Death in Poland
By 1942 Wolff was number 40 in seniority in the SS hierarchy[i]; the list did not take note of the power of the individual within the SS and included the many honorary members such as Walter Darré[ii] and Max Amann[iii].
Wolff kept his head down throughout the first half of 1942; he was not involved in the search for Heydrich’s killers, nor the massacre at Lidice; he did of course attend the funeral service in Prague and the second one in Berlin. And in July he was part of the group looking to create a monument to the fallen SS hero.But despite his denials, Wolff did have knowledge of what was happening to Europe’s Jews. On 28th July Wolff was sent a letter from the Under Secretary of State at the Transport Ministry, Ganzenmuller reported;
‘A train containing 5,000 Jews has been leaving Warsaw for Treblinka[iv] every day since 22/7; in addition a train containing 5,000 Jews has been leaving Przemysl for Belzec[v] twice a week.’[vi]
Mass grave at Treblinka
The same day Ganzenmuller informed the SS that the Warsaw-Lublin-Sobibor line would be out of action until early October for repairs. All Jewish deportations were to be switched to Treblinka, which would result in the overcrowding of trains. On 13th August Wolff wrote to Ganzenmuller thanking him for his assistance in organising the trains to Treblinka.Wolff always claimed that he knew nothing about the fate of the Jews in eastern Europe, despite receiving letters referring to the execution of the Serbian Jews from a colleague[vii]. Ganzenmuller had already discussed the matter with Wolff on the phone earlier in the month.
Wolff was often used by his colleagues as an intermediary in their correspondence with Himmler and was seen as a man who could smooth matters out. At the same time Wolff was acting as Himmler’s representative at the Fuhrer’s HQ (wherever that happened to be currently situated).
Wolff was expected to report back to Himmler particularly on matters pertaining to the SS; as when on 22nd September Hitler ordered Fritz Sauckel[viii] to transport all the Jews in the Reich working in the armaments industry to concentration camps in the General Government[ix] to continue working there. At the same time Himmler and Albert Speer[x] were forbidden to import Jews into the Reich to work. This order was a complete volte face to the agreement already in place.The Fate of the Workers
In autumn of 1942 the German army in Poland, in the shape of General Curt Freiherr von Gienanth[xi], objected to the killing of all the Jews on the grounds that it deprived the Wehrmacht of essential labour to keep the armaments industry functioning in the east.
When Himmler saw the memo from von Gienanth he was livid and complained to Keitel[xii] who ordered that all Jews in the armaments industry were to be replaced by Poles. Keitel also ordered that von Gienanth be relieved of his post.
On the 9th October Himmler wrote to Oswald Pohl, Wolff, Friedrich Kruger[xiii] and other of his subordinates, ordering that the Jews be gathered together in a small number of concentration camps, saying;
''The Jews should, in accordance with the Fuhrer's wish, disappear some day'[xiv]Yet another clue to the ultimate fate of the Jews, that Wolff would appear to have overlooked.
Himmler and Wolff inspect Mauthausen
In mid-February 1943 Wolff requested permission from Himmler to divorce his wife Frieda and marry his mistress Countess Ingeborg. Ingeborg and her three children lived in Berlin. Ingeborg had asked her brother-in-law, who had no children, make her eldest son his heir. The Count refused and was arrested by the SS and thrown into Dachau[xv]. It is more than likely that Wolff was complicit in this arrest.
Wolff wanted to raise more genetically perfect children with Ingeborg; something he was clearly unable to do with Frieda, given her brown hair and eyes. Ingeborg moreover was determined not to remain second fiddle to Frieda and eventually Wolff gave way. Himmler refused the application on the grounds that it would create a scandal telling Wolff;
‘Just wait! It is possible for family affairs to disappear in the wake of a great victory.’[xvi]Ingeborg was not prepared to wait for a victory that appeared ever more chimerical and apparently bearded Himmler in his office, but Himmler prevaricated. Eventually Wolff went direct to Hitler who gave his permission; he had a letter from Frieda saying that she loved her husband and did not want to stand in the way of his happiness.
Wolff was due to have an operation on a kidney stone[xvii] at the SS hospital at Hohenlychen; the operation was performed by Karl Gebhardt. The marriage took place before the operation which was risky; Wolff believed that Himmler was arranging for him to be killed.The Opposition
Wolff was still convalescing from his operation when Himmler sent for him after the arrest of Mussolini in mid July. During his period of time away from work Wolff had been acting as a go-between for Himmler and an old friend Carl Langbehn[xviii] who was desperate for Himmler to meet Johannes Popitz[xix]; both men were members of the growing opposition to Hitler and the Nazis.Himmler informed Wolff that he was being posted as Highest SS and Police Fuhrer in Italy. Himmler required a memo on how Wolff would deal with the Italians. Meanwhile Himmler instructed Ernst Kaltenbrunner[xx] to organise Mussolini’s rescue. Kaltenbrunner chose Otto Skorzeny[xxi] for the task[xxii].
While preparing his memo Wolff was once more involved in trying to get Popitz in to see Himmler. It was not until late August that Himmler showed Wolff’s proposals to Hitler; several days after Himmler’s meeting with Langbehn and Popitz on 24th August.
Himmler met the two men in his new office; having been very recently appointed Minister of the Interior[xxiii]. Both men assured Himmler that the war was no longer winnable and the time had come to think about a post Hitler Germany. Langbehn mentioned the need to eliminate Hitler, which Hitler’s security chief did not blink at. The need for further meetings was agreed[xxiv].Italy Under the Wolff
Salo government poster announcing 'Germany is your friend'
By the end of September Wolff had organised the puppet government, based at Salo and headed by the emasculated Mussolini. Mussolini was joined by his mistress, Claretta Petacci and even the libidinous Goebbels was shocked by Mussolini’s behaviour.
‘The personal conduct of the Duce with his girlfriend…….is cause for much misgiving.’[xxv]
Within the area controlled by the Germans the removal of Jews from Italy proceeded apace[xxvi]. Adolf Eichmann[xxvii]’s senior assistant Theodor Dannecker, assisted by Herbert Kappler[xxviii], took personal control of the round up. The first train left for the east on 18th October. The following day Himmler and Wolff visited the Wolfschanze[xxix] to update Hitler on the developments in Italy.On 5th December Wolff informed Himmler that mustard gas bombs had been found at Bari[xxx]. On 2nd December the Germans bombed Bari sinking 27 ships, releasing the mustard gas from the 2,000 bombs in the holds of one of the sunken ships. Himmler did not pass the information on to the media and the Allies covered up the accident until February 1944.
BibliographyBelzec, Sobibor, Treblinka – Yitzak Arad, Indiana University Press 1999
The Architect of Genocide – Richard Breitman, Pimlico 1991The Destruction of the European Jews – Raoul Hilberg, Holmes and Meier 1985
Hitler – Nemesis – Ian Kershaw, Penguin 2001Anatomy of the SS State – Helmut Krausnick & Martin Broszat, Paladin 1970
Top Nazi – Jochen von Lang, Enigma Books 2005Heinrich Himmler – Peter Longerich, Oxford University Press 2012
Himmler – Peter Padfield, Cassell & Co 2001The Memoirs of Hitler’s Spymaster – Walter Schellenberg, André Deutsch 2006
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich – William L Shirer, Book Club Associates 1985www.wikipedia.en
[ii] Reich Minister for Food and Agriculture
[iii] Hitler’s former sergeant and head of the Nazi party publishing empire
[iv] An extermination camp
[vi] Anatomy of the SS State – Krausnick & Broszat
[viii] General Plenipotentiary for Labour Deployment
[ix] A Gau in occupied Poland headed by Hans Frank
[x] Another notable who had no knowledge of the fate of the Jews
[xi] Commander in Chief of the Polish Wehrkreis
[xii] Head of the OKW and known as the Lackey (lakeitel in German) for his subservience to Hitler
[xiii] Who tipped Himmler off as to the Wehrmacht’s intentions
[xiv] Anatomy of the SS State – Krausnick & Broszat
[xv] He was executed by the SS in April 1945
[xvi] Top Nazi- von Lang
[xvii] He claimed that Himmler tried to have him killed by means of a massage by Kersten, Himmler’s masseur; the massage allegedly grinding the stone against the walls of the kidney and causing sepsis.
[xviii] Langbehn’s daughter attended the same school as Gudrun Himmler
[xix] One of the anti-Nazi conspirators
[xxi] Head of a commando unit and one of Himmler’s favourites
[xxii] The daring rescue took place on 12th September
[xxiii] Hitler replaced Frick on 20th August; a tacit recognition that his power relied on police repression
[xxiv] Later to save himself Langbehn had to be arrested, but he was never tortured and was held in a concentration camp, beyond the reach of the inimical Kaltenbrunner who did not get on with his chief
[xxv] The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich - Shirer
[xxvi] The Italians had procrastinated when confronted with German demands for the expulsion of the Italian Jews to the death camps in the east. The Italians had opened their borders to Jews fleeing from the round ups; now all the Jews who had thought to find a safe haven were once again at risk of deportation.
[xxvii] In charge of the Holocaust
[xxviii] Chief of the Security Police in Rome
[xxix] Currently Hitler’s HQ
[xxx] On the US naval vessel John Harvey; many of the sailors from the other ships sunk in the raid were killed by the gas