Witzleben, Job-Wilhelm Georg Erwin von.

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Witzleben, Job-Wilhelm Georg Erwin von, born 04-12-1881, in Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland) in the Prussian province of Silesia, the son of Georg von Witzleben (1838–1898), a Hauptmann (captain) in the Prussian Army, and his wife,  Therese born Brandenburg. The Witzleben dynasty was an Uradel family of old nobility and many officers, descending from Witzleben in Thuringia.

He completed the Prussian Cadet Corps program at Liegnitz Ritter-Akademie, Prussian Silesia and in Lichterfelde near Berlin, and on 22-06-1901 joined the Grenadier Regiment König Wilhelm I No. 7 in Liegnitz, Silesia (now Legnica, Poland) as a Leutnant). In 1910, he was promoted to Oberleutnant.

He was married to Else Kleeberg from Chemnitz, Saxony. The couple had a son and a daughter..

At the beginning of the First World War, Witzleben served as brigade adjutant in the 19th Reserve Infantry Brigade before being promoted to Hauptmann and company chief in the Reserve Infantry Regiment No.6 in October 1914. Later, in the same regiment, he became battalion commander. His unit fought in Verdun, the Champagne region and Flanders, among other places.  He was seriously wounded and was awarded the Iron Cross, both first and second classes. Afterwards, he was sent to General Staff training and witnessed the war end as First General Staff Officer of the 121st Division.

Witzleben’s 40th military anniversary: Witzleben receives Adolf Hitler’s congratulations from Oberst Rudolf Schmundt a July 20 victim.

In the Reichswehr of the Weimar Republic, Witzleben was promoted to company commander. In 1923, he found himself on the Fourth Division staff in Dresden as a Major. In 1928, he became battalion commander in Infantry Regiment No. 6 and retained that position as Oberstleutnant (lieutenant colonel) the following year. After being promoted to full Oberst (colonel) in 1931, he took over as commanding officer of the (Prussian) Infantry Regiment No. 8 in Frankfurt on the Oder.

Early in 1933, shortly before Adolf Hitler seized autocratic control of the German state via a paramilitary backed revolution with the passage in the Reichstag of the Enabling Act of 1933, Witzleben was transferred to the post of Infantry Leader VI in Hanover. He was promoted to Generalmajor on 01-02-1934 and moved to Potsdam as the new commander of the 3rd Infantry Division. He succeeded General Werner von Fritsch as commander of Military District (Wehrkreis) III – Berlin (including Brandenburg and part of Neumark). In this position, he was promoted to Generalleutnant and in the newly established Wehrmacht forces became Commanding General of Army Corps III in Berlin in September 1935. In 1936, he was promoted to a General of the Infantry..

Hitler, Witzleben and SS-Obergruppenführer Sepp Dietrich at the 1936 Summer Olympics

As early as 1934, Witzleben indicated opposition against the Nazi regime when he and Erich von Manstein, Wilhelm von  Leeb,  and Karl Rudolf Gerd Rundstedt demanded an inquiry into General der Infanterie and old Reichskanzler. Kurt Schleicher‘s and Generalmajor Ferdinand Bredow’s deaths in the Night of the Long Knives. As a result of that and his criticism of Hitler’s persecution of Fritsch in the Blomberg–Fritsch Affair, Witzleben was temporarily forced into early retirement. His “retirement” did not last, however, as Hitler soon needed him in the preparations for the Second World War.

By 1938, Witzleben was a member of the Hans Paul Oster Conspiracy, a group of plotters including Generaloberst Ludwig Beck, Generals Erich Hoepner and Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel,  Admiral and Chief of the Abwehr Wilhelm Canaris and Abwehr Oberstleutnant Hans Oster. The men planned to overthrow Adolf Hitler in a military coup d’état and avert another European war, which seemed highly likely during the 1938 Sudeten Crisis, until the Munich Agreement both shocked and demoralized the plotters. Witzleben’s unit, which including the key Berlin Defense District, was to have played a decisive role in the planned coup.

In November 1938, von Witzleben had been installed as commander-in-chief of Army Group 2 in Frankfurt. He was also involved in Generaloberst Hammerstein-Equord‘s conspiracy plans of 1939. The latter planned to seize Hitler outright in a kind of frontal assault while the former would shut down the Nazi headquarters, but the plan also fell through.

Second World War Field Marshals Gerd von Rundstedt and von Witzleben in France, March 1941, Witzleben as the commander of OB West with Generaloberst Curt Haase, commander of the 15th Army, May 1941  

In September 1939, von Witzleben, then a Generaloberst, took command of the 1st Army, stationed at the Western Front. When Germany attacked France on 10–05-1940, the First Army was part of Army Group C. On 14 June it broke through the Maginot line,

and within three days had forced several French divisions to surrender. For this, von Witzleben was decorated with the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross; and on 19 July, he was promoted to Generalfeldmarschall during the 1940 Field Marshal Ceremony.

In 1941 he was even appointed Commander-in-Chief OB West, succeeding Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt, but only a year later, he took leave from that position for health reasons. Some sources, however, claim that he was again forcibly retired at this time after he had criticised the regime for its invasion of the Soviet Union on 22-06-1941 in Operation Barbarossa.

In 1944, the conspirators around Claus von Stauffenberg saw Witzleben as the key man in their plans. Whereas Generaloberst Ludwig August Beck was seen as a prospective provisional head of state, and Generaloberst Erich Hoepner was in line to command the inner Ersatzheer (“Replacement Army”) forces, von Witzleben was to take over supreme command of the whole Wehrmacht as the highest-ranking German officer.

However, on 20 July 1944, the day of von Stauffenberg’s attempt on Hitler’s life at the Wolf’s Lair

in East Prussia, von Witzleben did not arrive at the Bendlerblock in Berlin from the OKH-HQ (Oberkommando des Heeres Headquarters) at Zossen to assume command of the coup forces until 8 p.m., when it was already clear that the coup attempt had failed. He then protested angrily that it had been bungled and left after 45 minutes to return to Zossen, where he reported the situation to General of the Artillery Eduard Wagner and then drove back to his country estate, 30 mi away, where he was arrested the next day by Generalleutnant Viktor Linnarz of the OKH personnel office. After the failure of the coup attempt, Eduard Wagner  feared that his arrest by the Gestapo was imminent and that he might be forced to implicate other plotters. He committed suicide by shooting himself in the head at noon on 23-07-1944, age 49. GeneralleutnantLinnarz was interrogated about his wartime role and recollections on 25-02-1948. He died aged 85 on 14-10-1979 in Weiden in der Oberpfalz.

Von Witzleben, here with Generalfieldmarshall of the Luftwaffe Hugo Sperrle

was then cast out of the Wehrmacht by the so-called Ehrenhof der Wehrmacht (“The Regular Army’s Court of Honor”), a conclave of officers set up after the attempted assassination to remove officers from the Wehrmacht who had been involved in the plot, mainly so that they were no longer subject to German military law and could be arraigned to a show trial before the infamous Nazi “People’s Court” (Volksgerichtshof).

Death and burial ground of Witzleben, Job-Wilhelm Georg Erwin von.

On 07-08-1944, von Witzleben was in the first group of accused conspirators to be brought before the Volksgerichtshof. Ravaged by the conditions of his Gestapo arrest, he surprisingly approached the bench giving the Nazi salute, for which he was rebuked by the presiding judge Roland Freisler.

Witzleben was sentenced to death on the same day. Witzleben gave these closing words in court, addressed to Freisler:

You can turn us over to the executioner. In three months the outraged and tormented people will call you to account and drag you through the filth in the streets alive.

Much of the Volksgerichtshof, including scenes of Witzleben’s show trial, was filmed for the German weekly newsreel Die Deutsche Wochenschau; however, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels decided against releasing the footage, firstly because Freisler’s abusive ranting in the courtroom might draw sympathy for the accused and secondly because the regime wanted to quell public discussion of the event. The material was classified as secret (Geheime Reichssache).

Witzleben was put to death the same day at Plötzensee Prison in Berlin.

  By Hitler’s direct orders, he was hanged with a meat hook and a thin hemp rope, which people who were not from the prison staff called a piano wire, and the execution was filmed. The footage has since been lost.

Job-Wilhelm Georg Erwin von Witzleben is buried at the Plötzensee cemetery in a .anonymously grave with many other Plötzensee victims

During the Nazi regime, according to official figures, 2,891 people were sentenced by the Berlin Kammergericht, the infamous Volksgerichtshof under Roland Freisler and several Sondergericht. They were initially executed with an ax in the courtyard of the prison. From 1937, the convicts were beheaded with a guillotine from the Bruchsal prison, which was installed in a work shed in the backyard. This was a ground floor brick building near the prison walls, which the victims had to walk to from a nearby cell block. In 1942, a beam was installed in the same room that served as a gallows for up to eight victims at a time. The next of kin were required to pay an indemnity of 1.5 Reichsmarks for each day the detainee had spent in prison, plus additional execution costs of 300 Reichsmarks. About half of the 2,891 executed were German, most were sentenced to death for resisting the Nazi regime. Among them were members of the Rote Kapelle, the 20 July 1944 plot and the Kreisauer Kreis. 677 were executed from Czechoslovakia, from Poland 253 people were executed and from France 245. The number of female victims was 300. After the guillotine was irreparably damaged and large parts of the buildings destroyed during a bombing raid by the Royal Air Force on the night of 03-09-1943, State Secretary Curt Ferdinand Rothenberger of the Ministry of Justice ordered the immediate execution of the convicts in Plötzensee by telephone. About 250 people, six of them by mistake, were hanged in groups of eight on the evenings of September 7-12. The last execution took place on 20-04-1945. The remaining detainees were liberated by the Red Army during the Battle of Berlin five days later. German jurist and leading figure in the Nazi Party. Rothenberger was one of the defendants at the Judges’ Trial, where he was sentenced to seven years in prison. All three state secretaries, Rothenberger, Herbert Klemm, a high ranking official (Staatssekretär) in the German Ministry of Justice and Franz Louis Schlegelberger, were charged at the trial. When in 1959 his role during the war was again publicized, Curt Rothenberger committed suicide, age 63 on 01-09-1959, in Hamburg. On 14-02-1957, Herbert Klemm was released from the Landsberg War Crimes Prison and settled in Essen-Bredeney . In early April 1957 he moved from Essen to Starnberg . In 1961 he moved within Starnberg. Nothing is known about his further life after August 1961.

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