Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord
Kurt Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord
|4th Chief of the German Army Command|
1 November 1930 – 31 January 1934
|President||Paul von Hindenburg|
|Preceded by||Wilhelm Heye|
|Succeeded by||Werner von Fritsch|
|6th Chief of the Troop Office|
30 September 1929 – 31 October 1930
|Preceded by||Werner von Blomberg|
|Succeeded by||Wilhelm Adam|
|Born||26 September 1878|
Hinrichshagen, Mecklenburg-Strelitz, German Empire
|Died||24 April 1943 (aged 64)|
Berlin, Nazi Germany
|Branch/service|| Imperial German Army|
|Years of service||1898–1934|
|Commands||Chief of Truppenamt (1929–30)|
|Battles/wars||World War I|
Kurt Gebhard Adolf Philipp Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord (26 September 1878 – 24 April 1943) was a German general (Generaloberst) who served for a period as Commander-in-Chief of the Reichswehr. He is regarded as "an undisguised opponent" of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime.
Hammerstein-Equord was born to a noble family, which had already produced several famous officers, in Hinrichshagen, Mecklenburg-Strelitz, German Empire in 1878. His parents were the head forester (Oberförster) of the Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Heino von Hammerstein, and his wife Ida, née Gustedt (also from a noble family). After initial schooling Hammerstein-Equord joined the Cadet Corps in Plön in 1888 at the age of ten, followed by the Prussian Cadet Corps Berlin-Lichterfelde in 1893. He officially entered the German army on 15 March 1898 upon his promotion to lieutenant (Secondelieutenant) while serving with the 3rd Foot Guards.
In 1907, Hammerstein-Equord married Maria von Lüttwitz, the daughter of Walther von Lüttwitz. The future Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher (1882–1934) also served in his unit, and the two men soon became friends. From 1905 to 1907 Hammerstein served in Kassel. From 1907 to 1910 he attended the Prussian Military Academy (Kriegsakademie) and in 1911 he was posted to the deployment section of the Great General Staff.
During World War I, he first served as an adjutant of Quartermaster Generals and then as a General Staff officer in various military units, including as a First General Staff Officer of the VIII Reserve Corps in 1915, at the General Staff in 1916 and as first General Staff Officer in charge of operations and tactics in the General staff of the General command in 1918.
Hammerstein was transferred to the Reichswehr upon the declaration of the Weimar Republic. He served under his father-in-law General Walther von Lüttwitz, in the general staff of the Freikorps Lüttwitz in 1919, and was promoted to lieutenant colonel one year later. The same year, he refused to participate in the Kapp Putsch, which was supported by Lüttwitz. He subsequently transferred to Group Command II in Kassel as Chief of Staff.
In 1922 he took a job as a battalion commander in the Munich area. In 1924, he was transferred to the staff of Military District III in Berlin. After a brief stay in the Group Command I in 1929, he was appointed on 1 October 1929 as Major General chief of General Staff of the Weimar Republic, the successor organization of the General Staff that was prohibited by the Allies in the Treaty of Versailles. His predecessor was General Werner von Blomberg, who came into conflict with the government over the possibility of a two-front war with France and Poland, which he deemed as favorable. By contrast, Reichswehrminister Wilhelm Groener and Chancellor Heinrich Brüning preferred Hammerstein's aversion to political extremism and military risks.
Hammerstein worked out first tactical concepts for the army in the Truppenamt. They provided for a sustained defense in an attack until the League of Nations would intervene. However, in 1930, he created the first mobilization plan since 1923, which sought to triple the number of infantry divisions from seven to 21. In 1930 he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Reichswehr, replacing General Wilhelm Heye. Schleicher (now defense minister) made Hammerstein his successor with support from Brüning. On 1 November 1930, he entered the field with the simultaneous promotion to General of Infantry. There, he created a rearmament program, demanding the formation of at least 42 divisions.
A close friend of Kurt von Schleicher, Hammerstein repeatedly warned President Paul von Hindenburg about the dangers of appointing Hitler as chancellor. In response, Hindenburg assured Hammerstein-Equord that "he would not even consider making that Austrian corporal the minister of defense or the chancellor". Barely four days later, on 30 January 1933, pursuant to a request by Hindenburg, Hitler formed a cabinet as the German Chancellor and Nazi leader, in coalition with the conservative German National People's Party. Because of his opposition to Hitler, on 27 December 1933 Hammerstein-Equord was forced to announce his resignation, effective 31 January 1934. He was succeeded by General Werner von Fritsch.
Night of the Long Knives
From 30 June 1934 Hitler implemented a program of large-scale arrests, murders, intimidation and elimination of suspected and known opponents, under the pretext of an imminent coup by SA-Chief Röhm. Some prominent opponents like Hammerstein and von Papen were not affected by the purge, possibly thanks to a personal request by Hindenburg, according to some historians. In a report conducted by communist agents, however, it is said that Hammerstein "is in these days, the center of Berlin officer circles". Comrades from the Ministry would have protected him, since they had feared at any moment his arrest". General von Witzleben demanded, together with the generals Wilhelm von Leeb, Gerd von Rundstedt and General Fritsch, now Chief Commander, a court-martial investigation of the murder of Schleicher and Bredow. Among those who protested the killing of their comrades were General Hans Oster.
Hammerstein and Field Marshal August von Mackensen first tried to reach Hindenburg personally to stop the purge. Failing that, they sent him a memorandum on 18 July 1934 in a blue file folder and therefore called Blue Book. According to others, it did not reach Hindenburg before his death. On 13 July 1934, Hitler tried to justify the purge in a Reichstag speech, notably accusing Schleicher and Bredow of subversive collaboration with Röhm and conspiracy with other countries for the purpose of a "national-Bolshevik coup". Blomberg doubted Hitler's claim and promised documentation. Hitler finally gave in: In a closed meeting of the peaks of government, party and Reichswehr to another topic Hitler said "studies" have shown that the generals Schleicher and von Bredow were shot "by mistake". However, all officers were forbidden to attend Schleicher's funeral. Defying this order, Hammerstein sought to attend the funeral and was enraged when the SS refused to allow him to attend the service and confiscated the wreaths that the mourners had brought.
Second World War
He was recalled to military service as the commander of Army Group A on 10 September 1939 but retired again on 21 September 1939. During World War II, Hammerstein-Equord was involved in several plots to overthrow Hitler, including in the run up of the failed plot of 20 July 1944. He tried repeatedly to lure Hitler into visiting a fortified base under his command along the Siegfried Line of the Western Front. He confided to retired former army chief of staff and leading conspirator Colonel-General Ludwig Beck that "a fatal accident will occur" when the Führer visited his base. Hitler never accepted Hammerstein-Equord's invitation. Instead, he was transferred to command in Wehrkreis (Defense District) VIII in Silesia, then relieved of his command on personal orders by Hitler for his "negative attitude towards National Socialism". He became active in the German Resistance.
Illness, death and legacy
Years before his death, Hammerstein developed a slow-growing mass below his left ear but declined to seek medical advice. In January 1943, Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Sauerbruch informed him that he had cancer, which had by then metastasized. Surgery, then the only potentially curative treatment, was thus futile, and Hammerstein was told that he was expected to survive for merely another six months. Although his medical team admitted that the cancer had advanced beyond any hope of recovery, Hammerstein underwent radiation treatment, causing serious side-effects and great discomfort. His son, Kunrat, ordered that the therapy be discontinued after being informed that the treatment was purely palliative.
Hammerstein-Equord spent the final weeks of his life under considerable pain in his house in Dahlem, an affluent district of Berlin. In spite of that, and although aware that he was being under surveillance by the Gestapo, he continued to voice his criticism of the regime to visitors. Among them, the art historian Udo von Alvensleben, noted in his diary after meeting him in mid-February 1943:
"I am ashamed to have belonged in an army, that witnessed and tolerated all the crimes", is Hammerstein's final conclusion.
On 16 April, Hammerstein fell into a coma from which he never recovered. He died in his home on Saturday, 24 April 1943. His family refused an official funeral at Berlin's Invalidenfriedhof Cemetery, because this would have meant that his coffin would have been draped in the Reichskriegsflagge with the swastika. He was instead interred at the family grave in Steinhorst, Lower Saxony. Hitler ordered the sending of a wreath with a message of condolence, but the wreath was not on display at the funeral because it had been "forgotten" in a Berlin subway by Hammerstein's family.
Heinrich Brüning, leader of the Catholic Center party, who served as German chancellor between 1930 and 1932, called Hammerstein-Equord "the only man who could remove Hitler—a man without nerves". According to the memoirs of Kunrat von Hammerstein, Hammerstein-Equord spoke of "organized mass murder" of the Jews before the summer of 1942. He supplied his daughter Maria-Therese von Hammerstein-Paasche with the names of Jews who were scheduled for deportation or arrest, enabling her to warn or hide them. Two of his sons, Ludwig and Kunrat, took part in a failed plot to kill Hitler and replace the Nazi regime with a new government on 20 July 1944, fleeing Germany in its aftermath. His widow and two younger children were then deported to a concentration camp, and freed only when the Allied Forces liberated the camps in 1945.
Family and children
At home, Von Hammerstein-Equord reported planned actions against Jewish and other persecuted people so that his elder children could warn their many Jewish contacts. Two of his daughters, Marie Luise von Hammerstein and Helga von Hammerstein, had been members of the secret service of the German Communist Party (KPD) since the late 1920s and helped to inform the Soviet Union about Hitler's political and military intentions, which he detailed in a secret speech to leading generals on 3 February 1933.
Marie Luise von Hammerstein, later Marie Luise Baroness of Münchhausen, was a friend of Werner Scholem, who was shot at KZ Buchenwald in 1940. From 1937 until 1951 she was in a second marriage with Ernst-Friedemann Freiherr von Münchhausen. The couple separated after the war. Marie Luise moved in 1949 from West-Berlin to East-Berlin, and became a member of the SED, working as a lawyer mostly for Jewish clients.
Helga von Hammerstein-Equord met Leo Roth when she was 15, left school at 17, and joined the KPD. She helped connect agent Gert Caden to the KPD. Helga worked for the news service of the KPD under the code name "Grete Pelgert" at least until 1937, when Roth was executed as a traitor in Moscow. She obtained a doctorate in chemistry from the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in 1939.
His daughter Maria Therese von Hammerstein Paasche was an anti-Nazi activist who transported Jews out of Germany in the early years of the Nazi regime and later emigrated to Japan where she lived for several years before settling in the United States.
Kunrat von Hammerstein-Equord could not serve any longer at the front as an officer because of a war injury. He did not belong to the military resistance, but was personally acquainted with many of those who were. Fearing arrest, he went into hiding in Cologne in September 1944. Later, like his brother Ludwig, he was charged by the Reichskriminalpolizeiamt-Berlin with desertion, but evaded arrest. After the war, he published parts of his diaries as well as records of his father.
Ludwig von Hammerstein-Equord was equally barred from frontline service following a war injury, but joined the military resistance against Hitler. On 20 July 1944 he witnessed the arrest of other members of the resistance in the Bendlerblock. He was able to escape and lived in the Berlin underground until the war ended. After the war, he wrote two biographies of his father.
Franz Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord was an industrial merchant. After 20 July 1944 he was a so-called Sippenhäftling (prisoner of kin). He was deported along with his mother and sister Hildur. He survived the war, studied theology and subsequently worked in several Christian, social, and political organisations.
Hammerstein-Equord had a reputation for independence and indolence, favoring hunting and shooting over the labors of administration. He told his friends that the only thing hampering his career was "a need for personal comfort". He was an aloof and sarcastic man, renowned for his cutting displays of disregard. Hammerstein-Equord regarded himself as a servant of the German state, not of its political parties. He was extremely hostile to the Nazi Party, as late as 1933 referring to the Nazis as "criminal gang and perverts" (German: Verbrecherbande und Schweinigel), the latter an allusion to the homosexual tendencies of some SA leaders. He earned the nickname The Red General for fraternizing with trade unionists. Hammerstein-Equord personally warned Adolf Hitler in December 1932 against trying a coup, promising he would give the order to shoot in that case. He made reassurances to the same effect to the American Ambassador Frederic M. Sackett.
Classification of officers
As Chief of the Army High Command, Hammerstein-Equord oversaw the composition of the German manual on military unit command (Truppenführung), dated 17 October 1933.
He conceived of a classification scheme for officers:
I distinguish four types. There are clever, hardworking, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and hardworking; their place is the General Staff. The next ones are stupid and lazy; they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the mental clarity and strength of nerve necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is both stupid and hardworking; he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always only cause damage.
Decorations and awards
- Prussian Royal House Order of Hohenzollern, Knight's Cross with Swords
- 1914 Iron Cross 1st Class
- 1914 Iron Cross 2nd Class
- Bavarian Military Merit Order, 4th Class with Swords
- Saxon Albert Order, Knight 1st Class with Swords
- Mecklenburg-Strelitz Cross for Distinction in War, 1st and 2nd Classes
- Mecklenburg-Schwerin Military Merit Cross, 1st and 2nd Classes
- Lübeck Hanseatic Cross
- Austro-Hungarian Military Merit Cross, 3rd Class with War Decoration
- Knight of Honor (Ehrenritter) of the Johanniter-Orden
- Prussian 25-Year Long Service Cross for Officers
- Regarding personal names: Freiherr is a former title (translated as Baron). In Germany since 1919, it forms part of family names. The feminine forms are Freifrau and Freiin.
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Unter dem Chef des Stabes standen in der Führungsabteilung der Erste Generalstabsoffizier (Ia), der für die Truppenführung zuständig war [...]
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Man kann nur Boden germanisieren
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