Admiral Wilhelm Canaris was Chief of the German Military Intelligence, the Abwehr spy network - a shrewd, brilliant spymaster who not only managed to keep control of the Abwehr.
Wilhelm Canaris led a double life, and still today he is the number one mystery man of the Nazi regime. On the one hand he maintained close ties with the German resistance and highly protected and motivated the opponents of the regime in a dangerous plot to eliminate Hitler and make a separate peace with the Allies. At the same time he was responsible for running the Nazi secret service and hunting his associates as conspirators - one of the many contradictions he was forced to live with in order to stay in control of the Abwehr.
The likeable, cultured spymaster had eyes and ears everywhere, and he had files full of damaging evidence against the leading Nazis, among them Heydrich and Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler - some sort of incriminating evidence that made them afraid to cross the Admiral. For years Himmler went on protecting Canaris.
The Admiral held Hitler in utter contempt. One of the world's leading authorities on the Nazi period, Joachim Fest, tells in his book Plotting Hitler's Death about one of Canaris' trips to Spain. Canaris would spring to attention in his open car and raise his arm in the Hitler salute every time he drove past a herd of sheep. You never know, Canaris said, whether one of the party bigwigs might be in the crowd.
Admiral Canaris was a strange man, whom nobody seemed to be able to assess correctly. He had a wife and two daughters, but took little part in family life and seemed more attached to his two dachshunds. Walter Schellenberg, head of the unified German secret services after the arrest of Canaris, recalled him in his memoirs:
"Canaris was a highly intelligent and sensitive man with many likeable qualities. He loved his dogs and his horse almost more than any other living creatures. He often said to me, Schellenberg, always remember the goodness of animals. You see, my dachshund is discreet and will never betray me - I cannot say that of any human being .."
Admiral Wilhelm Canaris
In his book Righteous Deception: German Officers Against Hitler the author David Alan Johnson focuses on the activities of Canaris who did everything possible to prevent Hitler from winning the war, which the Admiral believed would be a catastrophe. Not only was Canaris a dedicated anti-Nazi. He probably accomplished more toward the downfall of Hitler than the rest of his companions combined.
After the war major general Erwin Lahousen, formerly on Admiral Canaris' staff, said that his chief had human qualities that placed him far above the usual military bureaucrat: "He hated Hitler, his system and his methods. He hated war. He was a human being .."
Another Canaris associate, Hans Bernd Gisevius, recalled the Admiral in his book from 1947 To the Bitter End:
"Canaris hated not only Hitler and Himmler, but the entire Nazi system as a political phenomenon .. He was everywhere and nowhere at once. Everywhere he traveled, at home and abroad and to the front, he always left a whirl of confusion behind him .. In reality this small, frail, and somewhat timid man was a vibrating bundle of nerves. Extremely well read, oversensitive, Canaris was an outsider in every respect. In bearing and manner of work he was the most unmilitary of persons .."
After World War 2 The Nuremberg War Crimes Trials revealed Canaris' strenuous efforts in trying to put a stop to the crimes of war and genocide committed by the Nazis. It was also revealed that Canaris prevented the killing of captured French officers in Tunisia just as he saved hundreds of Jews during the war ..