What If?!? Operation Valkyrie and a dead Hitler: Part II

Hitler dies, Bulgaria gets it nice, Romania is probably f***ed, but for Hungary the situation likewise rocked, for Finland… it all depends on whether Germany reached an agreement with East or West and how fast and effectively Finland negotiated. But what about Germany itself?

Peace terms for Germany

Preventing another occupation was point 1 for the plotters of course and preventing further loss of territory and reparations were basic concerns as well. In case of a separate peace only reparations might have been a difficult issue but the Soviet Union and the USA were mostly concerned with their spheres of influence, so this might have been an easier point as well.

If Stalin was the one who agreed to peace first, he would have been entirely focused on ensuring the best Soviet position and not even attempted to pretend to stick with his allies. But the Western Allies did have to stick to their proclaimed ideals to an extent.

Which leads us to the most complicated issue, what territory from 1938 onwards (if any) would Germany be allowed to keep.

The territorial demands of the resistance can be divided into a couple of factions:

  1. The insane faction; just Friedrich-Werner Graf von der Schulenburg basically, who wanted Germany to be able to keep all of Poland.
  2. The (eventually) unreasonable faction which wanted to at least have the 1914 borders restored (plus Austria). Proposed by Goerdeler when Germany was winning and had conquered a lot more. But not realistic by 1944 of course.
  3. The daring faction, the high but perhaps still possible demands of 1943/44 were the restoration of the pre-1939 borders plus the 1914 borders in the East (and possible an autonomous Alsace-Lorraine).
  4. Just a return to the pre-1939 border. The ones the Allies had agreed upon at Munich.

The first 2 sets of demands would clearly be dropped. Third likely as well. Poland would have to be restored and probably have its 1939 borders restored. France would probably have its 1939 borders restored as well. A suggested compromise of an autonomous Alsace-Lorraine would have to be abandoned. Even Belgium and Denmark would have gotten the territories they won during WWI back as well, depending on how integer the Allies turned out to be, but neither country had a lot of influence with the Allied front, especially Denmark.

The possibility of keeping the Sudetenland or at least Austria seems like a huge consolation for Germany though. Both were ethnically German and had been ceded to Germany before the war started.

While the plotters had pretty strong ideals about Germany’s leading role in Europe, these were mainly framed as Germany collaborating in reconstruction and return to a position of honour as the moderates had wanted in the 1930s before the war.

Germany would not be occupied, partitioned, lose further territory, or even be reduced to what it was after Versailles.

If no agreement could be reached with either side and unconditional surrender remained in force the plotters planned to withdraw troops from the West and move them Eastwards, stalling any Soviet advance and enabling the Western Allies to liberate al of Europe and occupy all of Germany. Patton could not be called back in that case. Berlin and Prague would be occupied by the Americans.

Ripple effect

Stalin would be prevented from making any gains and would have a race against the clock to keep fighting the Germans in the East. This would likely lead to a faster Cold War as well and weakened Marxist influence in Eastern Europe since Stalin end up being used without gaining anything for it and anti-communist elements on the Western side may have been able to get more influence.

This may have also split resistance groups, which would happen in the case of separate peace as well. If the Soviet Union signed a separate peace this would make it difficult for communist party to continue active cooperation with the rest of the resistance in countries like France. Stalin may have instructed the communist party of France to try and continue the fight against Vichy though, but this would look opportunistic and create a rift with the more right-wing and specifically anti-Nazi element factions. The communists would focus on an anti-fascist struggle which would no longer have any connection to opposing the Holocaust, Nazism or even dictatorship.

A separate peace with the West as part of an early cold war would have likely led to what happened in 47, communists being expulsed from the coalition.

In all 3 cases, the way the communists were side-lined and soon banned in Greece, would have probably become the norm.

In the case of the West liberating Europe though without a peace, the (classical) liberal and democratic trend would have been stronger though, but Romania and Bulgaria could have probably still kept their monarchies, and Horthy might have been able to retain some position as well.

Finland already was a democracy and might not have had to legalise the communist party or ban the White Guards. The Patriotic People’s movement may even have survived as well if the Soviet Union had its hands full.

As such Finland and Austria (as part of Germany) seem to come out of this as more right-wing democracies with perhaps mild authoritarian elements.

Austria

Many Austrians had been supportive of joining Germany (though Germany only wanted to allow a referendum under their control) and the main objection had been joining Germany while it was under Nazi rule. With the Nazi regime overthrown the entire Catholic right opposition would have been happier with German rule.

For both the Catholic conservatives and the National Liberals being a part of a Greater Germany under a semi-authoritarian regime may have been preferable to the second Austrian republic. For the Marxist social democrats and especially the communists it would have likely been a nightmare.

Stauffenberg’s regime would have likely kept both parties banned. The right-leaning social democrats in the provisional government would hardly have raised an objection, since they had been consistently in favour of constitutional democracy against both reactionaries, Nazis and communists, while the Marxist social democrats in Austria had fought for majoritarian democracy but not constitutionalism. They had demanded new elections from Dollfuss that would have enabled Nazi takeover instead. They had worked with both the Nazis and the Communists. Their ultimate enemy had been the right, about as far removed from German Social Democrats as possible.

The fact that SPÖ had been exceptionally close to the communists for a socialist group and also to the Nazis would likely justify the continuation of the ban in the case of a separate peace with the West, but the collaboration with Nazism was useful to justify such a ban even in the case of a peace with the Soviet Union.

So the SPÖ might not have gotten the false redemption it got for offering to form a provisional government to Stalin near the end of the war (in which they included prominent communists as minister, allowing Stalin to think he could use it to take over Austria, but with non-communist people working under those ministers to make sure it could go the other way) and then later embracing anti-communism during the Cold War.

In the case of a peace not being established and troops being pulled Westwards the right in Austria still has a huge advantage.

Stauffenberg would have likely released the Fatherland Front leaders anyways and possibly helped them in establishing a provisional government that was sufficiently anti-Marxist and sympathetic to the cause of the plotters.

The SPÖ is likely still f***ed in that case as well. Even if the resistance didn’t bother with this, the social democrats would have been at a disadvantage in getting a leading (and heroic) role in establishing a provisional government without any Soviet involvement. Especially since the so called Austrofascists had been allied with the UK and France (and ironically Fascist Italy) as part of the Stresa Front.

In fact, the Authoritarian Conservative struggle of the Fatherland Front against the Nazis could have gotten renewed attention and appreciation if the authoritarian right, with Stauffenberg, successfully overthrew Nazism. The Austrian People’s Party which succeeded the Fatherland Front won an outright majority of seats in the first post war elections anyways while the communist did really badly and popular right-wing sentiment would obviously be stronger in this case.

Things would have been largely the same for the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, except the communist parties wouldn’t have gotten the same short-term post-war victory boosts (that didn’t get them in a lasting coalition anyways), nor for Denmark or Norway.

Italy

The war plus civil war would have ended in Italy faster with the Germans retreating and the Italian Social Republic collapsing, but with many fascists probably having the time to flee or surrender to more right-leaning partisans with less bloodshed and destruction. A split with the communists would likely favour the Christian democrats and possibly the monarchy and be a break for the defeated fascists.

New goverment

Having established that in all 3 scenarios the communists simply regain their territory (sorry Baltic states) and become marginalised within the resistance, the question is what political state Europe would be in exactly. What would become the dominant trend? In the case of a separate peace, the regime set up by the plotters would likely influence the co-belligerents of the Nazis as well as Vichy.

The plotters had been thinking ahead and already had an interim government planned. An interim regime would likely still have been partially a military regime since Beck would serve as the head of state (either president or regent if the monarchy was restored), Stauffenberg as State Secretary and Von Tresckow as Chief of police. Yet important politicians from former Weimar parties would have been added to several posts. With Goerdeler as chancellor the old reactionary guard from the early resistance would have strong influence. It included multiple prominent Catholic Centre Party figures and right-leaning social democrats.

No communists were included in the provisional government lists, nor liberals for that matter. As such the Christian and conservative influence would have been very high, especially considering the role of multiple Archbishops and Pope Pius XII in the resistance. No theocratic or confessional state would be enacted, probably something close to Hungary under Horthy.

A de facto triumvirate of Beck, Goerdeler and Schacht was planned.

An (eventual) restoration of the monarchy seems a relatively likely prospect. The entire DNVP circle (both the influential politicians and a majority of the officers) actively supported it and the other plotters such as Stauffenberg consented to the notion of a constitutional monarchy.

Military influence was pretty much guaranteed as well, as was a stronger judiciary and at the same time some form of bicameral parliament and at least local elections along with an independent judiciary.

A return to Weimar parliamentary democracy seems to have been out of the question for most everyone involved.

A mix of authoritarianism and democracy along with a tripartite separation of powers within a constitutional monarchy seems to have been the consensus. Neither a full military regime nor a pure civilian government; not an absolute authoritarianism nor classical democracy. The question was about the details.

Strong authoritarian elements were likely though Goerdeler’s attempted compromise seems like it would have been ideal in uniting the military and the moderate democrats.

The Enabling Act wouldn’t apply to the new government but the Reichstag Fire Decree would still allow for the necessary emergency powers. It could even be argued that it mandated continuing the ban on the KPD. This would obviously fit in well with a Cold War policy.

Goerdeler didn’t even want to ban the Nazi Party but remove its monopoly on power. How much popular support it would have enjoyed is an interesting question.

The head of the Supreme Court Erwin Bumke (whose term had been extended by decree of Hitler) would have been replaced by resistance member and jurist Hans Koch.

Since Bumke’s extended term would have simply been ended along with the dictator whose special decree had implemented it, this would hardly have been an attack on the judiciary, if anything a strengthening of it. Bumke would finally go into retirement like everyone else.

Due to the hierarchical nature of the judiciary the new chief justice would have probably been able to make it fit with the new regime.

Would the rest of the judiciary have been left in tact? Most judges predated the Nazi era and had retained their objectivity in how they dealt with the facts of concrete cases. Many in fact continued in the West German legal system including the Federal High Court (except the ones who died in Soviet captivity which would not have happened in this scenario). Hermann Weinkauff would have likely stayed on, just as he eventually did in West Germany.

Obviously the special courts would (rightfully so) have been immediately dissolved. Nazi criminals would have been tried under German law in courts that had previously accepted their seizure of power (as the plotters had planned). Would have been pretty funny for the Nazis

Since the reactionaries had had the greatest respect for the rechtsstaat and despised Nazi lawlessness, reign of terror would have likely made way for a (semi)authoritarian rechtsstaat. Goerdeler even planned to give judges a role in controlling who left prison camps. Their role would have been as strong as it was under Weimar and perhaps slightly or even significantly stronger.

But to what extent would Julius Leber get his wish for a more strict and decisive judiciary than in Weimar? Makes me wonder what he was thinking of exactly?

Under Weimar the reichsgericht had actually engaged in constitutional review invalidating laws and emergency presidential decrees, the former to the delight of reactionaries the latter to their frustration.

Franz von Papen’s Prussia coup had been partially ruled unconstitutional. That had outraged right-wing authoritarians at the time, though they had begrudgingly accepted it. The Social Democrats had praised the decision, but after the war it was frequently criticised for not going far enough in protecting democracy.

Maybe if the plotters had succeeded the decision would have found a consensus. The reactionaries now worked with certain right-leaning social democrats and together embraced a moderate form of authoritarianism. The Nazis were regarded as the ultimate evil and they had destroyed the rechtsstaat.

But so would a stronger judiciary have meant more anti-authoritarian for Lever? A judiciary that would have sided more with the social democrats in the matter of Prussia as was the popular view? Or ironically more counterrevolutionary? Or did Leber mainly think of the Supreme Court going along with the Nazi seizure of power? If it was the last option that a return to the situation of 1932 with a possible strengthening of a slightly authoritarian rechtsstaat could have acquired broad support amongst the plotters. Since Leber thought Weimar needed a strong republican army, his view that the judiciary should have been strict and decisive sounds rather right-leaning.

But stronger how specifically? More constitutional review? Germany was one of the countries where it had already been provided by its regular judiciary. A specific constitutional court seems less likely but not impossible since other authoritarian regimes like Dollfuss’ May Constitution had provided for the same. Perhaps Leber wanted did? It may have been similar to the Constitutional Court West Germany instituted after the war, although the appointments may not have been entirely in the hands of a supermajority in both houses of parliament. They might have wanted to give the government and or head of state a greater role in such appointments, and perhaps also the existing (conservative) judiciary.

Or at least Leber might have wanted the right to constitutional review to have been explicit in the constitution as Hans Kelsen had tried to achieve?

Either way, the strengthening of the judiciary would have been acceptable to both the moderate social democrats and the reactionaries, and the complete sidestepping of the judiciary would have ended.

Goerdeler’s constitution was not liberal democratic but also not classically authoritarian. A strong executive still mildly balanced by a bicameral parliament, with a more classical lower house that was partially directly elected and an upper house along corporatist lines. Interestingly enough this all very similar to what Fraga and reformist Francoist pushed for in Spain during the early stages of the democratisation, though in their case it was based upon developments during the later days of the regime instead of a desire for a radical break with it.

Regional autonomy for the traditional states would obviously have been restored.

The biggest differences with the West German system would likely have been: the monarchy, a strong executive, weaker parliament, less direct majoritarian democracy and a strong army. Emergency powers would have likely stayed and the constitution would likely not have been as hostile to undemocratic ideologies (although quite possibly very anti-communist).

German policies

The plotters were planning to end the Holocaust and atrocities against civilians, and considering their Conservative Christian conviction obviously the murder of the disabled as well. The churches they worked with had fought against T4, some of them had actively opposed Kristallnacht and Stauffenberg had spoken of the Nazi atrocities against civilians and POW’s, even though he had been supportive of harsh action to pacify Poland in 1939.

The legalisation of eugenic abortion in both Germany and Austria would have been reversed after the war and since even Von Papen along with the Catholic Church had opposed the introduction of the sterilisation of the disabled this may have happened as well, though that appears less certain. There would be pressure from the Vatican bishops on Stauffenberg, and the Catholic centrists would want it. It was abolished after the war anyways even though the UK and USA continued sterilisation policies. So it probably would have happened quietly without too much fuss.

Goerdeler and many of the others were traditional anti-Semites and opposed restoring the citizenship of Jewish descent and were planning to implement peaceful emigration. Goerdeler and many DNVP supporters had been open about their disdain for Jews, yet had consistently opposed the savage violence engaged in by the Nazis.

That, along with the night of the long knives and the anti-Christian policies of the Nazis had motivated them to form resistance groups.

It has sometimes been falsely claimed that they were driven by opportunism. That they were upset about losing their privileges throughout the 1930s, accepted Hitler when he was winning the war and turned against him when he was losing.

This ignores the fact that both their private writings and their actions showed they opposed anti-Semitic violence, violence in general, anti-Christian policies and Hitler risking another war in 38 and 39, and that they did much to contact the Allies and to oppose injustices. Crucially, Goerdeler and Beck continued opposing Nazism while Hitler was winning the war, it only became much more difficult to get broad support for a coup.

The fact that the plotters shared Hitler’s disdain for the Treaty of Versailles and his desire to end Weimar decadence is sometimes actually held against them, even though those were common sense views held by most Germans, views Hitler was unfortunately able to realise because the former Allied powers from WWI were more enabling of his attempts to redress things than previous democratic Weimar leaders.

Likewise, they have sometimes been attacked for sharing Hitler nationalism and anti-communism (though they weren’t the types to collaborate with communists in fighting conservatives). These people aren’t likely to criticise those who shared Hitler’s support for anti-smoking campaigns, vegetarianism or anti-reactionarism though. Being against communism is bad, cause so was Hitler (except when he wasn’t). He was more consistently anti-Catholic and anti-monarchist.

Finally, some disdain the plotters just for being Prussian militarists, who supposedly are to blame for Nazism.

The notion that Prussian militarism was linked to Nazism is debunked easily enough by the fact that resistance towards Nazism was so widespread in the army, that the army had put down Hitler’s coup in 1923, and that the Nazis loathed aristocracy which dominated the officer corps.

While the new regime would have closed the death camps but as previously mentioned, when it came to other types of prisoners… while the persecution and mistreatment Jews, Poles, other Slavs including Russian, Gypsies, the disabled, unborn, and POW’s would have ended, all genocide, or racial persecution, or atrocities against helpless civilians, the question is what of political prisoners?

The persecution of Catholic clergy would have definitely ended. Social Democrats and Monarchists would be released from Dachau alongside the clergy. But possibly not the communists (depending on whether there is a specific agreement with Stalin), and anarchists and perhaps even revolutionary socialists. What about pacifists? Would the military regime want to immediately free those? Or the Jehova’s Witnesses who were disliked and faced restrictions even before Hitler? They may have been released eventually but not given priority and perhaps received a form of probation.

But what about those who weren’t victims of racial, religious, political or ableist persecution but who were guilty of ordinary crimes or what was viewed as guilty of deviant behaviour, the so called asocials?

Homosexual practices remained illegal in both East and West Germany long after WWII and the Allies even threw homosexuals back in prison based on evidence collected by the Nazis.

This would be no different under the plotters and while the Nazis had never cared to criminalise lesbian practices, they found it useful to throw some lesbians in the camps as asocials, the reactionary regime would have hardly objected. Same for the paedophiles and zoophiles kept in the camps as well as prostitutes.

Drug users were in prison, alongside alcoholics. Those may have been given milder treatments or ordinary prison sentences. Obviously the criminals put in the camps would have been kept there.

The homeless, beggars and work shy seem like the most uncertain.

Vichy follows suit?

If the Germans leave France and Vichy quickly rearms (with their support) while the Americans and British abandon the war, the Free French are left without a foreign power to overthrow or Allies to do it with. The question would be whether they would engage in a full civil war to overthrow the Vichy regime and whether they would have much support.

Ironically Laval would have likely succeeded in reassembling French parliament, something he tried to around a month before the liberation of Paris in a much weaker position than Vichy would be in if Stauffenberg had succeeded and anti-communism became strong again, but which the Germans supported at first but then opposed.

This would have allowed Vichy leadership to set the terms for a (partial?) democratic transition especially when the war in the West ends with only a tiny part of France around Normandy occupied by the Allies and the Free French.

From a position of strength, the Vichy regime could have emphasised the agreement it had reached with the UK. In fact, a relatively peaceful end to the occupation of France would have allowed Vichy to defend its negotiation policies.

Its international and national position would have been stronger. If the Vichy regime is rearmed and the Germans are gone, it’s going to be difficult for the Free French to justify a civil war to take over the rest of country and overthrow the Vichy regime, especially if it allowed for a return of parliament and a move away from authoritarianism. The reassembled parliament would have obviously consisted of the moderate parties that had given Petain his emergency powers. They would have likely continued to support him (while Laval would probably have been quietly moved aside) and Petain may have invoked his authority to draft a new constitution to have an officially democratic but right-leaning and slightly authoritarian constitution.

The 1944 constitution that Petain didn’t publish actually fits the bill. It contained a separation of powers with a strong presidency. Though the 10 year term would probably have to be dropped. Ironically it provided a court that would engage in constitutional review which may have made it appealing to Montesquieu fans.

The Free French may have been split in their response. Such a constitution would look rather positive to the Christian democrats, conservatives and even certain liberals. Possibly also the moderate leftists like the radicals and radical socialists would like the more social yet non-socialist elements off it.

New elections would likely be demanded though. Vichy would probably try to use those to bolster the legitimacy of the new constitutional regime.

If the Vichy regime was able to muster effective propaganda regarding the end of the occupation and get enough of the right on its side it might have increased its popularity, especially if it was able to enact certain social reforms quickly that the Gaullist faction supported. Early cold war propaganda could be used effectively as well.

If pro-Vichy parties and Vichy accommodating Free French managed to score a substantial majority and prevented a too strong performance by either the communists or the socialists, the new system would likely hold and a conservative judiciary with new constitutional review would likely have the same role in that in Chile for decades after the democratisation.

There would be no purges legal or extra-legal by the communists. Pro-German parties like National Popular Rally would have suffered the bulk of the blame instead of the pro-Vichy groups.

The political trend in Europe

The Allied Front, consisting of liberal democrats who had joined up with the communists in 1941, reinterpreted as at least partially (becoming) democratic fought against “fascism”/”far right”/”dictatorship” and won WWII, stopped Nazism and the Holocaust.

But if Stauffenberg and the plotters stop Nazism and the Holocaust and help end the war while the communists revert to being the badguys much faster, the reactionaries and authoritarian conservatives come out of this much better and the communists weaker. The liberal democratic wave is weakened.

In the two cases with the Cold War breaking out faster, anti-communist sentiments appears faster and the Cold War rhetoric would start with a less fully realised victory for liberal democracy (with the help of communism). Instead, peace and an end to the Holocaust would have come about as the result of the (semi)authoritarian (reactionary/far) right taking out the Nazis, which would have weakened the attempt by Marxists to links ultra-conservatism to Nazism and possibly have led to a stronger distinction between (semi)authoritarianism and totalitarianism in the popular mind and therefore either a distinction between different forms of dictatorships, between dictatorships and hybrid regimes or both.

If Stauffenberg sets up a successful hybrid regime and Vichy is able to follow suit and possibly Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria as well, a hybrid regime trend may have appeared instead.

Such a trend would have replaced a democratic anti-fascist (and temporarily pro-communist wave) with a more moderate (hybrid regime) moderate authoritarian right and anti-communist trend.

If the Western Allies liberate all of Europe that democratic trend is still stronger but more right-leaning and anti-communist. More MacArthur’s Japan after the so-called Reverse Course.

This all bodes well for Francoist Spain which wouldn’t be temporarily isolated with Soviet support and whose right-wing authoritarianism would be more accepted. Though the relative antifascist and antitotalitarian climate would have probably resulted in Franco still enacting the same reforms he did.

The formation of the UN would likely not have happened as it did (if at all).

In the case of a renewed pact with the Soviet Union, which would also lead to an anti-communist backlash amongst the anti-Nazis, fascist elements may have emphasised their difference from Nazism and at the same time American liberalism.

And… that’s pretty much it…

Ramon Giralt

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