Walther von Reichenau: Wikis


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Walter Karl Ernst August von Reichenau
8 October 1884(1884-10-08) – 17 January 1942 (aged 57)
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-W0408-503, Walter v. Reichenau.jpg
Generalfeldmarschall Walther von Reichenau
Place of birth Karlsruhe, Germany
Place of death Poltava
Allegiance German Empire German Empire (to 1918)
Germany Weimar Republic (to 1933)
Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Years of service 1903–1942
Rank Generalfeldmarschall
Commands held 10th Army
6th Army
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross

Walter von Reichenau (8 October 1884 – 17 January 1942) was a German Generalfeldmarschall.



Reichenau was born in Karlsruhe to a Prussian general and joined the German Army in 1903. During World War I he served on the Western Front. He was awarded the Iron Cross First Class and by 1918 had been promoted to the rank of captain.

Reichenau stayed in the army under the Weimar Republic as a General Staff officer. From 1931 he was Chief of Staff to the Inspector of Signals at the Reichswehr Ministry, and later served with General Werner von Blomberg in East Prussia. His uncle, an ardent Nazi, introduced him to Adolf Hitler in 1932 and von Reichenau became a convert, joining the Nazi Party soon after. Doing so was a violation of army regulations, which forbade army members from joining political parties.

Reichenau's family was quite wealthy, descended from a long line of German nobility. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the von Reichenau family owned and operated one of the largest furniture factories in Germany. In 1938, records indicate, the family donated the factory to the Nazi cause, transforming it into a munitions plant. During Allied attacks in 1945, the factory (located just outside Karlsruhe, Germany) was destroyed in an air raid, the last remaining vestiges of the von Reichenau family's wealth and prominence obliterated in the process.

He was married to Alix, daughter of Silesian Count Andreas von Maltzan. During the war, Alix's sister Maria (Marushka) hid her Jewish lover Hans Hirschel (from the Gestapo) in her Berlin apartment; von Reichenau knew this, and visited them there. Maria also worked to hide underground Jews and political dissidents, sustain them, or help them escape from Germany.[1]

When Hitler came to power in January 1933, Blomberg became Minister of War and von Reichenau was appointed head of the Ministerial Office, acting as liaison officer between the Army and the Nazi Party. He played a leading role in persuading Nazi leaders such as Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler that the power of Ernst Röhm and the SA must be broken if the Army was to support the Nazi regime. This led directly to the "Night of the Long Knives" of 30 June 1934.

In 1935 von Reichenau was promoted to lieutenant-general and was appointed Commander in Munich. By 1938, after the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair in which General Werner von Fritsch was forced out of the Army command, von Reichenau was Hitler's first choice to succeed him, but older leaders such as Gerd von Rundstedt and Ludwig Beck refused to serve under him, and Hitler backed down. Von Reichenau's enthusiastic Nazism repelled many of the generals who would not oppose Hitler but who did not care for the Nazi ideology.

Poland and France

In September 1939, von Reichenau commanded the 10th Army during the invasion of Poland. In 1940 he led the 6th Army during the invasion of Belgium and France, and in July Hitler promoted him to field marshal.


During the June 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union, von Reichenau again commanded the 6th Army, which captured Kiev and Kharkov. Politically, von Reichenau was an active anti-Semite and supported the work of the SS Einsatzgruppen in exterminating the Jews in the occupied Soviet territories.[citation needed] He encouraged his soldiers to commit atrocities against the Jews, telling them: "...In this eastern theatre, the soldier is not only a man fighting in accordance with the rules of the art of war...For this reason the soldier must learn fully to appreciate the necessity for the severe but just retribution that must be meted out to the subhuman species of Jewry...".[2]

During the offensive, Reichenau inspected every single Russian tank he came across. He would enter each tank and, using a ruler, he would examine the thickness of the armor. Upon examining a T-34 tank, he told his officers, "If the Russians ever produce this tank on an assembly line, we will have lost the war."[citation needed]

His October 1941 "Reichenau Order" required his troops to treat Soviet civilians and soldiers harshly.[2] A few historians such as Walter Görlitz have sought to defend von Reichenau, summarizing it as "demanding that the troops keep their distance from the Russian civilian population."[citation needed]

On 19 December 1941 Hitler sacked Walther von Brauchitsch as Commander-in-Chief and tried to appoint von Reichenau to the post. But again the senior Army leaders rejected von Reichenau as being "too political" and Hitler appointed himself instead.

In January 1942 von Reichenau suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, and it was decided to fly him from Poltava to a hospital in Leipzig, Germany. He is often said to have been killed in a plane crash in Russia, though Görlitz writes that the plane merely made an emergency landing in a field, and that von Reichenau actually died of a heart attack.


See also


  1. ^ Gross, Leonard (1982). The Last Jews in Berlin. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 253,159,133,126,83,37. ISBN 0-671-24727-1. http://books.google.com/books?id=MeTRXbveYHMC&printsec=frontcover&dq=%22The+Last+Jews+in+Berlin%22&ei=-FEsS676Hp-SygSR18i_BA&cd=1#v=onepage&q=&f=false. Retrieved 2009-12-18. "...her second sister Alix, and Field Marshal Walter von Reichenau, her baffling brother-in-law, one of the first, if not the first, important army officers to embrace the Nazis, who nonetheless knew of and liked Hans; who always came to Marushka's flat when he was in Berlin to have several glasses of his favorite drink, Turk's Blood, a half-and-half mixture of Burgundy and champagne; ...who one day, just before his death of a stroke in January 1942, warned Marushka that even he would be unable to help her if she ran afoul of the Gestapo for associating with a Jew." 
  2. ^ a b von Reichenau, Walter (October 10, 1941). [http://www.ess.uwe.ac.uk/genocide/USSR2.htm "Secret Field Marshal v.Reichenau Order Concerning Conduct of Troops in the Eastern Territories, 10 October 1941"]. Stuart D. Stein, The School of Humanities, Languages and Social Sciences, University of the West of England. http://www.ess.uwe.ac.uk/genocide/USSR2.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-18. "The soldier in the eastern territories is not merely a fighter according to the rules of the art of war but also a bearer of ruthless national ideology and the avenger of bestialities which have been inflicted upon German and racially related nations. Therefore the soldier must have full understanding for the necessity of a severe but just revenge on subhuman Jewry. The Army has to aim at another purpose, i. e., the annihilation of revolts in hinterland which, as experience proves, have always been caused by Jews" 
  • William Craig, Enemy at the Gates (Victoria: Penguin, 2000)
  • Walter Görlitz, "Reichenau," in Correlli Barnett ed., Hitler's Generals (New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1989), pp. 208-18.

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
Commander of 10. Armee
6 August 1939 - 10 October 1939
Succeeded by
General Heinrich von Vietinghoff gennant Scheel
Preceded by
Commander of 6. Armee
10 October 1939 - 29 December 1941
Succeeded by
Feldmarschall Friedrich Paulus

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