Dohnanyi, Hans von.

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Dohnanyi, Hans von, born 01-01-1902, in Vienna, Wien Stadt, Vienna (Wien), Austria, to Hungarian composer Ernõ Dohnányi and his first wife, the pianist Elisabeth Kunwald.


After his parents divorced, he grew up in Berlin. He went to the Grunewald Gymnasium there, becoming friends with brother in law, Dietrich

  and Klaus Hans Martin Bonhoeffer . Involved in the bomb attack on Hitler, Klaus was imprisoned in the Lehrter Straße prison in Berlin, where the Gestapo had a special section for political prisoners, and sentenced to death on 02-02-1945 by the German “Volksgerichtshof” under jurist Roland Freisler, .On the night of April 22 to 23, 1945, when Soviet troops had already reached the eastern suburbs of Berlin, Klausj, along with the German legal academic and resistance man, Rüdiger Schleicher, age 50 and other prisoners, was taken by a special Gestapo team to the execution site at Lehrter Straße prison and killed with a gunshot wound to the neck. The only eyewitness to these murders was Herbert Kosney, who managed to move his head at the last minute so that the shot aimed at his neck missed.  From 1920 to 1924, he studied law in Berlin. In 1925, he received a doctorate in law with a dissertation on “The International Lease Treaty and Czechoslovakia’s Claim on the Lease Area in Hamburg Harbour”.

After taking the first state exam in 1924, Hans had married Christel Bonhoeffer, daughter of Karl Bonhoeffer

and sister of his school friends Dieter and Klaus, in 1925. About this time, he began putting the word stress on the “a” in his last name (which is of Hungarian origin, where it is stressed on the first syllable), and removed the acute accent (which indicates vowel length, not word stress, in Hungarian). He and his wife had three children: Klaus (mayor of Hamburg from 1981 to 1988), Christoph, (a musical conductor) and Barbara.

Dohnányi worked at the Hamburg Senate for a short time and in 1929, began a career at the Reich Ministry of Justice, working as a personal consultant with the title of prosecutor to several justice ministers. In 1934, the title was changed to Regierungsrat (“government councillor”). In 1932, he was adjutant to Erwin Bumke, the Imperial Court President (Reichsgerichtspräsident; at this time,  Germany was still officially the German Empire, Deutsches Reich), in which capacity he put together Prussia’s lawsuit against the Empire, which Prussia had brought after the Preußenschlag, Franz von Papen‘s

dissolution of the Prussian social-democratic government through an emergency decree in 1932. As an adviser to Minister of Justice, Franz Gürtner from 1934 to 1938, Dohnányi became acquainted with Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Goering. He had access to the justice ministry’s most secret documents. .Spurred by the murders of alleged plotters of the 1934 Night of the Long Knives,  “legitimised” murders carried out on government orders, without trial or sentence, Dohnányi began to seek out contacts with German resistance circles. He made records for himself of the régime’s crimes, so that in the event of a collapse of the Third Reich, he would have evidence of their crimes. In 1938, once his critical view of Nazi racial politics became known, Martin Bormann had him transferred to the Reichsgericht in Leipzig as an adviser.

Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, Hans Oster called Dohnányi into the Abwehr of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht. Led by Wilhelm Canaris,   it quite quickly became a hub of resistance activity against Hitler. Dohnányi protected Dietrich Bonhoeffer from conscription by bringing him into the Abwehr with the claim Bonhoeffer’s numerous ecumenical contacts could be useful for Germany.

In 1942, Dohnányi made it possible for two Jewish lawyers from Berlin, Friedrich Arnold and Julius Jakop Fliess [de], to flee with their loved ones to Switzerland, disguised as Abwehr agents. Altogether, 13 people were able to leave Germany without hindrance, thanks to Dohnányi’s forgeries and operation known as U-7. Dohnányi covertly went to Switzerland to make certain the refugees would be admitted. He also ensured they received money to support themselves.

During late February 1943, Dohnányi busied himself with Henning von Tresckow‘s

assassination attempt against Hitler and the attempted coup d’état. The bomb that was smuggled aboard Hitler’s plane in Smolensk after being carried there by Dohnányi, however, failed to go off.

Death and burial ground of Dohnanyi, Hans von.

On 05-04-1943, Dohnányi was arrested at his office by the Gestapo on charges of alleged breach of foreign currency violations: he had transferred funds to a Swiss bank on behalf of the Jews he had saved. Among the transactions in question were ones with Jauch & Hübener. Both Bonhoeffer and Christel Dohnányi were also arrested, although she was released about a week later.

Military judge Karl Sack, himself a member of the resistance, deliberately delayed Dohnányi’s trial; however, in 1944, Dohnányi was delivered to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. His involvement in the 20 July Plot came to light after the plan failed. Also, the Gestapo found some of the documents he had earlier saved and hidden and decided Dohnányi was “the spiritual head of the conspiracy” against Hitler. Von Dohnanyi is seriously mistreated at one pointin the cell opposite Bonhoeffer’s. They leave him there for days in his own filth. Bonhoeffer can do nothing for him, until one night the air raid siren goes off and the bombs hit nearby. In the confusion that has arisen, Bonhoeffer sees an opportunity to spend some time in the deserted corridor with his brother-in-law and to change and care for him as best he can. The brothers-in-law speak to each other, Bonhoeffer reads from the Bible with him and… sees an opportunity in these dire circumstances to celebrate the Lord’s Supper with him. On Hitler’s orders, on 06-04-1945, he was condemned to death by an SS drumhead court and executed two or three days later (depending on the source), hanged by piano wire.  Less than a month before the liberation ofHe will be Berlin on 09-04-1945 withdrove the ambulance to the gallows

Jurist Sack was part of the attempt to assassinate Hitler on 20 July plot and after that failed attempt he was arrested on 09-08-1944. In the very last days of the war, he was brought before an SS drumhead court-martial presided over by Otto Thorbeck. He was sentenced to death and hanged two days later at Flossenbürg concentration camp. Sack, age 48, had been slated for the role of Justice Minister within a planned post-coup civilian government.

On 10-23-2003 Israel honored Dohnányi by recognizing him as one of the Righteous Among the Nations for saving the Arnold and Fliess families at the risk of their own lives. His name was engraved on the walls at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem.

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