Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord

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Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord
Bundesarchiv Bild 102-01235, Potsdam, Enthüllung Sanitätskorps-Denkmal.jpg
From left to right, first row: Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord, Prince Eitel Friedrich of Prussia, General Otto Hasse and Admiral Erich Raeder in Potsdam (October 1929)
Birth name Kurt Gebhard Adolf Philipp Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord
Born (1878-09-26)26 September 1878
Hinrichshagen, Mecklenburg-Strelitz, German Empire
Died 24 April 1943(1943-04-24) (aged 64)
Dahlem, Berlin, Nazi Germany
Allegiance  German Empire
 Weimar Republic
 Nazi Germany
Service/branch German Empire Deutsches Heer
Nazi Germany Wehrmacht
Years of service 1898–1934
Rank Generaloberst
Commands held Chief of Truppenamt (1929–30)
Battles/wars World War I
Relations Walther von Lüttwitz (father in law)
Smilo Freiherr von Lüttwitz (brother in law)

Kurt Gebhard Adolf Philipp Freiherr[1] von Hammerstein-Equord (26 September 1878 – 24 April 1943) was a German general who served for a period as Commander-in-Chief of the Reichswehr. He is famous for being an ardent opponent of Hitler and the Nazi regime.


Born to a noble family in Hinrichshagen, Mecklenburg-Strelitz, German Empire in 1878, Baron von Hammerstein-Equord joined the German Army on 15 March 1898. In 1907 Hammerstein-Equord married Maria von Lüttwitz, the daughter of Walther von Lüttwitz. He was attached to the General Staff during World War I and participated in the Battle of Turtucaia. Hammerstein-Equord was loyal to the Weimar Republic, opposing the Kapp-Lüttwitz putsch in 1920. He served as Chief of Staff of the 3rd Division from 1924, as Chief of Staff of the I Group Command in 1929, and as Head of Troops in the Office Ministry of War from 1929. A close friend of Kurt von Schleicher, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Reichswehr in 1930, replacing General Wilhelm Heye.

Hammerstein-Equord had a reputation for independence and indolence, favoring hunting and shooting over the labors of administration. He told his friends that the only thing that hampered his career was "a need for personal comfort". He was an aloof and sarcastic man, renowned for his cutting displays of disregard. Hammerstein-Equord regarded himself as a servant of the German state, not of its political parties. He was extremely hostile to the Nazi Party, as late as 1933 referring to the Nazis as "criminal gang and perverts" (Verbrecherbande und Schweineigel), the latter an allusion to the homosexual tendencies of some SA leaders. He had earned the nickname, "The Red General," for fraternizing with the trade unions. Hammerstein-Equord personally warned Adolf Hitler in December 1932, against trying a coup by illegal means, promising that in that case he would give the order to shoot. He made reassurances to the same effect to the American Ambassador Frederic M. Sackett.

Two of his daughters, Marie-Luise and Helga, were members of the secret service of the German Communist Party KPD since the late 1920s and helped to inform the Soviet Union about the political and military intentions of Hitler which he detailed in a secret speech to leading generals on 3 February 1933.[2]

Hammerstein-Equord repeatedly warned President Paul von Hindenburg about the dangers of appointing Hitler as chancellor. In response, Hindenburg had assured Hammerstein-Equord, that "he would not even consider making that Austrian corporal the minister of defense or the chancellor".[3] Scarcely four days later, on 30 January 1933, pursuant to a request by Hindenburg, Hitler formed a cabinet as the German Chancellor and Nazi leader, in coalition with the conservative German National People's Party. Owing to his opposition to Hitler, Hammerstein-Equord was forced to resign from his office on 31 January 1934. At the funeral of Schleicher, Hammerstein was enraged when the SS refused to allow him to attend the service and confiscated the wreaths that the mourners had brought.[4] He was recalled to military service as the commander of Army Group A on 10 September 1939 but retired again on 21 September 1939.

During World War II, Hammerstein-Equord was involved in several plots to overthrow Hitler. He tried repeatedly to lure Hitler into visiting a fortified base under his command along the Siegfried Line of the Western Front. He confided to retired former army chief of staff and leading conspirator Colonel-General Ludwig Beck that "a fatal accident will occur" when the Führer visits his base. But Hitler never accepted Hammerstein-Equord's invitation. He was transferred to command in Wehrkreis (Defense District) VIII in Silesia, then relieved of his command on personal orders by Hitler, for his "negative attitude towards National Socialism". He became active in the German Resistance, working with Carl Friedrich Goerdeler.

Illness, death and legacy

Years before his death, Hammerstein-Equord developed a slow-growing mass below his left ear, but declined to seek medical advice. In January 1943, however, when he was examined by Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Sauerbruch, an esteemed surgeon, he was informed that he had cancer, which had by then metastasized. Thus, the original tumor was deemed inoperable and Hammerstein was told that he was expected to live for another six months. Although his medical team admitted that the cancer had advanced beyond any hope of recovery, Hammerstein underwent a course of radiation treatment in the neck, a process which caused him great discomfort. When his son, Kunrat, was told that the process was done merely for psychological reasons, to alleviate the dying General's sense of helplessness, he ordered that the therapy be discontinued.[5]

Hammerstein-Equord spent the final weeks of his life under constant pain in his house in Dahlem, an affluent quarter of Berlin. On 16 April 1943, he fell into a coma and on Saturday, 24 April, Hammerstein-Equord quietly died.[5][6][7] His family refused an official funeral at Berlin Invalidenfriedhof Cemetery, because this would have meant that his coffin would have been covered by the Reichskriegsflagge with the swastika. Thus, he was buried at the family's graveyard in Steinhorst, Lower Saxony. Hitler ordered the sending of a wreath with a message of condolence, but the wreath was not on display at the funeral because it had been "forgotten" in the Berlin subway by Hammerstein's family.

Heinrich Brüning, leader of the Catholic Center party, who served as German chancellor between 1930 and 1932, called Hammerstein-Equord "the only man who could remove Hitler — a man without nerves".[8] According to the reminiscences of his son Kunrat von Hammerstein, Hammerstein-Equord resigned from the Club of Nobility when they threw out their non-Aryan members in 1934 or 1935, and spoke of "organized mass murder" of the Jews before the summer of 1942. He supplied his daughter Maria-Therese von Hammerstein-Paasche with the names of Jews who were scheduled for deportation or arrest, enabling her to warn or hide them. Two of his sons, Ludwig and Kunrat, took part in a failed plot to kill Hitler and replace the Nazi regime with a new government on 20 July 1944, fleeing Germany in its aftermath. His widow and two younger children were then deported to a concentration camp, and freed only when the Allied Forces liberated the camps in 1945.

Classification of officers

As Chief of the Army High Command, Hammerstein-Equord oversaw the composition of the German manual on military unit command (Truppenführung), dated 17 October 1933.

He is quoted as originating a special classification scheme for his men:

I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent -- their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy -- they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent -- he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.[9] [10]

Decorations and awards


  1. Regarding personal names: Freiherr was a title before 1919, but now is regarded as part of the surname. It is translated as Baron. Before the August 1919 abolition of nobility as a legal class, titles preceded the full name when given (Graf Helmuth James von Moltke). Since 1919, these titles, along with any nobiliary prefix (von, zu, etc.), can be used, but are regarded as a dependent part of the surname, and thus come after any given names (Helmuth James Graf von Moltke). Titles and all dependent parts of surnames are ignored in alphabetical sorting. The feminine forms are Freifrau and Freiin.
  2. Wirsching, Andreas, [1] "Man kann nur Boden germanisieren". Eine neue Quelle zu Hitlers Rede vor den Spitzen der Reichswehr am 3. Februar 1933, Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte vol.40, no.3, pp.517-550
  3. Fest, Joachim; Bruce Little (1997). Plotting Hitler's Death: The Story of German Resistance. Macmillan. p. 8. ISBN 0-8050-5648-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan, 1967 page 328.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord, Kunrat (1963): Spähtrupp. Stuttgart, West Germany: Henry Goverts, p. 198.
  6. Paasche, Gottfried. "General von Hammerstein & Hitler: An Exchange", The New York Review of Books, June 10, 2010, accessed April 14, 2011.
  7. Dakin, Rose. "My Great-Uncles Tried To Kill Hitler", 'slate.com', January 12, 2009, accessed April 14, 2011
  8. Wheeler-Bennett, John Wheeler (1964). The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics, 1918-1945. Macmillan. p. 441.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Enzensberger, Hans Magnus; Martin Chalmers (December 1, 2009). The Silences of Hammerstein. USA: Seagull Books. p. 87. ISBN 978-1-906497-22-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Enzensberger, Hans Magnus (2008). Hammerstein oder Der Eigensinn. Germany: Suhrkamp Verlag KG. pp. 77–78. ISBN 978-3-518-41960-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Hans Magnus Enzensberger, The Silences of Hammerstein, Seagull Books, 2009
  • Correlli Barnett, editor, Hitler's Generals, Grove Press, 2003
  • Bernard V. Burke, Ambassador Frederic Sackett and the Collapse of the Weimar Republic, 1930-1933, Cambridge University Press, 2003
  • Bruce Condell, David T. Zabecki, editors and translators, On the German Art of War: Truppenführung, Lynne Rienner, 2001
  • Joachim Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death: The Story of German Resistance, Owl, 1997
  • Hans Magnus Enzensberger, editor, Hammerstein oder der Eigensinn. Eine deutsche Geschichte. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 2008. ISBN 978-3-518-41960-1
  • Peter Hoffmann, The History of the German Resistance, 1933-1945, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1996
  • Klaus-Jürgen Müller, Das Heer und Hitler: Armee und nationalsozialistisches Regime, 1933–1940, Stuttgart, 1969
  • Louis L. Snyder, Encyclopaedia of the Third Reich, Contemporary Publishing Company, 1998
  • Roderick Stackelberg, The Nazi Germany Sourcebook: An Anthology of Texts, Routledge, 2002
  • J. P. Stern, Hitler: The Führer and the People, University of California Press, 1975
  • Andreas Wirsching, "Man kann nur Boden germanisieren". Eine neue Quelle zu Hitlers Rede vor den Spitzen der Reichswehr am 3. Februar 1933, Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte vol.40, no.3, pp. 517–550 [2]

External links