||This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (November 2013)|
Kempka driving Hitler and Mussolini, 1937
16 September 1910|
|Died||24 January 1975
Freiberg am Neckar, West Germany
|Years of service||1932-1945|
|Awards||SS Honor Sword|
SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant colonel) Erich Kempka (16 September 1910 – 24 January 1975) served as Adolf Hitler's chauffeur from 1934 to April, 1945. He was SS member #2,803 and served in the Allgemeine SS.
Kempka served as chauffeur for Josef Terboven until 29 February 1932, when, based on Terboven's recommendation, he was tasked as a reserve driver for Hitler's personal entourage. In 1934, he was present at the arrest of Ernst Röhm. In 1936, he replaced Julius Schreck as Hitler's primary chauffeur and chief of his car fleet. As his chaufeur Kempka usually drove one of Hitler's black Mercedes cars from a fleet of six to eight which were stationed in Berlin, Munich and other places. Unless in the company of an important personality, Hitler would sit in the front, next to Kempka, with his valet behind him. In a cavalcade, Hitler's car would be followed by a second car with the SS bodyguard, then a police car, further a car with his adjudants and physician, and more cars for press agency representatives, stenographers, and provisions. Later, Hitler's car was protected by bulletproof glass and armor plates.
On 1 December 1937, Kempka joined the Lebensborn society. He was also awarded a Totenkopfring and the SS Honor Sword from Heinrich Himmler. Kempka had been engaged to Gerda Daranowski, a private secretary of Hitler's. She later married Luftwaffe officer Eckhard Christian on 2 February 1943.
In 1945, as the end of the Third Reich drew near, Kempka accompanied Hitler to the Reich Chancellery and later the Führerbunker. By then, Kempka oversaw a fleet of 40 vehicles. On 20 April, ten days before Hitler's suicide, he briefly wished the Führer a happy birthday and spent about fifteen minutes with him.
Kempka was one of those responsible for the burning of Hitler and Eva Braun's corpses after they committed suicide together on the afternoon of 30 April 1945. Otto Günsche telephoned Kempka to deliver 200 litres of gasoline to the garden behind the Reich Chancellery. Kempka and his men brought over eight to ten Army petrol cans and deposited them by the emergency exit of the Führerbunker. Later, SS guards brought over additional cans of petrol to further burn the corpses. Kempka left the bunker complex on the following night of 1 May along with SS-Hauptscharführer Heinrich Doose, a driver who was part of his staff. During his escape, Kempka came across Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant colonel) Georg Betz† (Hitler's personal co-pilot and Hans Baur's substitute) and left him in the care of Kaethe Hausermann. On 20 June, Kempka was captured by U.S. troops at Berchtesgaden.
†According to The Last Days Of Adolf Hitler, H. R. Trevor-Roper, p. 128, Betz was last observed in the area of the Weidendammer Bridge as part of a group which left the Führerbunker during the evening of 1 May 1945. Other sources give more details as to Betz's fate, stating that he died from wounds received during the crossing of the Weidendammer bridge.
Despite claims made to the contrary during his interrogation, Kempka later admitted that when Hitler and Eva Braun locked themselves in a room to commit suicide, he lost his nerve and ran out of the Führerbunker, returning only after Hitler and Braun were dead. By the time he returned to the bunker, Hitler and Braun's bodies were already being carried upstairs for cremation.
Despite his questionable reliability, many interviewers quote Kempka in their accounts of Hitler's suicide because of his colorful (and raunchy) language. For example, one interviewer, O'Donnell, recounted the following quips in his book, The Bunker:
- He referred to General Hermann Fegelein as having "his brains in his scrotum" (Fegelein was executed by Hitler for trying to desert Berlin with his mistress).
- He remarked that when Magda Goebbels was around Hitler, you could "hear her ovaries rattling" (Magda Goebbels was said to be quite attached to Hitler psychologically).
- When Martin Bormann carried Eva Braun's corpse out of the bunker, Kempka took the body from him and insisted on carrying it up himself, remarking that Bormann was carrying Braun "like a sack of potatoes" (Bormann and Braun had a mutual dislike).
At the Nuremberg trials, Kempka was called to testify because he claimed to have seen Martin Bormann killed by a Soviet anti-tank rocket. He later referred to Eva Braun as "the unhappiest woman in Germany". He was released on 9 October 1947.
He died on 24 January 1975, aged sixty-four, in Freiberg am Neckar.
Kempka retained his association with the "Führer-Begleit-Kommando" by attending reunions of I SS Panzer Corps members until the year before his death. His memoirs first appeared in 1951 under the title Ich habe Adolf Hitler verbrannt (I cremated Adolf Hitler). In 1975, it was reissued with a foreword by author and former member of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Erich Kern under the less sensationalist title Die letzten Tage mit Adolf Hitler (The Last Days with Adolf Hitler). An English edition of the book was published in 2010 by Frontline Books-Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., under the title I was Hitler's Chauffeur: The Memoirs of Erich Kempka, with an introduction by Roger Moorhouse.
Portrayal in the media
Erich Kempka was portrayed by Jürgen Tonkel in the 2004 German film Downfall (Der Untergang). He is also played by Axel Werner in the comedy film Mein Führer – Die wirklich wahrste Wahrheit über Adolf Hitler.
Media related to Erich Kempka at Wikimedia Commons
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- Dietrich, Otto (2010). The Hitler I Knew: Memoirs of the Third Reich's Press Chief. Skyhorse Publishing. ISBN 978-1-60239-972-3.
- Hamilton, Charles (1984). Leaders & Personalities of the Third Reich, Vol. 1. R. James Bender Publishing. ISBN 0-912138-27-0.
- Joachimsthaler, Anton (1999) . The Last Days of Hitler: The Legends, The Evidence, The Truth. Brockhampton Press. ISBN 1-86019-902-X.
- Kempka, Erich (2010), I was Hitler's Chauffeur, London: Frontline Books-Skyhorse Publishing, Inc, ISBN 978-1-84832-550-0
- Kershaw, Ian (2008), Hitler: A Biography, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-06757-2