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Sun, 9 Nov 2014

Wilhelm Canaris - A Legendary Nazi Spy Chief


While Wilhelm Canaris was the Nazi Germany's spy chief he opposed Hitler's plans. He had been in secret contact with England and he took part in several attempted assassinations on the German dictator. First in 1944 Canaris were unveiled of the SS leader Heinrich Himmler.

In the midst of the German invasion of Poland in 1939 Wilhelm Canaris sent a secret group of agents in the bombarded Polish capital. Their mission was to save the Jewish Chief Rabbi of Warsaw. The group included several agents with jewish background. They made their way into Warsaw and managed with great effort to find their way to Rabbi Yosef Schneersohn and his closest. They were smuggled out through the German lines, back to Berlin and then via Riga and Stockholm by a steamer to the United States. On March 19, 1940 they reached New York.

The initiative for the bailout came from the still neutral United States. Some of the president's staff had in secret contacted Wilhelm Canaris and asked for a rapid response. He had since 1938 been known in British and American security services to secretly oppose the Nazis.



Wilhelm Canaris Worked Against Communists In Germany


Wilhelm Canaris served in the German Navy during the First World War, both as an intelligence officer and as an submarine captain. After the war, he was involved with the Freikorps, a movement that worked against the Communists in Germany. Then he continued his career as a naval officer. In 1935 he was appointed head of Nazi Germany's military intelligence and in the following years he created an efficient global network of German spies.

By outsiders Canaris was regarded as one of Hitler's most loyal employees. Until 1937 Canaris also saw Hitler as the man who could stop communism. When he became aware of the Nazi plans for a major war the spy chief started to distance himself from their government.

Via secret contacts with British intelligence MI6, Canaris conveyed the message that it was a group of German officers and politicians who were prepared to overthrow Hitler if Britain would declare war on Nazi Germany. Yet the British government compromised with Hitler in the Munich agreement in 1938. The agreement gave Nazi Germany the right to occupy the German-speaking parts of neighboring Czechoslovakia.



Canaris Tried To Lure The British


Although the British betrayal, Canaris continued to actively work against the Nazi plans. Along with other leaders in the Abwehr, he planned a coup. With false information about an imminent German invasion of the Netherlands, Canaris made a new attempt to get Britain to declare war on Nazi Germany. The result was that a British defense force were placed in France in February 1939, but a declaration of war did not happen.

Hitler was completely unaware of Canaris duplicity and had full confidence in him. Often he was called alone to talks with the Führer. Because of that he was always well informed about Hitler's plans and could sabotage them without revealing himself. In various ways he tried to undermine the system of terror that he himself was a part of.



Visited Several Fronts


As head of the Abwehr, he traveled between all theaters of war and occupied territories. One day he showed up with Rommel in North Africa, to be informed about the developments in the desert war. The second day he found himself on the Eastern Front, where he tried to get the chief of the German High Command, Wilhelm Keitel to stop the Nazi soldiers murder of Jews behind the front line.

In 1942, Canaris and his closest associates organized a bail where hundreds of Jews were provided with passports and documents that assured that they were working for the intelligence service. With the help of such papers and false special assignments in the United States, many of the Jews managed to get out of Germany.



Wilhelm Canaris In Denmark


The Danish resistance man Vilhelm Leifer had contacts with the German intelligence agent Horst Gilbert, which he perceived as a secret opponent of Hitler. At Horst Gilbert's home William met the spy chief Canaris and realized that he ever since the late 1930s, had opposed the Nazis' aggressive war policy.



Stopped an Attempt Against The Pope

During 1943, Abwehrs leadership remained a secret resistance center. When Canaris during the summer learned of Hitler's plans to put pressure on his alliance partner Italy, which faltered after the Allied invasion of Sicily, he immediately flew to Venice. In secret meetings with his Italian counterpart, he warned that the Nazi leadership wanted to seize both the Italian king Victor Emmanuel III and the Pope Pius XII. The Italian spy chief leaked the plans and were therefore never implemented.

Canaris was able to maintain his dangerous double game thanks to his ability to convincingly Nazi phrases get everyone in the Nazi Party leadership to trust his loyalty.

He also had a group of conspirators employees around him that would not pass on what their boss really thought. Hitler's propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels was for a long time deceived by the skilful spy chief. In April 9, 1943 Goebbels wrote in his diary: "I agreed with Canaris that we should work together more to come. He wishes to report to me on a regular basis so that I, if necessary, can to use my influence with the Führer. Canaris was on the whole a good impression, better than I expected."

When this was written, Canaris had recently been involved in a failed assassination attempt against Hitler. During a flight stopover in the Russian city of Smolensk in March 1943, a cognac box were sent to the plane that flew with the Führer. In the box was a bomb but the bomb never exploded because of the unexpectedly severe cold.



Canaris Was Arrested By The SS In 1944

Heinrich Himmler, head of the Nazi SS organization had for a long time suspected Canaris for duplicity. In February 1944, he managed to persuade Hitler to dismiss Canaris and to coordinate the Abwehr with the SS security service SD.

Canaris was placed under house arrest. After the failed assassination attempt against Hitler on July 20 the same year, he was arrested by the SS and were sent to the concentration camp Flossenburg.

In Flossenburg Canaris was subjected to severe torture during the long interrogations. Despite this, he continued to deny everything. He was also accused to have participated in the conspiracy behind Colonel Stauffenberg assassination attack July 20, 1944. But there wasn't anything that proved that he participated. Finally the Gestapo found evidence, including diaries, in a safe.

Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the head of the SD furious said: "This Canaris has tricked them all, Heydrich, Himmler, Keitel, Ribbentrop and the Führer himself!"



Hitler Gave The Order Execute Wilhelm Canaris By Hanging

Hitler gave the order that his former spy chief should be executed. After a brief show trial in the concentration camp's laundry, Canaris together with several of his conspirators, including the famous pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was executed by hanging in the prison yard.

The night before Canaris were taken back to his cell after he had been tortured. In another cell sat the Danish intelligence officer Hans M Lunding. By tapping into the wall Canaris sent a last message to his family. He asked Lunding to give them his message if he was set free. Already a few days after the execution allied troops liberated Flossenburg. A few months later, Lunding could fullfill Canaris last wish.