Canaris, Wilhelm Franz, born on 01-01-1887 in , the son of wealthy industrialist Carl Canaris and his wife Auguste, born Popp. He had two brothers and a younger sister. His brother Carl August died already 27-02-1934, 52, in Muralto, Locarno, Ticino, Swiss. Due to his father’s work in the steel industry, first at the Aplerbecker Hütte and later at the Niederrheinische Hütte, the family often moved. Wilhelm grew up in luxury. His parents owned a villa with its own park and tennis court in Duisburg, where they lived from 1892. Until 1938 Canaris believed that his family was related to the Greek admiral, freedom fighter and politician Constantine Kanaris
, who died on 02-09-1877, which influenced his decision to join the navy. While on a visit to Corfu he was given a portrait of the Greek hero, which he always kept in his office.
From 1898 he attended the Steinbart-Gymnasium in the same place. He was taken to school with a carriage every day. He was one of the most intelligent students in his class, but he had few friends. This was mainly because he chose this himself. Contemporaries describe him as a reserved and taciturn person, preferring seclusion. Spying was at an early age with Wilhelm. It seems that as a child he was already interested in experimenting with invisible ink and that he gave himself pseudonyms. The other children at school sometimes called him “the peeper”.
In 1905, aged seventeen, Canaris joined the German Imperial Navy and by the outbreak of World War I was serving on board the SMS Dresden as an intelligence officer. This cruiser was the only ship that managed to evade the British Fleet for a prolonged period during the Battle of the Falkland Islands in December 1914, largely due to his excellent deception tactics. Whilst anchored in Cumberland Bay, Robinson Crusoe Island, the Dresden was trapped and forced to scuttle after fighting a battle there with the Royal Navy . Most of the crew were interned in Chile in March 1915, but Canaris escaped in August 1915, using his fluency in Spanish; with the aid of some German merchants he returned to Germany in October 1915 via, among other countries, Great Britain. Canaris married Erika Waag in 1919. They had two daughters Eva (1923) and Brigitte (1926), but the marriage was not happy. Erika died, age 78, in 1970 in Madrid, Community of Madrid, Spain.
After Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, Canaris was made head of the Abwehr, Germany’s official military intelligence agency, on 01-01-1935. Later that year, he was promoted to Rear Admiral. During the period 1935–36, he made contacts in Spain to organize a German spy network there, due to his excellent Spanish. He was the moving force behind the decision that sided Germany with Bahamond Franco during the Spanish Civil War , despite Hitler’s initial hesitation to get involved in such an adventure. In 1937 he was a supporter of Hitler’s rise, considering the Nazi movement to be the only available political entity capable of defying the spread of Communism from the influence of Soviet Union. However in 1938 he began to radically alter his thoughts of the nature of the III Reich , and fearing that Hitler’s policies and plans would lead Germany to disaster he covertly began to work against the regime. His personal character of a German gentleman was also uneasy with the increasing brutality of the Nazi government. Wilhelm Canaris was a shrewd, brilliant spymaster who not only managed to keep control of the Abwehr. He outwitted the slippery SS Reichsführer, Heinrich Himmler
at almost every turn, while joined with other high-ranking German officers in a dangerous plot to eliminate Hitler and make a separate peace with the Allies. Canaris was celebrated as a war hero during the First World War for his exploits as a submarine captain. Canaris was appointed to head the Abwehr Military Intelligence in 1935. He was a representative of Hitler, together with Reichscommisar, Arthur Seyss Inquart, General, Anton Mackensen, and General der Flieger, Oberkommando Wehrmacht in the Netherlands, Massacre of Putten, Friedrich Christiansen to join the funeral of Wilhelm II who died in Doorn, Netherlands.
In 1938, he made efforts to hinder Hitler from attacking Czechoslovakia and later he played an active role as a peace keeper. Canaris personally went to Bahamond Franco and told him not to allow passage to the Germans for the purpose of capturing Gibraltar. Canaris was directly involved in the 1938 and 1939 coup attempts. Admiral Canaris was an eye-witness to the killing of civilians in Poland. At Bedzin, SS troops pushed 200 Jews into a synagogue and then set it aflame. They all burned to death and Canaris was shocked. On 10-09-1939, he had traveled to the front to watch the German Army in action. Wherever he went, his intelligence officers told him of an orgy of massacre. Canaris told Wilhelm Keitel
“The world will one day hold the Wehrmacht responsible for these methods since these things are taking place under its nose.” But Keitel urged Canaris to take the matter no further. Canaris sent another of his colleagues, Pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer on a flight to Sweden to meet secretly with Bishop Bell of Chichester. Bonhoeffer told Bell of the crimes his nation was committing, and assured Bell of growing resistance in Germany to such acts. In March 1943, Canaris personally flied to Smolensk to plan Adolf Hitler’s assassination with conspirators on the staff of Army Group Center. Canaris appointed his friend, the anti-Nazi Hans Paul Oster to the number two in the Abwehr agency. The evidence that he was playing a double game grew, and at the insistence of Heinrich Himmler, who had suspected him for a long time, Hitler dismissed Canaris from the Abwehr in February 1944, replacing him with Walter Schellenberg and merging most of the Abwehr with the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) .
Death and burial ground of Canaris, Wilhelm Franz.
Some weeks later, Canaris was put under house arrest, preventing him from taking part directly in the 20 July Plot, 1944, to assassinate Hitler. However, just after the Stalingrad disaster, Canaris had already planned a ‘coup’ against the entire Nazi regime in which many Nazi officials would be accused for known crimes, while Hitler would be arrested as an insane person based on his exposure to mustard gas in World War I, then imprisoned for life. After the 20 July Plot, Canaris’s long-time rival, SS leader Himmler discovered that one of the officers involved in the plot, a friend of Canaris who had committed suicide, had kept the plot details in a metal box. he investigations also revealed that a number of other assassination plots, possibly another 10 or 15, had been activated but had failed and were covered up at the last minute. Most people who participated in these plots were people Canaris knew well. In the aftermath of the attempt on Hitler’s life, the Gestapo found no direct evidence tying Canaris to the plot, but his close association to many of the conspirators that were arrested was enough to seal his fate. Himmler kept Canaris alive for some time because he planned to use him secretly as a future contact with the British in order to come to an agreement to end the war with himself as the leader of Germany. Hitler also wanted to keep him alive in order to get the names of additional conspirators. When Himmler’s plan failed to materialize, he received the approval of Hitler to send Canaris to an SS drum head court-martial presided over by SS Sturmbannführer, Otto Thorbeck, who died age 64, on 10-10-1976 in Nuremberg, with Walter Huppenkothen as prosecutor that sentenced him to death. Huppenkothen died age 70 on 15-04-1978, in Lübeck. Together with his deputy General Hans Oster, military jurist General Karl Sack
, theologian Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Ludwig Gehre , Canaris was humiliated before witnesses and then executed on 09-04-1945, in the Flossenbürg concentration camp, just weeks before the end of the war. The night before his execution, in a coded message tapped out on the wall of his cell and heard by another prisoner, Canaris denied he was a traitor and said he acted out of duty to his country. General Major, Erwin von Lahousen and Hans Bernd Gisevius , two of Canaris’ main subordinates, survived the war and testified during the Nuremberg Trials about Canaris’ courage in opposing Hitler. Lahousen recalled a conversation between Canaris and General Wilhelm Keitel in which Canaris warned Keitel that the German military would be held responsible for the atrocities in Poland. Keitel responded that they had been ordered by Hitler. Keitel, who also survived the war, was found guilty of war crimes at Nuremberg and hanged
Von Lahousen died age 57 on 24-02-1955 in Innsbruck and Gisevius died, age 69, in Müllheim in Baden-Württemberg on 23-02-1974.
On 09-04-1945, the 58 years old Canaris was taken naked from his cell shortly after 6 am and hustled to the execution chamber. Withan iron collar around the neck he was hung from the ceiling. An SS officer told Dr. Josef “Ochsensepp” Müller also a prisoner, that the little admiral had taken half an hour to die. Canaris was followed by Hans Oster, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and two others.
They knelt for the last time to pray and they were hanged, their corpses left to rot. Two weeks later the camp was liberated by American troops, on 23-04-1945.
Canaris died at the age of 58, is cremated in Flössenburg and buried in a large ash hill in Flössenburg. Canaris hated not only Hitler and Himmler, but the entire Nazi system as a political phenomenon .. He was everywhere and nowhere at once. Everywhere he traveled, at home and abroad and to the front, he always left a whirl of confusion behind him .. In reality this small, frail, and somewhat timid man was a vibrating bundle of nerves. Extremely well read, oversensitive, Canaris was an outsider in every respect. In bearing and manner of work, he was the most unmilitary of persons.
Himmler (Goebbels) with Canaris.