|Gauleiter of Gau Bayreuth|
5 December 1935 – 19 April 1945
|Appointed by||Adolf Hitler|
|Preceded by||Hans Schemm|
|Succeeded by||Ludwig Ruckdeschel|
|Reichswalter of the
National Socialist Teachers League
5 March 1935 – 17 February 1943
|Appointed by||Adolf Hitler|
|Preceded by||Hans Schemm|
|Succeeded by||Post abolished|
|Born||7 January 1891
Triebes, Principality of Reuss-Greiz, German Empire
|Died||19 April 1945
Waldmünchen, Nazi Germany
Fritz Wächtler (7 January 1891 – 19 April 1945) was a Nazi German politician and Gauleiter of the eastern Bavarian administrative region of Gau Bayreuth. Trained as a primary school teacher, he also became head of the National Socialist Teachers League (NSLB) in 1935. During World War II he held the honorary rank of SS-Obergruppenführer and Reich Defense Commissar of Bayreuth. Prone to alcoholic outbursts and unpopular with the local residents, he eventually ran afoul of Martin Bormann in a political intrigue. Wächtler was shot on the orders from the Führerbunker near the end of the war in April, 1945.
Fritz Wächtler was born in 1891 in Triebes, in the Principality of Reuss-Greiz (present-day Thuringia), the son of a watchmaker. Between 1905 and 1911 he attended the Weimar Lehrerseminar, a special training academy for primary school teachers. After two years of teaching activity and military service, in 1914 he became a "one-year volunteer" (German: Einjährigfreiwilliger) on the front during World War I. By 1915 he had been promoted to lieutenant. During the war he received many awards. After the war, Wächtler worked again as a teacher in Thuringia.
Wächtler joined the Nazi Party (Member No. 35,313) in April 1926 and became its founding Local Group Leader (Ortsgruppenleiter) as well as Sturmabteilung leader in his hometown of Triebes. He also became district manager of the party for Weimar-North. In 1929 Wächtler was elected as a member of the Landtag of Bavaria and appointed Deputy Gauleiter and for the district of Thuringia. From August 1932 Wächtler served as Education Minister in the cabinet of the Minister President of Thuringia, Fritz Sauckel.
Following the Nazi Seizure of Power in 1933 until December 1935, Wächtler held the post of Interior Minister of Thuringia. He also became a member of the Reichstag in Berlin in November 1933, a post he held until his death. In November 1934, Wächtler joined the Schutzstaffel (SS-Nr. 209 058) as an SS-Colonel. By the end of January 1936 he was promoted to the rank of SS-Brigadeführer and in April 1937 to SS-Gruppenführer.
On 5 March 1935 the first Gauleiter of the Bayreuth, Hans Schemm, died in an airplane crash. Wächtler was appointed his successor and also took over management of the National Socialist Teachers League (NSLB). From January 1936 he also acted as a "person responsible for primary school questions" on the staff of Rudolf Hess. He was also awarded the title of the Prussian State Council and until 1938 served as the acting mayor of the city of Bayreuth.
Unlike Schemm, Wächtler enjoyed no popularity among the residents of his district nor among the Reich leadership. He was brutal with subordinates and prone to uncontrolled alcoholic outbursts in public. Even Winifred Wagner, daughter-in-law of Richard Wagner, complained repeatedly about his misconduct to her close friend Hitler. However, she also frequently tried to intervene with the Führer on behalf of Jewish friends for clemency. This is probably why, while little appreciated by Hitler, Wächtler remained untouched until 1945.
Wächtler was involved in organizing the anti-Jewish Kristallnacht riots of 9–10 November 1938 in his district. The next day, the Reich leadership in Berlin ordered cessation of further property destruction because they feared the riots they had instigated would lead to more radical actions not under their control. Wächtler himself tried to use the opportunity to force public school teachers to sign a personal oath that they would no longer teach any religious subjects. Highly unpopular, Rudolf Hess had to order the directive rescinded. From 1938, Wächtler's district also became home to the Flossenbürg concentration camp and its many subcamps.
In February 1939, the Donau-Zeitung reported about Wächtler's visit in Hauzenberg, where the Gauleiter had dedicated a party district house. After seeing the condition of the school in Wegscheid, a new building was decided. In March 1939, when Wächtler spoke at the Passau Nibelungenhalle, the Donau-Zeitung reported an audience of 12,000. In April 1939, Wächtler purchased the Passau Haus, where Adolf Hitler had lived for two years. One year later, he donated it to the city of Passau.
On 16 November 1942, Wächtler was appointed Reich Defense Commissar (German: Reichsverteidigungskommissar) for his district and by August 1944 given the rank of SS-Obergruppenführer. It was in these positions that he came to realize the war would be lost. This attitude also became apparent to his superiors when he prevented the seizure of the historic Bayreuth Festspielhaus for use in defense of the city. By 1945 his additional failure to send daily situation reports to Führer Headquarters brought him to the attention and suspicion of Martin Bormann, Hitler's private secretary. Bormann had previously ordered the closing of the National Socialist Teachers League (NSLB) on 17 February 1943, together with all its Gau offices across Germany. Wächtler, fearing the loss of influence, complained that the NSLB was essential for the war effort in long rambling memos to Bormann, to no avail.
In 1945 Hitler declared Bayreuth to be a fortress, which led to the destruction of over one third of the city by air raids. On 1 April 1945, Bormann issued a further order that all Gauleiters, Kreisleiters, and other NSDAP political leaders were to fight to the death in their districts. With the city in ruins and only 200 irregular defenders left, Wächtler left Bayreuth with his staff as American tanks approached on 13 April. He set up offices at a hotel in Waldmünchen in the southern part of the Gau near the Czech border. It is unclear whether communications difficulties prevented Wächtler from informing Führer Headquarters of his location, however his deputy and political rival Ludwig Ruckdeschel used the opportunity to contact Bormann and accuse Wächtler of desertion. On orders from Führer Headquarters, Ruckdeschel appeared at the hotel with 35 SS troops and summarily executed Wächtler on 19 April.
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- BAB, NS6/353, fo. 151, Memo of Martin Bormann to all Reichsleiter, Gauleiter and Verbandsführer, 1.4.45; also in IfZ, Fa-91/4, fo. 1099