Wilhelm Burgdorf

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Wilhelm Burgdorf
Born(1895-02-15)15 February 1895
Fürstenwalde, Province of Brandenburg, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
Died2 May 1945(1945-05-02) (aged 50)
Berlin, Nazi Germany
Service/branch Flag of a German Army infantry unit (1936-1945).png German Army
Rank General of the Infantry
  • World War I
  • World War II
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross

Wilhelm Emanuel Burgdorf (15 February 1895 – 2 May 1945) [lower-alpha 1] 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.

Wehrmacht unified armed forces of Germany from 1935 to 1945

The Wehrmacht was the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer (army), the Kriegsmarine (navy) and the Luftwaffe. The designation "Wehrmacht" replaced the previously used term Reichswehr, and was the manifestation of the Nazi regime's efforts to rearm Germany to a greater extent than the Treaty of Versailles permitted.

World War II 1939–1945, between Axis and Allies

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from more than 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 70 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Adolf Hitler Leader of Germany from 1934 to 1945

Adolf Hitler was a German politician and leader of the Nazi Party. He rose to power as Chancellor of Germany in 1933, and as Führer in 1934. During his dictatorship from 1933 to 1945, he initiated World War II in Europe by invading Poland on 1 September 1939. He was closely involved in military operations throughout the war and was central to the perpetration of the Holocaust. Hitler's actions and ideology are almost universally regarded as evil. According to historian Ian Kershaw, "Never in history has such ruination—physical and moral—been associated with the name of one man."


Military career

Burgdorf joined the Prussian Army at the outbreak of World War I as an officer cadet and was commissioned as an infantry officer in Grenadier Regiment 12 in 1915. After the war he served in the Reichswehr and was promoted to captain in 1930. In Wehrmacht, he became an instructor in tactics at the military academy in Dresden with the rank of major in 1935 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 . [1]

Prussian Army 1701-1871 land warfare branch of Prussias military, primary component and predecessor of the German Army to 1919

The Royal Prussian Army served as the army of the Kingdom of Prussia. It became vital to the development of Brandenburg-Prussia as a European power.

<i>Reichswehr</i> 1921–1935 combined military forces of Germany

The Reichswehr formed the military organisation of Germany from 1919 until 1935, when it was united with the new Wehrmacht.

Hauptmann is a German word usually translated as captain when it is used as an officer's rank in the German, Austrian, and Swiss armies. While Haupt in contemporary German means 'main', it also has and originally had the meaning of 'head', i.e. Hauptmann literally translates to 'head-man', which is also the etymological root of captain . It equates to the rank of captain in the British and US Armies, and is rated OF-2 in NATO. (For the German maritime counterpart to captain, see Kapitän.)

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. [1] 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." [2]

Generalleutnant, short GenLt, is the second highest general officer rank in the German Army (Heer) and the German Air Force (Luftwaffe).

General of the Infantry (Germany) military rank of a General officer in the German infantry

General of the Infantry is a former rank of German Ground forces. Present it is an appointment or position to an OF-6 rank officer, responsible for particular affairs of training and equipment of the Bundeswehr infantry.

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 [3] and accordingly arranged a face-saving maneuver.

Generalfeldmarschall was a rank in the armies of several German states and the Holy Roman Empire (Reichsgeneralfeldmarschall); in the Habsburg Monarchy, the Austrian Empire and Austria-Hungary, the rank Feldmarschall was used. The rank was the equivalent to Großadmiral in the Kaiserliche Marine and Kriegsmarine, a five-star rank, comparable to OF-10 in today's NATO naval forces.

Erwin Rommel German field marshal of World War II

Johannes Erwin Eugen Rommel was a German general and military theorist. Popularly known as the Desert Fox, he served as field marshal in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany during World War II, as well as serving in the Reichswehr of the Weimar Republic, and the army of Imperial Germany.

Peoples Court (Germany) court in WW2 Germany

The People's Court was a Sondergericht of Nazi Germany, set up outside the operations of the constitutional frame of law. Its headquarters were originally located in the former Prussian House of Lords in Berlin, later moved to the former Königsberg Wilhelmsgymnasium at Bellevuestrasse 15 in Potsdamer Platz.

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 three choices – report to Hitler to plead not guilty, [4] or admit guilt, take poison, receive a state funeral, and obtain immunity for his family and staff, or face a trial for treason. [5] Rommel drove away with Burgdorf and Maisel. Rommel's family received a telephone call 10 minutes later informing them that Rommel had committed suicide. [6]

Generalleutnant Ernst Maisel was a general in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany during World War II.

Wilhelm Keitel German chief of the Wehrmacht high command and war criminal

Wilhelm Bodewin Johann Gustav Keitel was a German field marshal and war criminal during the Nazi era who served as Chief of the Armed Forces High Command during World War II. In this capacity, Keitel signed a number of criminal orders and directives that led to a war of unprecedented brutality and criminality.

Treason Crime against ones sovereign or nation

In law, treason is criminal disloyalty to the state. It is a crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's nation or sovereign. This usually includes things such as participating in a war against one's native country, attempting to overthrow its government, spying on its military, its diplomats, or its secret services for a hostile and foreign power, or attempting to kill its head of state. A person who commits treason is known in law as a traitor.

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." [7] Boeselager was a Roman Catholic Wehrmacht officer and vocally objected, citing his own decorations for heroism in combat. He left before Burgdorf answered.

Battle of Berlin Final major offensive of the European theatre of World War II

The Battle of Berlin, designated the Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation by the Soviet Union, and also known as the Fall of Berlin, was one of the last major offensives of the European theatre of World War II.

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. [8]

On 29 April 1945, Burgdorf, Krebs, Joseph Goebbels, and Martin Bormann witnessed and signed Hitler's last will and testament. [9] After Hitler's suicide on 30 April 1945, Goebbels assumed Hitler's role as chancellor. [10] 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. [11] After this was rejected, Goebbels decided that further efforts were futile. [12] 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. [13] 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. [14]

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. [15] The Soviets found the bodies of Krebs and Burgdorf in the bunker complex. [16]

Awards and decorations

See also

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Explanatory notes

  1. Burgdorf apparently committed suicide after midnight on 2 May, although some other sources state it occurred before midnight on 1 May. See Kershaw 2008, p. 960, Beevor 2002, p. 387.


  1. 1 2 Joachimsthaler 1999, p. 286.
  2. Der Spiegel 28/1978
  3. Wilhelm Keitel, Nuremberg testimony
  4. "Two generals from Hitler's headquarters, Wilhelm Burgdorf and Ernst Maisel, visited Rommel at his home on 14 October 1944. Burgdorf informed him of the charges and offered him three options: he could choose to defend himself personally to Hitler in Berlin,{{refn|"Burgdorf had with him copies of the interrogations of von Hofacker, von Stülpnagel and Speidel, along with a letter written by Keitel ostensibly dictated by Hitler himself. In the letter, the Führer gave Rommel an impossible choice: if he believed himself innocent of the allegations against him, then Rommel must report to Hitler in person in Berlin; refusal to do so would be considered an admission of guilt." Butler, Daniel Allen (2015). Field Marshal: The Life and Death of Erwin Rommel. Havertown, PA / Oxford: Casemate. ISBN   978-1-61200-297-2.
  5. Manfred Rommel, Nuremberg testimony
  6. Evans 2009, p. 642.
  7. von Boeselager 2009, p. 177.
  8. O'Donnell 1978, pp. 182–183.
  9. Bullock 1962, p. 795.
  10. Kershaw 2008, pp. 949–950, 955.
  11. Fest 2004, pp. 135–137.
  12. Vinogradov 2005, p. 324.
  13. Fest 2004, p. 137.
  14. Fest 2004, pp. 137–139.
  15. Beevor 2002, p. 387.
  16. Ryan 1966, p. 398.
  17. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Thomas & Wegmann 1993, p. 292.
  18. Scherzer 2007, p. 254.


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