Dietrich von Choltitz

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Dietrich von Choltitz
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-2003-1112-500, Dietrich v. Choltitz-2.png
Dietrich von Choltitz in 1940
Birth name Dietrich Hugo Hermann von Choltitz
Born (1894-11-09)9 November 1894
Gräflich Wiese, German Empire
Died 4 November 1966(1966-11-04) (aged 71)
Baden-Baden, West Germany
Allegiance  German Empire (to 1918)
 Weimar Republic (to 1933)
 Nazi Germany
Service/branch Heer
Years of service 1907–45
Rank General der Infanterie
Commands held 11. Panzer Division
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross

General der Infanterie Dietrich Hugo Hermann von Choltitz (9 November 1894 – 4 November 1966) was a German career military officer and war criminal who served in the Imperial German Army during World War I and the Wehrmacht during World War II. In 1945 he was held responsible for the extermination of thousands of Russian Jews after the siege and capture of Sevastopol, and spent several years in British and American prison camps. He is chiefly remembered as the last commander of Nazi-occupied Paris in 1944 who disobeyed orders to level the city before surrendering it to the Free French, and was hailed in some contemporaneous accounts as the "saviour of Paris".

Choltitz later asserted that his defiance of Hitler's direct order stemmed from its obvious military futility, his affection for the French capital's history and culture, and the realization that Hitler had by then become completely insane; but in the absence of independent corroboration his true motivation remains unknown.


In the First World War, Choltitz served as an infantry lieutenant with the Saxon Army on the Western Front. He remained in the Reichswehr during the Weimar Republic, becoming a cavalry captain in 1929. Later, he became commander of the 3rd battalion of the Luftlande-Infanterieregiment 16, first as a major, and from 1938 as a lieutenant colonel.

In World War II, Choltitz's battalion was engaged in the occupation of Rotterdam via air landings in 1940 (earning him a Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross). In September 1940 he became commander of the whole regiment and from 1941 as a full colonel. In the war against the Soviet Union, Choltitz's regiment was engaged in the siege of the city of Sevastopol in June 1942. In the same year he became a major general, and in 1943 a lieutenant general. His command posts included assistant commander of the 260th Infantry Division and commander of the 48th Panzer Corps. From March 1944, he served in Italy, and from June 1944 on the Western Front. Later, as an Allied prisoner at Trent Park in England, he admitted in a conversation with fellow prisoners (recorded by the British unknown to him or his fellow inmates) to "executing the most difficult order of my life in Russia, (...) liquidation of the Jews. I have executed this order in its entirety nonetheless..." (recorded on 29 August 1944).[1]

Governor of Paris[edit]

On 1 August 1944, Choltitz was promoted to the rank of general of infantry, and on 7 August was appointed military governor of Paris. At a meeting in Germany the following day, Hitler instructed him to be prepared to leave no Parisian religious building or historical monument standing. After Choltitz's arrival in Paris on 9 August, Hitler confirmed the order by cable: "The city must not fall into the enemy's hand except lying in complete debris."[2] A popular account holds that Hitler phoned Choltitz a week later at his headquarters in the Hôtel Meurice, in a rage, screaming, "Brennt Paris?" ("Is Paris burning?")[3] By another account, the question was addressed to Hitler's Chief of Staff, Generaloberst Alfred Jodl, on 25 August at the Wolf's Lair: "Jodl, is Paris burning?"[4]

Because Hitler's directive was not carried out, Choltitz has been described in some accounts, including several film and book portrayals, as the "saviour of Paris".[5] Many historians are skeptical of this descriptor; they point out that he had no trouble earlier in the war following orders to kill thousands of Russian Jews,[6] and that the German army was, by late August 1944, incapable of undertaking a wholesale destruction of Paris, as it had in Warsaw.[2] It is clear, however, that Choltitz could have done a substantial amount of damage to the city had he so chosen: After liberation, numerous important monuments, bridges, and museums were found wired with explosives, yet Choltitz never ordered the fuses lit.[6] On 25 August he surrendered the German garrison of 17,000 men to the Free French, leaving the city intact.[6]

Choltitz's precise motives for disobeying his orders remain unclear. The notion that he defied Hitler because he loved Paris, and realized that Hitler was by then insane, was promoted largely by Choltitz himself in his 1951 memoir,[7] and has since been perpetuated by Choltitz family members.[2] It is known that the Swedish consul-general in Paris, Raoul Nordling, held several meetings with Choltitz during which he negotiated the release of political prisoners. The all-night confrontation between the two men on the eve of the surrender, as depicted in the 1965 book and 1966 film Is Paris Burning?, and again in the 2014 film Diplomacy—in which Nordling persuades Choltitz to spare the city in return for a pledge to protect his family—was reported as factual in some contemporaneous newspaper stories,[8] but lacks a definitive historical basis.[6][7]

Captivity and later life[edit]

Choltitz (standing far left) at Trent Park.

Choltitz was held for a while at Trent Park in North London, a prison camp for senior German officers. Unbeknownst to the inmates, many of their conversations were recorded.[1][9] Selected transcripts were dramatized in the 2008 History Channel 5-part series The Wehrmacht. In the episode The Crimes, General von Choltitz is quoted as saying in October 1944:

We all share the guilt. We went along with everything, and we half-took the Nazis seriously instead of saying "to hell with you and your stupid nonsense". I misled my soldiers into believing this rubbish. I feel utterly ashamed of myself. Perhaps we bear even more guilt than these uneducated animals.

After a spell in Camp Clinton, Mississippi, Choltitz was released from Allied captivity in 1947. In 1956 he quietly revisited his wartime HQ at the Hotel Meurice in Paris. Reportedly the long time head barman of the hotel recognized the short, rotund man with "impossibly correct posture" wandering around the bar as if in a daze. After the manager of the hotel met him in the bar, he asked to see his old room. After seeing his old quarters for no more than fifteen minutes, the old General declined the manager's offer of champagne and left the hotel.

Dietrich von Choltitz died in November 1966 from a longstanding war illness in the city hospital of Baden-Baden. He was buried at the city cemetery of Baden-Baden in the presence of high-ranking French officers, including colonels Wagner (Military Commander of Baden-Baden), de Ravinel and Omézon.[10] Baden-Baden was the post-World War II French headquarters in Germany.

In Film[edit]

Awards and decorations[edit]

This article incorporates information from the equivalent article on the German Wikipedia.

His Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was presented and is registered by the Luftwaffe-Personalamt (LWA—Air Force Staff Office).[11] The Heerespersonalamt (HPA—Army Staff Office) received Oak Leaves to his Knight's Cross nomination for Generalmajor Choltitz on 19 January 1943 for his leadership of the XVII. Armee-Korps. The HPA did not approve the nomination on 27 January 1943.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Neitzel, Sonke ed.; Tapping Hitler's Generals: Transcripts of Secret Conversations, 1942-1945, London: Frontline, 2007
  2. ^ a b c Randall, C (24 August 2004). General 'spared Paris by disobeying Fuhrer'. archive. Retrieved 3 November 2014.
  3. ^ History of the Hotel Meurice and room 213
  4. ^ Scorched but not torched, The Herald, Scotland, 17 August 1994 |
  5. ^ "Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz Dies; 'Savior of Paris' in '44 was 71". The New York Times. November 6, 1966. p. 88. 
  6. ^ a b c d Denby, D. "War is Almost Over". New Yorker, October 27, 2014, pp.102-3.
  7. ^ a b Baruma, I. "The Argument that Saved Paris. New York Review of Books (October 15, 2014). Retrieved November 3, 2014.
  8. ^ The Swede who 'Saved Paris' from the Germans. The Milwaukee Journal - May 10, 1958. Retrieved November 3, 2014.
  9. ^ Listening to the Generals, Adam Ganz, Radio Play BBC Radio 4,
  10. ^
  11. ^ Thomas and Wegmann 1998, p. 39.
  12. ^ Thomas and Wegmann 1998, p. 40.
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 – Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtteile [The Bearers of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939–1945 — The Owners of the Highest Award of the Second World War of all Wehrmacht Branches] (in German). Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6. 
  • Patzwall, Klaus D.; Scherzer, Veit (2001). Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 – 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II [The German Cross 1941 – 1945 History and Recipients Volume 2] (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN 978-3-931533-45-8. 
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives] (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2. 
  • Thomas, Franz; Wegmann, Günter (1998). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Deutschen Wehrmacht 1939–1945 Teil III: Infanterie Band 4: C–Dow [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the German Wehrmacht 1939–1945 Part III: Infantry Volume 4: C–Dow] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2534-8. 

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
General der Panzertruppen Hermann Balck
Commander of 11.Panzer Division
4 March 1943 – 15 May 1943
Succeeded by
Generalleutnant Johann Mickl
Preceded by
General der Panzertruppen Otto von Knobelsdorff
Commander of XLVIII. Panzerkorps
6 May 1943 – 30 August 1943
Succeeded by
General der Panzertruppen Otto von Knobelsdorff
Preceded by
General der Panzertruppen Otto von Knobelsdorff
Commander of XLVIII. Panzerkorps
30 September 1943 – 21 October 1943
Succeeded by
General der Panzertruppen Heinrich Eberbach