March 19: The Nero Decree Is Ignored

HitlerToday’s one of those days where we have to look at the darker side of history; thankfully the events that occurred on this day in 1945 went a lot better than they might have: It’s March of 1945. The Allies have already reclaimed most of the European territories that the Nazis had captured. The Allied forces had begun their advance on Germany from both the east and west and at this point victory was all but assured. However, Hitler refused to admit defeat and on March 19, Hitler prepared for the Allied invasion by signing the Demolitions on Reich Territory Decree, later referred to as the Nero Decree, a reference to the legend that Nero started the Great Roman Fire.

The Nero Decree was Hitler’s final plan to stall the Allies as long as he could. The order was simple: “All military transport and communication facilities, industrial establishments and supply depots, as well as anything else of value within Reich territory, which could in any way be used by the enemy immediately or within the foreseeable future for the prosecution of the war, will be destroyed.” This is not the first time that the mad dictator had ordered the destruction of Nazi occupied cities. Before the liberation of Paris, he had ordered that the Eiffel Tower and other landmarks were to be destroyed alongside any key pieces of Parisian infrastructure. Thankfully, Dietrich von Choltitz, Paris’ Nazi military governor, ignored that order and surrendered to the Allies.

Mercifully, history repeated itself. Albert Speer, Hitler’s Minister of Armaments and War Production, had a moment of conscience and was appalled by the order, knowing that the decree would do more harm to German civilians than to the Allied troops. Speer became disillusioned with the dictatorship, and tried to stall the plan. He quickly requested exclusive power to carry out the order, and upon receiving this power he began work convincing generals to ignore the decree. Hitler did not become aware of this until April, when Speer visited Hitler in his bunker and told him he had in fact deliberately ignored the order. Hitler was angered but realized there was nothing he could do, and shortly afterwards the coward shot himself.

The remaining Nazi brass surrendered on May 7. Speer was arrested on May 23 and eventually stood trial at Nuremberg for his role in World War II and the Holocaust. While Speer’s codefendants at the Nuremberg Trials claimed they were just following orders, Speer admitted and apologized for his part in the Nazi atrocities. He was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, and remained repentant for the rest of his life. However, many historians still wonder if Speer truly was repentant or was just trying to save his own skin…

On the anniversary of the failed Nero Decree, I’ve found an Italian cocktail called Café Nero. Unsurprisingly, it’s a warm drink that requires you to light some liquor on fire.

Café Nero

  • 1 ounce Galliano
  • Black Coffee
  • Cream

Rim a goblet with Galliano and sugar. Then pour an ounce of Galliano into the glass and briefly light it on fire. Blow out the flame, and then fill with hot coffee. Add cream and sugar to taste, and sprinkle some chocolate zests on top of the drink.

Tomorrow: A beautiful day in the neighborhood.

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