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World War II Remembered: The Generals and the Admirals: German Generals & Admirals

Karl Doenitz 9/16/1891 - 12/24/1980

Courtesy of Military Images

At the end of World War II, Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz (1891-1980) was hand-picked to succeed Adolph Hitler as reich president and supreme commander of the armed forces. He stood trial at Neuremberg for war crimes, but received the relatively light sentence of ten years in Spandau Prison. Throughout the trial and sentencing, Doenitz expressed surprise that he was being sentenced at all.

Karl Doenitz was born on September 16, 1891 in Berlin, Germany. He was the second son of Emil Doenitz and Anna Beyer. His father was an engineer with the firm of Karl Zeiss of Jena, a world leader in the field of optics. His mother died on March 6, 1895, when Karl was only three years old. By all accounts, he and his older brother, Friedrich, had a warm and personal relationship with their father. Emil Doenitz never remarried and kept the memory of his wife alive in the hearts of his sons.

At the age of six and a half, Doenitz attended a preparatory school outside Halensee, but remained there for only six months. When his father was transferred to his firm's headquarters, and both Karl and Friedrich were enrolled at the Realschule, a public school in the Duchy of Saxony-Weimer. The school was a model institution and the brothers received a well-rounded education in the standard courses as well as the arts.

Served with Submarine Fleet during World War I

Doenitz enrolled in the Imperial Navy in April 1910. Three years later, he became an officer, serving on the cruiser SMS Breslau. Doenitz was transferred to the naval air arm at the onset of World War I, where he became a flight observer and seaplane squadron leader. In 1916, he began service with the U-boat (submarine) fleet, remaining there until 1918, when he was captured near Malta after the sinking of his ship. Doenitz remained in British captivity for the next nine months.

After his release in 1919, Doenitz joined the German navy (Reichsmarine), becaming an inspector of torpedo boats. He remained in the Reichsmarine for the next 16 years, commanding the Emden. In the fall of 1935, Doenitz was appointed by Generaladmiral Raeder to raise and command the U-boat arm of the navy. On January 1, 1936 he was named the Fuhrer der Unterseeboote (FdU). By the fall of that year, his title was changed to Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote (BdU) .

Named Supreme Commander of the German Navy

Doenitz admired Adolph Hitler and was a strong supporter of the National Socialist German Workers' (Nazi) Party. In 1942, he received the Knight's Cross and was promoted to admiral. This was quickly followed, in 1943, with a promotion to grand admiral. Doenitz succeeded Admiral Raeder as supreme commander of the German navy. Three months later he received the Oak Leaves of the Knight's Cross and on January 30, 1944 he was awarded the coveted Golden Party Badge for his loyalty to the party.

Doenitz is recognized by military experts for the important role he played during the war. His submarine tactics nearly won the war for Germany. A capable tactician, he directed the Battle of the Atlantic against Allied supply ships. By sinking more than 15 million tons of Allied shipping, his U-boat fleet proved to be one of Germany's most effective weapons. Doenitz developed the concept of the "wolf pack" in submarine warfare by grouping his U-boats to lay in wait for Allied convoys. His coordination of reconnaissance aircraft, re-supply vessels, and wolf packs allowed his U-boats to strike where they would inflict the greatest damage. By 1943, he commanded 212 operative U-boats, and had another 181 in training. His attacks remained successful until the invention of microwave radar, which allowed the Allies to find and wreak havoc on the U-boat wolf packs.

Hitler recognized that submarine warfare was essential to the war effort. Evidence reflects that Hitler and Doenitz consulted continuously, conferring on naval questions 120 times throughout the course of the war. In Hitler's last will, he named Doenitz as his successor. Upon hearing of Hitler's death, Doenitz was appointed Reich president and supreme commander of the armed forces. He set up his government in Flensburg-Murwik on the northern German border with Denmark. For a mere 20 days Doenitz served as the last leader of the Third Reich. On May 23, 1945 he was captured by the British.

Nuremberg Trials

Doenitz expressed surprised when he was brought to trial at Nuremberg at the close of World War II, and charged with war crimes. He succeeded in convincing his prosecutors that he had no knowledge of the atrocities directed by Hitler and that, in his role as grand general, he was only following orders. On October 1, 1946, he was found guilty of "planning aggressive war" and sentenced to ten years in Berlin's Spandau prison.

Upon his release in 1956, Doenitz lived in seclusion in the small town of Aumuhle, near Hamburg, Germany. In 1958, he published Memoirs: Ten Years and Twenty Days, maintaining that he had no knowledge of the crimes committed by Hitler. Ten years later, in 1968, he published a second volume of memoirs titled Mein wechselvolles Leben (My Changeful Life). Where he attempted to separate himself from war crimes in the first volume of his memoirs, he attacked the Nuremberg trial process in the second.

Personal Life

Karl Doenitz met and fell in love with Sister Ingeborg Weber, daughter of a German general. She was a fully trained nurse, described as distinctly modern, with a mind of her own. They married on May 27, 1916 and had three children, a daughter Ursula, a son Klaus, and a son Peter. Both sons were killed during the Second World War. Neither Doenitz nor his wife had strong religious convictions, but their children were raised in the Protestant (evangelical) faith.

Doentiz passed away on December 24, 1980 at his home near Hamburg. His funeral was held January 5, 1981 and was attended by thousands of his comrades. Among those attending were a hundred Knight's Cross holders. Attendees were forbidden to wear uniforms because members of the German government felt that Doenitz had been too deeply involved with the activities of the Third Reich.

"Karl Doenitz." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Vol. 20. Detroit: Gale, 2000. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 29 Mar. 2012.

Alfred Jodl ca. 1892 - 10/16/1946

Alfred Jodl (ca. 1892-1946) was a top German military officer during World War II and part of the leadership cadre around Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. For his military strategies and orders that led to deaths of enemy troops and civilians throughout Europe, Jodl was arrested in 1945 and hanged a year later with several other top Nazis as a war criminal.

Sources place Alfred Jodl's date of birth around 1892, and there is little information about his life prior to his military career. Jodl's official public record began with his service during World War I in the Bavarian Army, where he was an artillery expert. At the war's end, imperial Germany was soundly defeated, and the Treaty of Versailles dictated that its armed forces would be limited to 100,000 men; the treaty also curtailed Germany's use of heavy artillery, tanks, submarines, and the famed Luftwaffe (air force). Jodl remained in the service of the military, though a leadership vacuum and a near-revolution had made mutinies quite common among the demoralized armed forces in the final months of the war.

Advanced Through Ranks

During the 1920s Jodl served the newly-created Weimar Republic in Germany's Ministry of War and in the intelligence service. He was perhaps fortunate to have a steady post, for the country's economy was in ruins and the unemployment rate was dangerously high. Such conditions gave rise to a political movement called National Socialism, a right-wing fascist movement led by another World War I veteran, Adolf Hitler. By 1932 Jodl had returned to service in the Army itself and was head of its Operations Department. Hitler became German Chancellor early the next year.

Jodl served as head of Army operations until 1935. During this period Hitler was consolidating power and winning support for an economic course that brought some measure of stability and prosperity. Yet the Nazi political platform blamed its Jewish citizens for many of Germany's economic woes, and imposed an increasingly drastic series of laws that restricted the civil rights of German Jews. Hitler also began violating the terms of the Versailles treaty by re-arming. By 1936 Jodl had advanced to the rank of colonel and to the post of head of the National Defense Section in the High Command of the Armed Forces.

Outbreak of War

In 1938 the German border to be defended widened considerably when Austria was annexed and became part of the country--an act that took place with almost no resistance. From 1938 to August of 1939 Jodl served as Artillery Commander of the 44th Division, and was posted in both Vienna, the Austrian capital, and Brno, a city in the former Czechoslovakia. In the late summer of 1938 German troops were massing on Germany's border with Czechoslovakia. Jodl had planned the specifics of the invasion, but alarmed European leaders signed a peace agreement with Germany a few weeks later that allowed Hitler to simply annex part of Czechoslovakia. A year later, an increasingly bellicose Germany invaded Poland, an act that launched World War II. Hitler had signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, and with his eastern flank protected--as well as a standing alliance with a fascist dictatorship in Italy--Germany launched air attacks on Britain. German troops successfully invaded France, Norway--which Jodl himself strategized--Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Yugoslavia, and Greece.

At this point Jodl began to take on an even more decisive role in Germany military matters. In August of 1939, now a general major, he became Chief of Operation Staff of the High Command of the Armed Forces, essentially Hitler's liaison between the Wehrmacht, or armed forces, and the puppet Nazi Cabinet. One of the youngest among Hitler's inner circle, Jodl was the German officer in charge of negotiations at Salonika regarding Greece's capitulation to Nazi forces in the spring of 1941. Later that spring, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Troops marched though Poland, where many of the concentration camps constructed to annihilate European Jewry were located; meanwhile, the outside world had little idea of the extermination policies that had been signed into action by Hitler and Jodl's colleagues at the top levels.

Germany's invasion of Russia proved its fatal error, however. Wehrmacht troops made it as far as Moscow and Leningrad by the end of 1941, but the Soviet army proved a tough foe. On an order dated October 7, 1941, Jodl's signature appears under the directive that Hitler would reject Russia's possible surrender of Moscow and Leningrad in the event of a negotiation; it declared that the cities should be leveled. Furthermore, problems among his top aides and advisors plagued Hitler during the war years. This dissension led to an assassination attempt on his life in July of 1944, and Jodl was wounded by the bomb. A secret landing of American troops in France and successful routing of the Germans spelled the end of the war. In April of 1945 Russian and American troops took Berlin (the German capital), and Hitler committed suicide. He passed on his command to Karl Doenitz, the admiral of the German Navy.

Signed Surrender

The Wehrmacht's official surrender came in the northeast French city of Reims. Jodl was sent on Doenitz's behalf, and over two days in early May of 1945, Jodl stalled with Allied negotiators from the staff of American General Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of the Allied forces in Europe. Eisenhower himself refused to negotiate with Jodl personally. Doenitz had given orders to delay the signing as long as possible to enable German soldiers in the east of Europe to turn back and surrender to Allied forces instead of Russians, who were inflicting dire retribution upon their vanquished. Eventually Eisenhower became incensed at Jodl's tactics, and threatened to close the front in the West, which would leave the retreating German troops stranded in the east. Jodl signed the surrender at 2:38 a.m. on May 7, 1945. It was estimated that because of the delay almost a million Germans were able to evade the Russians.

Jodl then went to the north German city of Flensburg, where Doenitz was. Jodl was arrested there with his superior on May 23. In October of 1945, an International Military Tribunal (IMT) in Nuremberg issued an indictment against Jodl and several other top Nazi leaders, including Doenitz; Minister of Armaments and War Production Albert Speer; Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering; Fritz Sauckel, head of the Nazis' forced labor operations; and foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. The Russians had demanded that Jodl's name be included on the War Criminals list in part for his stalling at Reims and for once issuing an order of Hitler's that German units in Russia could act with heedless brutality.

Tried at Nuremberg

Other evidence that survived the end of World War II linked Jodl to serious transgressions, including a plan of action regarding the destruction of the United States and Britain. Jodl also had made a speech on November 7, 1943, about slave labor--for which the genocidal camps, such as Auschwitz and Treblinka, were ostensibly designed--asserting that "remorseless vigor and resolution" was critical regarding German actions in Denmark, France, and Belgium, according to Alfred D. Low's The Men Around Hitler: The Nazi Elite and Its Collaborators. That same year Jodl gave orders that citizens should be evacuated in the north of Norway and their homes burned so that they could not provide assistance to an imminent Russian invasion. Other documents show that Jodl knew that thousands of civilians had been forcibly deported from France to work in German munitions factories.

The trial for Jodl and the nineteen other defendants began in November of 1945. In contrast to some of the other defendants, such as the visibly unstable Sauckel and the eloquent, repentant Speer, Jodl was known for his stoic demeanor on the stand. His wife left flowers for him on the witness box at the start of his testimony on June 3, 1946. Luise Jodl, once a secretary at the offices of the German High Command, had married Jodl after the death of his first wife, Anneliese, in 1944. She walked to Nuremberg from Berchtesgaden, and her interventions helped Jodl obtain the services of a well-known attorney, Franz Exner from the University of Munich.

Among the many incidents about which Jodl was questioned were his orders to bomb the Dutch city of Rotterdam. In his defense, Jodl asserted that this and other actions that he ordered were not "criminal" in the sense that they violated international standards of military conduct during warfare. On the stand, he also hinted that much of the blame for the war lay in the maneuvers of German politicians, not the actions of loyal officers. He claimed to have known nothing of the death camps at which nearly six million European Jews met their death. In his cell, he spoke with Gustave Gilbert, the prison psychiatrist at Nuremberg who later wrote a book on his experiences. Jodl told Gilbert that he had sometimes hated Hitler, because of "his contempt for the middle class, with which I identified myself, his suspicion and contempt for the nobility, to which I was married, and his hatred of the General Staff, of which I was a member," Gilbert reported in Nuremberg Diary.

Last-Minute Appeal

During this time, Luise Jodl sent telegrams to England's wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, attempting to appeal to his own sense of military duty and the officers' code of conduct to carry out orders, that he might intervene on her husband's behalf. She asked that Churchill "give your voice of support to my husband, Colonel General Jodl, who, like yourself, did nothing but fight for his country to the last," according to Joseph Persico's Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial. She also sent similarly worded missives to English Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and General Eisenhower. None stepped in, however, and unlike a few of the other defendants, the IMT did not find any "mitigating factors" regarding Jodl's actions during the war, and sentenced him to death.

Jodl was hanged in a gymnasium at the Nuremberg prison on October 16, 1946. He was cremated, and his ashes later taken to the Munich suburb of Solln, and then scattered into a tributary of the Isar, which in turn carried them to the Danube and then out to sea. According to Persico's Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial, in his cell at Nuremberg Jodl kept a timeworn picture of a woman holding an infant. When a prisoner of war came in to give him a shave and inquired as to who the two were, Jodl said that it was his mother and himself as a baby, and then reflected, "it's too bad I didn't die then. Look how much grief I would have been spared. Frankly I don't know why I lived anyway."

"Alfred Jodl." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Vol. 18. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 2 Apr. 2012.

Erich Raeder 4/24/1876 - 11/6/1960

Courtesty of Second World War -

Erich Raeder was a German naval leader who commanded the German Navy from 1928 to 1943, serving the democratic Weimar Republic government for five years and Adolph Hitler's Nazi government for fifteen. Raeder, who based his military philosophy on waging aggressive war, was indicted after World War II by the International Military Tribunal (IMT) for war crimes and was tried with other prominent Nazi officials at the Nuremberg trials. Raeder was born on April 24, 1876, in Wandsbek, Germany, to middle-class parents. He joined the German Navy in 1894 and was commissioned an officer in 1897. During World War I he served as chief of staff to Admiral Franz von Hipper, taking part in the battles of Dogger Bank and Jutland. In addition he took part in mining operations and missions along the British coastline.

After Germany surrendered in 1918 the Allies imposed many restrictions on the size and quality of the German Navy. These restrictions, which were embodied in the Treaty of Versailles, angered Raeder. After spending a number of years researching and writing a book on cruiser warfare, Raeder was appointed rear admiral in 1922 and vice admiral in 1925. In 1928 he was named chief of naval command and promoted to full admiral. As the commander of the navy, Raeder advocated changes that violated the Treaty of Versailles, including the building of submarines.

Rader remained in his post when Adolph Hitler came to power in 1933. Hitler shared Raeder's desire to ignore the treaty restrictions and to build an imposing military force. In 1935 Hitler created the rank of commander in chief for Raeder and instructed him to rebuild the navy. Though Raeder initially opposed Hitler's invasion of the Rhineland and the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union, he overcame his objections and supported the actions. In the years leading up to World War II he gave speeches that attacked Jews and glorified the role of the soldier and sailor in German life. All of these actions demonstrated that Raeder understood the political time in which he served.

In April 1939 Hitler promoted Raeder to grand admiral. After World War II began in September 1939, Raeder advocated the use of German U-boat submarines to disrupt supply lines. Moreover, he implemented a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare that put civilian passenger ships at risk as well. In 1940 Raeder developed the invasion plans for Denmark and Norway. Despite these successes, Raeder's strategic views conflicted with Hitler's and relations between the two steadily deteriorated. In January 1943 he was removed as head of the Navy.

After the war Raeder was arrested and indicted for war crimes, including crimes against peace and waging aggressive war. At his trial in Nuremberg before the IMT, Raeder sought to distance himself from the rebuilding of the German Navy and from Hitler's plans to wage war. He could not deny his responsibility for unrestricted submarine warfare. Raeder was convicted on all charges and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, he was released from prison in 1955 because of poor health. He was well enough, however, to publish his memoirs, which minimized his conduct and lauded Hitler's leadership. Raeder died on November 6, 1960 in Kiel, Germany.

Otto Moritz Walter Model 1/24/1891 - 4/21/1945

Spartacus Educational

Walther Model, the son of a musician, was born in Genthin, Germany, on 24th January, 1891. He joined the German Army and during the First World War he won both classes of the Iron Cross.

After the war Model remained in the army and in 1930 was appointed head of the war ministry's technical warfare section. A great supporter of mechanized warfare, Model was placed in charge of the department responsible for creating new and improved weapons.

Model was sympathetic to the policies of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party and he was accused of favouring officers who shared his political beliefs.

In 1939 Model took part in the invasion of Poland and served under Ernst Busch in the 16th Army in the Western Offensive during 1940. The following year he served under Heinz Guderian during Operation Barbarossa and in October 1941, Model was promoted to commander of 41st Panzer Corps.

On 14th January 1942, Model was transferred to the 9th Army. Under attack from Russian partisans, Model asked Hitler for a panzer corps to help protect his troops. Hitler refusal led to a heated argument and Model told him that a commander at the front was in a better position to develop strategy than people in the rear studying maps. Hitler, who respected Model as a soldier eventually gave in and gave him the troops he demanded.

Despite his disagreements with Adolf Hitler Model was promoted to general in February 1942. While retreating from the Soviet Union in 1943 Model gave orders for the systematic destruction of towns and their populations that resulted in him being labeled as a war criminal.

In March 1944 Model replaced Erich von Manstein as Commander in Chief in the Soviet Union. In August 1944 he was transferred to the Western Front where he succeeded Gunther von Kluge. However, after 18 days Hitler had second thoughts about Model and he lost his command to Gerd von Rundstedt.

Model was sent to command the Army Group B in Holland and Belgium where he managed to halt the Allied advance. In October 1944, he joined Hasso Manteuffel in the Ardennes Offensive.

In 1945 Model and what was left of his troops had to defend the Ruhr. Once again he clashed with Adolf Hitler when he refused to let him retreat to the Rhine. Aware that he would be tried as a war criminal if he surrendered, Walther Model committed suicide on 21st April 1945.

Spartacus Educational

Hermann Goering 1/12/1893 - 10/15/1946

“I pledge my destiny to you [Adolf Hitler] for better or for worse.”

More than any other of the major German officials who worked for the anti-Jewish dictator Adolf Hitler, Hermann Göring is an example of a decent man who became corrupted by power. During Göring's boyhood, at the end of the nineteenth century, Germany was vigorous and full of promise. As a young man, he saw his country, which was defeated in World War I (1914-18), grow frightened and desperate. The people finally turned to Hitler to save them. Instead, Hitler involved Germany in a bloody and barbaric series of events that ended in shame and defeat. Hermann Göring's fate was no better.

Unhappy beginnings

Hermann Wilhelm Göring (pronounced hair-mon vil-helm ger-ring) was born in a little town south of Munich, Germany, in January 1893. His father, Heinrich Ernst Göring, represented Germany's business interests in various foreign countries. When she was 19, Göring's mother, Franziska "Fanny" Tiefenbrun, married Heinrich Göring, a 45-year-old widower with five children. Besides serving as stepmother to these children, she also gave birth to four children of her own. Hermann was the last.

When Göring was three months old, his mother went to join her husband in the country of Haiti, where he was stationed. Göring was left behind for three years to be raised by a family in the town of Furth. Without his family, Göring was a lonely, unhappy child. When they were finally reunited he struck at his mother in rage.

Back in Germany, the career of Göring's father reached a dead end because he advocated that black people be treated as human beings. This was a highly unpopular idea among the Germans at that time. He soon retired and died from alcoholism in 1913.

Childhood and schooling

After his father's retirement, Göring went to live at the castle of his godfather, an Austrian physician named Hermann von Epenstein. One day at the private school he attended, the teachers criticized Göring for writing an admiring essay about his godfather. The teachers said that von Epenstein was Jewish and that students were not expected to write essays in praise of Jews. That night the 11-year-old Göring packed his bags and returned home.

Göring then attended two different military academies, where he excelled at mountain climbing and horseback riding. A loyal, self-confident boy, he dreamed of becoming a hero that all of Germany would respect. He graduated in 1912 with highest honors. After graduation, Göring served as a junior officer in the Prinz Wilhelm Regiment. He was popular with young women, in part because of his striking blue-green eyes and blond good looks.

During World War I, Göring proved to be a brave pilot. He was awarded Germany's highest honor for an aviator, the Blue Max. On July 7, 1918, he was appointed the last commander of the famed Richthofen Squadron and began to develop his excellent management skills.

After the war, Göring worked as a stunt pilot and as a commercial pilot for a Swedish airline. In Stockholm, Sweden, he met 32-year-old Swedish baroness Carin von Fock-Kantzoa, a married woman with an 8-year-old son. The baroness divorced her husband, a Swedish soldier, and she and Göring were married in 1923.

Göring and many other young German soldiers during the postwar period felt betrayed by their government. Their political leaders never led them to suspect that they might be forced to surrender to the enemy. When the war ended in 1918, Germany's enemies saw to it that the country was punished. The victorious countries demanded huge sums of money, known as reparations, to make up for the damages Germany had caused during the war. The payment of these reparations resulted in economic hardships for the German people. The lack of jobs was also a serious problem. Poor and stripped of illusions, Göring, like many young men, was looking for something in which to believe.

Joins Nazi Party

Adolf Hitler now marched into the life of Göring and all of Germany. Anti-Jewish feeling and talk of German racial purity were rampant. As head of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazi for short), Hitler preached that Germans were a superior race and should rule the world. He believed that Jews were a "poisonous" race that had caused Germany's defeat in the war. Hitler also said that the terms of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I must be done away with. Göring agreed and joined the Nazi Party. At first Göring resisted Hitler's strong anti-Jewish or antisemitic beliefs. However, Göring totally worshiped Hitler and soon abandoned his own tolerant views and went along with the Nazi leader's anti-Jewish speeches and writings.

By 1923, the Görings' house had become the hub of Nazi social activities. It was at this house that the Nazis planned their first failed attempt to take over the German government. This would later be called the Munich Beer Hall Putsch. In the aftermath, Göring was severely wounded. He fled to Austria and then Switzerland. During Göring's slow recovery, he was in great pain and became a morphine (a highly addictive pain medication) addict, a problem that was to plague him on and off for the rest of his life.

Göring was free of drugs and had healed from his wounds by 1926, but the ordeal had disturbed his glandular system. From then on he remained very fat, and future enemies enjoyed making fun of this condition. The next year Germany excused all political prisoners and Göring returned to his native land.

Change of fortune

By 1927, the Nazi Party had grown large and enjoyed a great deal of support among the German people. Göring, who had not been invited to rejoin Hitler's staff, got a job selling BMW automobiles. Within a year, he became very successful and visible in Berlin's (Germany's capital) social scene. Hitler, now aware of how he could use Göring, selected him to head the ticket of the Nazi Party in the 1928 elections. Although the party lost, Göring was able to prove his popularity. Hitler rewarded him with a handsome salary, and the Görings bought a large house in a desirable district of Berlin.

Over the next four years the Nazi Party grew in political strength, and so did Göring. On January 29, 1933, Germany's president, Paul von Hindenberg, appointed Hitler chancellor. Göring persuaded von Hindenberg that Hitler was the only man who could lead Germany out of its difficult problems caused by the worldwide depression (economic downturn). Göring became the most important minister in Hitler's cabinet.

A political crisis required that a new election be held on March 5, 1933. The Nazis did well, but failed to earn a winning majority. On March 23, through political maneuvering, Göring had many of the Nazis' opponents arrested on questionable grounds. Their absence allowed the Nazis to drum up more than the two-thirds majority vote they needed to have Hitler placed in charge of the government. In June a new law was decreed: "The [Nazi] Party constitutes the only political party in Germany."

That same year, the former political police force was replaced by the secret state police, better known as the Gestapo. Thousands of Germans were arrested for being Jews or Catholics, or because their opinions differed from the Nazis', who put them in concentration camps. The camps were places where the Nazis confined people they regarded as "enemies of the state." Göring was held in contempt by the more brutish Nazis for his "squeamishness" about inflicting pain and suffering on others. He tried unsuccessfully to keep brutality out of the camps where the prisoners were sent. Nevertheless, Göring learned to turn a blind eye to the growing terrorist tactics practiced by the Nazis throughout German society.

With his love of flying, Göring particularly enjoyed being Reichminister of Aviation. As head of the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force, he spent the years 1934 through 1936 strengthening the country's air power.

By 1933, the Nazis maintained ultimate power over Germany. Hitler combined the office of president with that of chancellor, making himself head of state as well as commander in chief of the armed forces. He was now dictator of Germany. Göring gathered his senior officers later that day, and all swore allegiance to Hitler.

Loss and remarriage

Göring's wife, Carin, died in 1931 after a long illness, leaving him heartbroken. Northeast of Berlin he built himself a grand mansion named Carin Hall in her honor. Göring, now a collector of fine art, furnished the home with priceless tapestries and paintings. By this time, Göring had begun sporting elaborate costumes, and wearing rouge and expensive colognes.

Beginning in 1933, Göring had a new companion, the German actress Emmy Sonnemann. She became his second wife in 1935 at an elaborate wedding attended by Hitler and other Nazi dignitaries. Emmy gave birth to Göring's daughter, Edda, three years later.

In 1936, Hitler began planning for war, a secret that soon leaked out. His aim was to place all German-speaking peoples outside of Germany's borders under the Nazi flag. Göring, now second in command only to Hitler, was made head of all economic matters. At the height of his powers in 1938 and 1939, Göring presided over the passage of laws reducing the freedom of German citizens and destroying that of the Jews.

Start of war

Germany's attack on Poland in 1939 marked the beginning of World War II. After Germany's quick victory over Poland, Göring was treated as a hero. Germany's war against the West made great gains with the fall of Holland, Belgium, and France in 1940. Hitler granted Göring the title of Reich Marshal and, in a speech, even referred to Göring as his successor.

Loss of favor

Göring was not to remain Hitler's right-hand man for long. During the course of World War II he fell into disfavor with the Führer (pronounced fyoor-uhr and meaning "my leader"), the title Hitler gave to himself, over a variety of issues. As Hitler became unreasonable and increasingly bad tempered, Göring grew disillusioned. When the Nazis started to lose ground in the Soviet Union (Russia), Hitler denied all responsibility. As head of the air force, "I certainly got the blame," Göring was quoted as saying. "From that time on the relationship between the Führer and myself steadily deteriorated." Göring was also held responsible for the declining protection afforded by the Luftwaffe during the massive Allied bombing campaigns against German cities and industries. (The Allies consisted of the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and France.) Hitler began to berate Göring and refer to him scornfully. Eventually, Göring assigned most of his duties regarding concentration camps and the Gestapo to various underlings.

By this time, Göring was pessimistic about the war and frightened about his family's fate if Germany lost. He continued to obey the orders of the Führer, but avoided contact with the Nazi leadership as much as possible. Göring now spent most of his time at Carin Hall. When Hitler found out that Carin Hall was being protected by German paratroops, he ordered them to leave. Göring had his most precious possessions packed and taken to Bavaria. In February 1945, he and his aides left in a staff car, and he had Carin Hall destroyed by dynamite.

Arrest and imprisonment

Göring arrived in Obersalzberg, Bavaria, where he set up military headquarters. Hitler was wrongly informed by Göring's enemies that he had launched a coup d'etat (a sudden overthrow of the government by force). Hitler then stripped him of all his titles, and had SS troops arrest Göring and his family at the castle where they were staying. (The SS, an abbreviation for Shutzstaffeln or Security Squad, was Hitler's protection unit.) In April 1945, Hitler committed suicide in order to avoid falling into the hands of Soviet troops who were closing in on his underground bunker. Göring, who by now had been freed, expressed regret that he would never have the chance to convince Hitler of his loyalty.

In May 1945, near the end of the war, Göring was arrested by the Allies. He still believed, however, that he would be able to charm his way back into a comfortable civilian life. At first he received special treatment, including fine food and wine, to encourage him to talk. He condemned Hitler, discussed Nazi policies and procedures at length, and did his best to make his own actions appear favorable to his Allied captors. But he was soon placed in solitary confinement and treated as just another prisoner of war.

In 1946, the Allies put the Nazi criminals publicly on trial in Nuremberg, Germany. The Nuremberg Trials marked the first time in history that a group of victorious powers had established an international court in which they could try their defeated enemies on charges of violations of criminal laws. The Nuremberg Tribunal, as the group of powers was known, made it known that a nation's conduct must be governed by laws even during wartime.

Testifies at Nuremberg

The courtroom was packed on March 13, 1946, the day Göring testified in his own behalf at the Nuremberg Trials. Having lost much of the extra weight that made him almost a comic figure, he appeared handsome and even noble. During his testimony he was initially very nervous, which was betrayed by his shaking hands. But his voice gained strength and confidence with each question he answered.

"He embellished his replies with [witty answers], attracting gales of laughter from the public in the courtroom, then subtly hushed the listeners with some throwaway self-incrimination of apparent sincerity," according to Göring's biographer David Irving. Newspapermen in the courtroom were amazed by his brilliant performance on the stand. One prosecutor commented: "Now you see why he was so popular." One Nazi lawyer commented about him admiringly: "That Göring is quite a guy."

Although arrogant, Göring handled himself very effectively against the U.S. prosecutor, smirking and making clever, sarcastic comments. The bullying British prosecutor did cause Göring to break out into a sweat, however, when he asked why Göring had executed escaped British pilots, and questioned his loyalty to Hitler in the light of the atrocities ordered by Hitler.

Proud of his own performance on the stand, Göring told his fellow defendants: "If you handle yourselves half as well as I did, you'll be doing all right." An attorney for one of the other defendants remarked: "Göring had nothing to lose. That's why he played the part to the very end--with [vigor] and shrewdness.... He won round after round against [the American] ... but he's as self-centered, vain, and pompous as ever."

In his final address to the Nuremberg court, Göring declared: "The German people trusted the Führer. Given his authoritarian direction of the state, [the people] had no influence on events. Ignorant of the crimes of which we know today, the people have fought with loyalty, self-sacrifice, and courage, and they have suffered too in this life-and-death struggle into which they were arbitrarily thrust. The German people are free from blame."

Despite Göring's efforts to justify the rule of the Nazis and his masterful speaking skills, the tribunal found "his guilt ... unique in its enormity" and sentenced him to death by hanging. Göring listened to the verdict stonefaced, but after returning to his cell he fought an emotional breakdown and asked to be left alone. Göring's written request to be executed by a firing squad, in the military tradition, was refused.

At around 11:00 P.M. on October 15, 1946, just a few hours before he was to be hanged, Göring swallowed a dose of poison. He was found dead in his bed within minutes. How he procured the vial of poison remains a mystery. The next day, his body and those of the Nazi criminals who had been hanged the night before were burned in a crematorium. Their ashes were later poured into a muddy gutter.

Göring thought that he would be remembered as a hero in Germany. This never happened. Despite his many outstanding qualities, and his successful efforts to save a number of Jews who were family friends, he was guilty of moral cowardice. "All through his association with Adolf Hitler," Leonard Mosley points out in The Reich Marshal: A Biography of Hermann Göring, "there were moments when he might have changed the course of National Socialism and Germany's race to [hell]--by arguing with and persuading the Führer to begin with, by [seizing power from] him when that was no longer possible."

"Hermann Göring." People of the Holocaust. Gale, 1998. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 29 Mar. 2012.

Wilhelm Keitel 9/22/1882 - 10/16/1946

Wilhelm Keitel was a German field marshal and head of the German high command during World War II. Keitel, who excelled at administrative detail, became Adolph Hitler's trusted link to the German military leadership. He was regarded as Hitler's mouthpiece and did not initiate actions on his own. Following the defeat of Germany in 1945, Keitel was indicted and convicted by the International Military Tribunal (IMT) at Nuremberg for war crimes.

Keitel was born on September 22, 1882 in Helmscherode, Germany. Keitel entered the army in 1901 and was commissioned an officer in a field artillery regiment. During World War I he served mainly as a staff officer after being slightly wounded by shrapnel. In 1915 his career prospects improved when he was assigned to the general staff. After Germany's surrender in 1918, Keitel held a series of administrative posts in the reconstituted army. During this period, which lasted until Hitler assumed power in 1933, Keitel spent time in the Soviet Union developing and testing equipment and tactics with the Soviet army.

In 1933 he was promoted to major general, and in 1934 he was given command of an infantry division. It was during this time that Keitel became enamored of Hitler. During the period from 1935 to 1938 Hitler removed a number of generals he considered disloyal and began to reshape the German high command. Keitel, who participated in the design of a unified command structure, attracted Hitler's attention. In 1938 Hitler appointed him to head this new command structure, recognizing that Keitel would follow his orders without question.

After his elevation Keitel worked to ensure that Austria and Czechoslovakia came under Nazi rule quickly and efficiently. He participated in the planning for the 1939 invasion of Poland, the action that precipitated World War II, and dictated the terms of surrender to the French government in 1940. Hitler promoted Keitel to field marshal in 1940, and almost immediately he began working on plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union. The Russian campaign proved disastrous for Germany, and Keitel signed orders that decreed that captured Soviet officials were to be shot and absolved German soldiers for war crimes against the Slavic people.

Keitel remained loyal to Hitler and proved it when he helped stop an attempted coup in July 1944. He was captured by the British in May of 1945 and was indicted by the IMT for war crimes in August of that year. At his trial with other top Nazi officials at Nuremberg, Keitel's war planning activities were produced as evidence of crimes against peace. His orders during the Russian offensive were cited as evidence of war crimes against civilians.

Keitel, unlike most of the defendants, did not evade responsibility for his actions. He testified that he bore the responsibility for all things that resulted from his signed orders. In October 1946 he was found guilty of the charges and sentenced to death. He was hanged on October 16, 1946 in Nuremberg, after the tribunal refused his request to be executed by a military firing squad.

Erwin Rommel 11/15/1891 - 7/18/1944

Courtesy of New World Encyclopedia -

Erwin Rommel was born in Heidenheim near Ulm on Nov. 15, 1891, into an old Swabian middle-class family. After a traditional classical education, he joined the 124th Infantry Regiment as an officer cadet in 1910 and was commissioned as second lieutenant 2 years later. In World War I he served on the Western front in France and immediately distinguished himself as an outstanding soldier. In 1915 he was awarded the Iron Cross Class I. From autumn 1915 to 1918 he served in a mountain unit in Romania and on the Italian front, where, for unusual bravery in his capture of Monte Matajur, he was cited for the highest award offered in the German army, the Pour le Mérite, at the unprecedented age of 27.

After the war Rommel spent the 1920s as a captain with a regiment near Stuttgart. In the fall of 1929 he commenced his distinguished career as an infantry instructor at the infantry school in Dresden, where he stayed until 1933. After a two-year command of a mountain battalion, he continued his teaching career at the Potsdam War Academy in 1935 and finally--after the annexation of Austria in 1938--took over the command of the war academy in Wiener Neustadt as full colonel.

On the eve of the war Rommel was selected as commander of Hitler's bodyguard and served in that capacity in Hitler's first drives to the east into the Sudetenland, Prague, and finally Poland. His first field command in World War II was at the head of the 7th Tank Division, which swept toward the English Channel in May 1940.

Rommel's appointment in February 1941 as commander of the Afrikakorps with the rank of lieutenant general marked the beginning of his fame as a desert-war tactician. Initially he met with brilliant success. By June 1942 he had driven the British troops from his starting point in Libya all the way to El Alamein and was rewarded with a promotion to field marshal that same month--the youngest in the German armed forces. Because of lack of reinforcements he failed to take Alexandria and advance to the Suez Canal as hoped and was subsequently driven back by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery's counterattack to Tunis, where he encountered fresh American troops under Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and lost the final, decisive battle at Médenine on March 5, 1943. Five days later he left for Germany on sick leave.

During the summer and fall of 1943 Rommel acted as a special adviser and troubleshooter for Hitler, a task which took him to Italy as commander of the newly formed Army Group B in a last effort to prop up the regime of Benito Mussolini. By December 1943 he was needed at the "Atlantic Wall," the coastal defenses along the coast from Norway to the Pyrenees, and in January 1944 he took over the command of all German armies from the Netherlands to the Loire River. He was unable to prevent the Allied landing in Normandy, however, and on July 17, 1944, was seriously wounded in an air raid, forcing him to return to his home in Herrlingen near Ulm.

Rommel had by this time become increasingly critical of Hitler and the Nazi party, of which he had never been a member. Although he disapproved of an assassination of Hitler, he maintained close contact with the officers who staged the unsuccessful coup of July 20, 1944, and he was to have succeeded Hitler as supreme commander in the event of success. Nazi investigators therefore sought him out at his home in Herrlingen on Oct. 14, 1944, and gave him the choice of taking poison or standing trial before the Nazi People's Court. Rommel chose the former. Hitler ordered national mourning and a state funeral with all honors.