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Walter Karl Ernst August von Reichenau
Generalfeldmarschall Walther von Reichenau
Born (1884-10-08)8 October 1884
Died 17 January 1942(1942-01-17) (aged 57)
Place of birth Karlsruhe, Baden, Germany
Place of death Poltava
Buried at Invalidenfriedhof Berlin
Allegiance German Empire German Empire (to 1918)
Germany Weimar Republic (to 1933)
Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Years of service 1903–1942
Rank Generalfeldmarschall
Commands held 10th Army
6th Army
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross

Walter von Reichenau (8 October 1884 – 17 January 1942) was a German Generalfeldmarschall during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (German language: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes). The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.

Early history[edit | edit source]

Reichenau was born in Karlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg. He was born into an aristocratic Prussian family. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries the von Reichenau family owned and operated one of the largest furniture factories in Germany. His father was a Prussian general. Reichenau joined the German Army in 1903. During World War I he served on the Western Front. He was awarded the Iron Cross First Class and by 1918 had been promoted to the rank of captain.

Interwar years[edit | edit source]

Following the armistice Reichenau was selected to remain in the Reichswehr. The Reichswehr was the 96,000 man army that Germany was allowed to maintain under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. The Reichswehr was limited to 4,000 officers, and the German General Staff was not permitted to exist. Reichenau took a post in the Truppenamt, which was the equivalent underground General Staff that was formed by Hans von Seeckt. From 1931 Reichenau was Chief of Staff to the Inspector of Signals at the Reichswehr Ministry, and later served with General Werner von Blomberg in East Prussia. Here he supported Blomberg in the development of new tactics to put into practice the concept of mobile warfare that showed promise at the end of the First World War. Reichenau had many of the books of British tank proponents, including B.H. Liddell Hart and J.F.C. Fuller, translated into German.[1]

His uncle was an ardent Nazi, and introduced Reichenau to Adolf Hitler in 1932. Reichenau joined the Nazi Party, though doing so was a violation of army regulations laid down by Seeckt to insulate the army from national politics.[2]

In 1938, records indicate, the family "donated" the factory to the Nazi Party.[citation needed] The factory was transformed into a munitions plant. During Allied attacks in 1945, this factory outside Karlsruhe, Germany, was destroyed in an air raid.

He was married to Alix, daughter of Silesian Count Andreas von Maltzan. During the war, Alix's sister Maria (Marushka) hid her Jewish lover Hans Hirschel from the Gestapo in her Berlin flat; von Reichenau knew this, and visited them there. Maria also worked to hide underground Jews and political dissidents, sustain them, or help them escape from Germany.[3]

When Hitler came to power in January 1933, Blomberg became Minister of War and von Reichenau was appointed head of the Ministerial Office, acting as liaison officer between the Army and the Nazi Party. He played a leading role in persuading Nazi leaders such as Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler that the power of Ernst Röhm and the SA must be broken if the Army was to support the Nazi regime. This led directly to the "Night of the Long Knives" of 30 June 1934.

In 1935 von Reichenau was promoted to lieutenant general (Generalleutnant) and was appointed Commander in Munich. By 1938, after the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair in which General Werner von Fritsch was forced out of the Army command, von Reichenau was Hitler's first choice to succeed him, but older leaders such as Gerd von Rundstedt and Ludwig Beck refused to serve under him, and Hitler backed down. Von Reichenau's enthusiastic Nazism repelled many of the generals who would not oppose Hitler but who did not care for the Nazi ideology.

Second World War[edit | edit source]

Poland and France[edit | edit source]

In September 1939, von Reichenau commanded the 10th Army during the invasion of Poland. In 1940 he led the 6th Army during the invasion of Belgium and France, and in July, Hitler promoted him to field marshal.

Barbarossa[edit | edit source]

Reichenau strongly opposed the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless as commander of the 6th Army, he led his army into the heart of Russia during the summer of 1941. The 6th Army was a part of Army Group South, and captured Kiev, Belgorod, Kharkov and Kursk. In September 1941, Reichenau reportedly wrote to Adolf Hitler to suggest that Ukrainians and White Russians, who initially viewed the German army as liberators, should be recruited to fight against the Bolsheviks. Hitler rejected this idea, telling Reichenau to stop interfering in political matters. Later that month Reichenau wrote again to Hitler on this subject matter, warning him of the dangers of large-scale partisan warfare in the Soviet Union. His advice was ignored, but his persistence in challenging Hitler's opinion was noted.

During the offensive into Russia the German army was confronted with a number of superior tank designs. Reichenau inspected the Soviet tanks he came across, entering each tank and measuring their armour plate. According to general staff officer Paul Jordan, after examining a T-34, von Reichenau told his officers "If the Russians ever produce it on an assembly line we will have lost the war."[4]

Reichenau supported the work of the SS Einsatzgruppen in exterminating the Jews in the occupied Soviet territories. On 19 December 1941 Hitler sacked Walther von Brauchitsch as Commander-in-Chief and tried to appoint von Reichenau to the post. But again the senior Army leaders rejected von Reichenau as being "too political" and Hitler appointed himself instead.

Death[edit | edit source]

In January 1942 von Reichenau suffered a cerebral haemorrhage, and it was decided to fly him from Poltava to a hospital in Leipzig, Germany. He is often said to have been killed in a plane crash in Russia, though Görlitz writes that the plane merely made an emergency landing in a field, and that von Reichenau actually died of a heart attack. His death coincided with a propaganda action conducted by the Polish underground (Operation Reichenau), whose goal was to discredit Reichenau, in the eyes of the German leadership, as a person who allegedly had been plotting to overthrow the Nazi régime, to sow distrust between the Nazi political leadership and its military command, and punish one of the German generals responsible for war crimes in Poland. This coincidence became a fertile ground for conspiracy theories, which allege that Reichenau might actually have been killed by the Nazi secret services.

Politics[edit | edit source]

Politically, von Reichenau was an anti-Semite who equated Jewry with Bolshevism and the perceived Asian threat to Europe. The infamous October 1941 "Reichenau Order" paved the way for mass murder by instructing the officers thus:

"In this eastern theatre, the soldier is not only a man fighting in accordance with the rules of the art of war...For this reason the soldier must learn fully to appreciate the necessity for the severe but just retribution that must be meted out to the subhuman species of Jewry...".[5]

All Jews were henceforth to be treated as de facto partisans, and commanders were directed that they be either summarily shot or handed over to the Einsatzgruppen execution squads of the SS-Totenkopfverbände as the situation dictated.[5] Upon hearing of the Severity Order, Reichenau's superior Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt expressed "complete agreement" with it, and sent out a circular to all of the Army generals under his command urging them to send out their own versions of the Severity Order, which would impress upon the troops the need to exterminate Jews.[6] During the Nuremberg trials, however, Von Rundstedt denied any knowledge of that order before his capture by the Allies, although he acknowledged that Reichenau's orders "may have reached my army group and probably got into the office".[7] Some historians such as Walter Görlitz have sought to defend von Reichenau, summarizing the above order as "demanding that the troops keep their distance from the Russian civilian population."[citation needed]

Promotions[edit | edit source]

Awards[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Liddell Hart p. 23
  2. Liddell Hart p. 13
  3. Gross, Leonard (1982). The Last Jews in Berlin. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 253, 159, 133, 126, 83, 37. ISBN 0-671-24727-1. http://books.google.com/books?id=MeTRXbveYHMC&printsec=frontcover&dq=%22The+Last+Jews+in+Berlin%22&ei=-FEsS676Hp-SygSR18i_BA&cd=1#v=onepage&q=&f=false. Retrieved 2009-12-18. "...her second sister Alix, and Field Marshal Walter von Reichenau, her baffling brother-in-law, one of the first, if not the first, important army officers to embrace the Nazis, who nonetheless knew of and liked Hans; who always came to Marushka's flat when he was in Berlin to have several glasses of his favourite drink, Turk's Blood, a half-and-half mixture of Burgundy and champagne; ...who one day, just before his death of a stroke in January 1942, warned Marushka that even he would be unable to help her if she ran afoul of the Gestapo for associating with a Jew." 
  4. video by Guido Knopp and Henry Kohler: "Hitler's Warriors. Paulus the Defector." (accessdate=2012-1-08), year=1998; publisher=ZDF Enterprises.
  5. 5.0 5.1 von Reichenau, Walter (October 10, 1941). "Secret Field Marshal v.Reichenau Order Concerning Conduct of Troops in the Eastern Territories, 10 October 1941". Stuart D. Stein, The School of Humanities, Languages and Social Sciences, University of the West of England. http://www.ess.uwe.ac.uk/genocide/USSR2.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-18. "The soldier in the eastern territories is not merely a fighter according to the rules of the art of war but also a bearer of ruthless national ideology and the avenger of bestialities which have been inflicted upon German and racially related nations. Therefore the soldier must have full understanding for the necessity of a severe but just revenge on subhuman Jewry. The Army has to aim at another purpose, i.e., the annihilation of revolts in hinterland which, as experience proves, have always been caused by Jews" 
  6. Mayer, Arno J. Why Did The Heavens Not Darken?, New York: Pantheon, 1988, 1990 page 250.
  7. The Trial of German Major War Criminals, Nüremberg, 9 August to 21 August 1946, p. 102
  8. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 352.
Bibliography
  • Craig, William (2000). Enemy at the Gates. Victoria: Penguin
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 (in German). Friedburg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 3-7909-0284-5.
  • Görlitz, Walter (1989). "Reichenau," in Correlli Barnett ed., Hitler's Generals. New York: Grove Weidenfeld. pp. 208–18.
  • Liddell Hart, B.H., The German Generals Talk. New York, NY: Morrow, 1948.
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007) (in German). 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. Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.

External links[edit | edit source]

Military offices
Preceded by
none
Commander of 10. Armee
6 August 1939 - 10 October 1939
Succeeded by
General Heinrich von Vietinghoff gennant Scheel
Preceded by
none
Commander of 6. Armee
10 October 1939 - 29 December 1941
Succeeded by
Feldmarschall Friedrich Paulus



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