Dietrich von Choltitz

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Dietrich von Choltitz
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-2003-1112-500, Dietrich v. Choltitz-2.png
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
Service/branch Army (Heer)
Years of service 1907–45
Rank General der Infanterie
Commands held
Battles/wars
Awards

Dietrich von Choltitz (German pronunciation: [ˈdiːtʁɪç fɔn ˈçɔltɪts]; 9 November 1894 – 4 November 1966) was a German General who served in the Royal Saxon Army during World War I and the German Army during World War II. He is chiefly remembered for his role as the last commander of Nazi-occupied Paris in 1944, when he disobeyed Adolf Hitler's orders to level the city, but instead surrendered it to Free French forces.[3][4] He has been called the "Saviour of Paris" for preventing its destruction. 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 his belief that Hitler had by then become insane.

Early life[edit]

Choltitz was born in the castle in Gräflich Wiese (now Łąka Prudnicka), near Neustadt in Oberschlesien (now Prudnik), in the province of Silesia. as a son of Hans von Choltitz (1865–1935), who was a major of the Prussian Army, and his wife Gertrud von Rosenberg. His uncle Hermann von Choltitz was a governor of Landkreis Neustadt O.S. from 1907 to 1920. His family was large and very athletic – especially good on horseback.

Career[edit]

Dietrich von Choltitz joined 8. Infanterie-Regiment Prinz Johann Georg Nr. 107 of the Royal Saxon Army as a Fähnrich just months before the First World War broke out. His unit served on the Western Front, where he was promoted to Leutnant and became Adjutant of the regiment's third Battalion within a year of joining.[5]

He remained in the Reichswehr during the Weimar Republic, becoming a cavalry captain in 1929. Promoted to Major in 1937, he was made commander of third battalion, Infanterie-Regiment 16 "Oldenburg", a part of 22. Luftlande-Division. In 1938 he was promoted again, this time to Oberstleutnant.

He participated in occupation of Sudetenland in 1938 and in the invasion of Poland in 1939, where he fought under Łódź and the river Bzura.

In May of 1940, Choltitz participated in the Battle of Rotterdam, making an air landing and seizing some of the city's key bridges. After the bombardment of Rotterdam, during a meeting with the Dutch discussing the terms of surrender of all Dutch forces in Rotterdam, the German Generalleutnant Kurt Student was shot in the head. Student was very popular with his troops and when the German forces moved to execute surrendering Dutch officers in reprisal Choltitz intervened and was able to prevent the massacre. His actions during the assault on Rotterdam earned him the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. In September of the same year, he was given command of the regiment, and the following spring was made Oberst.

At the start of Operation Barbarossa, Choltitz's regiment was based in Romania, advancing as part of Army Group South into Ukraine. As part of Erich von Manstein's 11th Army, the regiment fought in the siege of Sevastopol. The siege was bloody for his regiment, which was reduced from 4,800 men to just 349; Choltitz was also wounded in the arm. Promoted to Generalmajor soon after, he was made acting commander of 260th Infantry division in 1942. He was then promoted to Generalleutnant the following year and given command of 11th Panzer Division, which he led during Battle of Kursk.

In March 1944, Choltitz was transferred to the Italian theatre of operations, where he was made deputy commander of LXXVI Panzer Corps and participated in the Battle of Anzio. Transferred to the Western Front in June 1944, he took command of LXXXIV Army Corps, which he commanded against the Allied breakout from Normandy.

Governor of Paris[edit]

Dietrich von Choltitz signing the Nazi surrender after the liberation of Paris

On 1 August 1944, Choltitz was promoted to General der Infanterie, and on 7 August was appointed as the 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 rubble."[6] A week later Hitler, in a rage, screamed, "Brennt Paris?" ("Is Paris burning?")[7][8][c]

On 15 August 1944, the Paris police went on strike, followed on 19 August by a general insurrection led by the French Communist Party.[9] The German garrison under Choltitz fought back but was far too small to quell the uprising. Choltitz brokered a ceasefire with the insurgents on 20 August, but many Resistance groups did not accept it and a series of skirmishes continued on the next day.[10]

On 25 August, Choltitz surrendered the German garrison of 17,000 men to the Free French, leaving the city largely intact. Because Hitler's directive was not carried out, Choltitz has been described by some as the "Saviour of Paris".[11]

General von Choltitz later claimed in his memoir of 1951 that he defied Hitler's order to destroy Paris because he loved the city and had decided that Hitler was by then insane.[6] It is known that the Swedish consul-general in Paris, Raoul Nordling and president of the municipal council Pierre Taittinger, 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 newspaper stories,[9] but lacks a definitive historical basis.[12][13]

Captivity and later life[edit]

Dietrich von Choltitz (standing far left) at Trent Park

Choltitz was held for the remainder of the war at Trent Park, in North London, with other senior German officers. Choltitz later was transferred to Camp Clinton in Mississippi. No specific charges were ever filed against him, and he was released from captivity in 1947. In 1956 he visited his wartime headquarters at the Hôtel 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, Choltitz declined the manager's offer of champagne and left the hotel to meet with Pierre Taittinger.[14]

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), Ravinel, and Omézon.[15] Baden-Baden was the French headquarters in Germany after the end of the Second World War.

His wife Huberta (1902–2001) was the daughter of Otto von Garnier. The couple had a son, Timo.

Complicity in war crimes[edit]

During his internment in Trent Park many of the officers’ private conversations were secretly recorded by the British in the hope that they might reveal strategic information. In one such conversation, on 29 August 1944, Choltitz was quoted as saying "The worst job I ever carried out - which however I carried out with great consistency - was the liquidation of the Jews. I carried out this thoroughly and entirely."[16][17] Randall Hansen says that the veracity of Choltitz's involvement in such massacres is uncertain but that it is possible, even probable, that Choltitz was one of the many German generals who did commit atrocities. Hansen goes on to say the quote was out of context and there has never been any corroborating evidence of Choltitz's involvement in the massacre of Jews.[18] Selected transcripts were dramatized in the History Channel 5-part series The Wehrmacht (2008). 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. (An apparent reference to Hitler and his supporting Nazi Party members.)

In popular culture[edit]

  • Is Paris Burning?, a French-American production of 1966, with Gert Fröbe playing Choltitz.
  • Diplomacy, a French-German film of 2014 directed by Volker Schlöndorff, based on the play Diplomatie by Cyril Gely. Depicting events in his headquarters at the Hotel Meurice the night before the Liberation of Paris, Niels Arestrup portrays Choltitz.
  • Secrets of the Dead: Bugging Hitler's Soldiers, a PBS documentary which examines how MI19 spied on senior German prisoners of war.[19]
  • Pod presją (Under pressure): a Polish documentary directed in 2015 by Dagmara Spolniak.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Awards of the 1939 version of the Iron Cross to holders of the 1914 version are represented with a Clasp above the 1914 Cross
  2. ^ Awarded as Oberstleutnant and commander of III./Infanterie-Regiment 16. His Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was presented and is registered by the Luftwaffe-Personalamt (LWA—Air Force Staff Office).[1] The Heerespersonalamt (HPA—Army Staff Office) received Oak Leaves to his Knight's Cross nomination for Generalmajor von Choltitz on 19 January 1943 for his leadership of the XVII. Armee-Korps. The HPA did not approve the nomination on 27 January 1943.[2]
  3. ^ Sources differ on whether this comment was directed at Choltitz by telephone or to Hitler's Chief of Staff Alfred Jodl in the Wolf's Lair.

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Thomas & Wegmann 1998, p. 39.
  2. ^ Thomas & Wegmann 1998, p. 40.
  3. ^ "Paris liberated - Aug 25, 1944 - HISTORY.com". Retrieved 3 January 2017. 
  4. ^ "World War II: The Liberation of Paris - HistoryNet". Retrieved 3 January 2017. 
  5. ^ "Historic.de - Militärgeschichte - Bremen und Umland 1933-1945". Retrieved 3 January 2017. 
  6. ^ a b Randall, C (24 August 2004). General 'spared Paris by disobeying Fuhrer'. telegraph.co.uk archive. Retrieved 3 November 2014.
  7. ^ "History of the Hotel Meurice and room 213". Retrieved 3 January 2017. [permanent dead link]
  8. ^ "Scorched but not torched", in The Herald, Scotland, 17 August 1994 | http://www.heraldscotland.com/sport/spl/aberdeen/scorched-but-not-torched-1.489312
  9. ^ a b The Swede who 'Saved Paris' from the Germans. The Milwaukee Journal - May 10, 1958. Retrieved November 3, 2014.
  10. ^ Zaloga, Steven J. (22 April 2008). "Liberation of Paris 1944: Patton's Race for the Seine". Bloomsbury USA. Retrieved 3 January 2017 – via Google Books. 
  11. ^ "Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz Dies; 'Savior of Paris' in '44 was 71". The New York Times. November 6, 1966. p. 88. 
  12. ^ Buruma, Ian (October 14, 2014). "The Argument That Saved Paris". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 16 June 2015. 
  13. ^ Grey, Tobias (October 8, 2014). "'Diplomacy' Details How Paris Was Saved in World War II". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 16 June 2015. 
  14. ^ Kladstrup, Don (2002). Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure. Broadway Books. p. 275. ISBN 9780767904483. 
  15. ^ Choltitz, Timo von. "General der Infanterie Dietrich von Choltitz". Retrieved 3 January 2017. 
  16. ^ Neitzel, Sonke ed.; Tapping Hitler's Generals: Transcripts of Secret Conversations, 1942-1945, London: Frontline, 2007
  17. ^ Listening to the Generals, Adam Ganz, Radio Play BBC Radio 4, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00jn0q6
  18. ^ Hansen 2014, p. 75.
  19. ^ "Bugging Hitler's Soldiers - Preview - Secrets of the Dead - PBS". 29 March 2013. Retrieved 3 January 2017. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000) [1986]. 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. 
  • Hansen, Randall (2014). Disobeying Hitler: German Resistance After Valkyrie. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199927920. 
  • 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 Militaer-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. 
Military offices
Preceded by
General der Panzertruppe Hermann Balck
Commander of 11.Panzer Division
4 March 1943 – 15 May 1943
Succeeded by
Generalleutnant Johann Mickl
Preceded by
General der Panzertruppe Otto von Knobelsdorff
Commander of XLVIII. Panzerkorps
6 May 1943 – 30 August 1943
Succeeded by
General der Panzertruppe Otto von Knobelsdorff
Preceded by
General der Panzertruppe Otto von Knobelsdorff
Commander of XLVIII. Panzerkorps
30 September 1943 – 21 October 1943
Succeeded by
General der Panzertruppe Heinrich Eberbach