Friday, 16 January 2015

The Haeften brothers

Hans-Bernd August Gustav von Haeften (at his trial)

Born 18 December 1905



Werner Karl von Haeften

Born 9 October 1908

Claus von Stauffenberg’s aide

The Haeften brothers were nephews of Walther von Brauchitsch, the commander-in-chief of the German army from 4 February 1938 to 10 December 1941.

Hans-Bernd was a lawyer and worked for the Foreign Office. He was deeply religious, belonging to the Confessing Church (established by Karl BarthMartin Niemöller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, amongst others), and associated with the so-called Kreisau Circle – although he rarely attended, as his senior position made this too risky.

Werner was a lawyer who worked for a bank. He joined the army at the outbreak of war. From late 1943, having been wounded twice, he served as adjutant to Claus von Stauffenberg. He held the rank of First Lieutenant. A friend described him as ‘a kind of Siegfried with a sense of humour’.

In early 1944, Stauffenberg asked Werner to consider assassinating Hitler. Werner thought he could shoot Hitler with a pistol.

However, Hans-Bernd refused to have anything to do with killing Hitler. He persuaded his brother not to shoot Hitler as this would break the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ (the fifth commandment in the Lutheran division of the Decalogue). Thereafter, Werner remained troubled as to the morality of assassinating Hitler.

The effect of this dissuasion persisted. It is probably the reason that Werner took no part in the complicated process of arming the bomb on 20 July 1944.

However, Hans-Bernd did support overthrowing Hitler, and was ready on the day of the coup to help deliver control of the Foreign Office to the resistance.

Prior to 20 July 1944 Claus von Stauffenberg took the bomb to Hitler on (at least) two
occasions (11 and 15 July), but was prevented from using it. On those days Werner was ill, and Claus took another young officer of the conspiracy with him – Captain Friedrich Klausing.

On 20 July 1944, Werner accompanied Claus to the Wolf’s Lair. At various times that day he carried the plastic explosive.

Werner did not help arm the bomb – which was left to Claus despite the difficulties due to his injuries. As noted, it was probably Werner’s scruples about the assassination which prevented his involvement. The result was that Claus was able to arm only half the explosive before he was interrupted by one of the worst-timed phone calls in history.

After placing the briefcase, Claus joined Werner and two others to watch the explosion. Satisfied that Hitler must be dead, Werner travelled with Claus in their car to the airfield. On the way he threw from the car a parcel containing the unused plastic explosive – an action observed by the driver. When the driver reported what he had seen, the unused explosive was recovered, pointing to the involvement of the two officers in the bombing.

Throughout the afternoon and evening of 20 July, Werner remained with Claus at the Bendlerblock (Home Army headquarters) in Berlin.

Hans-Bernd waited with Adam von Trott and others in the Foreign Office. They expected an armed escort to Broadcasting House, where they would make broadcasts on behalf of the new regime. When they saw the roadblocks being removed as the plot unravelled, a friend described it as a ‘ghastly moment’ and said Hans-Bernd went ‘white as a sheet’.

In the early hours of 21 July 1944, General Fromm summarily sentenced Claus von Stauffenberg, along with Werner, as well as General Olbricht and Colonel Mertz, to death by firing squad – a sentence carried out forthwith.

Werner died when he threw himself in front of the volley meant for Claus.

With his brother Werner so deeply involved in the July plot, Hans-Bernd was an early suspect. 

On 23 July 1944, he was arrested.

On 15 August 1944, he was brought before the Nazi 'People’s Court'. During his trial he described Hitler as ‘the incarnation of evil in history’. 

He was hanged that day in Plötzensee prison.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Hans von Dohnányi

Dr Hans von Dohnányi (or ‘Hans von Dohnanyi’ – he began using the accent in his surname in about 1925) was born on 1 January 1902.

The son of a Hungarian composer and pianist (his son Christoph would become a prominent conductor), Hans von Dohnányi was brought up in Berlin, where he studied law before gaining his doctorate in Hamburg.

He qualified as a lawyer in 1928.

He was a friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer from school days, and in 1925 married Dietrich’s sister Christine. They had three children – Klaus, Christoph and Barbara.

He worked for the Ministry of Justice from 1929 until early 1932 and then from June 1933 to late 1938 he returned to the Ministry. He was personal adviser to Franz Gürtner, the Minister for Justice. Hitler kept Gürtner in office after becoming chancellor. Later Dohnányi headed Gürtner’s ministerial office. In these roles he met senior Nazi leaders.

From 1933 Dohnányi systematically gathered information on Nazi crimes – including in concentration camps. He hoped to place Hitler and other senior Nazis on trial.

From early 1938 he was in contact with opponents of Hitler, and he was a leading figure in plans for a coup in September 1938 at the time of the Sudetenland crisis. He discussed with his father-in-law, Karl Bonhoeffer (a prominent psychiatrist) providing a psychiatric opinion at a trial of Hitler.

In late 1938 the Nazis forced him to resign from the Ministry of Justice, and transferred him to the Supreme Court of the Reich in Leipzig. In late 1939 Hans Oster asked for him to be transferred to the Abwehr (military intelligence - and a centre for the resistance to Nazism).

In 1939 and 1940 he was a key liaison for Josef Müller in his negotiations on behalf of the resistance with the Allies through the Vatican. He also worked to obtain explosives for a bomb to be used against Hitler prior to the attack in the west.

In early 1943 he was involved in Henning von Tresckow’s attempts to assassinate Hitler and stage a coup. He was instrumental in obtaining explosives and he prepared proclamations (approved by General Beck) to be read over the radio in the event the assassination succeeded. Dohnányi and Oster had compiled a fund of information to be used in propaganda.

While at the Abwehr he helped Jews escape by enrolling them as Abwehr agents and sending them to Switzerland.

On 5 April 1943, along with his wife Christine,  Dietrich Bonhoeffer (whom he had recruited to the resistance), and Dr Josef Müller, Dohnányi was arrested by the Gestapo, allegedly for breach of foreign currency regulations. They had sent money to support the Jewish ‘agents’ they had sent to Switzerland.

Dohnányi had on his desk a communication to Josef Müller as to the failure of the March 1943 plots against Hitler. It was disguised as intelligence material, so there was no need to hide it. When General Oster tried to conceal the papers, he also fell under suspicion, and was removed from office (an important blow for the German resistance).

Christine was released some weeks later.
Dohnányi endured a long imprisonment at the Gestapo headquarters in Prinzalbrechtstrasse in Berlin. He was repeatedly interrogated.

His wife smuggled infected food to him so that he contracted a serious illness and was removed to the police hospital – where it might be easier to escape.

Meanwhile Gestapo investigations following the July plot uncovered evidence of Dohnányi’s activities against the regime.

Learning that Dohnányi was to be transferred to a concentration camp, his doctor gave him drugs to incapacitate him – hoping this would save his life. However, on 6 April 1945 he arrived at the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.

That day, semi-conscious and on a stretcher, he was ‘tried’ before Otto Thorbeck, with SS Standartenführer Walter Huppenkothen prosecuting, and sentenced to death.

He was hanged by the SS at Sachsenhausen, probably on 9 April 1945.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Fritz Wiedemann

Born on 16 August 1891, Fritz Wiedemann was a colourful character who was Hitler’s commander in the First World War, later Hitler's personal adjutant, and then a diplomat - before he turned on Hitler.

Hitler’s superior during the First World War, Wiedemann provided strong support for the Austrian soldier. He nominated Hitler for the Iron Cross First Class on several occasions before it was eventually awarded in 1918.

After the war, Wiedemann refused an invitation from Hitler to organise the SA.

When Hitler came to power, Wiedemann accepted an offer to serve as his adjutant. He accompanied the Führer on state visits, answered correspondence and kept his diary.

In July 1938, Wiedemann travelled to London, with Hitler’s approval, and met with Lord Halifax (British Foreign Secretary) to discuss the Sudeten issue. Halifax told Wiedemann that a solution of the Sudeten German question by force would not be calmly accepted by the British people.

Wiedemann told Halifax that the latest possible date for a solution was March 1939, having obtained that date from Hitler and having it confirmed by the OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht – High Command of the Armed Forces).

On Wiedemann’s return, Hitler did not let him report in detail. Hitler’s dismissive response hardened Ludwig Beck (at that time still the Chief of Staff of the German Army) to the view that reasoned argument would no longer be effective with Hitler.

Wiedemann let his London contacts know that Hitler intended to solve the Sudeten question by force in the immediate future.

In 1937, Wiedemann commenced an affair with Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe – a relationship which annoyed the Führer. In January 1939, no longer in favour with Hitler, Wiedemann was appointed German Consul-General in San Francisco. Princess von Hohenlohe joined him in the United States.

Whilst there he privately warned British representatives that Hitler’s support at home was not as strong as might appear, and that Hitler had an unstable personality and was very dangerous. He urged the British to strike at Hitler as soon as possible.

He offered to US authorities to publicly denounce the German regime, but the US did not want this embarrassment at the time.

Wiedemann was subsequently sent to Tianjin in Japanese-occupied China.

After the war Wiedemann gave evidence at Nuremberg.

He died on 17 January 1970.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Count Schwerin von Schwanenfeld

Ulrich-Wilhelm, Count Schwerin von Schwanenfeld (1902-1944)
- at his trial before the Nazi 'People's Court'

Schwerin was a firm opponent of the Nazis even before they came to power.
He was a leading member of the so-called ‘Kreisau circle’.

As adjutant to Field Marshal Witzleben he had numerous connexions with high-ranking military and civilian figures, often liaising between the civilian and military arms of the resistance. He was a close friend of Peter Count Yorck von Wartenburg and Fritz-Dietlof von der Schulenburg.

In 1938, he was involved in the projected coup at the time of the Sudeten crisis.

After the war began, he became aware of a massacre of Jews which took place in a gravel pit on his own estate. He passed this information to many in the resistance.

In 1942, after Witzleben’s dismissal, General Oster (one of the architects of the German resistance) appointed Schwerin to the Abwehr (military intelligence) office at the OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht – High Command of the Armed Forces) in Berlin, where he could continue work for the resistance.

In September 1943 Schwerin met Claus von Stauffenberg at the OKW in Berlin.

Schwerin was pessimistic about the chances of the July plot succeeding, but he continued to work for the project and advocate the necessity of assassinating Hitler.

On the day of the coup he drove General Beck (the conspirators' designated post-Nazi head of State) to the Bendlerblock (Home Army headquarters and the nerve centre of the coup). He waited for news with Claus von Stauffenberg’s brother Berthold, along with Yorck and Schulenburg. 

He was present for the fiery conference between Claus and Witzleben late that evening. The field marshal had been appointed head of the German armed forces by the conspirators, and was furious at the mistakes that meant that the coup was unravelling.

Schwerin was arrested in the Bendlerblock after the coup collapsed.

His elderly mother, wife and sons were taken into custody under Sippenhaft (kin vengeance).

On 20 August 1944, Schwerin was brought to trial before the People’s Court. An edited film of the proceedings has survived. Schwerin spoke of the ‘many murders’ committed by the regime - at home and abroad. He was cut off by presiding judge Roland Freisler’s thundering invective.

Freisler sentenced him to death.

On that last day, the wife of a political prisoner saw him:
I was standing at the heavy iron inside door of the prison, trying to talk an SS man into taking in a parcel for me. Suddenly the prison door opened, and through it strode calmly and erectly a man with his hands bound behind his back, followed by a little Gestapo man who looked to me like a reptile. The SS man whispered to me: ‘That is Count Schwerin – Plötzensee.’ I knew what Plötzensee meant, and through my mind there flashed the realization: ‘This is a man who knows how to die.’

Schwerin had just enough time to write a short letter to his wife before he was executed:
My darling: Now the last hour has come.  
I can give you no further counsel, I can ask you only to make the youth of our children as happy as possible under all the present restrictions. Think of your own childhood. Let the boys study a great deal and adopt professions suited to their capabilities and fitting them for advancement … 
I go to my death unbowed, with the firm conviction that I have done nothing for myself, and everything for our fatherland. This must remain ever a certainty for you, and something you tell our sons over and over. You know that my actions were at all times directed to the welfare of Germany, in the family tradition of an ardent patriotism outweighing all else …  Bring up our sons as Christian noblemen, with neither narrowness nor slackness in their convictions.  
And finally, from my overflowing heart, thanks to you for your love that made my life beautiful. Be brave, and preserve your love for me to the end of your life.  
I must stop. Greet all those whom I love and who have loved me and cherished me.  
I embrace you and the boys in thought, with eternal gratitude to you.  
Your Ulrich-Wilhelm

His family members survived the war.