View Full Version : Erwin von Witzleben

04-12-2011, 06:05 AM
Today in history: 4 December 1881

Erwin von Witzleben was born in the German city of Breslau (Wrocław, Poland today) to an upper class family with a long tradition of military service. He became a Lieutenant in the Army in 1901 and was married to Else Kleeberg (who was born in Chemnitz, later Karl Marx Stadt, now Chemnitz again). The couple had a son and a daughter.

Von Witzleben was seriously wounded during the First World War and was awarded the Iron Cross, both first and second classes. Between the wars he was gradually promoted in rank, moving from Dresden, to Frankfurt an der Oder, and Hanover before becoming a General in Berlin in 1936.


From the beginning, von Witzleben was an anti-Nazi and because of growing suspicions about his loyalty to the Hitler, he was retired after his criticism of the 1934 Night of the Long Knives when army Generals Kurt von Schleicher and Ferdinand von Bredow were among those murdered by the Gestapo.

With the outbreak of war in 1939, von Witzleben was called back to service and was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross for his part in the invasion of France and was promoted to the rank of Generalfeldmarschall but only a year later, he took his leave of this position "for health reasons" after Hitler invaded Russia.

Implicated in the July 1944 plot to kill Hitler and take control of the German government, von Witzleben was quickly booted out of the Army so that he could be tried in the civil People's Court before Roland Freisler. On 7 August 1944, von Witzleben was in the first group of accused conspirators to be brought before the Volksgerichtshof. In an attempt to humiliate Witzleben, he was made to appear before the court wearing trousers that were several sizes too big and, additionally, being denied a belt or suspenders, forcing him to continually hitch up trousers in court to prevent them from falling down. Roland Freisler, who was notorious for ranting and belittling defendants in court, at one stage during the trial of von Witzleben, shouted, "You dirty old man stop fumbling with your trousers!". Later that same day, he sentenced Witzleben to death for his part in the plot.

Von Witzleben before Freisler

Von Witzleben's closing words in court addressed to Freisler were:
You may hand us over to the executioner but in three months' time, the disgusted and harried people will bring you to book and drag you alive through the dirt in the streets!