Hitler oath

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The term Hitler oath (German: Führereid or Eid auf den Führer, "Oath to the Leader") — also often referred to in English as simply the Soldier's Oath or Soldiers' Oath[1] — refers to the oaths of allegiance, sworn by the officers and soldiers of the German Armed Forces and civil servants of Nazi Germany between the years 1934 and 1945. The oath pledged personal loyalty to Adolf Hitler in place of loyalty to the constitution of the country.

Background[edit]

On the day before President Paul von Hindenburg's death on August 2, 1934, Hitler's cabinet had enacted a law combining the offices of Chancellor (the head of government) and President (the head of state); Adolf Hitler would henceforth be known as Führer und Reichskanzler (Leader and Chancellor) and was both head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. The day of Hindenburg's death, the cabinet ordered a plebiscite for August 19 for the German people to approve the combination of the two offices.

Although the popular view is that Hitler drafted the oath himself and imposed it on the military, the oath was the initiative of Defence Minister General Werner von Blomberg and General Walther von Reichenau, the chief of the Ministerial Office. Indeed, Hitler was surprised by the oath.[2] Before Hitler took office, the military swore the Reichswehreid to the German constitution and president. The intention of Blomberg and Reichenau in having the military swear an oath to Hitler was to create a personal special bond between him and the military, which was intended to tie Hitler more tightly towards the military and away from the NSDAP. Years later, Blomberg admitted that he did not think through the full implications of the oath at the time.[2]

Germany's voters went to the polls and 89.9% voted their approval for Hitler to assume complete power over Germany. The following day, August 20, 1934, the cabinet decreed the "Law On The Allegiance of Civil Servants and Soldiers of the Armed Forces", which superseded the original oaths. Prior to the decree, both members of the armed forces and civil servants had sworn loyalty to "the People and the Fatherland" (Volk und Vaterland); civil servants had additionally sworn to uphold the constitution and laws of Germany. The new law decreed that instead, both members of the armed forces and civil servants would swear an oath to Hitler personally.

Text of the oaths[edit]

Reichswehr oath[edit]

From 1919 until 1935, the Weimar Republic's armed forces were called the Reichswehr ("Realm Defence"), which had the following oath formula from 14 August 1919 until 1 December 1933:[3]

"Ich schwöre Treue der Reichsverfassung und gelobe,
daß ich als tapferer Soldat das Deutsche Reich und seine gesetzmäßigen Einrichtungen jederzeit schützen,
dem Reichspräsidenten und meinen Vorgesetzten Gehorsam leisten will.

"I swear loyalty to the Reich's constitution and pledge,
that I as a courageous soldier always want to protect the German Reich and its legal institutions,
(and) be obedient to the Reichspräsident and to my superiors."

In January 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed Reichskanzler and the Enabling Act and Gleichschaltung came in effect. As a result, a new wording was adopted on 2 December 1933:

"Ich schwöre bei Gott diesen heiligen Eid,
daß ich meinem Volk und Vaterland allzeit treu und redlich dienen
und als tapferer und gehorsamer Soldat bereit sein will,
jederzeit für diesen Eid mein Leben einzusetzen."

"I swear by God this holy oath,
that I want to ever loyally and sincerely serve my people and fatherland
and be prepared as a brave and obedient soldier
to risk my life for this oath at any time."

Wehrmacht oath[edit]

Reichswehr soldiers swear the Hitler oath in 1934, with hands raised in the traditional schwurhand gesture

Die Vereidigung der Wehrmacht auf Adolf Hitler, 2.8.1934

"Ich schwöre bei Gott diesen heiligen Eid,
daß ich dem Führer des Deutschen Reiches und Volkes
Adolf Hitler, dem Oberbefehlshaber der Wehrmacht,
unbedingten Gehorsam leisten und als tapferer Soldat bereit sein will,
jederzeit für diesen Eid mein Leben einzusetzen."

The Wehrmacht Oath of Loyalty to Adolf Hitler, 2 August 1934

"I swear to God this sacred oath
that to the Leader of the German Empire and people,
Adolf Hitler, supreme commander of the armed forces,
I shall render unconditional obedience and that as a brave soldier I shall at all times be prepared
to give my life for this oath."

Civil servant oath[edit]

Diensteid der öffentlichen Beamten

"Ich schwöre: Ich werde dem Führer des Deutschen Reiches und Volkes
Adolf Hitler treu und gehorsam sein, die Gesetze beachten,
und meine Amtspflichten gewissenhaft erfüllen, so wahr mir Gott helfe."

Service oath for public servants

"I swear: I will be faithful and obedient to the leader of the German Empire and people,
Adolf Hitler, to observe the law,
and to conscientiously fulfill my official duties, so help me God."

Oathtakers then sang both Deutschland Über Alles and the Nazi anthem Horst-Wessel-Lied.[4]

Public figures who refused to take the oath[edit]

Thousands of military officers reportedly claimed to be ill to avoid taking the oath, but were forced to do so after returning to duty.[4][5] Some who refused to do so:

  • Karl Barth (Swiss theologian); Consequences: loss of professorship
  • Martin Gauger (probationary judge as a state prosecutor in Wuppertal); Consequences: forced retirement of his position as a state prosecutor
  • Franz Jägerstätter (Austrian conscientious objector); Consequences: execution in 1943; beatified in 2007
  • Josef Mayr-Nusser (from Bozen), after call-up for duty in the Waffen-SS; Consequences: Death penalty, died on the way to the Dachau concentration camp
  • Joseph Ruf (de) ("Brother Maurus" of the Christkönigsgesellschaft (rel.)), Consequences: Death penalty
  • Franz Reinisch (Pallottines padre from Austria), after call-up for duty in the German Wehrmacht; Consequences: execution by beheading in 1942

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ For example, in Total War: Causes and Courses of the Second World War by Peter Calvocoressi and Guy Wint (Penguin and Pantheon, 1972), The Western Hemisphere, Part I, chapter 2, "From Versailles to the Soldiers' Oath: 1919-34"
  2. ^ a b Kershaw, Ian Hitler Hubris, New York: W.W. Norton, 1998 p 525.
  3. ^ Reichsgesetzblatt 14 August 1919, page 1419.
  4. ^ a b Gunther, John (1940). Inside Europe. New York: Harper & Brothers. p. 59. 
  5. ^ Knickerbocker, H. R. (1941). Is Tomorrow Hitler's? 200 Questions on the Battle of Mankind. Reynal & Hitchcock. p. 9. 

References[edit]