Hoepner, Erich Kurt Richard, born 14=09=1886 in Frankfurt an der Oder, the son of prussian medial officer Kurt Hoepner and his wife Elisabeth, born Kienast. He was commissioned into the Prussian Army as a cavalry lieutenant in 1906, joining the Schleswig-Holstein Dragoons Regiment No. 13 (de). In 1911 he attended the Prussian Staff College and was assigned to the General Staff of the XVI Corps, under command of General der Kavallerie, Gottlieb Graf von Haeseler. When the First World War began he was assigned to the Western Front, serving as a company commander and staff officer for several corps and armies. He fought with the 105th Infantry Division in the German spring offensive of 1918, ending the war in the cavalry.
Hoepner remained in the Reichswehr during the Weimar Republic period. He was promoted to the rank of Generalmajor in 1936 and in 1938 was given command of the 1st Light Division (later 6th Panzer Division), an early armoured unit that was part of the nucleus of the expanding German Panzerwaffe. Oberst Claus von Stauffenberg served on Hoepner’s divisional staff. After the Blomberg–Fritsch affair
in early 1938, the result of which was the subjugation of the Wehrmacht to dictator Adolf Hitler, and as the Sudetenland Crisis unfolded, Hoepner joined the Oster conspiracy. The group planned to kill Hitler and overthrow the Nazi SS, should Hitler move to invade Czechoslovakia. Hoepner’s role in the plan was to lead the 1st Light Division toward Berlin and seize key objectives against the SS forces in the city. The conspiracy collapsed with the appeasement by Neville Chamberlain and Édouard Daladier and the signing of the Munich Agreement. Upon his rival Heinz Guderian‘s assumption of command of the XIX Army Corps, Hoepner replaced him as the commander of the XVI Army Corps. He led the corps in the occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 and was promoted the next month to General of the Cavalry.
Hoepner, often called “Der Alte Reiter” (the old cavalryman), led forces in the invasions of Poland (1939) and France (1940), receiving the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. He was promoted to the rank of Oberstgeneral in 1941 and given command of the Fourth Panzer Group for the invasion of the Soviet Union.
Hoepner pulled back his forces in the face of the massive Russian counteroffensive at Moscow in January 1942 and was relieved of his command by Hitler, dismissed from the Wehrmacht and stripped of his decorations and pension rights. He then launched a successful legal action against the government for the restoration of his pension.
While Hoepner was opposed to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, he was also an early opponent of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, and he participated in several conspiracies to overthrow Hitler. In the September 1938, attempt, at the time of the Munich Conference, Hoepner’s forces were assigned the task of suppressing the SS following the planned capture and intended shooting of Hitler in the act of “resisting arrest”; the plot collapsed, due to the capitulation by Chamberlain (which completely undercut the basis for the coup), and Hoepner’s role went undiscovered.
Hoepner played an active part in the earliest conspiracies against Hitler. Like other conservative resisters, Hoepner thought Hitler’s strategic decisions would lead to the ruin of Germany, which was the motivation in the September 1938 plot, in which Hoepner was supposed to use his armored division to impose the surrendering of Hitler’s personal guard, the SS Leibstandarte, and another in October–November 1939, after war had already begun – both involving the very top levels of the Abwehr and the High Command, the Oberkommando des Heeres, or OKH. Following the Fall of France, the fears that Hitler’s expansionist policies would bring ruin upon Germany appeared to have been wrong, and Hoepner, like most opposition Generals, even on the OKH, became less critical of Hitler. After Operation Barbarossa had stalled at the gates of Moscow Hoepner became active again. During his command on the Eastern Front, Hoepner pursued a policy of scorched earth, demanding “ruthless and complete destruction of the enemy” from his soldiers. As a commander of the Fourth Panzer Army, he wrote on 02-05-1941: The war against the Soviet Union is the old struggle of the Germans against the Slavs, the warding off of the Jewish Bolshevism. No mercy should be shown towards the carriers of the present Russian Bolshevist system.
The commander of the Einsatzgruppe A, Dr. Franz Walter Stahlecker, spoke highly of Hoepner and described his relations with him as very close, yes, almost cordial. Hoepner also wrote that Operation Barbarossa represented the defense of European culture against Moscovite-Asiatic inundation, and the repulse of Jewish Bolshevism, adding that destruction of Russia must be conducted with unprecedented severity. Franz Walter Stahlecker was killed on 23-03-1942, age 41, during a partisan action near Krasnogvardeisk in Russia.
On 05-12-1941 Hoepner ordered a retreat of his over-extended forces, refusing to comply with Hitler’s rigid categorical ‘Halt Order’. A month later in January 1942, Hoepner was dismissed from the service with the loss of all his pension rights. Subsequently Hoepner instituted a lawsuit against the Reich over his pension rights. His lawsuit was successful.
Hoepner was a participant in the 20 July Plot in 1944 and was present at the Bendlerblock (Headquarters of the Army) with General Friedrich Olbricht, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, Colonel Albrecht Mertz von Quirnheim and Lieutenant Werner von Haeften. Following the failure of their coup attempt, he had a private conversation with General Friedrich Fromm and was not shot by firing squad with the others in the courtyard.
Having already been dismissed from the Wehrmacht in 1942, he was arrested that night and then tortured by the Gestapo, given a summary trial by the Volksgerichtshof under jurist Roland Freisler and sentenced to death.
Like other defendants including Erwin von Witzleben, Hoepner was made to wear ill fitting clothes and was not allowed to have his false teeth as a humiliation in his trial. Although judge Roland Freisler continued to brutally verbally attack Hoepner, even Freisler objected to Hoepner being made to dress in such a way.
Hoepner stated: I wanted to remove this fool. And if you ask me if I would repeat this act again, I would reply with yes. Freisler replied with boar!
Death and burial ground of Hoepner, Erich Kurt Richard “Der Alte Reiter” (The Old Cavalryman).
Hoepner was sentenced to death on 8 Augustust, in Berlin’s Plötzensee Prison. The sentence was carried out the same day by hanging in the prison of Plötzensee, on Hitler’s express orders.
Erich Hoepner before the Volksgerichtshof, July 1944.Under the Nazi practice of Sippenhaftung (collective punishment), Hoepner’s wife, daughter, son (a Major in the Wehrmacht), brother and sister were arrested. The women were sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp. His sister was soon released, but his wife and their daughter were placed in the infamous Penalty Block for an additional four-week sentence. Hoepner’s son was first held in a specially set up camp in Küstrin (today’s Kostrzyn nad Odrą), then sent to Buchenwald concentration camp, General Erich Hoepner was buried on the Plötzensee cemetery like all Plötzensee victims in anonymous graves, but the remains of some 300 Nazi resistance fighters, executed for standing up to Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship, later have been buried in Berlin at the Dorotheenstadt cemetery in Berlin.