My last post, Ignoring One’s Conscience, highlighted Rudolf Höss, the Camp Commandant of Auschwitz, who chose to ignore his conscience in favor of the Nazi worldview.
As a reminder, I also shared how a well-formed conscience is imperative if one uses it to guide their moral decision-making. All of us, at times, face moments of decision. Do we speak truth and allow the Holy Spirit to whisper encouragement? Or do we ignore those righteous promptings and choose the cowardly path to darkness? Rudolf Höss chose the latter. Alexis von Röenne chose the former.
And this is his story.
Alexis von Röenne was a German Army colonel during World War II. He was a senior military analyst who some labeled Hitler’s favorite intelligence analyst. As the Director of the Foreign Armies West Intelligence Group, his final assignment was making sense of all the espionage reports on the Western Front. He provided the German military leadership with a three-page situation report daily.
As D-Day approached in 1944, the British were keenly aware that Hitler and the German Supreme Command relied almost exclusively on the recommendations and intelligence provided by von Röenne and his team. The British employed a number of double agents in an effort to deceive von Röenne (and thereby Hitler) as to where they could expect the coming invasion.
What the British did not know was that von Röenne had been deceiving Hitler and his leadership for quite some time. From 1943 onward, von Röenne intentionally, consistently, and massively “overestimated the strength of Allied forces in Britain.” His team estimated there were 89 military divisions in Britain when, in fact, there were only 44.
There is debate among historians as to von Röenne’s motives. Was he hedging his bets? Better to overestimate than underestimate the enemy’s strength, right? However, the fact remains that his exaggerated reports of Allied strength gave credibility to the various alternative invasion scenarios the British were promoting. Coincidence?
What is not debated is that von Röenne detested Hitler and bitterly opposed the Nazis. Did he deliberately sabotage the German war effort from his influential perch in military intelligence? Consider this: In 1943 the British conducted Operation Mincemeat (check out the movie by that same name on Netflix) in an attempt to deceive the Germans about the Allied invasion of Sicily. Liberated far quicker than expected, Sicily was considered a major success. What the British did not know was that prior to the invasion of Sicily, von Röenne had strong misgivings that the Germans had been duped about where the Allies would land, but he chose to stay quiet. While some historians consider von Röenne a poor analyst, others wonder how such an insightful intelligence officer could have been so successful predicting Allied actions early in the war, but failed miserably, on almost every action in the latter half of the war.
In his book Operation Mincemeat, historian Ben Macintyre said this about von Röenne: “…he faithfully passed on every deception ruse fed to him, accepted the existence of every bogus unit regardless of evidence, and inflated forty-four divisions in Britain to an astonishing eighty-nine.”
Rather than being duped, Macintyre believes, “lt is quite possible that Lieutenant Colonel Alexis Baron von Röenne did not believe the Mincemeat deception for an instant.”
No doubt, Hitler was also unaware that his favorite analyst was a staunch Christian whose beliefs were opposed to Nazism. Ironically, it was not von Röenne’s intelligence work that resulted in his arrest. Following the failed assassination attempt on Hitler in July of 1944, von Röenne was initially arrested because he had close ties with many of the men who plotted the assassination. It was guilt by association. Though he was initially released, he was rearrested a few days later, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death.
During his trial, von Röenne was not hesitant to declare his faith, emphatically stating that the Nazi race policies were inconsistent with his Christian faith. His final words to his wife were, “In a moment now I shall be going home to our Lord in complete calm and in the certainty of salvation.”
He was executed by hanging…on a meat hook at Plötzensee Prison in Berlin on October 12, 1944.
Two men each had their moments of decision but responded quite differently. One man, Höss, whose conscience was darkened by embracing the philosophies of evil men, faced death in shame and repentance. Another man, von Röenne, allowed his conscience to be formed by a lifetime of faith, and faced death with hope and peace.
These two stories beg the question, “What are we allowing to form our consciences? Modern-day fads and “isms” or the Way, the Truth, and the Life?”
Our conscience depends on it?
Note: Source data for this story came from Ben Macintyre’s books, Double Cross and Operation Mincemeat.
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