If you’ve picked up a copy of The Furred Reich, you’ll remember Tex Wheelis, an important character in the latter part of my novel. Just last week I found myself in the vicinity of Tex’s hometown. It was a ways off the Interstate, but I’d been wanting to visit Tex for a long time, and see his hometown. Even though I had a very long drive home ahead of me, I took a 20 mile detour east of Waco and onto the state highways of nearby McLennan County.
As I got away from Waco, I passed by mostly flat farmland and scattered forests into a little town called Mart. Today, Mart is pretty easy to get to. Back in the days Tex was growing up, however, Mart must have been an isolated place. I was greeted by a weathered sign that read something like “Welcome to Mart, where good living is a tradition.”
Like so many small Texas towns, this was a speed trap. And already I saw a police cruiser pulling over a young Mexican guy driving through town. By the time I reached 30 mph, I was in downtown Mart. The tallest building was the feed store, and just by looking at the buildings I could tell most of them were built in the 30s and 40s; around the time Tex was alive. Most of the buildings were shuttered, boarded and closed up and the street itself was devoid of people. Mart had seen better days.
I turned off Texas Avenue in search for Wheelis’ final resting spot, Mart Cemetery. The residential roads were barely intact, and the shocks of my Honda Civic were slammed several times as its wheels fell into potholes as I did my best to tread through the gravel. Some black kids were playing volleyball in the front yard. I would have stepped out to ask for directions, but I already knew the cemetery was nearby.
Mart Cemetery stopped burying people over 30 years ago. An expanse of gravestones and markers loomed out to the distance. No one was in the office. I had my work cut out for me if I wanted to find Tex Wheelis. I parked in the far corner of the cemetery, the one closest to the expansive football field by the high school. I went through each row, one by one, looking at each family name. Mostly English-sounding, but with a good number of German and Irish names too. I was about to give up when I started finding WWII veterans, and felt like I was getting warmer. It took me about thirty minutes before I found the Wheelis grave stone, and frankly, even then I was lucky. I could feel my excitement. It was an honor to finally meet Tex, even though Tex himself was long gone.
But what’s special Tex Wheelis? Why did I even pick him as a character in The Furred Reich?
Well, if only Mart knew one of its own was ‘responsible’ for helping Hitler’s second in command escape ‘justice’ at the Nuremberg Trials. Because, in fact, Tex Wheelis did just that. And from everything I could see, either nobody in Mart was aware, or it was something the town doesn’t want to talk about. I suspect it’s the former and not the latter. Tex Wheelis’ grave is similar to those of other WWII veterans buried in Mart Cemetery.
In my story, Tex was an American prisoner of Jochen Peiper’s unit after they arrived in the furry world. I made Tex out to be an outgoing person who would give a man the shirt off his back if he needed it, and didn’t harbor any prejudices toward Germans. From all the research I’ve done on Tex, I am convinced that is the kind of person he was. In The Furred Reich, Tex helps my main character, Hans Hepner, out of a bind, even though Tex was risking his life for someone he didn’t really know. Once again, I am convinced that Tex Wheelis would have really done that if given the opportunity. I say this because, in fact, in our world Tex was given a similar opportunity with the Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering, and he took it.
Goering and Tex
In our world, Tex Wheelis was a prison guard during the Nuremberg Trials. He became an officer, who rose up through the ranks of the army, not through officer’s school. According to many who knew him, Tex was an outgoing, charismatic guy who easily took to new people. He was also known by some to be rowdy and unconventional. Wheelis often ‘fraternized’ with those of lower rank. We know for sure that Hermann Goering took a liking to Tex Wheelis, probably because they shared interests in hunting.
Most historians agree that Tex Wheelis was the one who gave Goering the cyanide pill which allowed him to escape the gallows of Nuremberg. The Army subsequently whitewashed the investigation to save face, allowing Tex Wheelis to live a quiet rest of his life. Some believe that Goering bribed Wheelis, but in fact, the tireless research efforts of a fellow named Ben Swearingen confirm that Goering’s ‘gifts’ to Wheelis were unconditional. Wheelis did what he did for some other reason.
In his book, ‘The Mystery of the Suicide of Hermann Goering,’ Swearingen speculates that Wheelis came under Goering’s spell, and that Wheelils naively helped the Reichsmarschall. I don’t believe that’s true. Wheelis knew who Goering was, and, very long story short, I choose to believe that Wheelis helped Goering for the most obvious reason; because Wheelis, like so many people, realized that the Nuremberg Trials were a farsical mockery of justice, that the ‘International Law’ employed was arbitrary and never used before (or again, for that matter), and that Hermann Goering did not deserve to hang.
I don’t know this for sure, because Tex didn’t leave any hints as to his reasoning. But Americans back then had a much greater sense of justice than they do now, and they were far less brainwashed. The charges against Goering were mostly without substance, and the charges which had substance had flimsy evidence. They were conspiracy to ‘wage aggressive war,’ ‘war crimes’ from plundering works of art, ‘war crimes’ for participating in Nacht und Nebel, “torture” of prisoners of war, and finally the murder of 5.75 million Jews.
Not to re-live the entire trial, but most of these charges were not true. Goering argued, quite convincingly, that he had nothing to do with the murder of Jewish civilians, as he was only in charge of the Luftwaffe and the economy. While he signed a document calling for a “final solution,” to Jews in Europe, that did not necessarily mean liquidation of Jews. It was later proved that Goering ‘knew about’ the liquidation of Hungarian Jews, but he was not a part of it. Knowing about atrocities and doing nothing, however appalling you might think it is, is no violation of any law in the German or Anglo-American tradition.
Nacht und Nebel was a plan to abduct partisans and resisters in occupied territories. According to the Geneva Convention, it is illegal to attack occupying soldiers as a declared noncombatant, and in fact no Allied power gave ‘due process’ to partisans either. Goering only committed a “crime” in the sense of arbitrary “international law,” which was selectively enforced by the victors.
Sure, Goering plundered art, but theft is not worthy of the death penalty according to German, British or American law.
Goering did sign off on the murder of 50 British airmen who were kept prisoner at Stalag Luft. That might have been Goering’s only crime he was actually guilty of, but the circumstances around it were questionable. The airmen who were executed had escaped from their well-kept prison three times. The last time, the Luftwaffe warned the British airmen that the SS would get involved next time an escape happened, and that the consequences would therefore be more serious. They were warned not to, and the airmen did so anyway. It’s not a violation of Geneva or The Hague to kill escapees, as escapees are no longer ‘surrendered.’ However, the airmen were not killed as escapees, but had been recaptured. Hitler himself signed off on the executions. If we are to believe Goering’s testimony, Goering tried to stop the executions, and was successful in getting the number reduced from 100 to just 50. Given the circumstances and the context of atrocities which occurred on all sides during the war, holding Goering accountable for Stalag Luft might have been technically right, but it was rather punitive.
All other charges, including ‘waging aggressive war,’ were not a violation of German law, or even centuries of British or American jurisprudence. Those charges were based on arbitrarily-enforced “international law,” which each of the victorious countries violated from time to time, and continued to do so with impunity.
I think Tex Wheelis realized all that and acted accordingly. For those who continue to buy the propaganda, and that’s most people, Wheelis’ act was ‘shameful,’ or even ‘treasonous,’ and so they tend to view Wheelis’ alleged act in a negative light. I know Ben Swearingen saw things in that lens. I don’t, however, because as someone who is German on both sides and had quite a few relatives on the German side of WWII, I could never afford to believe the propaganda without second thought. I’d like to think that Tex Wheelis didn’t either.
Soldiers and statesmen don’t deserve to die a dishonorable death. Hermann Goering was a war hero and fighter ace from the First World War. He was a larger than life personality for many Germans after 1939. Later on he became a drug addict. After Hitler’s and Himmler’s death, Goering was the highest-ranking official remaining from deposed regime. Allowing Goering to die an honorable death by cyanide meant more than just a person. Goering was an analogue for all Germany, and in allowing the Reichsmarschall to die honorably, Tex Wheelis allowed Germany to at least be defeated honorably.
That is no small thing. Much larger than what the people of Mart, or even Wheelis himself, probably realized.
By then it was getting dark outside. I had many hours of travel ahead of me and was already well behind schedule thanks to this detour. So I bid farewell to Tex Wheelis, sat down at the Dairy Queen in downtown Mart for dinner, and went on my way.