i Introductions: Three Portraits In December 1940 the lord mayor of Heidenheim, a small town fifty miles east of Stuttgart, sent a Christmas gift parcel to Wehrmacht troops born in the town and now serving abroad. It contained a fir branch as a token of the trees that decorated their homes, Magenbrot (locally made biscuits), cigars and a color postcard of Major General Erwin Rommel, Heidenheim's most famous son. Rommel was forty-nine years old and had commanded the 7th Panzer Division during the invasion of France. The spectacular success of his armored blitzkrieg made him the first divisional commander to reach the English Channel coast and his name was celebrated throughout Germany. Jealous voices in the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (High Command of the Armed Forces) already whispered that he was Hitler's favorite general, but the troops applauded him and none more than those also born in Heidenheim. One soldier replied to the mayor: "My greatest thanks for the Rommel card. This picture catches our general exactly as he is in real life. Hard and relentless on himself and his men. It was with this face that he himself fired a round from a flare gun into the vision slit of a French tank, forcing it to retire. This is "our Rommel." Can I ask you to send me more cards for my comrades?" Although sent ostensibly by the mayor of Heidenheim, the parcel was funded by the local branch of the National Socialist Party. The postcard had been reproduced from a portrait painted by war artist Wolfgang Willrich. Sergeant Willrich believed that art should portray the "heroic ideal" defined in racial as well as military terms and had produced a book of drawings, Des edlen ewiges Reich (The Everlasting Nobility of the Reich). He was recruited by Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and attached to the Propaganda Company that traveled with the 7th Division in its thrust across France. The portrait of Rommel showed him in uniform and greatcoat with a cap and goggles, wearing the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and the Pour le Mérite. War correspondent Hanns Gert von Esebeck described in print the Rommel caught on canvas by Willrich: "He has a high forehead, a strong, forceful nose, prominent cheekbones, a narrow mouth with tight lips, and a chin of great determination. The strong lines around his nostrils and the corners of his mouth relax only when he smiles. His clear blue eyes, penetrating and focused, reveal the cunning that marks the man." At the end of the war the victorious Allies portrayed Rommel for reasons of their own as "the good German" and "conspirator against Hitler." Much was made of the fact that he had never joined the Nazi Party. But neither did Willrich, who considered his work to be a record of racial purity and who in his portrait of the general caught a quite different Rommel. Here was the original Rommel formed by the nationalist bias of the Second Reich in which he grew up and the war academy he attended as a young man. He was a nationalist and a devout believer in the Führer, and cooperated happily with both the portrait painter and the propaganda minister in presenting an image not only of the victory of the Wehrmacht over its enemies but also of the German superiority that they defined in racial terms. Rommel appears to have had no problem with that and accepted Willrich as happily as he did Lieutenant Karl-August Hanke, the "Party man" attached to the 7th Division: "I won't have to watch my tongue, but some of the others will be on guard." When Goebbels wrote in his diary that Rommel was "not just sympathetic to the National Socialists; he is a National Socialist," he was aware of the general's ?non-?membership but implying a deeper identity. Willrich saw this too and caught it brilliantly on canvas: an innate sense of superi Excerpted from Patton, Montgomery, Rommel: Masters of War by Terry Brighton All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.