Many German generals and senior officers who participated in the Second World War as part of the Wehrmacht and the SS troops survived the wartime safely and either did not incur any punishment or escaped with insignificant prison terms. Some of them were fortunate enough to live for almost half a century after the war. A story about how to be a Nazi general and … live until the 1980s.
Among the Nazi leaders of the “first echelon”, the most long-lived were Albert Speer and Rudolf Hess. Favorite architect of Adolf Hitler and Reichsminister of armaments, Albert Speer “from call to call” served 20 years and was released in 1966. After that, he lived at large for another 15 years and died in 1981 at the age of 76. Rudolf Hess was less fortunate, although he lived more: he died in 1987 at the age of 93 in Spandau prison, never seeing freedom.
As for the generals, fate was more favorable to many of its representatives. The logic of the punishers was as follows: they say that the German generals were military people, they say, they followed orders, and did not make political decisions. But on their conscience are the ruined lives of civilians in the occupied territories, tens of thousands of lives. …
Long-lived generals: Wöhler and Balck
General of the infantry Otto Wöhler played a very prominent role on the Eastern Front: he met the war as the 47-year-old chief of staff of the 11th Army of the Wehrmacht. In April 1942, Wöhler became Chief of Staff of Army Group Center, from April 1943 he commanded the 1st Army Corps, from August 1943 – the 8th Army, which fought in the Ukraine. In December 1944 he was appointed commander of Army Group South. Wöhler was “lucky” to surrender to the Americans. Nevertheless, he was sentenced to 8 years in prison for the revealed facts of cooperation with the Einsatzgroup.
In 1951, Wöhler was released and settled in his native Burgdevel in Lower Saxony, where he lived a long and quiet life of a respectable German pensioner. Wöhler died in 1987 at the age of 93, having outlived many of his colleagues for decades. About crime and punishment … by the way.
The fate of another German general, Hermann Balck, turned out to be practically the same. General of the tank forces Georg Otto Hermann Balck began military service even before the First World War, and by the time of the attack on the Soviet Union he was already a colonel, commander of a tank brigade. In May 1942, he was appointed commander of the 11th Panzer Division, and in August of the same year he was promoted to major general.
General of the tank forces Georg Otto Hermann Balck
In November 1943, Balck, who by that time had risen to the rank of general of the tank forces, became commander of the 48th Panzer Corps, in August 1944 he led the 4th Panzer Army, then commanded Army Group G. Since December 1944, Balck commanded Army Group Balck (6th Army of the Wehrmacht, 1st and 3rd Hungarian armies) and 6th Army operating in the vicinity of Budapest. Before the complete defeat of Germany, Balck led his army to Austria and surrendered again to American troops.
The brave tanker was not touched. In 1947, he was released from captivity, but in 1948 he was sentenced to three years by a German court – for the fact that in November 1944 Balck ordered the execution of Lieutenant Colonel Schottke, who was found drunk, unable to carry out his duties, without a tribunal’s verdict … Nevertheless, Balck lived after the war for a long time and died only in 1982 at the age of 88.
How SS Gruppenfuehrer escaped retribution
In 1979, an 85-year-old man died in the small Bavarian town of Wolfratshausen. Quiet pensioner Wilhelm Bittrich was actually not so simple. Obergruppenfuehrer SS, he commanded the famous SS division “Das Reich” during the battles near Moscow in 1941. Bittrich then commanded the 8th SS Cavalry Division Florian Gayer, the 9th SS Motorized Division Hohenstaufen, and the 2nd Panzer Corps. On May 8, he surrendered to American forces. And why the German war criminals were so inclined to surrender to the Americans … They understood what awaited them for all the deeds they did on the Eastern Front, in the Soviet Union …
Wilhelm Bittrich and Hermann Fegelein, Soviet Union, 1942
In 1953, in France, he was prosecuted for taking part in the execution of 17 members of the Resistance movement. Bittrich received 5 years in prison, after his release he returned to Germany and lived a quiet life, not being involved in any political affairs.
SS Obergruppenführer and SS General Karl Maria Demelhuber were also fortunate enough to live to a ripe old age. He died in 1988 at the age of 91. But meanwhile, it was Karl Demelhuber in November 1940 – April 1941. commanded the SS Forces in Poland, then the 6th SS Mountain Division “Nord” in Finland, was the commander of the SS Forces in the Netherlands.
Naturally, with such a track record behind the shoulders of the general there were many war crimes, but since 1948 he was at large. Moreover, Demelhuber was actively involved in social activities and was the chairman of the arbitration court of the Society for Mutual Assistance of Former Members of the SS troops (HIAG).
Police General and SS Obergruppenfuehrer Wilhelm Koppé (died in 1975 at the age of 79) fell a little short of the eighties. He was in charge of the SS in the General Government, responsible for the expulsion of Jews to ghettos and concentration camps. Koppé was called one of the key organizers of the Nazi terror in Poland.
But in 1945 he managed to escape. Under the maiden name of his wife Lohman, he even became the commercial director of a chocolate factory in Bonn. In 1960, he was identified, arrested and prosecuted for the murder of more than 145,000 people. But for health reasons in 1966 Koppé was released. Health, by the way, was not so bad, since he lived to almost 80. But the ruined lives – well, who in the countries of victorious democracies remembers them. There is also “reconciliation”, en masse …
The main executioner of the Zmievskaya Balka lived until 1987
Kurt Christman is somewhat out of the range of the heroes of our story. He was not a general, but an SS Obersturmbannfuehrer (lieutenant colonel), but it was this Munich lawyer, doctor of jurisprudence who led the infamous SS 10a Sonderkommando, which massacred tens of thousands of Soviet citizens in Rostov-on-Don, Yeisk, Taganrog, Krasnodar, Novorossiysk.
After the war, Christman was arrested, but in 1946 he fled and spent 10 years in Argentina. Returning to his homeland, Christman became one of the richest lawyers in Munich. In 1974 he was nevertheless arrested, but with the help of fake medical papers, Christman managed to postpone the court sentence. Nevertheless, in 1980 he was still sentenced to 10 years. Christman died in 1987 at the age of 79, having outlived thousands of his victims for decades.
By the way, Christman’s subordinates in the Sonderkommando were identified by the Soviet state security agencies and executed by court order back in the 1960s.
As we can see, the fate of the surviving German generals and senior officers took shape in different ways. As a rule, there were no complaints about the army generals, or they were insignificant. But often outright murderers like Kurt Christmann or Wilhelm Koppé remained at large. They should have been shot back then, in the victorious ’45, but they happily survived to a ripe old age.