Walther von Reichenau
|Walter Karl Ernst August von Reichenau|
Generalfeldmarschall Walther von Reichenau
8 October 1884|
Karlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
|Died||17 January 1942
|Buried at||Invalidenfriedhof Berlin|
|Allegiance|| German Empire (to 1918)
Weimar Republic (to 1933)
|Years of service||1903–1942|
|Commands held||10th Army
|Battles/wars||World War I
World War II
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross|
Walter von Reichenau (8 October 1884 – 17 January 1942) was a German Generalfeldmarschall during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes). The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.
Reichenau was born in Karlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg to a Prussian general and joined the German Army in 1903. During World War I he served on the Western Front. He was awarded the Iron Cross First Class and by 1918 had been promoted to the rank of captain.
Reichenau stayed in the army under the Weimar Republic as a General Staff officer. From 1931 he was Chief of Staff to the Inspector of Signals at the Reichswehr Ministry, and later served with General Werner von Blomberg in East Prussia. His uncle, an ardent Nazi, introduced him to Adolf Hitler in 1932 and von Reichenau became a convert, joining the Nazi Party soon after. Doing so was a violation of army regulations, which forbade army members from joining political parties.
Reichenau's family was quite wealthy, descended from a long line of German nobility. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries the von Reichenau family owned and operated one of the largest furniture factories in Germany. In 1938, records indicate, the family donated the factory to the Nazi cause, transforming it into a munitions plant. During Allied attacks in 1945, the factory (located just outside Karlsruhe, Germany) was destroyed in an air raid, the last remaining vestiges of the von Reichenau family's wealth and prominence obliterated in the process.
He was married to Alix, daughter of Silesian Count Andreas von Maltzan. During the war, Alix's sister Maria (Marushka) hid her Jewish lover Hans Hirschel from the Gestapo in her Berlin flat; von Reichenau knew this, and visited them there. Maria also worked to hide underground Jews and political dissidents, sustain them, or help them escape from Germany.
When Hitler came to power in January 1933, Blomberg became Minister of War and von Reichenau was appointed head of the Ministerial Office, acting as liaison officer between the Army and the Nazi Party. He played a leading role in persuading Nazi leaders such as Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler that the power of Ernst Röhm and the SA must be broken if the Army was to support the Nazi regime. This led directly to the "Night of the Long Knives" of 30 June 1934.
In 1935 von Reichenau was promoted to major-general (generalleutnant) and was appointed Commander in Munich. By 1938, after the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair in which General Werner von Fritsch was forced out of the Army command, von Reichenau was Hitler's first choice to succeed him, but older leaders such as Gerd von Rundstedt and Ludwig Beck refused to serve under him, and Hitler backed down. Von Reichenau's enthusiastic Nazism repelled many of the generals who would not oppose Hitler but who did not care for the Nazi ideology.
Poland and France 
In September 1939, von Reichenau commanded the 10th Army during the invasion of Poland. In 1940 he led the 6th Army during the invasion of Belgium and France, and in July, Hitler promoted him to field marshal.
During the June 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union, von Reichenau again commanded the 6th Army, which captured Kiev and Kharkov. During the offensive, Reichenau inspected every single Soviet tank he came across. He would enter each tank and, using a ruler, he would examine the thickness of the armour. According to an account by general staff Paul Jordan, upon examining a T-34 tank, von Reichenau told his officers, "If the Russians ever produce it on an assembly line, we will have lost the war." 
Politically, von Reichenau was an anti-Semite who equated Jewry with Bolshevism and the perceived Asian threat to Europe. The infamous October 1941 "Reichenau Order" paved the way for mass murder by instructing the officers thus:
"In this eastern theatre, the soldier is not only a man fighting in accordance with the rules of the art of war...For this reason the soldier must learn fully to appreciate the necessity for the severe but just retribution that must be meted out to the subhuman species of Jewry...".
All Jews were henceforth to be treated as de facto partisans, and commanders were directed that they be either summarily shot or handed over to the Einsatzgruppen execution squads of the SS-Totenkopfverbände as the situation dictated. Upon hearing of the Severity Order, Reichenau's superior Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt expressed "complete agreement" with it, and sent out a circular to all of the Army generals under his command urging them to send out their own versions of the Severity Order, which would impress upon the troops the need to exterminate Jews. During the Nuremberg trials, however, Von Rundstedt denied any knowledge of that order before his capture by the Allies, although he acknowledged that Reichenau's orders "may have reached my army group and probably got into the office". Some historians such as Walter Görlitz have sought to defend von Reichenau, summarizing the above order as "demanding that the troops keep their distance from the Russian civilian population."
Reichenau supported the work of the SS Einsatzgruppen in exterminating the Jews in the occupied Soviet territories. On 19 December 1941 Hitler sacked Walther von Brauchitsch as Commander-in-Chief and tried to appoint von Reichenau to the post. But again the senior Army leaders rejected von Reichenau as being "too political" and Hitler appointed himself instead.
In January 1942 von Reichenau suffered a cerebral haemorrhage, and it was decided to fly him from Poltava to a hospital in Leipzig, Germany. He is often said to have been killed in a plane crash in Russia, though Görlitz writes that the plane merely made an emergency landing in a field, and that von Reichenau actually died of a heart attack. His death coincided with a propaganda action conducted by the Polish underground (Operation Reichenau), whose goal was to discredit Reichenau, in the eyes of the German leadership, as a person who allegedly had been plotting to overthrow the Nazi régime, to sow distrust between the Nazi political leadership and its military command, and punish one of the German generals responsible for war crimes in Poland. This coincidence became a fertile ground for conspiracy theories, which allege that Reichenau might actually have been killed by the Nazi secret services.
- Leutnant - 18 August 1904
- Oberleutnant - 18 August 1912
- Hauptmann - 28 November 1914
- Major - 1 July 1923
- Oberstleutnant - 1 April 1929
- Oberst - 1 February 1932
- Generalmajor - 1 February 1934
- Generalleutnant - 1 October 1935
- General der Artillerie - 1 October 1936
- Generaloberst - 1 October 1939
- Generalfeldmarschall - 19 July 1940
- Order of the Crown (Prussia) (4th Class)
- Iron Cross (1914) 1st and 2nd Class
- Knight's Cross of the House Order of Hohenzollern with Swords
- Knight's Cross of the Friedrich Order
- Hamburg Hanseatic Cross
- Military Merit Cross (Austria-Hungary) 3rd Class with War Decoration
- Spange to the Iron Cross
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 30 September 1939 as General der Artillerie and commander-in-chief of the 10. Armee
- Mentioned in the Wehrmachtbericht on 21 September 1941
See also 
- Gross, Leonard (1982). The Last Jews in Berlin. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 253, 159, 133, 126, 83, 37. ISBN 0-671-24727-1. Retrieved 2009-12-18. "...her second sister Alix, and Field Marshal Walter von Reichenau, her baffling brother-in-law, one of the first, if not the first, important army officers to embrace the Nazis, who nonetheless knew of and liked Hans; who always came to Marushka's flat when he was in Berlin to have several glasses of his favourite drink, Turk's Blood, a half-and-half mixture of Burgundy and champagne; ...who one day, just before his death of a stroke in January 1942, warned Marushka that even he would be unable to help her if she ran afoul of the Gestapo for associating with a Jew."
- video by Guido Knopp and Henry Kohler: "Hitler's Warriors. Paulus the Defector." (accessdate=2012-1-08), year=1998; publisher=ZDF Enterprises.
- von Reichenau, Walter (October 10, 1941). "Secret Field Marshal v.Reichenau Order Concerning Conduct of Troops in the Eastern Territories, 10 October 1941". Stuart D. Stein, The School of Humanities, Languages and Social Sciences, University of the West of England. Retrieved 2009-12-18. "The soldier in the eastern territories is not merely a fighter according to the rules of the art of war but also a bearer of ruthless national ideology and the avenger of bestialities which have been inflicted upon German and racially related nations. Therefore the soldier must have full understanding for the necessity of a severe but just revenge on subhuman Jewry. The Army has to aim at another purpose, i.e., the annihilation of revolts in hinterland which, as experience proves, have always been caused by Jews"
- Mayer, Arno J. Why Did The Heavens Not Darken?, New York: Pantheon, 1988, 1990 page 250.
- The Trial of German Major War Criminals, Nüremberg, 9 August to 21 August 1946, p. 102
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 352.
- Craig, William (2000). Enemy at the Gates. Victoria: Penguin
- Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 (in German). Friedburg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 3-7909-0284-5.
- Görlitz, Walter (1989). "Reichenau," in Correlli Barnett ed., Hitler's Generals. New York: Grove Weidenfeld. pp. 208–18.
- Scherzer, Veit (2007) (in German). 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. Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Walter von Reichenau|
- The "Reichenau Order" from October 12, 1941 (German)
- English translation of the "Reichenau Order"
- Biography at DHM.de (German)
|Commander of 10. Armee
6 August 1939 - 10 October 1939
General Heinrich von Vietinghoff gennant Scheel
|Commander of 6. Armee
10 October 1939 - 29 December 1941
Feldmarschall Friedrich Paulus