Wilhelm Burgdorf

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Wilhelm Burgdorf
Wilhelm Burgdorf.jpg
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/branchWMacht Heeresfahne Infanterie.png German Army
RankGeneral of the Infantry
  • World War I
  • World War II
AwardsKnight's Cross of the Iron Cross

Wilhelm Emanuel Burgdorf (15 February 1895 – 2 May 1945)[a] was a German general during World War II, who served as a commander and staff officer in the German Army. In October 1944, Burgdorf assumed the role of the chief of the Army Personnel Office 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.

Military career[edit]

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 the 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]

Burgdorf was promoted to chief of the Army Personnel Office 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]

Role in Rommel's death[edit]

Burgdorf, as part of his function as Hitler's chief adjutant, played a key role in the death of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. Rommel had been implicated as having a peripheral role in the 20 July plot, an attempt to assassinate Hitler. Instead of bringing the most popular general in Germany before the People's Court, the dictator opted to give Rommel a choice of suicide.

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,[3] or admit guilt, take poison, receive a state funeral, and obtain immunity for his family and staff, or face a trial for treason.[4] Rommel decided on the second option and briefed his wife and son. Rommel drove away with Burgdorf and Maisel. Rommel's family received a telephone call 10 minutes later informing them that Rommel had committed suicide.[5]

Battle of Berlin[edit]

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

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.[7]

On 29 April 1945, Burgdorf, Krebs, Joseph Goebbels, and Martin Bormann witnessed and signed Hitler's last will and testament.[8] After Hitler's suicide on 30 April 1945, Goebbels assumed Hitler's role as chancellor.[9] On 1 May, Goebbels dictated a letter to Soviet Army Marshall Vasily Chuikov, requesting a temporary ceasefire, and ordered General Krebs to deliver it. Chuikov commanded the Soviet forces in central Berlin.[10] After this was rejected, Goebbels decided that further efforts were futile.[11] 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.[12] 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.[13]

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

Awards and decorations[edit]

See also[edit]


Explanatory notes[edit]

  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. ^ a b Joachimsthaler 1999, p. 286.
  2. ^ Der Spiegel 28/1978
  3. ^ "Two generals from Hitler's headquarters, 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.
  4. ^ Manfred Rommel, Nuremberg testimony
  5. ^ Evans 2009, p. 642.
  6. ^ von Boeselager 2009, p. 177.
  7. ^ O'Donnell 1978, pp. 182–183.
  8. ^ Bullock 1962, p. 795.
  9. ^ Kershaw 2008, pp. 949–950, 955.
  10. ^ Fest 2004, pp. 135–137.
  11. ^ Vinogradov 2005, p. 324.
  12. ^ Fest 2004, p. 137.
  13. ^ Fest 2004, pp. 137–139.
  14. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 387.
  15. ^ Ryan 1966, p. 398.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h Thomas & Wegmann 1993, p. 292.
  17. ^ Scherzer 2007, p. 254.


External links[edit]