Hans Kammler

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Hans (Heinz) Friedrich Karl Franz Kammler
Hans Kammler.jpg
NSDAP Id photograph, 1932
Born (1902-08-26)26 August 1902
Stettin, German Empire
Died Unknown
Allegiance Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Service/branch Flag Schutzstaffel.svg Schutzstaffel
Rank SS-Obergruppenführer Collar Rank.svg Obergruppenführer
Battles/wars
  • World War I
  • World War II

General Dr Ing. Hans (Heinz) Friedrich Karl Franz Kammler (born 26 August 1901; date of death unknown) was a German civil engineer and high-ranking officer of the Schutzstaffel (SS). He oversaw SS construction projects, and towards the end of World War II was put in charge of the V-2 missile and jet programmes. He holds the historic distinction of being the last person in Nazi Germany to receive a promotion to the rank of SS-Obergruppenführer with date of rank from 1 March 1945.[1]

He is most commonly referred to as Hans Kammler.

Early life[edit]

Kammler was born in Stettin, German Empire (now Szczecin, Poland). In 1919, after volunteering for army service, he served in the extreme right Rossbach Freikorps. From 1919 to 1923, he studied civil engineering at the Technische Hochschule der Freien Stadt Danzig and Munich, and was awarded his Dr. Ing. in November 1932, following some years of practical work in local building administration.[2]

Kammler joined the Nazi Party (NSDAP) in 1931,[3] and held a variety of administrative positions after the Nazi government came to power in 1933, initially as head of the Aviation Ministry's building department. He joined the SS (no. 113,619) on 20 May 1933. In 1934, he was a councillor for the Reich's Interior Ministry.

In 1934, he also was the leader of the Reichsbund der Kleingärtner und Kleinsiedler (Reich's federation of small gardeners and landowners).[4]

World War II[edit]

In June 1941, Kammler joined the Waffen-SS.[3]

Kammler eventually became Oswald Pohl's deputy at the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (WVHA), which oversaw Amtsgruppe D (Amt D), the administration of the concentration camp system, and was also Chief of Amt C, which designed and constructed all the concentration and extermination camps. In this latter capacity he oversaw the installation of more efficient cremation facilities at Auschwitz-Birkenau as part of the camp's conversion to an extermination camp.[5][6]

Role on advanced weapon projects[edit]

A V-2 launched from a fixed site in summer 1943
Map of the Pas-de-Calais and south-eastern England showing the location of Éperlecques and other major V-weapons sites

Before the beginning of World War II, there are no indications that Kammler was involved in any advanced engineering projects afar from his educational background. Also, in the early years of the war nothing suggests his involvement in any weapons projects.

Clear links between Kammler and advanced weapon projects seem to appear only in 1942. An early evidence of this is a letter from Oswald Pohl to Himmler referring an interdepartmental memorandum on the manufacturing of modern weapons in concentration camps, having Kammler as one of the participants.

Kammler was also charged with constructing facilities for various secret weapons projects, including manufacturing plants and test stands for the Messerschmitt Me 262 and V-2. Following the Allied bombing raids on Peenemünde in Operation Hydra, in August 1943, Kammler assumed responsibility for the construction of mass-production facilities for the V-2.[3] He started moving these production facilities underground, which resulted in the Mittelwerk facility and its attendant concentration camp complex, Mittelbau-Dora, which housed slave labour for constructing the factory and working on the production lines. The project was pushed ahead under enormous time pressures despite the consequences for the slave laborers employed on it. Kammler's motto at the time was reportedly, "Don't worry about the victims. The work must proceed ahead in the shortest time possible".[7]

During this period, Kammler also was involved in the attempt to finish the Blockhaus d'Éperlecques known also as the Watten Bunker, a rather unsuccessful project to create a fortified V-2 launch base.

Albert Speer made Kammler his representative for "special construction tasks", expecting that Kammler would commit himself to working in harmony with the ministry's main construction committee. But in March 1944 Kammler had Göring appoint him as his delegate for "special buildings" under the fighter aircraft programme, which made him one of the war economy's most important managers, and robbed Speer of much of his influence.[8]

Concentration camps[edit]

Generically, after the Reich's failure to attain a victory against USSR, Kammler started to answer for an ever-growing amount of projects, most of them related to construction and engineering. Concentration camps, means of mass extermination (ex. crematories at Auschwitz), factories, slave labor management, underground facilities of various purposes and tank construction, were some of the hallmarks of his early years in the SS hierarchy. As far as it is known, he also directly supervised several project bureaus and had direct contact with some of the best engineers of the Reich (ex. Ferdinand Porsche). As a person, he was characterized by one of his subordinates as intelligent, a pure workaholic, completely given to his work, with a fanatic rhythm and demanding the same from everyone else. He also was characterized as being highly secretive, purely authoritarian, with a total lack of morality, frequently using very radical and brutal means to force subordinates to work under his tempo. After the war, these features led to many tales about his wartime work, but, before that, they created the path to the top of his career.[citation needed]

In 1944, Himmler convinced Adolf Hitler to put the V-2 project directly under SS control, and on 8 August Kammler replaced Walter Dornberger as its director. From 31 January 1945, Kammler was head of all missile projects.[3] During this time he also partially answered for the operational use of the V-2 against the Allies, until the moment the war front reached Germany's borders. During the retreat, he was directly involved in the massacre of 208 slave-labourers near Warstein.[citation needed]

In March 1945, partially under the advice of Goebbels, Hitler gradually stripped Goering of several powers on aircraft support, maintenance and supply, transferring them to Kammler. This culminated, in the beginning of April, by Kammler being raised to "Fuehrer's general plenipotentiary for jet aircraft".[8]

Also in March 1945, as US forces were advancing through Germany, the slave workers housed in the Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp were to be executed as security risks. It is believed that the order for their murder was received by Kammler, but he did not comply with it.[citation needed]

On 1 April 1945, Kammler ordered the evacuation of 500 missile technicians to the Alps. Since the last V-2 on the western front had been launched in late March, on 5 April Kammler was charged by the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht to command the defence of the Nordhausen area. However, rather than defend the missile construction works, he immediately ordered the destruction of all the "special V-1 equipment" at the Syke storage site. What exactly this order implied is unclear.[3]

Death[edit]

It is unknown when or where Kammler died.

Preuk statement[edit]

On 9 July 1945, Kammler's widow petitioned to have him declared dead as of 9 May 1945, adducing a sworn statement by Kammler's driver, Kurt Preuk, according to which Preuk had personally seen "the corpse of Kammler and been present at his burial" on 9 May 1945. The District Court of Berlin-Charlottenburg ruled on 7 September 1948 that his death was officially established as 9 May 1945.[3]

In a later sworn statement on 16 October 1959, Preuk stated that Kammler's date of death was "about 10 May 1945", but that he did not know the cause of death. However, it must be recognised that many ex Nazis made many sworn statements, to suit many ends.[citation needed] On 7 September 1965, Heinz Zeuner (a wartime aide of Kammler's), stated that Kammler had died on 7 May 1945 and that his corpse had been observed by Zeuner, Preuk and others. All the eyewitnesses consulted were certain that the cause of death was cyanide poisoning.[9] In addition to testifying to Kammler's suicide by cyanide, Zeuner also claimed earlier that Kammler had asked Zeuner to shoot him. However, doubt has been cast on Zeuner's evidence since he is reported to have told an earlier denazification hearing in February 1948 that he was already in US custody on 2 May 1945.[citation needed]. Zeuner's evidence in several sworn statements has subsequently been shown to conflict directly with declassified records.[citation needed]

In their accounts of Kammler's movements Preuk and Zeuner claimed that he left Linderhof near Oberammergau on 28 April 1945 for a tank conference at Salzburg and then went to Ebensee (where tank tracks were manufactured). According to Preuk and Zeuner he then travelled back from Ebensee to visit his wife in the Tyrol region, when he gave her two cyanide tablets. The next day, 5 May, at around 4 am, he is said to have departed Tyrol for Prague.[3]

Wernher von Braun, also at the time at Oberammergau, later reported having overheard a discussion between Kammler and his aide-de-camp in which Kammler said he planned to hide in nearby Kloster Ettal. Kammler and his followers then left town, according to Braun.[3]

Further evidence of Kammler's activities is a telegraph from Kammler to Speer, Himmler and Göring of 16 April, informing them of the creation of a "message centre" at Munich and the appointment of a chief representative for the construction of the Me 262. On 18 April, he called for a meeting at the Oberbefehlshaber West, which never happened. On 20 April, he reportedly arrived with a group of technicians at Himmler’s Kommandostelle near Salzburg. On 23 April, Kammler sent a radio message to his office manager at Berlin, ordering him to organize the immediate destruction of the "V-1 equipment near Berlin" and then to go to Munich.[3]

In late April/early May, Kammler was reportedly at the Villa Mendelssohn at Ebensee, site of one of the projects assigned to him. On 4 May, he ordered the immediate transfer of the Ebensee office to Prague.[3]

Preuk and Zeuner maintained their version of events through the 1990s, when interviewed by the journalist Kristian Knaack. Some support for this version of events came from letters written by Ingeborg Alix Prinzessin zu Schaumburg-Lippe, a female member of the SS-Helferinnenkorps to Kammler’s wife in 1951 and 1955. In these, she affirmed that Kammler had said goodbye to her on 7 May 1945 in Prague, stating that the Americans were after him, had made him offers but that he had refused and that they would not "get him alive".[3]

However, Preuk and Zeuner's testimony clashes with the known movements of US Divisions throughout Austria in May 1945. By 4 May 1945 the US 103rd Infantry was already at Innsbruck, preventing Kammler from travelling from Ebensee to Tyrol. The US 88th Infantry division had arrived from Italy cutting off any route to the Tyrol from the south while the US 44th Infantry Division established a command post at Imst in Tyrol on 4 May 1945 and together with the 103rd entirely controlled the Tyrol region preventing Kammler from visiting his wife.[citation needed] Preuk is quite clear that they drove everywhere so that it would have been impossible to bypass US checkpoints.

A further complication is that the 80th Infantry Division reached Ebensee on 4 May 1945,[10] and the concentration camp itself was liberated by two M-18 tank destroyers of the US 80th Division at 2.50 p.m. on 5 May 1945. This would have made it highly likely that Kammler would have been apprehended by US forces.[citation needed]

Prague[edit]

Author Bernd Ruland, in his 1969 book Wernher von Braun: Mein Leben für die Raumfahrt, reports an altogether different account of Kammler's death. According to Ruland, Kammler arrived in Prague by aircraft on 4 May 1945, following which he and 21 SS men defended a bunker against an attack by more than 500 Czech resistance fighters on 9 May. During the attack, Kammler's aide-de-camp Sturmbannführer Starck shot Kammler to avoid him falling into enemy hands.[11] This version can reportedly be traced to Walter Dornberger, who in turn is said to have heard it from eyewitnesses.[12]

Controversy[edit]

In his book The Hunt for Zero Point (2001), author Nick Cook raised the possibility that Kammler was brought to the United States along with other German scientists as part of Operation Paperclip as a result of his supposed involvement in secret German projects such as Die Glocke. Joseph P. Farrell's "Reich of the Black Sun" (2005) casts further doubt upon the facts surrounding his death.[13] However, Farrell's only source is the book Blunder! How the U.S. Gave Away Nazi Supersecrets to Russia (1985) by self-identified "British intelligence agent" Tom Agoston.[14]

Post-war search for Kammler[edit]

US occupation forces conducted various inquiries into Kammler’s whereabouts, beginning with the headquarters of 12th Army ordering a complete inventory of all personnel involved in missile production on 21 May 1945. This resulted in the creation of a file for Kammler, stating that he was possibly in Munich. The CIC noted that he had been seen shortly prior to the arrival of US troops in Oberjoch.[15]

Rumours about Kammler's death either did not reach the US authorities or were disbelieved. The Combined Intelligence Objectives Sub-Committee (CIOS) in London ordered a search for him in early July 1945. In response, 12th Army replied on 14 July that he was last seen on 8/9 April in the Harz region. In August, Kammler's name made "List 13" of the UN for Nazi war criminals. Only in 1948 did the CIOS receive the information that Kammler reportedly fled to Prague and had committed suicide. The informant also claimed that Kammler had always carried his blueprints with him and that there was a rumour among his former close associates that Kammler was by now working in the Soviet Union. Original blueprints of Kammler’s major projects were later found in the personal property of Samuel Goudsmit, the scientific leader of the Alsos Mission.[15]

In June 1949, the denazification office of the US authorities in Hesse launched an inquiry into Kammler's political actions before the end of the war, not on his whereabouts. The reason for this inquiry is not documented. However, a report written by one Oskar Packe on Kammler was subsequently filed. The very thorough report stated on Kammler's whereabouts that he had been arrested by US troops on 9 May 1945 at the Messerschmidt works at Oberammergau. However, Kammler and some other senior SS personnel had managed to escape in the direction of Austria or Italy. Packe disbelieved the reports about a suicide, as these were "refuted by the detailed information from the CIC" about arrest and escape.[15]

More recently, additional material has come to light. A CIC report from April 1946 listed SS officers known to be outside Germany that were considered to be of special interest to the CIC. That list included Kammler. Moreover, in May 1945 the US authorities in Austria had ordered an inventory of German public property there. These included construction sites for plane and missile production formerly run by the SS. In mid-July 1945, the head of the Gmunden CIC office, Major Morrisson interviewed an unnamed German on the issue of a numbered account associated with these construction sites formerly overseen by Kammler. A report published years later, in late 1947/early 1948, stated that only Kammler and two other persons had access to the account. The report also said, that "shortly after the occupation, Hans Kammler appeared at CIC Gmunden and gave a statement on operations at Ebensee". The CIC notes on the interview give no name, but the interviewee must have been one of the three people with access to the account. Aside from Kammler, one was known to have left Austria in May 1945, the other was in a POW camp during July.[15]

Finally, Donald W. Richardson (1917-1997) a former special agent of the OSS, involved in the work of the Alsos Mission, later claimed to be "the man who brought Kammler to the US". Shortly before he died, Richardson reportedly told his sons about his experience during and after the war, including Operation Paperclip. According to them, Richardson claimed to have supervised Kammler until 1947. Kammler was supposedly "interned at a place of maximum security, with no hope, no mercy and without seeing the light of day until he hanged himself".[15]

Possible last documented independent testimonies[edit]

A purported section of a wartime diary, relating to the surrender of Garmisch-Partenkirchen to Allied troops, mentions Kammler and his staff.[16] According to this account, Kammler and what the author refers to as his staff arrived in Oberammergau (north of Garmisch-Partenkirchen) on 22 April 1945. The diary refers to a "staff" of some 600 people, with "good quality" cars and trucks. This arrival seems to have been badly received and the local authorities had several arguments with Kammler himself. These conflicts are mentioned in the entries for 23 and 25 April. The last reference to Kammler, not implicating him directly but his "staff", comes on the night of 28 April – an Oberleutnant Burger reports that they had gone, on the same night that American forces began storming Oberammergau, forcing their way to Garmisch and Austria. This departure is backed up by a history of Oberammergau which notes that Kammler's "staff" moved just before the American offensive over the Tirol.[17]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Dienstalterslisten der SS, NSDAP Revised edition (20 April 1945)
  2. ^ Tooze 2007, p. 209.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Karlsch 2014, p. 52.
  4. ^ "Blut- und Bodenideologie – die Landesgruppe Sachsen im Reichsbund der Kleingärtner und Kleinsiedler Deutschlands (1933–1945) (German)". 
  5. ^ van Pelt 2002, p. 209.
  6. ^ Post 2004.
  7. ^ Bornemann 1970, p. 165.
  8. ^ a b Kroener 2003, p. 390.
  9. ^ Naasner 1998, p. 341.
  10. ^ "Holocaust" by Martin Gilbert
  11. ^ Ruland 1969, p. 292.
  12. ^ Piszkiewicz 2007, p. 215.
  13. ^ Farrell 2005, p. 107-108.
  14. ^ Agoston 1985.
  15. ^ a b c d e Karlsch 2014, p. 53.
  16. ^ Gais 1945.
  17. ^ Utschneider 2000.

Sources[edit]

External links[edit]