How distant my Swabian* youth seems now.
I made a glider which really flew, you know.*
Not far, but yes, it carried me! I soared!
Some accused me of being a showboat,
of tooting my own horn. . . . I learned early
that the laurels don't go to the meek or the bashful.
Yes, I was a ****. Those aristocrats
on the General Staff* belittled the Fuhrer--
but where had they gotten us?
I liked his enthusiasm and optimism.
We were in a hole; he led us out,
got the economy going again,
restored the Sudetenland and Danzig.
(Danzig where Lucie and I had been married!)
I thought Poland would be the end
but when we attacked in the West
I didn't shrink away.
My troops and I were the very spearhead:
strike quickly; do the unexpected.
Who was I to deny
Germany's world-wide destiny?
The African war agreed with me.
The open space gave a latitude to my strategy
lacking in hilly, forested Europe.
The victory at Tobruk is often cited
as the height of genius, military.
I, myself, prefer what preceded it:
the retreat into Tripolitania--
salvaging men and tanks, shortening supply lines,
lulling the British into complacency;
turning and stinging at Agedabia.
El Alamein: the Fuhrer and I part company.
"Victory or Death", he cabled me.
I disagreed: my men would not die senselessly.
We were desperate for gasoline.
Ship after ship was sunk trying to deliver it.
(Lax Italian security, no doubt.)
We were outnumbered five to one.
I favored withdrawing immediately,
consolidating troops in Europe.
The Fuhrer wouldn't hear of it.
I flew to East Prussia to confront him.
He'd grown pudgier, more strident--
wouldn't give an inch.
I sensed that not just Africa
but the war as a whole would be lost.
The weight of the forces against us was crushing.
The only question'd been their willingness to fight.
That had been answered at Stalingrad.
I fought on in Italy and in France,
hoping to convince the enemy
that the price of taking Europe--
would be too high.
I really thought we had a chance
to stop them on the beaches.
But now that we've failed, our destruction's inevitable.
I've tried to make the Fuhrer see reason:
surrender to the British and Americans;
don't let our country be overrun by Russia.
He condoned ******--
ordered me to **** the French Jewish soldiers
who'd surrendered at Bir Hacheim,* for instance,
(I didn't) -- and much more. . . . And yet,
and yet, I couldn't quite bring myself to wish him dead--
and certainly never took part in that plot--
though, yes, I knew of it . . . after a fashion. . . .
Defending myself to that group would be hopeless. . . .
Lucie and Manfred must be spared
the humiliation of hearing me declared a traitor.
I bestrode the plains of Africa--
Rommel, the invincible--
always with the troops where the battle was most critical.
I was crafty and brave,
dared to act when others shied away.
I was the apple of the Fuhrer's eye;
idol of the German people;
scourge of the British military.
All the world applauded me. I lost--
but only when outnumbered overwhelmingly.
Now I sit in the back of this Opel*--
an outcast, a criminal--
waiting to take a cyanide pill.
We failed to assess properly
the will of other nations to honor treaties
and preserve their freedom.
And, more basically:
Were we right to force our rule on other people?
Icarus-like, we flew too high.
We were bold and strong
but it seems, in the end,
in the end, not supermen.
Swabia: A region of southwestern Germany (around Stuttgart) which had been a dukedom in the 10th to 13th centuries.
glider: In 1906 Rommel, age 14, and a friend built a full-size, box-type glider.
General Staff: High-level officers with formal military education. Rommel, having come up through the ranks, lacked such training.
no doubt: Rommel was correct in thinking that the British knew the exact destinations and sailing times of Italian supply ships, but was wrong as to the source of their information: it was coming from German ("Enigma") radio transmissions which the British had learned to decode.
beaches: Rommel was in charge of the defense of the coast against British/American invasion.
Bir Hacheim: A fort at the southern end of the "Gazala Line" (in Libya) which Rommel outflanked in his attack upon Tobruk in 1942.
hopeless: The army's Court of Honor (Field Marshal Keitel, Generals Guderian and Kirchheim) had been presented with evidence of Rommel's involvement in the plot on ******'s life (false) and his attempts to arrange an armistice with the British (true). With ******'s approval they had given Rommel a choice of committing suicide (and having his treason hushed up) or of going before the court (and, no doubt, being hung in public).
Manfred: Rommel's son.
Opel: The car which the officers who presented Rommel with his choices had driven from Berlin.
Hear Lucius/Jerry read the poem: humanist-art.org/audio/SoF_020_rommel.MP3 .
This poem is part of the Scraps of Faith collection of poems ( https://humanist-art.org/scrapsoffaith.htm )