selenak: (Sternennacht - Lefaym)
[personal profile] selenak
You know, in recent weeks there was a lot of talk, usually in the context of how ill advised the “Game of Thrones” makers idea of a show called “Confederate”, an AU in which an undefeated South with slavery intact continues to the present, was, about how sick people were of “what if the Nazis won?” or “what of the Confederacy won?” Aus. And I’m so with you; I was already sick of “what if the Nazis won?” dystopias several decades ago.

However. The combination of the recent (July 20th) anniversary of the 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler and me reading Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series made me wonder if anyone ever attempted a scenario in which one of the various attempts on Hitler’s life (from Georg Elser’s 1939 one onwards) succeeded. Historical attempts, that is, not fictional ones (looking at you, Quentin Tarantino). Probably not, because anything I can come up with would neither be a happy ending nor the awfulness that unfolded in reality, but…complicated. Not good for “good versus evil” role playing, which, let’s face it, is the main attraction for any WWII scenario, historical or AU, for the majority of people.

For starters, one common factor (which is also why I’m such a hard sell on “what if the Nazis won?” scenarios): there was so much infighting and hatred between Hitler’s flunkies that I can’t imagine the system holding up. The Third Reich wasn’t North Korea where you can replace one Dear Beloved Leader with another. Not least because while many of the upper level Nazis had great power in varying degrees, they weren’t personally popular, and more often than not were indeed disliked by the population at large. (“Wenn das der Führer wüßte”, i.e. “if only the Leader knew” was a catchphrase based on the naïve belief that all negative apparations of the NS regime were due to everyone else.) You couldn’t have just transferred the leader cult from a dead Hitler to whoever emerged victorious in the inevitable succession blood bath. The most likely candidate to unite both an already existing power base and popular appeal – indeed the only one among the top level Nazis with popular appeal – would have been Göring, who could trade both on his WWI veteran (and pilot – aviators were always popular) reputation and his chummy, genial manner. But by the late 30s and through the 40s, Göring was addicted to morphine, and the connected daze and laziness would have had him at a disadvantage re: his rivals. (One reason why Göring surprised many people in Nuremberg with his sharpness was that the Americans had weaned him off morphine and thus he was alert and all there for the first time in years. Of course, the imminent death sentence presumably also helped with his focus.)

Another common, depressing factor: there’s no way another Dolchstoßlegende (backstabbing legend) wouldn’t have developed, i.e. the myth that Germany could have won the war, if not for those traitors, etc., and this would have poisoned or at least heavily burdened whichever kind of German state would have existed next. Taking all that as a given, here are some possibilities I could come up with:

1.) The Georg Elser November 1939 assassination attempt succeeds as intended. Advantages: this would have gotten rid not only of Hitler but of many of the upper Nazi hierarchy, since they were present at the Munich Bürgerbräu where Elser had planted his bomb. Disadvantages: Elser worked alone. Which meant no one would have been ready to deal with the rest of the Nazi system. Likely result: I’m betting on a military dictatorship and/or an uneasy alliance between some top generals and some middle level Nazis. They'd have insisted on carrying out the invasion of France, ditto all of Poland, but I don’t see the generals invading Russia. They’d likely have then tried to negotiate peace with Britain and not tried to expand further. Whether or not Churchill would have gone for it in the case of a Hitler-less Germany… no idea. Would the Holocaust have proceeded further? Can’t make up my mind on that one, since it would have depended on just how many top level Nazis made it out alive, and whether or not the top military brass thought killing everyone in the already existing “work” camps would rid them of future embarrassment/retaliation, or whether they’d thought closing the camps in a non lethal manner would make it all go away.

2.) The March 1943 attempts. Advantages: this being post Stalingrad, this time parts of of the military were already involved, and thus there were some plans of what to do next. Disadvantages: these plans weren’t very thought out yet, and only Hitler would have died, which meant Goebbels, Himmler & Co. remained at large and more likely than not would have retaken control of the situation the way they did in rl in 1944. Nazi infighting wouldn’t have started until after the conspirators were dealt with. However, whichever victor emerged post Stalingrad would presumably have tried to negotiate a truce/peace with the Western Allies, because, well, Stalingrad, and the realization that you can’t win a war in Russia. Would the Holocaust have continued? Depressingly, in such a scenario my money is on a “let’s just kill everyone in the camps to ensure no survivors get nasty stories out” scenario.

3.) July 1944 attempt: aka the one with the biggest chance at actual success. Meaning that Himmler, Goebbels & Co. get arrested simultaneously with Hitler’s assassination as planned, Goerdeler becomes Chancellor and, backed by a bunch of generals as well as Canaris, starts peace negotiations. I think at this point the Allies would have insisted on unconditional surrender whether or not Hitler was still alive, and because the war situation as already very bad for Germany, Goerdeler and the generals would have agreed. There would have been a variation of the Nuremberg trials and an occupation. And no more death camps, meaning the saving of all people who died between July 44 and May 45. However, there would also, see above, a new backstabbing legend, and the July 44 conspirators would have been hated and reviled by the majority of the population which would have taken even longer to accept they’d all been part of a murder state. At best, I think Germany would have dealt with its guilt the way the Soviets did with the Stalinist purges – i.e. denial for decades save for a minority of the population, and only very late acceptance something monstrous had occurred.

Any agreements or disagreements? Alternate scenarios?

Date: 29 Jul 2017 13:42 (UTC)
peasant: sweet pea (Default)
From: [personal profile] peasant
Fascinating! And really well argued. Your knowledge of internal German politics is way beyond mine so I certainly don't have any significant disagreements.

Whether or not Churchill would have gone for it in the case of a Hitler-less Germany… no idea.

This is the one point I can make: in November 1939 Churchill was not yet Prime Minister, the PM was still the appeaser Chamberlain, so I think it is very likely indeed that he would have accepted any peace Germany cared to negotiate in late 39, provided they left Poland in at least some tokenistic fashion. It probably needn't have been a full withdrawal, I think some sort of fudge could have been arranged. If however they had continued with the invasion of Norway and France then events would probably have played out the same way in Britain, with Churchill becoming PM. And since he achieved power based on non-appeasement it would have been politically very difficult for him to accept any negotiated peace less than full withdrawal from all occupied territories. If they had negotiated such a peace though, Britain would not have considered it any business of theirs what internal politics carried on inside Germany.

Would the Holocaust have proceeded further? Can’t make up my mind on that one, since it would have depended on just how many top level Nazis made it out alive, and whether or not the top military brass thought killing everyone in the already existing “work” camps would rid them of future embarrassment/retaliation, or whether they’d thought closing the camps in a non lethal manner would make it all go away.

I'm guessing that general persecution would have continued but they would never have developed the full final solution. But they would perhaps need to continue using Jews as scapegoats to deflect public attention, so it would by no means a simple happy or quick resolution.

the July 44 conspirators would have been hated and reviled by the majority of the population which would have taken even longer to accept they’d all been part of a murder state. At best, I think Germany would have dealt with its guilt the way the Soviets did with the Stalinist purges – i.e. denial for decades save for a minority of the population, and only very late acceptance something monstrous had occurred.

Sadly I think this is likely from the German perspective. However I think if necessary the Allies would have gone even further in their programme to educate the Germans about what had happened in the camps, with more compulsory film screenings, eye-witness testimony etc. The Soviets were able to maintain their denial because they remained in control of their own state, the Germans would not have had that luxury. And education would have actually been easier if less of the German infrastructure was in ruins and there was less of a refugee crisis to cope with.

What might have eventually emerged though was more of a myth that the holocaust was another thing that had been done to the German people by the politicians who then backstabbed them, rather than acceptance it arose from the people as a whole. People are very good at finding ways to protect their psyche, and that would be the obvious one.

one common factor (which is also why I’m such a hard sell on “what if the Nazis won?” scenarios): there was so much infighting and hatred between Hitler’s flunkies that I can’t imagine the system holding up.

This is perhaps why many AUs start with the premise of a time some period after the war when Hitler is reaching the end of his life. The lack of an obvious successor provides much of the underlying tension. I can't see Hitler ever having the humility to prepare for his own death by grooming a successor in anything other than the most vainglorious and self-defeating fashion.

A possibly interesting scenario is if the Maurice Bavaud attempt had succeeded in 1938, so after the annexing of the Sudetenland but before the war started, with Hitler assassinated but the Nazi party remaining in power. I think that without the driving force of Hitler's view of expansionism a different version of Nazism could have developed. This scenario would then allow the AU exploration of a Nazi state that remained within its own borders and had to participate in international diplomacy. How would such a state run to its conclusion? Would they attempt to hide the crimes against humanity or stop them entirely? Would the national socialist economic and cultural system actually work in the long term or would it evolve into something else? Would democracy reassert itself?

But I think you are right and what most people want from these AUs is an exploration of good and evil, and how normal people would respond if there was no hope of the system ending.

Date: 29 Jul 2017 17:44 (UTC)
peasant: sweet pea (Default)
From: [personal profile] peasant
But no war at all post 1938 while the Nazis are still in power - alas, I don't see it. All the rebuilding of the army from 1933 to the then present had been with the end goal of a war. And they had tested their weapons in Spain when aiding Franco. It might not have become a world war without Hitler wanting it all and not recognizing any point where to stop. But some European war at least would have happened.

I was thinking about it after I posted and I tend to agree. The whole Nazi system relied on having external enemies as well as internal ones, they needed something to focus the hatred of the people on to give them the idea of the big scheme and forward momentum - Hitler may have been the chief mouthpiece of that idea, but that doesn't mean it wasn't fundamental by 38.

However: would there have been a Hitler-Stalin pact without Hitler? Because the lack of such a pact could have been the one thing holding Göring (or whoever) back from going after Poland. I mean, they knew Stalin wanted a piece out of Poland as well, and without an agreement, there would have been war with Russia right then and there.

That is a fundamental. I guess the answer depends on if Hitler himself was good at diplomacy or if it was a more general party machine. It is possible that Hitler's personal magnetism was influential in getting great powers to sway. But ultimately I feel these decisions are based on geopolitical advantage and underlying ideology, and personality is not that important.

Given the precedent of fascist Spain under Franco, such a state could have survived well into the 1970s without the rest of the world bothering to interfere.

Yes, that was what I was thinking. I actually think even if they were blatant with how they treated the German Jews, without the revelations of the war the rest of the world would not have been shocked out of its own anti-Sematism and would probably have turned a blind eye.

Assuming Göring wins (in 1938 not yet dazed on morphine enough to be outschemed and outmurdered by the competition), or even if he doesn't and it's someone else (I think Heydrich had that ambition in the long term, but he wasn't there yet in 1938 and would have tried but failed, Himmler was too hated, and Goebbels, who loathed Göring, would have picked someone he thought he could control but not tried himself because he was too good a propagandist to assume he could sell himself as the new beloved leader),

Are you sure it would have been a known name who won? Known people are often tainted in one way or another, which gives a relative outsider a comparative advantage. For each of the big names, the various factions would fight amongst themselves and never compromise, but a new name could move forward and build alliances between two or more factions to actually win.

even the deferent cameras of the Wochenschau couldn't help but expose Hitler had aged rapidly and that his hands were trembling throughout. If he was like that in 1945, I'm not sure he could have made it into the 1960s or so as in, say, Robert Harris' novel Fatherland, as anything other than an unseen leader figure. Which would have been directly in contrast to how his image worked.

Yes, I agree in rational terms. And yet numerous dictators have lasted into extreme old age and frailty without losing their grip on power. It is also possible that much of his decline was related to the knowledge he was losing, and in a scenario of success he would have remained far healthier and stronger for longer.


The 'what if there had been no war' scenario turns up some other interesting possibilities as well. Without their eastern European acquisitions, could the USSR have survived for so long? Without the devastation caused by the war, would Britain have remained a superpower? If Britain had retained superpower status, how would it have interacted with the growing economic power of the United States? Would that economic rivalry have resulted in increased tension? What would Japan have been doing meanwhile? Without the incentive and creative destruction of the war years, and with the strange hybrid economy of a Nazi state, could Germany have become as economically successful as it did? Without the reaction to the war generation, would the young of the 60s have had anything to rebel against?

I can see why Doctor Who has decided the whole of WWII has to be a fixed point!

Date: 30 Jul 2017 14:34 (UTC)
peasant: sweet pea (Default)
From: [personal profile] peasant
Oh I see what you mean about the Hitler-Stalin pact. Good point.

Re: Britain retaining superpower status, I thought the decline started with the first, not the second world war? At any rate, I'm not sure how dependent on WWII era devastation the various independence movements were. The Indian one, for example, seems to have been slowed down if anything by both wars, what with the Congress deciding to back the war effort in the first and a lot of its leaders interred in the second, plus Indian soldiers continuing to fight in the British army.

The end of the Empire was never a single movement but a series of patchwork decisions over a very long time, with advances still happening in some parts of the globe while other aspects of the Empire had long been in retreat. The British establishment started to believe they were overextended and try to row back on further expansion of the Empire as early as the late nineteenth century (they actually turned down several requests to join) and yet some colonies were added at a much later date for assorted reasons. I think without the economic and cultural exhaustion caused by WWII the process of decolonisation would have happened more slowly and in a more orderly fashion, with better governments established in the former countries. Certainly the mess of the breakup of India would have been less likely if there had been less rush. The outcome would have been a more integrated world economy, with Britain taking care to maintain stronger economic ties to its former colonies and greater bonds with the newly established independent governments. And Britain itself would have been in a very different economic situation, without huge war debts, without the need to keep funding huge armed forces and pay for the recovery, and without the forced nationalisations of the war years. Yes, we would still have gradually de-industrialised in some spheres, because we would have still believed in free trade and comparative advantage, but the process would have been gentler and replacement industries would have established sooner, and our ties with the former colonies would have remained much stronger.

Re: German economy, I'm with londonkds - the high of the early Third Reich years wasn't sustainable in the long term and the whole state depended on plunder pretty soon.

We have got at cross purposes somehow. I am not saying I believe the Nazi state would have been economically viable without plunder, but that we are making that judgement with the benefit of hindsight they did not have. I think that in the context of the 30s they would have genuinely believed that a centrally-planned state was sound economics, and thus the impracticality of it would not have entered into their calculations on whether or not they needed to make war. I think they made war for other reasons.

As for the post war economic miracle, can't see that happening without some equivalent of "the hour zero", as we call it, first.

Yes, agreed. And the same goes for Japan if that had also escaped war. Although see [personal profile] neotoma's comment below.
Edited Date: 30 Jul 2017 14:35 (UTC)

Date: 30 Jul 2017 10:53 (UTC)
neotoma: Neotoma albigula, the white-throated woodrat! [default icon] (Default)
From: [personal profile] neotoma
From reading Showa by Shigeru Mizuki (his 4-volume memoir of his life from 1926-1989) Japan was already trying to annex as much of the Pacific islands and mainland Asia as it could, so I don't know how much would have changed there. It was bumping up against Western interests, and war might have been inevitable.

Date: 29 Jul 2017 18:18 (UTC)
londonkds: (BLOOD AND TITTIES FOR LORD CHIBNALL!!! ()
From: [personal profile] londonkds
You're still holding to the "Chamberlain was a naive coward who trusted Hitler" canard that was spread about by Churchill and his supporters to bolster his personal position within the Conservative Party. Most historians now believe in the light of now-available contemporary records that Chamberlain knew war with Germany was inevitable but consciously signed the Munich Agreement to stave it off and have more time to build up the British military (the consequences of war in 1938 would probably have been even more disastrous than what happened to the BEF in 1940).

And when I visited the Nuremberg Documentation Centre a few years ago, one of the major arguments put forward in the exhibition was that Nazi Germany essentially couldn't have survived economically without starting the war - it was only plunder from the invaded countries that kept things going.
Edited Date: 29 Jul 2017 18:18 (UTC)

Date: 29 Jul 2017 19:44 (UTC)
peasant: sweet pea (Default)
From: [personal profile] peasant
I wouldn't begin to claim I am up to date on this period so I bow to your greater knowledge of Chamberlain.

one of the major arguments put forward in the exhibition was that Nazi Germany essentially couldn't have survived economically without starting the war - it was only plunder from the invaded countries that kept things going.

Yes, I was positing just the other day (on a post about Man In The High Castle) that unfortunately the Nazi economic system probably would have worked since there are several good examples of slave states surviving by constant expansionism, but like all authoritarian states it would have failed without external inputs (given Germany was way past the point where there could be the sort of boost from rapid industrialisation and brutal exploitation of the agricultural sector to fuel the urban that preserved the USSR). But it is a more moot point whether they themselves understood that, given the strength of their ideology and the state of economic understanding at the time. So I think on balance I prefer Selenak's ideological explanation for why they had to start a war.

Date: 29 Jul 2017 15:14 (UTC)
d_generate_girl: Hamilton - Aaron Burr, doing his best tragic antihero (we dream in the dark for the most part)
From: [personal profile] d_generate_girl
So, I am still a total newbie into serious Alt-History theorizing, but the guy who got me started on it was Cody from AlternateHistoryHub on Youtube. He's American, and the video concept might seem childish at first, but they're well-researched and presented (I've even used a few in class to teach my advanced students about dystopias and the US Civil War).

He has a four-part series on "What if Germany Won WWII" here: https://youtu.be/bSCuE7jmFa4. Sadly no take on a possible alt-universe where Hitler was assassinated, but his videos on Operation Downfall (the proposed invasion of Japan by the US) and a universe where the Schlieffen Plan succeeded are excellent. I'd really be fascinated to hear what a German with your history background thinks, as opposed to the American POV.

Also, related to your third scenario above, I visited the Stalin museum in Gori, Georgia, and let me tell you, THAT is a trip and a half. Not only is there still denial of anything at all happening under Stalin's regime, you'd never know Stalin was anything but a well-loved military leader who revolutionized his country. Like the Ho Chih Minh tomb in Hanoi, it's all dedicated to how much he was beloved by his people and all the world leaders who liked him.

Date: 29 Jul 2017 17:42 (UTC)
monanotlisa: Diana as Diana Prince in glasses and a hat, lifting the rim of the latter rakishly. HOT! (Default)
From: [personal profile] monanotlisa
Oh, these are fantastic ideas -- obviously the 1939 attempts would have been best, because stopping that train early in its tracks could only have a better outcome. I think you're 100% right about at least a limited war being waged then (too much investment, too much cultivated aggression bubbling over), but I'd have to look deeper into whether the Shoah would've happened. On the one hand, in 1939 they'd been building concentration camps for six years already, and the seed of hatred was well-planted (and well-nourished, not just by Nazi party members). On the other, I like to think that there is a mental barrier to outright mass murder in the minds of most people, even people with little empathy or a moral compass (though living in today's America, I'm less and less sure of that). Would it take that authority figure telling you it's not just Right but even Necessary?

Date: 30 Jul 2017 01:46 (UTC)
lilacsigil: 12 Apostles rocks, text "Rock On" (12 Apostles)
From: [personal profile] lilacsigil
With the 1939 attempt, why do you think they'd negotiate peace with Britain and not try to expand past Poland and France? North Africa would be a sticking point, too. I agree that they wouldn't attack Russia, but to my mind this would make it more likely that they'd have the resources and impetus to keep going west and south. And then of course Britain's colonial possessions in Asia (including Australia and India) are a lot more vulnerable to Japan because we're sending our troops over to fight in Europe rather than defending at home.

Date: 2 Aug 2017 10:22 (UTC)
lilacsigil: 12 Apostles rocks, text "Rock On" (12 Apostles)
From: [personal profile] lilacsigil
Yes, definitely Norway!

Africa started off as an Italian thing (both [personal profile] st_aurafina's grandfather and my grandfather were there, on opposite sides!) but the German involvement started only about 6 months later when it became clear that the Italian army was really not up to the task. But one of the major reasons the Germans scaled back their involvement was the need for reinforcements on the Eastern Front, so without that it could have been a much bigger campaign. Or, again, they could have leaned on Italy to retreat back to Ethiopia and made a deal with Britain over that.

Also, Germany had substantial colonial holdings in Africa before the Treaty of Versailles so I wonder if they would have preferred to take those back? Not their Pacific territories, which had mostly gone to Japan (some to Australia), but maybe African territories. Especially in West Africa where petroleum had been discovered.

Date: 30 Jul 2017 02:12 (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
This is fascinating and obviously well thought out.

And no more death camps, meaning the saving of all people who died between July 44 and May 45.

No nonfiction Diary of Anne Frank, then, although if she'd survived she probably would have written a novel based on it, or a memoir? I wonder how that would have been received.

So the 1939 scenario potentially has Chamberlain and "some top generals and some middle level Nazis"? That kind of makes my head spin.

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