ISU Author's Book Explores Cautionary Tale of Nazi Figurehead Walter Schellenberg | WGLT

ISU Author's Book Explores Cautionary Tale of Nazi Figurehead Walter Schellenberg

Jun 13, 2019

Nazi Germany was a complicated militaristic machine with many gears.

Katrin Paehler from ISU's Department of History, studies the role of Germany’s secret services during this period. Paehler published a book in 2017, "The Third Reich’s Intelligence Services: The Career of Walter Schellenberg," focusing on a figurehead in the development and downfall of Germany’s secret service and intelligence agencies.

Paehler said this part of Nazi Germany’s history contrasts greatly with the popular images of Nazi Germany, as the secret services consisted mostly of young intellectual men.

“We're talking about university-educated people here to quite some extent. That is very different from many other high Nazi officials,” Paehler said on GLT's Sound Ideas. “The world was created anew, so radical ideas could find more than a hearing. They could find support.”

Many German students at the time were idealistic and ambitious, which helped drive Nazism. Young men established careers quickly through the Nazi Party, which allowed lots of intellectuals positions in secret services and bureaucracy. Schellenberg was a prominent figure in all of this, becoming the head of foreign intelligence in 1944. The book details Schellenberg’s rise to power through his connections with the Nazi Party, alongside his connections to Reinhard Heydrich and Heinrich Himmler.

Nazi Germany had numerous secret service and intelligence branches. Schellenberg first started in the Schutzstaffel (SS), and climbed the ranks to be the head of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD.) The downfall of these agencies was caused by improper intelligence collection and blind idealism.

“There's a huge debate which has been going on about Nazi Germany forever, to quite some extent. ‘How important is pragmatism? How important is ideology?’ Trying to think about that, and trying to sort that out as carefully as possible. That's what I found quite intriguing here, how it's not an either-or question, but how it very much changes almost day to day,” said Paehler.

Schellenberg believed he was working towards world peace, and painted himself as a humanitarian. In his autobiography, he stated his original studies were in medicine, which Paehler proves false; he came from humble beginnings, despite attending a prestigious university he had no issues paying, and he released Jewish concentration inmates as the price for negotiation. As a result, he was released early from his life prison sentence.

Paehler’s book goes covers more detail of the development of Nazi Germany’s intelligence services, with sources from contemporary documents and recently declassified documents from archives in the United States, Germany, and Russia.

Listen to Paehler's interview with GLT's Charlie Schlenker below:

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