Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord

Kurt Freiherr [German title|Freiherr] von Hammerstein-Equord (September 26, 1878 – April 25, 1943) was a German general who served for a period as Commander-in-Chief of the Reichswehr/ German Army. He is famous for being an ardent opponent of Hitler and the Nazi regime.

Biography

Born to an aristocratic family in Hinrichshagen, Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Germany in 1878, Hammerstein-Equord joined the German Army on 15 March 1898. He was attached to the General Staff during World War I and participated in the Battle of Turtucaia. Hammerstein-Equord was loyal to the Weimar Republic, opposing the Kapp-Lüttwitz putsch in 1920. He served as Chief of Staff of the 3rd Division from 1924, as Chief of Staff of the I Group Command in 1929, and as Head of Troops in the Office Ministry of War from 1929. A close friend of Kurt von Schleicher, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Reichswehr in 1930, replacing General Wilhelm Heye.

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 that hampered 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, referring to the Nazis as "that gang of criminals" and "those filthy pigs", the latter an allusion to the homosexual tendencies of some SA leaders. He earned the nickname, "The Red General," for fraternizing with the trade unions. Hammerstein-Equord personally warned Adolf Hitler in December 1932, against trying a coup by illegal means, promising that in that case he would give the order to shoot. He made reassurances to the same effect to the American Ambassador Frederic M. Sackett.

Hammerstein-Equord repeatedly warned President Paul von Hindenburg about the dangers of appointing Hitler as chancellor. In response, Hindenburg had assured Hammerstein-Equord, that "he would not even consider making that Austrian corporal the minister of defense or the chancellor". Scarcely 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. Owing to his opposition to Hitler, Hammerstein-Equord was forced to resign from his office on 31 January 1934. He was recalled to military service as General Officer Commanding Army Detachment A on 10 September 1939.

During World War II, Hammerstein-Equord was involved in several plots to overthrow Hitler. 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 visits his base. But Hitler never accepted Hammerstein-Equord's invitation. 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 Nazism". He became active in the German Resistance, working with Carl Friedrich Goerdeler. Hammerstein-Equord died of cancer in Berlin on April 25, 1943. His family refused an official funeral at Berlin Invalidenfriedhof Cemetery because this would have meant that his coffin would have been covered by the "Reichskriegsflagge" with the swastika. Thus, he was buried at the family's graveyard in Steinhorst/Lower Saxony. Hitler ordered to send a wreath with tie to condole, but unfortunately the wreath was not retrievable at the funeral because it had been "forgotten" in Berlin subway by Hammersteins 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 reminiscences of his son Kunrat von Hammerstein, Hammerstein-Equord resigned from the Club of Nobility when they threw out their non-Aryan members in 1934 or 1935, and 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 when the Allied Forces liberated the camps in 1945.

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 originated a special classification scheme for his officers:

I divide my officers into four classes; the clever, the lazy, the industrious, and the stupid. Each officer possesses at least two of these qualities. Those who are clever and industrious are fitted for the highest staff appointments. Use can be made of those who are stupid and lazy. The man who is clever and lazy however is for the very highest command; he has the temperament and nerves to deal with all situations. But whoever is stupid and industrious is a menace and must be removed immediately! [Bruce Condell, David T. Zabecki, editors and translators, On the German Art of War: Truppenführung, Lynne Rienner, 2001]

Notes

Decorations & 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
* Ehrenritter of the Prussian Johanniter-Orden
* Prussian 25-Year Long Service Cross for Officers

References

* Correlli Barnett, editor, "Hitler's Generals", Grove Press, 2003
* Bernard V. Burke, "Ambassador Frederic Sackett and the Collapse of the Weimar Republic, 1930-1933", Cambridge University Press, 2003
* Bruce Condell, David T. Zabecki, editors and translators, "On the German Art of War: Truppenführung", Lynne Rienner, 2001
* Joachim Fest, "Plotting Hitler's Death: The Story of German Resistance", Owl, 1997
* Hans Magnus Enzensberger, editor, "Hammerstein oder der Eigensinn. Eine deutsche Geschichte." Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 2008. ISBN 978-3-518-41960-1
* Peter Hoffmann, "The History of the German Resistance, 1933-1945", McGill-Queen's University Press, 1996
* Klaus-Jürgen Müller, "Das Heer und Hitle: Armee und nationalsozialistisches Regime", 1933-1940, Stuttgart, 1969
* Louis L. Snyder, "Encyclopaedia of the Third Reich", Contemporary Publishing Company, 1998
* Roderick Stackelberg, "The Nazi Germany Sourcebook: An Anthology of Texts", Routledge, 2002
* J.P. Stern, "Hitler: The Führer and the People", University of California Press, 1975

External links

* [http://www.geocities.com/~orion47/WEHRMACHT/HEER/Generaloberst/HAMMERSTEIN_KURT.html Biography of Colonel-General Kurt Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord]
* [http://www.jewishsf.com/content/2-0-/module/displaystory/story_id/12988/edition_id/251/format/html/displaystory.html Obituary of Maria-Therese von Hammerstein-Paasche]


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