Tuesday, April 17, 1945. Germany longs for the end of the war. Day order of the Führer:
“Our Jewish-Bolsjeviek deadly enemy is standing at the dear. With its hordes they
are attempting to pulverize Germany and to eradicate our people. Whomever shirks
his duties at his time, is a traitor to our homeland. Be alert for treasonous servicemen
who, will fight us in Russian, and perhaps even in German uniforms, to save their
miserable lives. Every serviceman who gives the order to lay down weapons will be
arrested immediately and will be executed, regardless of rank. Berlin stays German.
Europe will never be Russian!”
That day, the Bavarian Gauleiter Diesler calls for his assistant Bertus Gerdes. He
gives him day order “Wolke A1” (Cloud A1), which was prepared by Himmler's right-hand
man Kaltenbrunner. It contained the determination that the Luftwaffe was to bomb
Concentration camp Dachau, in addition to the subcamps Landberg and Muhlsdorf. “Not
one prisoner must be allowed to fall into the hands of the enemy.....”
Gerdes is charged with executing the plan. The day after, during a dinner in a romantic
restaurant in Munich, Gerdes has a conversation with General Galland of the Luftwaffe.
The matter was brought up, but there was no decision over the execution of the plan.
The next day Gerdes calls Berlin, however Reichsleiter Martin Bormann was not available.
His secretary says he has never heard of the Wolke A1 plan. He will ask around and
call back. When that does not happen, Gerdes tries to contact Treitsch, the contact
man between Himmler and his second in command, Kaltenbrunner. He says that Kaltenbrunner's
order has to be carried out as soon as possible.
Gerdes does not want to carry the responsibility for a task of such far reaching
consequences alone. He puts the problem to his superior, Gauleiter Giesler, who ships
him off with the admonition that he must try to come to terms with his conscience.
In front of the War Tribunal in Neurenberg, Gerdes later explained: “It was clear
to me that I would never be able to carry this task out. I was constantly hounded
by Kaltenbrunner's men, who kept asking me how things were going. They were mostly
SS officers. They threatened me with terrible punishments if I did not carry out
the orders right away. I kept making up reasons to postpone the action - the weather
is too bad to fly, there was no fuel, there were not enough bombs, etc....”
In the mean time an evacuation was begun, on orders of Kaltenbrunner. Prisoners from
subcamp Landsberg were transported to Dachau. The intention was to kill this group
with poison. Kaltenbrunner's new plan got the code name “Aktion Wolkenbrand” (Operation
In the mean time Geisler has a private conversation with “Gesundheitsführer” (Health
Leader) Dr. Harrfeld, who promises to deliver the required amount of poisons to execute
Kaltenbrunner's orders. As soon as the first prisoners from Landsberg arrive in Dachau,
Kaltenbrunner sends a message by courier, that Aktion Wolkenbrand has to be carried
out immediately. The lot of the prisoners appears sealed.
But Gerdes goes to his superior and tells him that the front is now too close to
carry out a poisoning action. Operation Wolkenbrand is scrapped and the lives of
thousands in the camp was spared.
Kaltenbrunner is obviously very unhappy with the way his orders have been sabotaged
and he goes looking for a scapegoat. He gives Gestapo orders to arrest Gerdes, but
Gerdes escapes the dance by fleeing Munich with his family.
In the mean time, Kaltenbrunner gives orders to the camp commander to evacuate Dachau
as soon as possible.
A terrible transport is started, a virtual death march. Thousands of starving, weakened
people stumble through south German villages, watched with great consternation by
the villagers, mercilessly hounded by the SS. The march is halted by the advance
of the Americans.
Bertus Gerdes survived the war. On November 20, 1945, he is interrogated in Neurenburg
in the trial against the most important war criminals. His testimony against Kaltenbrunner
was in large part responsible for Kaltenbrunner's conviction to be hanged.
When it became known what role Gerdes played in the last weeks of the war, the ex-prisoners
went looking for him. They have not been able to find him. To this day, Bertus Gerdes
remains lost. This courageous man has probably adopted a new identity, so regretfully,
it has never been possible to thank him properly.