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Fritzsche at the Nuremberg trials
21 April 1900|
Bochum, German Empire
27 September 1953 (aged 53)|
Cologne, West Germany
|Political party||National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP)|
|Occupation||Ministerialdirektor in the Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda|
Hans Georg Fritzsche (21 April 1900 – 27 September 1953) was a senior German Nazi official, ending the war as Ministerialdirektor at the Propagandaministerium (Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda). He was present in the Berlin Führerbunker during the last days of Adolf Hitler. After Hitler's death, he went over to the Soviet lines in Berlin to offer the surrender of the city to the Red Army on 1 May 1945. He was taken prisoner. Fritzsche died in 1953.
Fritzsche was born in Bochum (a city in the Ruhr Area) and served in the German Army in 1917. After the war, he studied briefly at a number of universities before becoming a journalist for the Hugenberg Press and then involved in the new mass media of the radio, working for the German government. In September 1932, he was made head of the Drahtloser Dienst (the wireless news service). On 1 May 1933, he joined the NSDAP (Nazi Party).
Under Joseph Goebbels' Reich Ministry he continued to head the radio department before being promoted to the News Section at the Ministry. In mid-1938, he became deputy to Alfred Ingemar Berndt at the German Press Division. Responsible for controlling German news, the agency was also called the Home or Domestic Press Division. In December 1938, he was made chief of the Home Press Division. In May 1942, Goebbels took personal control of the division, and Fritzsche returned to radio work for the Ministry as Plenipotentiary for the Political Organization of the Greater German Radio and head of the Radio Division of the Ministry.
In April 1945, he was present in the Berlin Führerbunker during the last days of Adolf Hitler and Goebbels. After Hitler's suicide on 30 April 1945, Goebbels assumed Hitler's role as chancellor. On 1 May, Goebbels completed his sole official act as chancellor. He dictated a letter to Soviet Army General Vasily Chuikov, requesting a temporary ceasefire and ordered German General Hans Krebs to deliver it. Chuikov commanded the Soviet forces in central Berlin. After this was rejected, Goebbels decided that further efforts were futile. Goebbels then launched into a tirade berating the generals, reminding them Hitler forbade them to surrender. Fritzsche left the room to try and take matters into his own hands. He went to his nearby office on Wilhelmplatz and wrote a surrender letter addressed to Soviet Marshall Georgy Zhukov. An angry and drunk General Wilhelm Burgdorf followed Fritzsche to his office. There he asked Fritzsche if he intended to surrender Berlin. Fritzsche replied that he was going to do just that. Burgdorf shouted that Hitler had forbidden surrender and as a civilian he had no authority to do so. Burgdorf then pulled his pistol to shoot Fritzsche, but a radio technician "knocked the gun" and the bullet fired hit the ceiling. Several men then hustled Burgdorf out of the office and he returned to the bunker. Fritzsche then left his office and went over to the Soviet lines and offered to surrender the city.
Fritzsche was taken prisoner by Soviet Red Army soldiers. At first he was held prisoner in a basement and then sent to Moscow for interrogation at Lubyanka Prison where, according to his own account, three gold teeth were yanked from his mouth upon arrival. He was confined to a "standing coffin", a 3-foot-square cell where it was impossible to sleep, and placed on a bread and hot water diet. He eventually signed a confession.
Fritzsche was sent to Nuremberg, and tried before the International Military Tribunal. He was charged with conspiracy to commit crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity. In his positions in the propaganda apparatus of the Nazi State, Fritzsche played a role to further the conspiracy to commit atrocities and to launch the war of aggression. According to journalist and author William L. Shirer, it was unclear to the attendees why he was charged. Shirer remarked that "no-one in the courtroom, including Fritzsche, seemed to know why he was there – he was too small a fry – unless it were as a ghost for Goebbels..." Alexander Hardy, an Associate Counsel for the Prosecution at the Nuremberg Trials, argued that Fritzsche was much more important than he appeared. After being acquitted, Fritzsche worked with the prosecution. Here, Hardy notes that Fritzsche showed remarkable knowledge of the press directives from the Nazi government, including knowledge of the planned invasion of Poland four months before it occurred, and worked closely with Otto Dietrich. According to Hardy, this was evidence that he was actually guilty of the crimes he was accused of. He was one of only three defendants to be acquitted at Nuremberg (along with Hjalmar Schacht and Franz von Papen).
He was later tried by a West German denazification court and was sentenced to nine years. He was released in September 1950 and died of cancer three years later. His wife Hildegard Fritzsche (born Springer) died the same year.
- Kershaw, Ian (2008). Hitler: A Biography, pp. 949–950, 955.
- Fest, Joachim (2004) . Inside Hitler's Bunker, pp. 135–137.
- Vinogradov, V. K. (2005). Hitler's Death: Russia's Last Great Secret from the Files of the KGB, p. 324.
- Fest (2004) . Inside Hitler's Bunker, p. 137.
- Fest (2004) . Inside Hitler's Bunker, pp. 137–139.
- Why They Confess: The remarkable case of Hans Fritzsche, Konrad Heiden, Life Magazine, 20 Jun. 1949, pp. 92–94, 96, 99–100, 102, 105. Retrieved 2012-04-16.
- Hier spricht Hans Fritzsche, Zurich: Interverlag.
- Shirer, William L. (1960). The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York City: Simon & Schuster.
- Hardy, Alexander G. (1967). Hitler's Secret Weapon: The "Managed" Press and Propaganda Machine of Nazi Germany. New York: Vantage Press, pp. 85-86.
- Hardy (1967). Hitler's Secret Weapon, pp. 86-87.
- Fritzsche case for the defence at Nuremberg trials (in Spanish)