Wolff, Karl Friedrich Otto “Karele” “Wolffie”, born 13-05-1900 to a privileged family in the city of Darmstadt, Germany. His father was a district court judge in the Hessian town of Butzbach, who called him “Karele”, which stayed Karl’s nickname until his death in 1984. Raised agnostically, after the family spent two years in Schwerte they returned to Darmstadt where Wolff was educated at the local Catholic school. Wolff joined the Army at age 16, during World War I. He underwent four months of military training as an Fahnenjunker, then volunteered on 05-09-1917 to serve on the Western Front. Wolff decided to make the army his career and was commissioned an officer in 1918 and served in the Hessian Infantry Regiment
. Lieutenant Wolff was one of the youngest officers ever commissioned, having received his rank at the age of 17, and had also been awarded the Iron Cross First Class
. In 1920, Wolff left the now demobilized German Army and became a small time businessman, a banker, joining the Bethmann family bank in Frankfurt, where he underwent a two-year apprenticeship.
In July 1922 Wolff was engaged to Frieda von Röhmheld
, whom he married the following year. They moved to Munich, where Wolff worked for Deutsche Bank. Due to raging inflation, however, he was unemployed two years later. He then joined the public relations firm “Ad-Expedition Walther von Danckelmann.” On 01-07-1925 he started his own company, “Ad-Expedition Karl Wolff – von Röhmheld”. The 1931 Deutsche Bank economic crisis, brought on by the Great Depression, convinced him that only the more radical parties were capable of resolving the economic and political dilemmas in Germany. For him the only option was the more extreme Right. In 1931, drawn by Nazi ideals of a reborn and again powerful Germany, Wolff joined the Nazi Party
Nr. 695.131 and also applied for membership in the SS at the “brown house”
which was party headquarters in Munich. He was accepted as a member in July of 1931 and assigned the SS number 14.235. Wolff served in an SS mustering formation in Munich, quickly rising through the enlisted ranks and being commissioned an SS-Sturmführer in February 1932. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Wolff was promoted to SS-Captain and briefly served as an SS military liaison officer to the German Army. In June of that year, Wolff was personally recruited by the SS Commander SS Reichsführer, Heinrich Himmler
to head the new office of the Reichsführer’s Personal Staff. Himmler called him “Wolffie” and was very informal with him. Wolff became Himmler’s adjutant on 15-06-1933 and received an unprecedented number of promotions through his new position. The first time Hitler and Wolff met was when the Führer walked up and down the assembled rows of SS officers and noticed the Iron Cross first class pinned on Wolff’s tunic. Hitler noticed it and asked Wolff where he had served, this was a standard question but Hitler remembered their meeting several years later. By the start of 1937, Wolff had risen to the rank of SS-Gruppenführer
and was considered as third in command of the entire SS. During the World War II, Wolff remained in his job as Himmler’s adjutant, but soon began losing authority and power as disagreements developed with Himmler and also Wolff began to fall under the shadow of the number two man in the SS, Reinhard Heydrich
. Wolff did not like Reinhardt Heydrich, because of several reasons. As chief officer of the SD , Heydrich had an office right next to Himmler’s suite just as Wolff did. Heydrich often showed off his higher-rank and longer service to Wolff and tried to give the impression that Wolff was the one to take orders from him. After the war, Lina Heydrich von Osten
wrote the book Life with a War Criminal and stated that she often disliked Wolff as much as her husband did. This feud was kept quiet during the Reich as both Lina and her mother were put under Wolff’s care once Reinhardt had been assassinated. They were kept along with her son Heider in Maran for rehabilitative vacation.
. In 1942, Wolff was made a full SS-General, Obergruppenführer but dismissed by Himmler as Chief of Staff to the Reichsführer. Wolff, however, did manage a comeback as Adolf Hitler personally granted him equivalent General’s rank in the Waffen-SS and assigned him as an SS adjutant to the Italian Government in 1943. SS General Karl Wolff claimed while testifying at the Nuremburg Trials that he had disobeyed an order from Hitler to kidnap the Pope, Pius XII
and instead sneaked into the Vatican to warn the Pontiff. According to this theory, warnings by these Germans sympathetic to the Vatican forced the Pope, in 1944, not to risk standing up for the Roman and other Jews. When Italy surrendered to the Allies later that year, Germany occupied the country and Wolff became the Supreme SS and Police Leader of Italy.
At the start of 1945, Wolff, who was now acting military commander of Italy, extended secret negotiation requests to the Allies and thus hastened the end of the war in Italy by surrendering the country to the Allies on 02-05-1945. Wolff had talked secretly with General of Administration and Panzertruppe, Heinrich von Vietinghoff-Scheel
the commander of all regular forces in Italy. If Wolff surrendered his SS and police forces, this meant that Vietinghoff-Scheel would have to fight the allies with fewer German troops. Thus the mass evacuation of German forces and the surrender of all regular troops in Italy were arranged. On 02-05-1945, the two Generals came to a final agreement, surrendering and removing all axis forces from Italy. This included all Heer, Waffen SS, Gestapo and Polizei forces on the northern mainland. Now he expected to be treated with the dignity and deference a man of his stature deserved; after all, he had acted even without the approval of his boss, Adolf Hitler—who had viewed him, he would proudly recall, as the ideal Aryan warrior. Wolff looked the part, with his tightly combed blond hair that receded from a high forehead, piercing blue eyes with their hint of irony, and thin lips that were almost perpetually curled in a faintly mocking smile. He also exuded a personal charm that gave the SS a human face and even a touch of playboy glamour. Hitler, however, was attracted not just by Wolff’s persona; more important, he was convinced of his unequivocal loyalty to him. Wolff was taken into American custody, although was allowed to escape trial as an SS-General and leading Nazi, by providing evidence against his fellow Nazis at Nuremberg, in 1946.
In 1947, Karl Wolff retired to private life, however the West German government soon arrested Wolff for war crimes in 1949, sentencing him to four years in prison. Wolff was tried in Munich on two charges: the Minsk shootings and his part in the deportation and murder of at least 300.000 Jews from Warsaw at Treblinka, Sobibor and about 100 partisans and Jews on the Russian front. On 09-06-1958 SS Obersturmbannführer Dr. Otto Bradfisch
the head of Einsatzkommando
8 was questioned by the Munich State prosecutor about the shooting of Jews and communists in Minsk in mid-August 1941. In his defence Bradfisch claimed that the executions were legal, as proven by the presence of Himmler and Wolff at the shootings.
Wolff was married twice, his first wife was Frieda von Röhmheld, the second was Maria countess Bernstorff and had four children. Three daughters Irene, Dora, and Helga and one son Thorisman. Wolff was again arrested in 1964, after evidence presented at the SS Obersturmbannführer, Adolf Eichmann
trial, in Israel, had revealed that Wolff had organized the deportation of Italian Jews to the Nazi death camps in 1944. The Munich court concluded General Wolff served as Himmler’s ”eyes and ears” in deportations and thus was guilty of complicity in the killings. Wolff was sentenced to fifteen years in prison but only served half of this term and was released in 1971. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Karl Wolff became very popular amongst historical and academic groups as Wolff frequently lectured on the internal workings of the SS and his life as a personal associate of Heinrich Himmler. As one of the only surviving top SS-Generals from World War II, Wolff can also be seen on several documentary films, such as the “The World at War”(1973) miniseries and several 1980s documentaries on the History of the SS. Wolff was also portrayed as ‘General Max Helm’ in the motion picture The Scarlet and the Black (1983) (TV), staring Gregory Peck, who died old age of 87, on 12-02-2003, in California and David Niven
Death and burial ground of Wolff, Karl Friedrich Otto “Karele” “Wolffie”.
Karl Wolff died, in a hospital in Rosenheim, old age of 84, on 17-07-1984 and is buried on the Stadtfriedhof of Prien near the Chiemsee, Bavaria. His first wife, Frieda, lived in Rottach-Eggern on the Tegernsee and was still there just after the war. At first, she refused to agree to a divorce and wrote to Himmler pleading for his support. Himmler agreed and did not relent until a few years later. Wolff has been a controversial figure because many believe he was far more privy to the internal workings of the SS and its extermination activities than he acknowledged. He claimed to have known nothing about the Nazi extermination camps, even though he was a senior general in the SS. “Wolff himself is and remains (…) the idealist, always wanted the good. And because he himself had never conceived or planned something evil, though there were still so many crimes happening around him – he almost never noticed anything like this.”.
Cemetery and grave location of Wolff, Karl Friedrich Otto “Karele” “Wolffie”.