Before the SS
Born in Darmstadt on 13th May 1900, Karl Freidrich Otto Wolff was almost five months older than the man he was to serve so faithfully, Heinrich Himmler. His father was a district court judge and Wolff was raised as a Catholic, the two men sharing a similar background.
|Freikorps recruitment poster|
But in one respect Wolff was able to outshine his boss; in April 1917, having taken his arbitur, Wolff signed up to fight for his country. He underwent four months of training and on 5th September 1917 volunteered to fight for Germany. Wolff served in the exclusive Life Guards Regiment of the Grand Duke of Hesse, winning the Iron Cross second class[i]. He ended the war a lieutenant and afterwards Wolff joined the Freikorps[ii].Demobilised in May 1920 Karl trained as a banker, undergoing a two year apprenticeship with the Bethmann family bank in Frankfurt; the job found for him by influential friends and relatives. Typically Wolff attached great importance to living in a well-to-do neighbourhood, if possible renting from a noble landlord. He later claimed that during this period of his life;
‘It was a constant battle to avoid moving downward socially.’[iii]Wolff got engaged to Frieda von Römheld[iv] in July 1922 just as Wolff was finishing his training. They both liked and were good at dancing, winning a number of competitions. The couple married in August 1923. Wolff then moved to work for the Deutsche Bank[v] in Munich after a brief period working for a company his father-in-law had dealings with. But the hyperinflation of the 1920’s resulted in the loss of his job at the end of June 1924.
Eventually Wolff found himself a job in advertising working for Ad-Expedition Walther von Danckelmann because he offered to work for the same amount he received from benefit until he had proved his worth. Within a few months, having assimilated sufficient of the finer points of advertising, Wolff was appointed manager of one of the company’s branches.On 1st July 1925 Wolff left to set up his own company, using his wife’s name in the company title; Ad-Expedition Karl Wolff - von Römheld. The agency was dissolved in 1931; Karl and Frieda Wolff were living in Bogenhausen, an upper-class Munich neighborhood, which doubled as the family home and as the offices for company.
A New LifeOn 7th October 1931 at the Braunhaus[vi] Wolff joined the Nazi party as member number 695131 and the SS as member 14,325. Within three weeks Wolff went from being a raw recruit to the lowest SS rank – SS-Schütze. On the 18th February 1932 he was promoted to SS-Sturmfuhrer. At the time Wolff was attending an SS leadership course; among the speakers were Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich[vii] and Franz Xaver Schwarz[viii] Later Wolff was to rhapsodise about this first contact with Himmler;
‘The worldly seeds that were then sown in our believing, open hearts later blossomed in a wonderful way and bore fruit.’[ix]He had learned that the effusive the better for his Reichsfuhrer. After the end of course party, for participants and their wives, Himmler insisted on giving the Wolffs and Standartenfuhrer[x] Hoeflich[xi] a lift home.
Ritter von Epp
On the day the Nazis came to power, 30th January 1933, Wolff was promoted to the rank of Hauptsturmfuhrer[xii]. The Nazis did not have control of all the Lander and in Bavaria Wolff and his men were used to create incidents which presaged the takeover on 9th March. Wilhelm Frick, the Nazi Minister of the Interior[xiii], installed a Commissioner in Bavaria. The new Commissioner, Ritter von Epp dismissed the police chiefs who were replaced by Nazis.Himmler was given the post of Police President in Munich; not content with this sop Himmler and his sidekick Heydrich schemed over the period March 1933 to spring 1934 patiently collecting the various political police of the Lander under his control[xiv].
From 9th March 1933 Wolff worked as a personal adjutant for von Epp until mid-June[xv], when von Epp was replaced by Ludwig Siebert. Von Epp offered Wolff another army posting, but as this meant returning to his rank of Lieutenant Wolff accepted Himmler’s offer of a job on his staff. He started on 15th June 1933, becoming a full-time member of the SS. It was not until September that Wolff became one of Himmler’s adjutants.
Moving On, Moving UpAt this time Himmler’s chief of staff was Gruppenfuhrer[xvi] Seidel-Dittmarsch, who was attempting to build his own power base; an attempt that ended with his premature death in February 1934. Meanwhile Wolff was careering up the promotion ladder; on 20th April 1934 he was given the rank of Standartenfuhrer. The previous Christmas Himmler had given Wolff a photograph of himself with a ‘very sincerely’ handwritten dedication.
Gestapo HQ on Prinz Albrecht Strasse
Wolff had no direct responsibility in the Night of the Long Knives, when Himmler’s boss Ernst. Rohm, head of the Sturmabteilung or SA, was killed. As part of a quid pro quo in April 1934 Himmler was made deputy head of the Prussian Gestapo[xvii] founded by Hermann Göring and Heydrich was placed in charge.Wolff was Himmler’s liaison with Göring, and while staying at the palace that was Göring’s workplace he must have heard the endless streams of orders to kill Hitler’s enemies emanating from the Reichsfuhrer and Heydrich as well as Göring.
Wolff certainly benefitted from the resultant batch of promotions; he was made Oberfuhrer[xviii] on 4th July 1934. By now he was first adjutant to Himmler. Hitler explained away his actions during the atrocity by saying;
‘If a mutiny broke out on board a ship, the captain was not only entitled to but also obliged to crush the mutiny right away.’[xix]Himmler’s reward for the involvement of his SS as the killing machine putting down the mutiny, was the removal of the SS from hierarchy of the SA; Himmler now reported directly to Hitler.
Wolff met Countess Ingeborg Maria von Bernstorff after the Night of the Long Knives. The Countess came to ask for Himmler’s support for a charity. Wolff, with his fascination for the nobility, flirted with the Countess[xx]. Her husband died the following year and at some point the beautiful widow became Wolff’s mistress. Like Himmler, Wolff had moved his family from Berlin to live at their home on the Tegernsee.
1934 Party Rally
At the September party rally at Nuremberg Wolff played host to the members of the Freundeskreis der Reichsfuhrer SS[xxi] staying at the Grand Hotel. Representatives of the Deutsche Bank, the Dresdner Bank, the Commerzbank, Flick Steel and Siemens were among the companies that gave financial support to the SS. The 1934 rally, stage managed by Albert Speer, was attended by a quarter of a million people.By the end of the year Wolff was persuading Himmler to see a healer to deal with his headaches and stomach cramps[xxii]. Himmler spent much of the summer of 1935 touring Germany, visiting the SS offices and speaking to his SS men. He drove around in an open touring Maybach, usually accompanied by Wolff and often by the wives of the two men. The two couples became close, indulging in impromptu picnics and socialising together.
Title page of proclamation of Nuremberg racial laws
At the 1935 party rally Wolff was again hosting the members of the Freundeskreis RFSS as he was to do at all subsequent rallies. It was at the 1935 rally that the infamous Nuremberg racial laws were unveiled; aimed directly at the Jews. Hitler claimed that this was a result of
‘Vehement complaints are coming in from innumerable places about the provocative behaviour of individual members of this people.’[xxiii]Wolff and Heydrich both visited the Himmlers at their home in Gmund on the occasion of Himmler’s 35th birthday in October. Heydrich’s car broke down as the families attempted to leave the party and Himmler was one of those who push-started the car. The rivalry between Heydrich and Wolff was to grow over the years; each jealous of the other’s influence over the Reichsfuhrer.
In November 1935 Wolff was made Chief Adjutant to Himmler and the following November Himmler expanded his adjutants office into the Personalstab der RFSS; Wolf was made Chief of Staff.Bibliography
The Third Reich in Power – Richard J Evans, Penguin 2006The Order of the Death’s Head – Heinz Hohne, Penguin 2000
The Black Corps – Robert Lewis Koehl, University of Wisconsin Press 1983Top Nazi – Jochen von Lang, Enigma Books 2005
Heinrich Himmler – Peter Longerich, Oxford University Press 2012Allgemeine-SS – Mark C Yerger, Schiffer Military History 1997
[i] He later was given the Iron Cross First Class
[ii] The Hessian Independence Corps
[iii] Top Nazi - Lang
[iv] Frieda’s father had been Chef de Cabinet to the last Grand Duke of Hesse
[v] Whose record of association with the Nazi party and the SS was convoluted at best
[vi] The Nazi party headquarters in Munich
[vii] Heydrich, in charge of the Sicherheinstdeist of the SS, had himself only joined in June 1931
[viii] Nazi Party Treasurer
[ix] Top Nazi - Lang
[x] Equivalent of a colonel
[xi] Commander of 1st SS-Standarte; Wolff was head of Sturm 2 of the Second Sturmbann of the Standarte
[xii] Equivalent to captain
[xiii] In charge of security
[xiv] In June 1936 Himmler was made Chief of the German Police giving him control of the security apparatus of the state; a job that was to bring him immense power
[xv] Himmler gave anyone of any importance, whether belonging to the SS or not (von Epp did not) SS aides to increase the scope of his intelligence apparatus
[xvi] Equivalent in rank to a Major General
[xvii] The Prussian political police
[xviii] A rank that has no army equivalent, but placed between Colonel and Brigadier General
[xix] The Third Reich in Power - Evans
[xx] The daughter of a businessman.
[xxi] Originating as a group to fund Hitler’s projects, this group now did the same for Himmler. The group included senior officials from German banks and industrial complexes
[xxii] These stomach cramps would debilitate Himmler throughout the rest of his life
[xxiii] The Third Reich in Power - Evans