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Melitta Schenk Gräfin[1] von Stauffenberg, born Melitta Schiller (9 January 1903 — 8 April 1945), was a German aviatrix before and during World War II.


Early life

Melitta was born in Krotoschin, Prussia. Her father was Michael Schiller, son of a Jewish fur-trading family, who had become a Protestant while young. Her mother was Margaret Eberstein. She had four siblings: Marie-Luise, Otto, Jutta and Klara. The family moved to Hirschberg in Silesia.

Melitta passed the diploma for university-entrance in 1922. There she studied maths, physics and engineering, eventually specialising in aeronautical engineering at the Technical University of Munich. In 1927 she graduated cum laude.

Her training in aviation

Melitta started working for the Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt (DVL), an experimental institute for aviation, in Berlin-Adlershof in 1928. She also took flying lessons. Because of her Jewish ancestry she was released from the German Luftwaffe in 1936. Working for Askania in Berlin, she developed navigation and steering systems for seaplanes such as the Blohm + Voss Ha 139 and the Dornier Do 18. She married the historian Alexander Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg in 1937.

On October 28 1937 she qualified as an aircraft captain, and became only the second woman in Germany, after Hanna Reitsch to achieve this. She eventually gained licences for all classes of powered aircraft, the acrobatic flying licence and the glider licence.

Her role in World War II

At the beginning of World War II, Melitta wanted to work for the Red Cross but was ordered to become a test pilot for the Luftwaffe in Rechlin, Mecklenburg. She did about 2,500 nosedives on warplanes, up to 15 times a day, from a height of 4,000 metres. Her work was considered as highly important for war, and this saved her and the Schiller family from deportation to concentration camps.

From 1942, Melitta Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg continued her test-flights at the Luftwaffe's technical academy in Berlin-Gatow. She was attacked by Allied aircraft and was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class on January 22, 1943. She made her dissertation for her masters qualification in 1944 and received an A grade. She then became technical chief of the Versuchsstelle für Flugsondergeräte, another test institute, in the same year.

Her brother-in-law, Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, frequently asked Melitta in May and June 1944 to fly him to Berlin Hitler's Wolfschanze headquarters and back. He confessed to her his plans to assassinate Hitler, and in spite of the danger, she agreed to help him. She had no suitable plane to fly on July 20 1944 and that is why the assassination attempt took place without her.

When the coup failed, she was arrested with the rest of the Stauffenberg family. Although her two brothers-in-law were executed and the other adult members were held in concentration camps, she was released on September 2, because her work being considered as highly important for the war. As the name von Stauffenberg was anything but popular among the Nazis, she was now officially addressed "Gräfin Schenk" instead of "Gräfin Schenk von Stauffenberg". Her husband and her sisters-in-law were confined to concentration camps. The Stauffenberg children were taken away from their mothers. Melitta used her prominent position to help as much as she could.

She felt loyal to Germany, but not to the National Socialists. She therefore supported the Luftwaffe, but she confessed in her diaries that this moral conflict tormented her.

On 8 April 1945, while transferring a small Bücker Flugzeugbau Bü 181 Bestmann trainer to Southern Germany, Melitta Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg was shot down by a US fighter near Strasskirchen, Bavaria. She crash-landed the aircraft, but she died within a few hours from her bullet wounds in Straubing.


  1. ^ Regarding personal names: Gräfin is a title, translated as Countess, not a first or middle name. The male form is Graf.

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