A meeting with Karl Dönitz
- Published: 06 April 2012 06 April 2012
- Last Updated: 07 April 2012 07 April 2012
My career of collecting Third Reich orders, decorations and badges has spanned over four decades. I have traveled the world, visited with scores of collectors, and visited the major museums in America and Europe. I can count less than two dozen collectors and museums featuring diamond award badges in their collections. Now, 40 years later, there isn’t a week that one or more can’t be found on Ebay, in major auction houses and on many of the dealer web sites. I had owned during my long collecting career only three that were unquestionably original.
I wish to start my coverage of the diamond badges of the Third Reich with the very desirable Submarine War Badge with Diamonds. This and the Auxiliary Cruiser War Badge were the only two Kreigsmarine badges with diamonds I ever owned.
In 1969, I was planning my second three-week trip to Europe for the purpose of researching my “book that never was”, purchasing items for my collection, and visiting the many historical sites as I could during the time allotted for my trip. The highlight of the trip was to meet and interview retired Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz. My good friend Edward P. Rich, who was employed at the West Point Naval Academy, arranged my introduction to Admiral Dönitz. Ted spoke and wrote fluent German and wrote my first letter to the Grand Admiral. On May 26th, 1969, I received a short note from Admiral Dönitz inviting me to his home during my visit to Germany. I was planning travel with two good friends by the name of Paul Peters and Gary L. Walker. Gary and I both wanted to visit the Luftwaffe Museum in Northern Germany as well as every historical site we could visit in our three weeks tour. As soon as I mentioned that I had an interview with Admiral Dönitz, another friend, Wolfgang Sell, added his name to the tour. Everyone was very excited about having a wonderful vacation and meeting the last head of state of the Third Reich and commander in Chief of the once mighty Kreigsmarine. However, it was “Woffie”, as we affectionately called Wolfgang, who was the most excited about meeting Admiral Dönitz. His father was formally a German soldier who had fought under the famed Erwin Romell. He had been captured and sent to America as a POW to serve out the remainder of the war in a prisoner of war camp in Aliceville, Alabama. He had an uncle who served in the Kreigsmarine and his grandparents still lived in Kiel, Germany. “Wolfie” simply idolized Dönitz as being the greatest naval hero the war produced. We all poked fun at him, but deep down we also were thrilled at the opportunity of meeting a man who had altered history and naval warfare as well as being a noted personality of World War Two.
My vacation to Europe was one to be remembered, but it is an entirely story in itself. However, my short interview of Admiral Dönitz provided information that can’t be disputed as it came from the direct from the “horse’s mouth”. Some may say that Dönitz was an old man, living in the past and had a dim memory of events over 25 years in the past. However, as far as I could tell, he appeared as alert in June 1969 as he was when commanding one of the greatest and most feared naval force in the world, the German Kreigsmarine. However, he made some mistakes in his statements now proven by official records, all of which deals with diamond badges other than the Submarine Badge in Diamonds and the Auxiliary Cruiser Badge with Diamonds. I will make notes after each question I asked Dönitz later in the article indicating what I found not to be correct.
Prior to my meeting with Admiral Dönitz, Paul, Gary and I traveled to Europe via Holland and then to London. “Wolfie” had left a week earlier to visit his relatives in Germany and after our trip to England; the three of flew back to Amsterdam and rented a car to use for the rest of the trip. We drove the coastal route into Germany and proceeded non-stop to Kiel to link up with Wolfgang. We really enjoyed touring the great seaport in Northern Germany, visiting the many antique shops and everyone found that the availability of war relics, especially Kreigsmarine items, were in abundance. I still recall that with the German laws so strict governing the sale of anything with a swastika, most all of the dealers openly displayed the badges and other items by simply affixing a gummed sticker of the swastika. Once we left the northern area of Germany such items were sold in a more under the counter basis and only if the shop owners knew you were tourists. Three Americans traveling in a group hunting war relics were as conspicuous as a salamander in a punch bowl. Back then, then only thing that prohibited one from leaving for home with a suitcase full of war relics was the size of one’s wallet.
The day was fast approaching for me meet Admiral Dönitz. To make sure that it would be permissible for all four of us to meet with the Admiral, I had “Wolfie” call him from Hamburg and arrange the exact time for the meeting. I emphasized to “Wolfie” to be sure and ask Dönitz’s permission to bring my other three friends. “Wolfie” talked with Dönitz and he informed him that it would be quite acceptable that the four of us could meet with him. He said for us to be at his home in Aumuhle three days later and set the time for the interview for 1:00 P. M. With three days on our hands before the meeting we decided to tour Hamburg and drive North to the Naval Museum on the coast. On the day before we drove to Aumuhle, “Wolfie” emphasized the importance of being on time. He wanted to show that four Americans could be as punctual as any officer under his command had been during the war. All the time it was “Oh, I can’t believe I am gong to see Admiral Dönitz. Do you realize how important a man Admiral Dönitz is?” It was Dönitz this and Dönitz that all the way from Hamburg to Aumuhle. “Wolfie” looked on his anticipated meeting with the Grand Admiral as a kid did at Christmas. “Santa Dönitz” was dancing around in “Wolfie’s” head and he acted like he couldn’t wait to get his “Sugar Plumbs” at Christmas.
The night before we were to meet with Dönitz, we stopped for the night in a quaint rustic Hostel that was located in the middle of a forest. The main building housed the dining room and cabins were located all around the building. The grounds were immaculately kept, all the help were little bib aprons and we were made to feel at home by their warm hospitality. My only complaint was that the beer was never served cold, just cool from the tap. We were so hungry that as soon as we had unloaded our suitcases, we walked down the path from our cabin to the main hall to get a snack. It was right after noon and as is German custom, the main meal of the day is served mid-day. Dinner was always like an evening snack not like the large dinner meals Americans are accustom to. It seems that we arrived planning to eat a snack and found a large communal dining room with the tastiest looking food I had ever seen. A large roast of Elk, potato salads and vegetables of all kinds, a traditional assortment of breads and all the beer one could drink were on the table. Also, a fine selection of wines was offered. The atmosphere was suburb with mounted animal heads on the wall and the décor of a German hunting lodge added to the allure and tranquillity of the moment. Everyone was most pleased at our evening lodging experience and I never found another such facility anywhere else in Germany. After “dinner at lunch time” everyone retired early after a “snack” of cheese, crackers and German sausages.
Everyone got up early and took out our best suits and ties so as to try and make a presentable appearance at our evening meeting with Admiral Dönitz. As we left the Hostel to continue on east towards Aumuhle, the sun was shining through the tall and straight trees of the forest. The first thing that caught my attention was the lack of brush and undergrowth that is common to the Appalachian Mountains of my home state. Also, the tall trees seemed as if they were standing at attention and were saluting the morning sun. We could see small stags wandering among the trees and it was certainty a picaresque setting.
We arrived in Aumuhle around noon and located the residence of Admiral Dönitz. He lived in a large white mansion surrounded by a high steel fence. From the road a long walkway to the door was visible. It was an nearly an hour before our scheduled meeting. We drove down the road a bit to wait for the one o’clock appointment. All of us were nervous and excited, but “Wolfie” was so excited he was about to wet his pants. The young man was near panic and thought out loud that he might say or do something that make him unworthy of his German heritage. At last the hands of the clock reached three minutes until one and we pulled back in front of the Dönitz residence exactly at one minute until one. We all walked up the walkway the entrance to the residense and were all standing in front of the large wooden door. Just as I brought the brass doorknocker down to announce our presence, the door opened and there stood a Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, as straight as the trees in the forest we had seen after leaving the Hostel. My three companions were standing behind me as Admiral Dönitz said, “Herr Stump?” I extended my right hand, holding my briefcase in the other, to shake his and he firmly grasps my hand and quickly pulls me inside the doorway, slamming the door in the faces of my three friends. I was “flabbergasted” and taken back at what had just happened. Admiral Dönitz looked at me with a very stern look and said, “The appointment was with you Herr Stump and you alone.” I stammered back that Wolfgang had told me the night he called him that all of us were welcome. From the time the door closed, Admiral Dönitz had his left had on my right arm and was ushering me down a long hallway to his study. About half way down the hallway, he stopped, looked a bit puzzled and to me, “Yes, I believe I did tell your friend that, but it is too late now. In a split second the Grand Admiral of the Kreigsmarine was standing before me and I felt at that moment that I was a junior officer being called before the Grand Admiral to make a report. Until this day I can still see his cold eyes and stern look as he pointed to a chair and took a seat behind his desk. He immediately asked me what questions about the special honor awards didn’t I understand and what specifically did I want to know. Fortunately for me, I had written down the questions I wanted to ask him before leaving home. I took my note out and with it laid down my two Kreismarine War Badges in diamond on the desk in front of him. He quickly picked up the Submarine Badge with diamonds and smiled as he turned in over in his hand. He quickly became the cold Dönitz he had been since entering his residense and snapped, “Where did you get this badge?” Scared to the point that I could image armed guard coming from behind a door and pitching me out with my friends, and without my badges, I lied and said that these were specimen of the West Point Military Academy Museum. He then picked up the Auxiliary Cruiser badge with Diamonds and told me to go ahead with my questions. He had been speaking in rather good English, but reverted to German and then broken English and back to near perfect English. I informed him that I was working on a book dealing with the medals and badges of the Third Reich. Looking at me with puzzlement on his face, he simply as “Why?” I knew I was in for a downhill ride if I didn’t come up with the right answer. I informed him that the military exploits of the German Military Machine set the standard for the nations of the world today. I continued by saying that the naval history of the world was changed especially through and by his efforts and accomplishments in the art of submarine warfare. I put the most sincere look I could muster on my hillbilly face and immediately noticed a calmer and more attentive expression come to his face. He simply motioned for me to continue with his hand. I continued by saying that my research was needed to dispel the many different reports that were being written and told concerning the purpose for the establishment of the honor badges with diamonds and the special naval honor daggers that also had diamonds in the swastika. He surprised me as he interrupted and informed me that he had been awarded the only official Submarine badge with Diamonds. He said the submarine badge I had brought with me was “one of 100 I had produced in pure silver” and adding the diamonds to the swastika was his idea. He then asked me in my researching had I ever heard of his original diamond submarine badge presented to him by Admiral Raeder that had been “stolen” from him by the British at the time of his surrender. I told him that I had no knowledge of the badge being taken from him or its whereabouts. At that moment a sullen look came back to his face and he gestured for me to continue. I asked if the firm of Schwerin, Berlin, had produced all of the Submarine war badges with diamonds. He indicated that both the firms of Godet and Schwerin had produced the badges with diamonds, but the 100 he had ordered, like the one I brought to show him, was made by Schwerin. (I was later told that the firm of Godet & Co., Berlin, produced his original award badge presented to him by Grand Admiral Raeder.) I next asked him how many Kreigsmarine War badges were produced in Diamonds. He stated that the Submarine War Badge, Auxiliary Cruiser War Badge, and the E-boat War Badge were the only three Kreigsmarine War Badges in Diamonds that were awarded, none of which were official recognized awards. Exclusively Admiral Raeder or himself had presented all. All recipients had to be “Outstanding Commanders who had been awarded the Oak Leaves to the Knights Cross.” At this point I never had another chance to ask anymore questions as Admiral Dönitz began telling me how important a man he had been in changing the events of this century. He said that he thought that Germany’s battles against Bolshevism would be deemed to have been justified in year to come. He also stated that if anyone doubted that fact all they had to do is look at the way the world had evolved since the war. He said that history will prove that he had been unjustly punished for his part in the war because of the British and Russians insistence he be held responsible and because Hitler had held him in esteem as a military commander and “willed the fate of Germany” to him. Then, at exactly 1:15, Admiral Dönitz asked if I would like an autographed photograph of himself as a remembrance of my visit with him. Before I could answer he opened a drawer of his desk and produced a photograph of him in full dress uniform taken during the war, signed it and smiles and said, “Herr Stump, the interview is now concluded.” Handing me my tow diamond badges and as quickly as I had entered, I found myself escorted to the door. With a quick handshake I heard the door bang and found myself out in the sun walking down the walkway to the car. Sometime history can be changed in the blink of an eye, but my interview had been ended in a scant 15 minutes. To me, I hardly had time to blink. I asked myself was this trip worth the effort? I forgot to ask if I could take one simple photograph of him. After all, I had my camera in my brief case. Did the 15 minutes really happen? Was it really just 15 minutes? I was one disappointed fellow as I entered the car. However, the look of disgust, disappointment from Gary and Paul, and near tears from Wolfgang, made me realize that the trip was one experience that I would never forget.
As we pulled out on the road leading back to Hamburg my friends look at me and laughed. “Wolfie” broke into a tantrum that lasted all the way back to Hamburg. His idol, the greatest naval hero that Germany ever produced was now the dirtiest no good rotten piece of trash alive. “Wolfie” said that Dönitz should have been hung with the other Nazis at Nuremberg. His every remark gave Paul and Gary an opportunity and excuse to laugh away the long wasted trip for them. I was about as disappointed as they were, but at least I had my interview and I did acquire some information that I passed on to the collectors though my experience and short interview. As time passed, at least I could say that I met the last Fuhrer of the Third Reich, the Commander of the Kreigsmarine and founder of Germany’s dreaded U-Boat force even if it took place in a scant 15 minutes back in 1969. More over, I did so in a private interview in his home, one on one. How many collectors living today can say the same thing?
In conclusion, the information I received from Admiral Karl Dönitz is more important to for collectors today than it was evident to me as being at the time. Of all the Submarine badges that I have seen that are verified to be original were produced by Schwerin, Berlin. Admiral Dönitz verified this fact. Also, the 100 badges produced for, and by order of, Karl Dönitz have the smaller of the two sizes of diamond swastikas found on other Schwerin produced Submarine badges with diamonds that are attributed to known recipients. A prime example of the small diamond swastika can be seen in the badges awarded to Otto Kretchmer and Carl Emermann. Even at the time, Dönitz acknowledge that he order 100, but the record show that more were made for museums, none were government authorized awards, and therefore no set standards for awarding or production was ever held to.
This brings us up to today with the many examples of Naval War badges on the market. If Admiral knew nothing about the Mine Sweeper and Escort badge with Diamonds, the destroyer badge with Diamonds, and 2nd model E-Boat badge with diamonds then how to they now appear on today’s market in record numbers? The answer is simple and it is because all are modern reproductions same a possible prototypes that may or may have not been produced during the war. It is extremely easy to produce a Submarine badge with diamonds exact to match a war produced badge. It can be done under $1000.00. I know I had one made one that if you didn’t know it was a fake, only your hairdresser could say for sure. In my case, only my jeweler could tell. The only difference in my reproduction Submarine Badge with diamonds is that the swastika is simply glued on to avoid ruining an early near mint fire gilded Schwerin marked badge. The jeweler produced the diamond swastika from an original down to the exact dimensions the using European cut diamonds. It is so good that Admiral Dönitz would have been proud to give it to one of his U-boat aces. If had my jeweler solder the diamond swastika to the badge, I am sure that it could be sold on ebay for upwards of $4,000.00 or pass on any of the major auctions along with all the other fake diamonds badges being sold today. It is simple fact that it is that easy to fake and without an airtight providence, I would not recommend one touching one with a hot poker from Lucifer’s oven.