1st April 1945
‘My werewolf teeth bite the enemy-
And then he’s done and then he’s gone.’
These were the words, preceded by a wolf howling, that began the first transmission of Radio Werwolf. The Nazi Party, staring defeat in the face, used the broadcast to exhort every last German citizen to ‘stand his ground and do or die against the Allied armies.’ The programme ended with the chill words: ‘…a single motto remains for us: “Conquer or die”.’
Radio Werwolf’s purpose was, ostensibly, to prove to the near-victorious Allies that the German people would not roll over and accept defeat easily; that a highly trained, highly organised underground force, aided by the local populous, would fight to the last for the Nazi cause.
But this was not to be.
Whilst pockets of resistance did spring up, mainly small bands of remaining SS troops and the odd group of die-hard Nazis, there was no stomach left in the defeated German people for more violence, and Operation Werwolf proved to be far more effective as a propaganda tool than it ever did as a viable military campaign.
The name Werwolf is taken from the 1910 novel Der Wehrwolf by Herman Lönns, a favourite text of the Nazi Party owing to the fact that its words could be framed in the context of a particularly rabid form of patriotism. The novel itself makes no mention of shapeshifting or lycanthropy, although it is easy to imagine Nazi top brass envisioning with a smile legion upon legion of lupine warriors resisting the Allied advance.
The station ceased to broadcast after a few weeks, and Radio Werwolf fell silent.
Twelve months later, with the Führer dead and the war over, Germany’s capital, Berlin, found itself well within the grip of the Allied Forces.
3rd April 1945
A young US serviceman named Aloysius ‘Louis’ Blair, stationed in the west of the city, uses a day’s leave to take a stroll through the Grunewald Forest with a fellow soldier. Private Blair’s journal, kindly donated by his granddaughter, reveals in a cramped scrawl that he and his companion elect to spend that particular morning strolling through the conifer and birch trees of the woods. Come noon, they settle down in a glade to partake of a spot of lunch, a cigarette or two, and a nip from the bottle of brandy Private Blair’s colleague has ‘liberated’ from a black market profiteer.
All is calm in the forest. And it is in the calmest moments that fate tends to play her hand.
Through a haze of cigarette smoke, a small flash of sunlight glints off of something in the distance, deeper into the woods.
Louis and his colleague, still young enough for curiosity to flow through their veins, go to investigate the source of the fleeting illumination. To their surprise, disguised by the underbrush, they find an iron door set into a slightly raised mound of earth. The door is heavy, rusted and stubborn, but it opens under the combined strength of the two servicemen. The air that assails them from within ‘smelled like an ol’ waff’s crab hole,’ in Louis’ rather colourful words.
What they find, down a short set of steps, is a bunker; a bunker stacked high with weapons and munitions. Scattered across the floor are discarded food cans, along with other signs to suggest that the bunker has recently been occupied. With the memory of the Radio Werwolf broadcasts ringing in their ears, the two soldiers search the bunker thoroughly. Convincing themselves that the place is deserted, and that there are no other exits or entrances, the pair draw straws to see who will stay and who will return to base to inform their superiors of this cache of Nazi resistance supplies. Blair draws the shorter straw and stays behind, taking up position directly outside the door with only his rifle and the bottle of brandy for company.
All is silent, save for the odd buzz of an insect and the rustle of leaves in the afternoon breeze.
June 8th 2010
In a beachside café in the German town of Bad Doberan, I sit and sip sweet black coffee with Bertha Weber, a local resident, born in Berlin in 1935. Her body is frail, but her mind is sharp, her English flawless, and her memories of that day vivid.
“I remember that afternoon clearly, yes, even now. I’d had an argument with my mother, something about the way I’d swept the floor. What’s the word you English use? Half-arsed, yes, that’s it.
“It was a beautiful day, so I went for a walk in the forest. I found it calming. The war may have been over, but it didn’t feel finished. Not in the city, anyway. But out there… it felt peaceful. Do you understand?
“I’d been picking wildflowers. I thought I would take them back to Mother, to say sorry for my behaviour, but then I heard a whimpering in the undergrowth. To start with I thought it might be a baby or a child. After all, it would not be the first time someone had left their unwanted ‘negermischlinge’ in the woods. But as I got closer, I found what I thought then to be a large hound, but now suspect was a wolf. It looked thin, like a bag of bones, not quite fully grown but definitely not a puppy, with big glassy eyes. I stood still, not wanting to scare it. Eventually it climbed to its feet, and it walked off slowly on wobbling legs. It kept stopping and turning its head, like it wanted me to follow. So I did.
“It led me to a clearing, with a man there. An American. A soldier, standing by a door in the ground. He saw the hound, and me, and then he pointed his rifle. Americans and their guns. Some things never change, eh?
“The soldier started babbling something at me over his weapon. I don’t remember exactly what he said, I didn’t speak English back then. The hound went over to the door in the earth and I shooed the soldier aside. I wasn’t scared of him, I’d seen enough of ‘die Amis’ by then to know he wasn’t going to shoot a young girl.
“The dog shuffled by him, and down in to the dark. The soldier started shouting at me in German, but his accent sounded so bad it didn’t really get what he was saying, so I shouted back.
“As we were yelling at each other I heard a voice from inside the what I now know was a bunker. A weak, frail voice, saying ‘…hilfe… hilfe…”
My German isn’t great, but even I know that word. Help.
“The soldier and I looked at one another with wide eyes. He went down in to the bunker, and I followed.
“At the foot of the stairs, sprawled out on the floor, lay a boy. He can’t have been much older than a teenager, and he looked so thin, gaunt even. His eyes were sunken and I could see his ribs through his skin. He looked awful, like a ghoul.
“I caught a glimpse of the soldier. I’ll never forget the look on his face. I could tell that kid wasn’t supposed to be down there.”
Private Blair’s journal goes on to detail the arrival of his battalion’s commanding officer, and his vain attempts to explain the sudden appearance of the emaciated teenager. The discovery of the contraband brandy in his possession almost led to a court martial, and the young soldier was ordered to keep his head down and his nose clean for the foreseeable future, and not to speak of the incident in the Grunewald Forest again.
Private Blair returned to the US the following year and lived out his days as a police officer in Oklahoma. He died in his sleep in 1994. It appears he never told anyone of what he saw that day in Berlin.
Frau Weber passed away in January of 2011.
Other than Private Blair’s journal and Frau Weber’s testimony, no record of the cadaverous interloper in the bunker exists. His fate is unknown. It is interesting to note that, apart from this incident, there have been no sightings of wolves in Berlin for over a hundred years.
I believe it is safe to speculate that this was probably not what Nazi High Command had in mind when they commissioned Operation Werwolf.
Dr. Thomas Gotobed