Monday, 22 December 2014

The Hammerstein-Equords

A career officer, Kurt Gebhard Adolf Philipp Freiherr (Baron) von Hammerstein-Equord served on the General Staff during the First World War.

After the war he rose to the rank of Generaloberst (Colonel General – equivalent in rank to a full general in the British army or a four star general in the US army).

From 1930, he was commander-in-chief of the Reichswehr – the German army.

Hammerstein-Equord repeatedly warned President Hindenburg not to make Hitler chancellor.

On 26 January 1933, Hindenburg assured him he had no intention of appointing ‘that Austrian corporal’ chancellor. Four days later Hindenburg did just that.

In January 1934, under pressure from Hitler, Hammerstein-Equord was forced to resign as commander-in-chief of the Reichswehr.

He remained an ardent opponent of Hitler. He gave his daughter Maria-Theresa names of Jews scheduled for deportation or arrest, enabling her to hide them. Close to Ludwig Beck, Hammerstein-Equord supported Beck’s coup attempts.

He and his wife had seven children. Three of his daughters joined the Communist Party.

In 1939, Hammerstein-Equord was recalled to duty.

He repeatedly tried to lure Hitler to inspect his troops on the western front, where he intended the Führer to meet with a ‘fatal accident’. Hitler did not accept the invitations.

Hammerstein-Equord is often remembered for his system of classifying troops:
I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent -- their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy -- they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent -- he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.
In 1938, his son Kunrat (born in 1918) joined the army.

In 1940 his son Ludwig (born in 1919) joined the army.

Ludwig Hammerstein-Equord

After Kunrat was wounded, he trained as a lawyer. He became an instructor at the tank training school in Krampnitz.

In 1943, Hammerstein-Equord senior died of cancer.

After sustaining severe injuries on the eastern front, Ludwig was assigned to Berlin.

Ludwig was recruited to the resistance by Fritz-Dietlof von der Schulenburg. He later worked with Olbricht and Stauffenberg in the Bendlerblock.

Kunrat and Ludwig had close contact through their family with many resistance members, including Carl Goerdeler, Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist-Schmenzin, Axel von dem Bussche-Streithorst, Fabian von Schlabrendorff and Philipp von Boeselager.

Kunrat liaised with military districts to prepare them for the coup.

Ludwig was at the Bendlerblock on 20 July 1944 and took an active role in the coup. He was one of the officers who arrested the SS officer Pifrader when he came to question Claus von Stauffenberg that day. He was also present for the exchange of shots towards the end of the evening, in which Claus von Stauffenberg was wounded.

Once it became clear the coup had collapsed, Ludwig was able to use his knowledge of the Bendlerblock’s intricacies (he had lived there as a boy while his father was commander-in-chief) to effect his escape.

He lived underground with a Berlin family until the end of the war. The family was also hiding a Jewish woman.

His brother Kunrat obtained forged documents, escaped and lived as a vagrant in the Rhineland until the war was over.

Their mother and other family members were arrested under the doctrine of Sippenhaft (kin vengeance) and held in Buchenwald concentration camp and later at Regensburg prison. They survived the war.

After the war their brother Franz (born in 1921) became active in the World Council of Churches and worked extensively for Jewish-Christian dialogue.

Ludwig survived the war and was reunited with his family. He became a journalist and later a radio director.

He died on 26 February 1996.

Kunrat went into business. He died on 13 June 2007.

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