Reitsch, Hanna, born 29-03-1912 in Hirschberg, Silesia, the second of three daughters of an eye doctor, Dr. Wilhelm “Willy” Reitsch and his wife Emy Helff-Hibler von Alpenheim, who was a member of the Catholic Austrian nobility. Willy Reitsch, an eye specialist, spoke only when he had something tosay. He was thought to resemble Beethoven, with heavy eyebrowsand a dark brooding expression, until he smiled: then he seemed more approachable. His outlook on life was serious, based on traditional Prussian concepts of honour and duty, and his appearance was always immaculate. Despite her mother being a devout Catholic, She had a brother, Kurt who was a Fregatten Kapitan who died age 81 on 02-04-1991 in Hamburg, and a sister Heidi. Heidi Reitsch who had two children – Hanns Jurgen Macholz and Ellen. Although her mother, was a devout Catholic, Reitsch and her siblings were brought up in the Protestant religion of their father and she dreamed of becoming a flying missionary doctor in Africa. Her father was an ophthalmologist, a specialist in medical and surgical eye problems, who wanted her to become a doctor. Hanna, a good piano player, had one brother and the family liked to play music at home. Her clear, high, soprano voice, and her ability and willingness toshow off, made her a favourite of the music teacher, her father’s friend Otto Johl. Hanna watched birds as a little girl and yearned to soar like “the storks in their quiet and steady flight, the buzzards circling ever higher in the summer air.” Her desire to fly “could never be stilled.” She also wanted to help people, but her father was not enthusiastic when Hanna announced at the age of 13 or 14 that she wanted to become a flying medical missionary in Africa. On the one occasion when her father raised his hand to Hanna inanger, she ran away from home. She was seven years old, and hadbelched loudly and proudly, an accomplishment which she had justbeen taught by Kurt. It was long after dark when she returned home,frightened out of the woods by trees which seemed in the gloaming tohave turned into menacing villains. Hanna was interested in aviation and thought she might become a flying doctor in North Africa and even studied medicine for a time. Hanna said often that the longing grew in her, grew with every bird she saw go flying across the azure summer sky, with every cloud that sailed past me on the wind, till it turned to a deep, insistent homesickness, a yearning that went with me everywhere and could never be stilled. Reitsch began flying in 1932 with flights in gliders. Reitsch, Hanna left medical school in 1933 at the invitation of Wolf Hirth, he died age 59, on 25-07-1959, to become a full-time glider pilot and instructor at Hornberg in Baden-Württemberg. She was soon breaking records, earning a Silver C Badge No 25 in 1934. She flew from Salzburg across the Alps in 1938 in a Sperber Junior. In 1937 Reitsch was posted to Hermann Goering’s (did you know) Luftwaffe testing centre at Rechlin-Lärz Airfield by Ernst Udet. Hanna was good friends with Wernher von Braun, the rocket VI and V2 designer. Reitsch, Hanna was a test pilot on the Junkers JU 87 Stuka and Dornier Do 17 (see Claude Dornier) projects. Reitsch was the first female helicopter pilot and one of the few pilots to fly the Focke-Achgelis Fa 61, the first fully controllable helicopter. Her flying skill, desire for publicity and photogenic qualities made her a star of Nazi party propaganda. In 1938 she made nightly flights of the Fa 61 helicopter inside the “Deutschlandhalle” at the Berlin Motor Show.
In early 1939 Reitsch suffered through a three-month bout with scarlet fever, followed by muscular rheumatism. On recovering, she went right back to work, becoming involved in the development of large cargo-, troop- and fuel-carrying gliders. With the outbreak of war in September 1939 Reitsch was asked to fly many of Germany’s latest designs of Willy Messerschmitt and other designers. Among these were the rocket-propelled Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet and several larger bombers on which she tested various mechanisms for cutting barrage balloon cables. After crashing on her fifth Me 163 flight Reitsch was badly injured but reportedly insisted on writing her post-flight report before falling unconscious and spending five months in hospital. At the hospital in Regensburg surgeon Doctor Bodewig discovered that Reitsch had fractured her skull in six places. She’d smashed the bones of her detached nose irretrievably and displaced her upper jawbone. She’d broken several vertebrae and bruised her brain severely. She nearly died and Adolf Hitler himself forbade her ever again to attempt such a foolhardy feat. Reitsch became Adolf Hitler’s favourite pilot, in 1940, she brought German troops to the Maginot Line via glider transport and was one of only three women awarded the Iron Cross during World War II, the other were Else Grossmann, a Red Cross Nurse and the third was the sister in law of Claus von Stauffenberg, Melitta von Stauffenberg-Schiller. Reitsch became close to former fighter pilot and high ranking Luftwaffe officer Robert Ritter von Greim who became her lover. During the winter of 1943 to 1944, she was assigned to the development of suicide aircraft and, under the command of SS Obersturmführer Otto Skorzeny was the first founding member of the SS–Selbstopferkommando Leonidas. This project, in which the pilots flew manned bombs and died during the mission, similarly to the later use of Tokkōtai, or “Kamikaze” by the Japanese, was proposed by Hitler on 28-02-1944. It is probable that the idea originated with Reitsch during her testing of the Messerschmitt Me 163 in 1942,
she was the first to volunteer for the newly formed unit. The programme met with considerable resistance from the Luftwaffe high command and was never activated: even Hitler was initially reluctant to accept its use. The unit was disbanded one year later. Early guidance and stabilisation problems with the V-1 Flying Bomb were solved during a daring test flight by Hanna Reitsch in a V-1 modified for manned operation, a very admirable event. Code-named Reichenberg, was a late WWII manned version of the V-1 andmore correctly known as the Fieseler Fi 103. Reitsch’s background with the very fast and dangerous-to-land Me 163, along with simulated landings at a safe high altitude, led her to a successful landing of the Reichenberg at over 200 km/h. When Hanna met Heinrich Himmler she, still a believer in God, found that Himmler was not. Hearing rumors that the Nazis were exterminating Jews, she confronted Heinrich Himmler with that. He made her believe he was as outraged as she was that the Allies would spread such propaganda. During the last days of the war, in light of Hermann Goering’s (see Goering Peter) dismissal as head of the Luftwaffe for what Adolf Hitler (did you know) saw as an act of treason, sending the Goering Telegram and allegedly attempting a coup d’état, he appointed Colonel-General Robert Ritter von Greim as head of the Luftwaffe. To enable him to meet Hitler, von Greim asked Reitsch to fly him into embattled Berlin, Gauleiter of Berlin was Josef Goebbels (did you know). They left from the military airport in Gatow, near the Wannsee and the Red Army troops were already in the downtown area when Reitsch and von Greim arrived on 26 April in a Fieseler Fi 156 Storch infront of the Brandenburger Tor. With her long experience at low-altitude flying over Berlin and having already surveyed the road as an escape route with Hitler’s personal pilot SS Obergruppenführer, Hans Baur,
Reitsch being shot from all sides landed on an improvised airstrip in the Tiergarten near the Brandenburg Gate, Greim was wounded in the leg when Red Army soldiers fired at the light aircraft during its approach. They made their way to the Führerbunker, where Hitler promoted von Greim to the rank of Generalfieldmarshal and to Hermann Goering’s former command of the barely functioning Luftwaffe. During the intense Russian bombardment, Hitler gave Reitsch a vial of poison for herself and another for von Greim. She accepted the vial willingly, fully prepared to die alongside her Führer. Hanna Reitsch spent three days in the Bunker just before Hitler’s suicide on April 28 During the evening of 28 April, Von Greim and Reitsch flew out from Berlin in an Arado Ar 96 trainer, from the same improvised airstrip. Von Greim was ordered to get the Luftwaffe to attack the Soviet forces that had just reached Potsdamerplatz and to make sure SS Reichsführer, Heinrich Himmler
was punished for his perceived treachery of making unauthorised contact with the Western Allies. Fearing that Hitler was escaping in the plane, troops of the Soviet 3rd Shock Army, which was fighting its way through the Tiergarten from the north, tried to shoot the Arado down. The Soviet troops failed in their efforts and the plane took off successfully. They made it to Admiral, Karl Dönitz headquarters, but both of them were eventually captured by the Allied forces. Reitsch was captured along with von Greim and the two were interviewed together by American military intelligence officers. Hanna Reitsch’s father shot and killed her mother Emy, her sister Heidi, and her sister’s three children, Hans Jürgen, Ellen, and Björn Macholz, before killing himself during the last days of the war, on 03-05-1945, after expulsion by the Polish communists from their hometown of Hirschberg. It was well known that Hitler gave Hanna and Von Greim each a cyanide pill before dismissing them from the bunker on 28-04-1945. Hanna always considered that she and Von Greim had made a binding pact to commit suicide, one after another, but with an intervening period to prevent rumour of a love affair. Von Greim swallowed his pill on May 24 while under arrest in hospital at Salzburg. Reitsch was soon captured along with von Greim and the two were interviewed together by American military intelligence officers. When asked about being ordered to leave the Fuhrerbunker on 28 April 1945 Reitsch and von Greim reportedly repeated the same answer, “It was the blackest day when we could not die at our Führer’s side.” Reitsch also said, “We should all kneel down in reverence and prayer before the altar of the Fatherland.” When the interviewers asked what she meant by “Altar of the Fatherland” she answered, “Why, the Führer’s bunker in Berlin…” She was held and interrogated for eighteen months. Hanna found herself somewhat alone and happened to meet the famous film maker, Leni Riefenstahl,
in a cemetery soon after the war, but the two never met again. Hanna was doggedly unrepentant and couldn’t live in Germany anymore and became an Austrian citizen living in Salzburg. In 1961 Reitsch was invited to the White House by US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and she also met the famous James “Jimmy” Doolittle.
Reitsch, Hanna wore her Iron Crosses proudly and she was a Nazi to the end, or just a proud woman?
Death and burial ground of Reitsch, Hanna.
Reitsch, Hanna died in Frankfurt at the age of 67, on 24-08-1979, following a massive heart attack, Reitsch, Hanna lay death beside her bed in Frankfurt am Main, she had never married. As she wished, she was buried near her family in Salzburg. So ends the sad story of a heroine of the Third Reich She is thus buried on the Kommunal Cemetery in Salzburg, Austria, only steps from her lover Robert Greim. Some people severely criticize Hanna’s lover Von Greim for her death, because they believe that it was Von Greim’s romantic relationship with Hanna that drew Hanna to extreme level of danger and perhaps also her death. Former British test pilot and Royal Navy officer Eric Melrose ‘Winkle’ Brown said he received a letter from Reitsch in early August 1979 in which she said, “It began in the bunker, there it shall end.” Within weeks she was dead. Brown speculated that Reitsch had taken the cyanide capsule Hitler had given her in the bunker, and that she had taken it as part of a suicide pact with Greim. No autopsy was performed, or at least no such report is available.
Reitsch was interviewed and photographed several times in the 1970s, towards the end of her life, by Jewish-American photo-journalist Ron Laytner. In her closing remarks she is quoted as saying:
And what have we now in Germany? A country of bankers and car-makers. Even our great army has gone soft. Soldiers wear beards and question orders. I am not ashamed to say I believed in National Socialism. I still wear the Iron Cross with diamonds Hitler gave me. But today in all of Germany you can’t find a single person who voted Adolf Hitler into power … Many Germans feel guilty about the war. But they don’t explain the real guilt we share – that we lost.
In the same interview, she is quoted as saying,
I asked Herman Goering one day, “What is this I am hearing that Germany is killing Jews?” Goering responded angrily, ‘A totally outrageous lie made up by the British and American press. It will be used as a rope to hang us someday if we lose the war.’