the liaison mission. On 21 May the SHAEF acceded to Soviet proposals that the Flensburg Government be dissolved and its members arrested as POWs. The dissolution was carried out on 23 May. On that day, a British officer went to Dönitz’s headquarters and asked to speak to the members of the government. Dönitz, von Friedeburg and Jodl were then taken aboard the Patria, where Maj. Gen. Rooks informed them of the dissolution of the government; placing them under arrest, and ordering that they be stripped and searched for concealed phials of poison.
The communication regarding the dissolution of the acting government and the arrest of its members was made in a formal manner, around a table on Patria’s deck: Dönitz, Jodl and Von Friedeburg sat on one side, with Major General Rooks, British Navy Captain Mund and Soviet General Trusov on the other. Brigadier Foord remained standing, next to Maj. Gen. Rooks, and an official interpreter was also present at the proceedings, that were photographed. By the time Dönitz emerged from the ship, the town’s main street was filled with British tanks and troops rounding up the Germans. Faced with the prospect of being strip-searched von Friedeburg committed suicide, while Dönitz, Speer, Jodl and other members of the dissolved Flensburg Government were taken prisoner,under the responsibility of a RAF Regiment task force commanded by Squadron Leader Mark Hobden.
The prisoners were later handed over to the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. Some Flensburg Government POW’s such as Albert Speer were subsequently moved to the British POW camp Dustbin in Castle Kransberg, while others, including Dönitz, were transferred to the American-led Camp Ashcan. Later, all Camp Ashcan prisoners were moved to Nuremberg to stand trial.
With the arrest of the Flensburg Government on 23 May 1945, the German High Command also ceased to exist, and no central authority was kept in place to govern Germany, or even to assume responsibility for complying with the demands and instructions of the victorious nations. The power vacuum that ensued following the arrest of the Flensburg Government continued for almost two weeks until 5 June 1945, when the representatives of the Allies signed the Declaration Regarding the Defeat of Germany and the Assumption of Supreme Authority by Allied Powers, also known as the Berlin Declaration. By means of that unilateral declaration the Four Powers assumed direct control of the administration of Germany, with absolute powers.
The declaration, issued in Berlin at 18:00 on 5 June 1945, and signed by General Eisenhower on behalf of the United States, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery on behalf of the United Kingdom, Marshal Georgiy Zhukov on behalf of the Soviet Union, and by General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny on behalf of the French Provisional Government, contained the following statement:
“The Governments of the United States of America, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United Kingdom, and the Provisional Government of the French Republic, hereby assume supreme authority with respect to Germany, including all the powers possessed by the German Government, the High Command and any state, municipal, or local government or authority. The assumption, for the purposes stated above, of the said authority and powers does not effect the annexation of Germany”
Therefore, from 5 June 1945, Germany did not possess a native government; complete authority and sovereignty being thereafter assumed by the Allied Military Occupation Government. The contention of the Allied Powers that the former German Reich had then ceased to exist as a state was then generally accepted, but came subsequently to be challenged in legal and political debate. In any event, the Berlin Declaration maintained the continued existence of Germany as a national territory, implying the continuation of a German nation.
During the initial stage of the occupation of Germany, supreme authority was discharged by the Four Powers jointly for all occupation zones via the Allied Control Council, so that this council was the immediate successor of the Dönitz Administration in the Government of Germany.