4 – Rommel was a committed Nazi and not the “decent face” of the German Army
Just how much of a Nazi Rommel was is one of the biggest questions that is debated about him to this day. It is largely due to the Rommel myth that was perpetuated by the likes of Winston Churchill after the war that Rommel was taken by the victorious Allies as “the good Nazi”, or the honest general who happened to be being ordered about by the Nazis, merely a career soldier who followed orders and stayed out of politics.
Let’s put that one to bed, here and now. Rommel was an early adopter of the Nazi Party and a committed believer in the ideals of National Socialism, while also being an officer who regularly disobeyed orders – making both commonly held assumptions wrong.
That said, he is one of the few figures of that period who is still revered in Germany, who still has streets named after him and memorials in his honor. It seems that the myth persists in his homeland too, despite countless books and articles to the contrary.
One such author attempting to shake this idea from the public consciousness is Wolfgang Proske, a historian and history professor from Rommel’s hometown on Heidenheim, who has written 16 books about his town’s most famous son. “Rommel was a deeply convinced Nazi and, contrary to popular opinion, he was also an anti-Semite.
It is not only the Germans who have fallen into the trap of believing that Rommel was chivalrous. The British have been convinced by these stories as well,” he told British newspaper The Independent in 2011 when a new memorial to the Field Marshal was unveiled.
“At the time when Rommel marched into Tripoli, more than a quarter of the city’s population were Jews,” Proske continued, “There is evidence which shows that Rommel forbade his troops to buy anything from Jewish traders. Later on, he used the Jews as slave laborers. Some of them were even used as so-called ‘mine dogs’ who were ordered to walk over minefields ahead of his advancing troops.”
While Rommel was never a member of the Nazi Party, it is widely known that Wehrmacht figures, particularly high-ranking ones such as Rommel, welcomed Hitler coming to power. Those, like Rommel, whose backgrounds had shut them off from the highest ranks of the Kaiser’s forces, saw the new government as one that would see them move to the top of the tree and as such were generally in favor of it.
Goebbels himself wrote in 1942, when Rommel was in the running for the role of Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht, that the Field Marshal was ” ideologically sound, is not just sympathetic to the National Socialists. He is a National Socialist; he is a troop leader with a gift for improvisation, personally courageous and extraordinarily inventive. These are the kinds of soldiers we need.”