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.
His family members survived the war.
This is an edited extract from TREASON: Claus von Stauffenberg and the Plot to Kill Hitler