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  • Alik Gomelsky

REMEMBERING ADMIRAL CANARIS ON JANUARY 1st

Alik Gomelsky

Toronto / Canada



It seems almost everyone knows that Admiral Wilhelm Franz Canaris (A.K.A. "Janus") headed the Abwehr (Germany's military intelligence and counterintelligence service) from 1934 to 1944. A smaller number of people know that Canaris was a brilliant specialist in both naval and intelligence-counterintelligence affairs. However, almost no one knows what is indicated in the short article below by Canadian historian Alik Gomelsky. Specifically, that while being a patriot of his country, Admiral Canaris was an opponent of Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist party regime. He vehemently disapproved of many of the regime's wild projects, including the persecution of Jews based on ethnicity, and as far as possible, opposed these projects and programs. Ultimately, this led Canaris to join those who attempted to eliminate Hitler in July 1944. After the failed anti-Hitler coup, the admiral was arrested, imprisoned in a concentration camp, and ultimately hanged.

 

Analyzing all these details in today's Germany is categorically impossible and will lead anyone daring to write about it to, at best, the end of their career and ostracism. But we are in Canada, and with Alik being a representative of a people who suffered more than others from Nazism, we pass the word to him:

 

As any internet user knows, January 1st marks the birthdays of Stepan Bandera and Wilhelm Franz Canaris. While the birthday of Stepan Bandera it's widely celebrated in Ukraine, the situation with Canaris isn't as straightforward. Some consider him a traitor to Germany (such as Marlene Dietrich did), and I'm not aware of any widespread celebration of this event in Germany.

 

Wilhelm Canaris's roots can be traced back to the 19th-century Greek admiral, Konstantinos Kanaris, who fought for Greece's independence. A portrait of this Greek hero hung in Wilhelm Canaris's study.

 

Since the age of 17, Wilhelm Canaris served in the imperial navy and participated in World War I as an intelligence officer on board the armored cruiser 'Dresden.' On December 8, 1914 he took part in the battle near the Falkland Islands  after which 'Dresden' remained the only German ship surviving the duel between German and British squadrons. After three months of wandering and battles, 'Dresden' was cornered by British ships in the bay of Robinson Crusoe Island. Following a brief exchange of fire, the German cruiser, nearly depleted of fuel and ammunition, raised the white flag and sent Lieutenant Canaris as a parley emissary. The pause resulting from negotiations allowed the crew to abandon the ship, and after lowering its flag and opening the sea valves, the cruiser sank. The crew was interned in Chile until the end of the war, and it was only in August 1915 that Wilhelm Canaris managed to escape, taking advantage of his excellent command of Spanish (he was fluent in five languages).

 

Upon reaching Germany, W. Canaris was dispatched to Spain to conduct an intelligence mission and organize the supply of German submarines from Spain and Portugal. Following this, Wilhelm Canaris successively commanded four submarines (U16, UC27, U34, and UB128) in the Mediterranean until the end of the war.

 

The admiral was a consistent opponent of communists and fought against socialist ideology in Germany.

 

In 1924, Canaris was sent on a secret mission to the Far East to arrange submarine construction in Japan for Germany. He participated in the clandestine armament of the German Navy. Using an espionage network established during the war, he secretly concluded contracts for the German Navy in Spain.

 

On January 1, 1935, he was appointed as the head of military intelligence and counterintelligence (Abwehr) of the Armed Forces High Command. On May 1, 1935, Wilhelm Canaris was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral.

 

The head of the Abwehr tried to prevent Hitler from annexing Czechoslovakia in 1938 (he devised a plan to arrest and eliminate the Führer). In 1940, on the eve of the memorable meeting between Franco and Hitler, Canaris conveyed a warning through his agent in the Vatican to Franco not to involve Spain in the war. If Hitler had known about that Canaris's ouverture, the admiral would have been executed not in April 1945, but much earlier. In fact, Hitler simply needed to verify the presence of his portrait in the office of the head of the Reich's intelligence. There, one could find portraits of Franco, the admiral's wife, and even a photo of Canaris's beloved dog. However, the portrait of the 'Führer of the German people' was absent from Wilhelm Canaris's office.

 

Wilhelm Canaris was practically involved in almost all the conspiracies against Hitler and personally led most of them.

 

It's worth noting that one of the primary accusations against Canaris in Nazi Germany was his direct involvement in helping persecuted Jews escape beyond the Reich borders. Specifically, he participated in rescuing the spiritual leader of the Lubavitch Hasidic movement (Chabad), Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn.

 

According to research by Israeli historian Dani Orbach, Wilhelm Canaris saved more than 500 Jews from imminent death by transporting them outside the Reich (mainly to Spain and Portugal) and registering them as agents for Abwehr. Among those rescued by Canaris was the spiritual leader of the Lubavitch Hasidic movement (Chabad), Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn. Abwehr officers escorted Schneersohn from Warsaw to Berlin in early 1940, then to Riga, and further through Sweden to the United States. Representatives of Chabad have repeatedly requested that Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center recognize Wilhelm Canaris as Righteous Among the Nations. However, Yad Vashem declined, citing that sections of Abwehr under Canaris's command were involved in the murder of Jews. Nonetheless, Dani Orbach noted a lack of evidence linking Canaris to the destruction of Jews. Furthermore, there is evidence that Canaris warned and strongly advised the German command avoiding the involvement of the Wehrmacht in punitive actions and the annihilation of the Jewish population.

 

By the way, the case of the "Schneersohn Library" is particularly intriguing in this context. It's a classic example of Soviet-era crime! The expropriated (or more accurately, stolen) in 1924 Jewish books were deemed the "property of the Soviet people" by the Lenin State Library, vehemently refusing to return the books to Chabad in 1991.

 

Needless to say, the current Kremlin regime has continued the Soviet policy: "On February 19, 2013, the president confirmed the Russian state's ownership of the collection and expressed opposition to transferring it abroad."

 

Returning to the admiral... In July 1944, Wilhelm Canaris was accused of connections with conspirators and involvement in the plot to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944. On April 8, by a special court at Flossenbürg concentration camp chaired by the head of the Gestapo and SS Standartenführer, Walter Huppenkothen, the admiral was sentenced to death. On April 9, 1945, he was executed by hanging. Canaris's final words were: "...I am not a traitor. As a German, I only fulfilled my duty..."

 

Shortly after the admiral's death, Francisco Franco gifted Canaris's widow a villa and granted her a lifelong pension as a deep token of gratitude for the admiral's services and in honor of their long-standing personal friendship.

 

Anyway,I hope my point is clear: glory to heroes and shame on thieves.

 

Recommended reading:

Danny Orbach: The Plots against Hitler (2016).

Ian Colvin: Canaris, Chief оf Intelligence (2008).

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