15 February 1895|
2 May 1945 (aged 50)|
|Rank||General of the Infantry|
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross|
Wilhelm Emanuel Burgdorf (15 February 1895 – 2 May 1945)[a] was a German general in the Wehrmacht during World War II, who served as a commander and staff officer in the German Army (Wehrmacht) (army). In October 1944, Burgdorf assumed the role of the Chief of the Army Personnel Office (Heerespersonalamt) and Chief Adjutant to Adolf Hitler. In this capacity, he played a role in the forced suicide of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. Burgdorf committed suicide in the Führerbunker on 2 May 1945 at the conclusion of the Battle of Berlin.
Burgdorf joined the German Army (Reichsheer) at the outbreak of World War I as an officer cadet and was commissioned as an infantry officer in Grenadier Regiment 12 in 1915. Between the wars he served in the Reichswehr and was promoted to captain in 1930. In 1935, he became an instructor in tactics at the military academy in Dresden with the rank of major and was appointed an adjutant on the staff of the IX corps in 1937. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1938 and served as the commander of the 529th Infantry Regiment from May 1940 to April 1942. In May 1942, he became Chief of Department 2 of the Army Personnel Office. Burgdorf became the Deputy Chief in October 1942, when he was promoted to Generalmajor.
Burgdorf was promoted to Chief of the Army Personnel Office (Heerespersonalamt) and Chief Adjutant to Adolf Hitler in October 1944. At that time, he was further promoted in rank to Generalleutnant, and one month later (on 1 November 1944), to the rank of General der Infanterie. Burgdorf retained that rank and position until his death. Burgdorf decreed: Every officer and every judge of the Wehrmacht have to act with strongest measures against doubters in the German final victory. "An officer who expresses himself disparaging about the state leadership is intolerable in the National Socialist state."
Role in Rommel's death
As part of Burgdorf's function as Hitler's chief adjutant, he played a key role in the death of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. Rommel had been implicated as having a peripheral role in Operation Valkyrie on 20 July 1944, in which an attempt was made to assassinate Hitler. Hitler recognised that to haul the most popular general in Germany before a People's Court would cause a scandal throughout Germany and accordingly arranged a face-saving maneuver.
On 14 October 1944, Burgdorf, with General Ernst Maisel, arrived at the Rommel household. Burgdorf informed Rommel of the charges and following the instructions of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, offered him a choice – take poison, receive a state funeral, and obtain immunity for his family and staff, or face a trial for treason. Rommel drove away with Burgdorf and Maisel. Rommel's family received a telephone call 10 minutes later informing them that Rommel had committed suicide.
Battle of Berlin
Shortly before the Battle of Berlin, Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager overheard Burgdorf say: "When the war is over, we will have to purge, after the Jews, the Catholic officers in the army." Boeselager was a Roman Catholic Wehrmacht officer and vocally objected, citing his own decorations for heroism in combat. He left before Burgdorf answered.
Burgdorf joined Hitler in the Führerbunker when the Soviets assaulted Berlin. On 28 April, Hitler discovered that Heinrich Himmler tried to negotiate a surrender to the western Allies via Count Folke Bernadotte. Burgdorf took part in Hitler's court-martial of Hermann Fegelein, Himmler's SS liaison officer and Eva Braun's brother-in-law. SS-General Wilhelm Mohnke presided over the tribunal, which included SS-General Johann Rattenhuber and General Hans Krebs. Fegelein was so drunk that he was crying, vomiting and unable to stand up; he even urinated on the floor. It was the opinion of the judges that he was in no condition to stand trial. Therefore, Mohnke closed the proceedings and turned Fegelein over to Rattenhuber and his security squad.
On 29 April 1945, Burgdorf, Krebs, Joseph Goebbels, and Martin Bormann witnessed and signed Hitler's last will and testament. After Hitler's suicide on 30 April 1945, Goebbels assumed Hitler's role as chancellor. On 1 May, Goebbels dictated a letter to Soviet Army General Vasily Chuikov, requesting a temporary ceasefire and ordered General 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. Ministerialdirektor Hans Fritzsche left the room to 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. General 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.
After midnight, in the early hours of 2 May 1945, following the earlier suicides of Hitler and Goebbels, Burgdorf and his colleague Chief of Staff Hans Krebs committed suicide together by gunshot to the head. The Soviets found the bodies of Krebs and Burgdorf in the bunker complex.
Awards and decorations
- Iron Cross (1914) 2nd Class (24 January 1915) & 1st Class (14 August 1916)
- Knight's Cross of the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern with Swords (27 August 1917)
- Military Merit Cross, 3rd class with war decoration (Austria-Hungary, 27 February 1918)
- Knight's Cross, 2nd class of the Friedrich Order with Swords (18 July 1918)
- Hanseatic Cross of Hamburg (18 October 1918)
- The Honour Cross of the World War 1914/1918 (20 December 1934)
- Wehrmacht Long Service Award 2nd Class (2 October 1936)
- Clasp to the Iron Cross (1939) 2nd Class (15 June 1940) & 1st Class (17 June 1940)
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 29 September 1941 as Oberst and commander of Infanterie-Regiment 529
In popular culture
- Joachimsthaler 1999, p. 286.
- Der Spiegel 28/1978
- Wilhelm Keitel, Nuremberg testimony
- Manfred Rommel, Nuremberg testimony
- Evans 2009, p. 642.
- von Boeselager 2009, p. 177.
- O'Donnell 1978, pp. 182–183.
- Bullock 1962, p. 795.
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 949–950, 955.
- Fest 2004, pp. 135–137.
- Vinogradov 2005, p. 324.
- Fest 2004, p. 137.
- Fest 2004, pp. 137–139.
- Beevor 2002, p. 387.
- Ryan 1966, p. 398.
- Thomas & Wegmann 1993, p. 292.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 254.
- Beevor, Antony (2002). Berlin: The Downfall 1945. London: Viking-Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-670-03041-5.
- von Boeselager, Philipp Freiherr (2009). Valkyrie: The Story of the Plot to Kill Hitler by its Last Member. Vintage. ISBN 0-307-45497-5.
- Bullock, Alan (1962). Hitler: A Study in Tyranny. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-013564-2.
- Evans, Richard J. (2009). The Third Reich at War. New York: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-101548-4.
- Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000) . 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.
- Fest, Joachim (2004) . Inside Hitler's Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0-374-13577-5.
- Joachimsthaler, Anton (1999) . The Last Days of Hitler: The Legends, the Evidence, the Truth. Trans. Helmut Bögler. London: Brockhampton Press. ISBN 978-1-86019-902-8.
- Kershaw, Ian (2008). Hitler: A Biography. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-06757-6.
- O'Donnell, James (1978). The Bunker. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 978-0-395-25719-7.
- Ryan, Cornelius (1966). The Last Battle. London: Collins. ISBN 0-00-613267-7.
- 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 (1993). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Deutschen Wehrmacht 1939–1945 Teil III: Infanterie Band 3: Br–Bu [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the German Wehrmacht 1939–1945 Part III: Infantry Volume 3: Br–Bu] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-1734-3.
- Vinogradov, V. K. (2005). Hitler's Death: Russia's Last Great Secret from the Files of the KGB. Chaucer Press. ISBN 978-1-904449-13-3.
- "Der Kerl gehört gehängt!—Die deutschen Militärrichter im Zweiten Weltkrieg". Der Spiegel (in German). 1978. Retrieved 17 June 2015.