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|“||Must you have an explanation? It happened. That's all. I've no doubt there are many reasons, but it was the war that... Is your experience of death really so limited? Our age has witnessed millions of deaths more terrible than hers..||„|
|~ Wilhelm Tanz|
Lieutenant General Wilhelm Tanz is the primary antagonist in The Night of the Generals. He was portrayed by the late Peter O'Toole.
Wilhelm Tanz is described as "a pet of Hitler," one of the Wehrmacht's youngest generals. He commanded the elite Nibelungen Division, which saw action on the Russian Front. He infamously used the bodies of his dead soldiers in place of sandbags when fighting Soviet troops. He called it finding uses for the dead, and famously boasted, "Nobody rots with me." Despite his ruthless nature and the high casualty rate among the Nigelungen Division, Tanz had the absolute and total loyalty of his troops.
After Leningrad, Hitler ordered him retired from active combat duty; Tanz was considered too politically important to the war effort as a hero to be risked in further combat situations. Nigelungen was sent to Warsaw, Poland, to help quell resistance efforts there after the failed efforts of General von Seidlitz-Gabler to do so. He had a three-phase plan which would involve the total destruction of the city if he faced even the slightest resistance from the Poles and the Jews.
He was immediately disliked by both von Seidlitz-Gabler and his aide, General Kahlenberge. Kahlenenberge in particular was a proponent of peaceful coexistence with the people whom the Reich had conquered, considered Tanz's methods "monstrous." His plan went ahead and saw the razing of Warsaw following the killing of one of his men by a sniper. Tanz's soldiers used flamethrowers and tanks to destroy the city, killing several civilians.
But there was more to Tanz than simple brutality in war. The night Tanz arrived, there was a brutal murder of a Polish prostitute who was also an informer for German Intelligence's Major Grau. She'd been stabbed over one-hundred times by the police doctor's estimates, with most of the killer's attention paid to her sexual organs. Initially, Grau thought perhaps a Polish patriot had done it ("Patriotism has been known to have its vicious side," he commented on the perverse brutality of the killing). But under duress, a witness, one of the murdered woman's neighbors, described the killer as being a man in a German general's uniform.
Grau singled out von Seidlitz-Gabler, Tanz and Kahlenberge as the possible suspects as all three had no alibi the night of the murder. His digging around got him kicked upstairs; promoted to lieutenant colonel, he was transferred to Paris. Everyone considered him an obsessed lunatic for wanting avenge a murdered prostitute, but Grau insisted that spilled blood cried out for vengeance and that he intended to punish the killer for thinking he could get away with it just because he was an important general.
Three years later in 1944, Nibelungen had been remade into an SS Panzer division. Now a loyal and fanatical Nazi, Tanz arrived in Paris on the 18th of July, two days before the plot to assassinate Hitler. As it turned out, both von Seidlitz-Gabler and Kahlenberge were involved. To keep Tanz out of their hair, Kahlenberge assigned one of his men, Corporal Kurt Hartmann, to serve as Tanz's chauffeur and keep a close eye on him. It turned out Tanz was the murdered; he murdered a French woman and framed Hartmann for it. Hartmann fled France.
Grau didn't believe Hartmann committed the murder, and after learning from Kahlenberge that Hartmann had been driving Tanz, he knew he had his man. Even as the codeword Valkyrie came in over the airwaves, Grau drove to Tanz's headquarters, where he attempted to question him about the murder. Suddenly, though, word came that Hitler had survived the assassination, whereupon Tanz drew his sidearm and shot Grau. When his aide, Colonel Sandauer, came running in, Tanz told him Grau had been on the plot to kill Hitler, and that was why he'd shot him. Having no reason to doubt his superior, Sandauer had the body removed and Grau went down in history as one of the July 20th plotters.
23 years later, Tanz was in prison. His role in the destruction of Warsaw and his subsequent actions as an SS commander had gotten him tried and convicted as a war criminal, although he was never found guilty of the murder of the Polish and French women. Former French resistance member turned Interpol agent Morand sought to rectify this... especially following the murder of a third woman following Tanz's release from prison in 1965. He and the German police managed to track down the retired Hartmann, now living as a farmer, and brought him to a reunion of the Nibelungen Division, who were welcoming Tanz back from prison. Upon being confronted with a witness who could get him convicted, Tanz calmly requested the sidearm of a subordinate, then went into another room and shot himself rather than face a public trial.