Baldur Benedikt von Schirach (9 May 1907 – 8 August 1974) was a Nazi German politician who is best known for his role as the Nazi Party national youth leader and head of the Hitler Youth from 1931 to 1940. He later served as Gauleiter and Reichsstatthalter ("Reich Governor") of Vienna. After World War II, he was convicted of crimes against humanity in the Nuremberg trials and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Schirach was born in Berlin, the youngest of four children of theatre director, grand ducal chamberlain and retired captain of the cavalry Carl Baily Norris von Schirach (1873–1948) and his American wife Emma Middleton Lynah Tillou (1872–1944). A member of the noble Schirach family, of Sorbian West Slavic origins, three of his four grandparents were from the United States, chiefly from Pennsylvania. Through his mother, Schirach was a descendant of Thomas Heyward Jr., a signatory of the United States Declaration of Independence. English was the first language he learned at home and he did not learn to speak German until the age of five. He had two sisters, Viktoria and the opera singer Rosalind von Schirach, and a brother, Karl Benedict von Schirach. His brother committed suicide in 1919 at the age of 19. He was confirmed at church at age 14 although he grew away from the church in favor of the Nazi youth movement.
On 31 March 1932 Schirach married the 19-year-old Henriette Hoffmann, the daughter of Heinrich Hoffmann, Adolf Hitler's personal photographer and sometime friend. Schirach's family was vehemently opposed to this marriage, but Hitler insisted. Gregor Strasser dismissively described Schirach as "a young effeminate aristocrat" upon whom Hitler bestowed both Henriette and the Hitler Youth position. Through this relationship, Schirach became part of Hitler's inner circle. The young couple were welcome guests at Hitler's "Berghof". Henriette von Schirach gave birth to four children: Angelika Benedikta von Schirach (born 1933), lawyer Klaus von Schirach (born 1935), businessman Robert von Schirach (born 1938) and sinologist Richard von Schirach (born 1942). The lawyer and best-selling German crime writer Ferdinand von Schirach is the couple's grandson. They are also the grandparents of the philosopher and critic Ariadne von Schirach and of the novelist Benedict Wells.
Schirach was a published author, contributing to literature journals, and an influential patron of the arts.
Military career and the Nazi Party
Schirach joined a Wehrjugendgruppe (military cadet group) at the age of ten and became a member of the Nazi Party (NSDAP) in 1925. He was soon transferred to Munich, and in 1929 became leader of the National Socialist German Students' League (Nationalsozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund; NSDStB). On 30 October 1931, he was named as Reichsjugendführer (Youth Leader) of the Nazi Party. On 13 May 1932 he was made Reichsleiter for Youth Education. Reichsleiter was the second highest political rank in the Nazi Party. He was also elected to the Reichstag that year. After the Nazi seizure of power, he was made Jugendführer of the German Reich on 17 June 1933 with responsibility for all youth organizations, including the Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend) and given an SA rank of Gruppenführer. He was made a state secretary in 1936.
Schirach appeared frequently at rallies, such as the Nuremberg rally of 1934, when he appeared with Hitler in rousing the Hitlerjugend audience. The event was filmed for Triumph of the Will, the propaganda film made by Leni Riefenstahl for the Nazi Party. Schirach set the militaristic tone of the youth organisation, which participated in military-style exercises, as well as practising use of military equipment, such as rifles. In July 1939, Schirach paid Passau a formal visit. In July 1940, when a new play by Hans Baumann was staged there, Schirach insisted that 2,000 local Hitler Youth members be part of that performance.
In 1940, Schirach organised the evacuation of five million children from cities threatened by Allied bombing. Later that year, he joined the army and volunteered for service in France, where he was awarded the Iron Cross before being recalled. He served with the 4th (Machine Gun) Company of Infantry Regiment Großdeutschland in the rank of Gefreiter. During the French Campaign, he was promoted to Leutnant and decorated for bravery.
On 8 August 1940, Schirach succeeded Josef Bürckel as Gauleiter and Reichsstatthalter of the Reichsgau Vienna, powerful posts in which he remained until the end of the war. He also succeeded Bürckel as Reich Defense Commissioner of Wehrkreis (Military District) XVII, which, in addition to his own Reichsgau, included Reichsgau Upper Danube, Reichsgau Lower Danube and part of Reichsgau Sudetenland. At that time he was replaced as Reichsjugendführer by Artur Axmann, though he retained his position as Reichsleiter for Youth Education. He attained the rank of SA-Obergruppenführer in 1941. On 16 November 1942, the jurisdiction of the Reich Defense Commissioners was changed from the Wehrkreis to the Gau level, and he retained control of civil defense measures over only Reichsgau Vienna.
Schirach was an anti-Semite, responsible for sending most of the Jews from Vienna to Nazi concentration camps. During his tenure, 65,000 Jews were deported. In a speech on 15 September 1942, he said that their deportation was a "contribution to European culture". In 1942, the German composer Richard Strauss moved with his son Franz and his Jewish daughter-in-law Alice and their children to Vienna so they could be afforded the protection of Schirach. However, 25 of her relatives died in Nazi concentration camps.
In 1944, Alice and Franz were abducted by the Viennese Gestapo and imprisoned for two nights. Strauss's personal appeal to Schirach saved them, allowing him to take them back to his estate at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where they remained under house arrest until the end of the war.
Later during the war, Schirach pleaded for a moderate treatment of the eastern European peoples and criticised the conditions in which Jews were being deported. He fell into disfavour with Hitler in 1943, but remained at his post in Vienna.
Schirach was notoriously anxious about air raids. He had the cellars of the Hofburg Palace in the Vienna city centre refurbished and adapted as a bomb shelter, and the lower level of the extensive subterranean Vienna air defence coordination centre in the forests to the west of Vienna held personal facilities for him. The Viennese promptly dubbed this command and control centre the "Schirach-Bunker".
Trial and conviction
Schirach surrendered in 1945 and was one of the officials put on trial at Nuremberg. At the trial, Schirach was one of only a few defendants to denounce Hitler (including Albert Speer and Hans Frank).
He claimed that members of the Hitler Youth were innocent of any of the German war crimes:
In this hour, when I can speak for the last time to the Military Tribunal of the four victorious powers, I should like, with a clear conscience, to confirm the following on behalf of our German youth: that it is completely innocent of the abuses and degeneration of the Hitler regime which were established during this Trial, that it never wanted this war, and that neither in peace nor in war did it participate in any crimes.
Schirach along with Speer and Fritzsche were eventually communed by Lutheran Pastor Henry F. Gerecke and were administered the Eucharist.
He claimed that he had not known about the extermination camps, however the trial detailed his involvement in deportations of Jews and his speeches defending his actions. He was originally indicted for crimes against peace for his role in building up the Hitler Youth, but was acquitted on that charge. He was found guilty on 1 October 1946 of crimes against humanity for his role in the deportation of the Viennese Jews to certain death in German concentration camps located in German-occupied Poland. He was sentenced and served 20 years as a prisoner in Spandau Prison, Berlin.
On 20 July 1949, his wife Henriette von Schirach (1913–1992) divorced him while he was in prison.
He was released on 30 September 1966 after serving his full sentence, and retired quietly to Southern Germany. He went to Munich to live with his son Robert's family. Later, in 1968, he relocated with them to an estate in Trossingen. He published his memoirs, Ich glaubte an Hitler ("I believed in Hitler") in 1967 and was interviewed by British journalist David Frost. In the interview, he reflects on his imprisonment, meeting with Hitler, and the deportation of the Jews. He claimed to have no knowledge of the extermination, but admits his guilt in regards to discriminatory education laws. While in prison he lost eyesight in the left eye through a detached retina. He also suffered from a pulmonary embolism and was diagnosed with thrombosis. On 8 August 1974 while staying at an inn in Kröv, he died of coronary thrombosis. He was 67. In 2015 his family declined to extend the lease on his grave site.
- ^ Michael H. Kater, Hitler Youth, Harvard University Press, 2009, p. 17, ISBN 0674039351
- ^ "Henry Gerecke – Chaplain to Nazi war criminals". www.messianicgoodnews.org.
- ^ The Mind of Adolf Hitler, Walter Charles Langer, New York 1972, pp. 99–100
- ^ Ferdinand von Schirach (23 September 2011). "A Third Reich Past: Why I Cannot Answer Questions about My Grandfather". Spiegel Online.
- ^ "Von Schirach: Der verschrobene Star hinter 'Schuld'", Focus, 21 February 2015
- ^ Interview mit Ariadne von Schirach: Spross einer bekannten Familie, Stuttgarter Zeitung, 2 May 2014
- ^ Gerwin Strobl (2007). The swastika and the stage: German theatre and society, 1933–1945. Cambridge University Press. pp. 9–. ISBN 978-0-521-88076-3. Retrieved 20 September 2010.
- ^ Karl Höffkes: Hitlers Politische Generale, Die Gauleiter des Dritten Reiches; ein biographisches Nachschlagewerk. Grabert-Verlag, Tübingen, (1997) pp. 299-300, ISBN 3-87847-163-7.
- ^ Rosmus, Anna (2015). Hitlers Nibelungen (in German). Grafenau: Samples Verlag. pp. 212f. ISBN 978-3938401323.
- ^ Rosmus, p. 255f
- ^ Spaeter, Helmuth, "The History of Panzerkorps Grossdeutschland" p. 70 (English edition)
- ^ Spaeter, Helmuth, p. 137
- ^ a b Robert S. Wistrich (7 November 2001). Who's who in Nazi Germany. Psychology Press. p. 122. ISBN 978-0-415-26038-1. Retrieved 20 September 2010.
- ^ a b Gilliam, Bryan; Youmans, Charles (2001). "Richard Strauss". Grove Music Online. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.40117. (subscription required) (This article is very different from the one in the 1980 Grove; in particular, the analysis of Strauss's behavior during the Nazi period is more detailed.)
- ^ "Music; Richard Strauss and Hitler's Reich: Jupiter in Hell". The New York Times. 6 January 2002.
- ^ "Baldur von Schirach". Archived from the original on 3 April 2010. Retrieved 18 March 2006.
- ^ "Two Hundred and Sixteenth Day, Saturday, 31 August 1946". Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Volume 22.
- ^ Railton, Nicholas M. (2000). "Henry Gerecke and the Saints of Nuremberg". Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte. 13 (1): 112–137 – via JSTOR.
- ^ "Nuremberg Trial Judgements: Baldur von Schirach". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Archived from the original on 6 May 2021. Retrieved 22 May 2021.
When von Schirach became Gauleiter of Vienna the deportation of the Jews had already been begun, and Only 60,000 out of Vienna's original 190,000 Jews remained. On 2nd October, 1940, he attended a conference at Hitler's office and told Frank that he had 50,000 Jews in Vienna which the General Government would have to take over from him. On 3rd December, 1940, von Schirach received a letter from Lammers stating that after the receipt of the reports made by von Schirach, Hitler had decided to deport the 60,000 Jews still remaining in Vienna to the General Government because of the housing shortage in Vienna. The deportation of the Jews from Vienna was then begun and continued until the early fall of 1942. On 15th September, 1942, von Schirach made a speech in which he defended his action in having driven " tens of thousands upon tens of thousands of Jews into the Ghetto of the East " as " contributing to European culture." While the Jews were being deported from Vienna reports, addressed to him in his official capacity, were received in von Schirach's office from the office of the Chief of the Security Police and SD which contained a description of the activities of Einsatzgruppen in exterminating Jews. Many of these reports were initialled by one of von Schirach's principal deputies. On 30th June, 1944, von Schirach's office also received a letter from Kaltenbrunner informing him that a shipment of 12,000 Jews was on its way to Vienna for essential war work and that all those who were incapable of work would have to be kept in readiness for " special action." The Tribunal finds that von Schirach, while he did not originate the policy of deporting Jews from Vienna, participated in this deportation after he had become Gauleiter of Vienna. He knew that the best the Jews could hope for was a miserable existence in the Ghettoes of the East. Bulletins describing the Jewish extermination were in his office.
- Fest, Joachim C. and Bullock, Michael (trans.) "Baldur von Schirach and the 'Mission of the Younger Generation'" in The Face of the Third Reich New York: Penguin, 1979 (orig. published in German in 1963), pp. 332–354. ISBN 978-0201407143.