Revenge of the Maiden
|Ilse Hirsch on the cover of a 1940 Party publication.|
|Michael Caine in "The Eagle Has Landed" (courtesy Columbia Pictures).|
|GIs enter Aachen, the first German city taken.|
|Franz Oppenhoff, the intended victim. Was his last look into piercing blue eyes?|
|SS Obergruppenführer Hans-Adolf Prützmann.|
Why Himmler didn't ask his usual special-projects guy, Otto Skorzeny, to take charge is unclear. It likely was because Skorzeny was fully occupied with another project at the time, Operation Greif, which had far greater priority in light of the strategic situation. Skorzeny also was an artist at his trade and this would be a simple execution, plain and simple, without the kind of elaborate planning at which Skorzeny excelled. In any event, Prützmann was in charge of the overall Werwolf scheme at Hülchrath Castle, and the plan would use some members of that shadowy organization.
|SS Obergruppenführer Hans-Adolf Prützmann with Heinrich Himmler. That appears to be Heydrich in the background left.|
|Ilse Hirsch, cover girl.|
- Unterscharführer (Sergeant) Josef "Sepp" Leitgeb;
- Former border Patrolman Karl-Heinz Hennemann;
- Former border Patrolman Georg Heidorn;
- Werwolf trainee Erich Morgenschweiss; and
|The captured B-17, "Wulf Hund," used in Operation Carnival.|
|American MPs questioning young German refugees in Aachen. Morgenschweiss would have blended in well.|
|The heavily mined Siegfried Line ran just outside of Aachen.|
One can imagine Wenzel's and Leitgeb's feelings at this point as they stood on the doorstep, pistols at the ready. Not only was this traitor living high on the Allied dime, but he was also partying as if the war was over. Despite this, though, they still would give Oppenhoff one final chance to show his loyalty by directing them back to the German lines.
This, however, was not a choice that Oppenhoff would choose to make.
When Oppenhoff showed up at the door, the assassins briefly kept up their disguise, perhaps to make absolutely sure that they had the right man. They did. Oppenhoff refused to help them return to German lines. Instead, he exhorted them to simply surrender, as the war was lost for Germany. At this point, Wenzel somewhat surprisingly did not act... but Leitgeib did. Leitgeib was a tough front-line soldier who understood his orders and knew how to carry them out without any hesitation. Leitgeb shouted "Heil Hitler," drew his pistol and shot Oppenhoff through the forehead.
There apparently was another person at Oppenhoff's doorstep, and who it was is unknown. Perhaps it was Hirsch, who would have aided the appearance of normalcy to whoever answered the door. In any event, with the target liquidated, the three quickly scattered just ahead of an American patrol investigating the cut telephone line.
|Franz Oppenhoff's gravestone. He is buried with his wife Irmgard, born Nimax, who died age 92 in 2001, on the Hauptfriedhof of Aachen.|
Wenzel's fate is unknown (meaning, he got away completely or was killed during the last days of the war), but the four remaining members of the team apparently survived the war. Hirsch, a tough girl who had recently parachuted into enemy territory, hiked into an enemy town, lived hand-to-mouth for a week, and helped accomplish one of the most successful operations of the war, then limped back to her home in nearby Euskirchen, now also occupied by the Allies. There, she finally spent some time in the hospital as the Reich fell.
|Ilse Hirsch lived a long life.|
Ilse stayed in the area, married, and had two children. Just another, ordinary housewife. She passed away in 2000.
The ironic thing about the entire operation was that the Allies already had decided, due to a US Army Psychological Warfare Division study, coordinated by historian Saul K. Padover, that Oppenhoff was a liability. They decided that Oppenhoff - the man who decided not to help the NSDAP cause when the supposed downed pilots knocked on his door - and his associates were unreliable, too sympathetic to the Hitler regime, and needed to be replaced. It just shows how tricky things get when trying to choose sides between bitter enemies.
However, while Oppenhoff died and the Allies were left looking foolish and incompetent, one man definitely got what he wanted - Heinrich Himmler. It was one of the last times he did.
|Heinrich Himmler in the last days of the war.|
Nobody will ever know the identity of that loyal young German maiden. But I have a guess who it may have been.