Leave the scorched earth behind! Adolf Hitler

Seventy years ago, in March 1945, the leader of the Great German Reich ordered the destruction of all infrastructure in the face of the advancing Allies. The Nazi regime remained true to its criminal nature until the very end.

By March 1945, the situation on all fronts was clearly in favour of the Allies. In the east, the forces of the 1st Belorussian Front captured Altdamm (now a suburb of Szczecin, Poland), breaking the last centre of German resistance on the east bank of the Oder. At that time, the British and Americans were on the Rhine and it was clear to the whole world that the end of the war in Europe was a matter of weeks.

But even in this hopeless situation Hitler did not act rationally, on the contrary. Instead of admitting defeat, he decided that the Nazi Reich would still be kicking around furiously in its death throes. Germany was to pay for its failure in its attempt to dominate the world and was to perish with the Nazi regime and leader. So on March 19, 1945, he still signed the so-called Nero Order (Nerobefehl; the name derives from the fire of Rome, which history credits the mentally ill Emperor Nero with starting).

Without compassion for his own population

The Führer’s decree read as follows: ‚It would be foolish to suppose that the infrastructure – whether of a transport, communication, economic and supply nature – that had not been destroyed or only slightly damaged could be put back into operation once the lost territory had been regained. The enemy will leave us with nothing but scorched earth on his retreat, without any regard for the civilian population. I therefore command: All military communication, economic and supply facilities (…) in Reich territory which the enemy could use to continue the battle shall be destroyed.“

The execution of the order was to be supervised by the Minister for War Production, Albert Speer, who later let it be heard that he begged Hitler to rescind the order. But the Führer retorted: „If the war is lost, it is over for the population.“ Nero’s order was the order of a man cornered but refusing to see the situation for what it was and to surrender. Fortunately for ordinary Germans, the order was ignored by many of those in charge.


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