Dietrich von Choltitz PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 25 August 2009 12:21

General der Infanterie Dietrich von Choltitz

Born: 9 November 1894, Schloss Wiese, Silesia (now Łąka Prudnicka, a part of Prudnik in Opole Voivodeship)

Died: 4 November 1966, Baden-Baden

Age: 71

Cause of death: Long standing war illness

Notable because: The man who was ordered by Hitler to destroy Paris before the German withdrawal in 1944, but who chose instead not to, thus saving Paris from oblivion.

Dietrich von Choltitz  was the German military governor of Paris during the closing days of the German occupation of that city during World War II. He disobeyed Hitler's order to leave Paris in rubble during this last stage of the war.

In World War I, von Choltitz served on the Western Front, reaching the rank of lieutenant. He remained in the Reichswehr during the Weimar Republic, becoming a cavalry captain in 1929. Later he became commander of the 3rd battalion of the Luftlande-Infanterieregiment 16, first as a major, and from 1938 as a lieutenant-colonel.

In World War II, von Choltitz' battalion was engaged in the occupation of Rotterdam via air landings in 1940 (earning him a Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross). In September 1940 he became commander of the whole regiment and from 1941 as a full colonel. In the war against the Soviet Union, von Choltitz' regiment was engaged in the siege of the city of Sevastopol in June 1942. In the same year he became a major-general, and in 1943 a lieutenant-general. His command posts included assistant commander of the 260th Infantry Division and commander of the 48th Panzer Corps. From March 1944, he served in Italy, and from June 1944 on the Western Front. Later, as an Allied prisoner at Trent Park in England he admitted in a conversation with fellow prisoners (recorded by the British unknown to him or his fellow inmates) to :"executing the most difficult order of my life in Russia, (...) liquidation of the Jews. I have executed this order in its entirety nonetheless..." - recorded on the 29th. of August 1944.

Dietrich von Choltitz

On 1 August 1944 von Choltitz was promoted to the rank of general of infantry, and on August 7, he became the military governor of Paris. He arrived at Paris on 9 August. In the following 16 days, he disobeyed several direct orders from Adolf Hitler to destroy the city. Hitler's order from 23 August said: "The city must not fall into the enemy's hand except lying in complete debris." A common account holds that Hitler phoned him in a rage, screaming, "Brennt Paris?" ("Is Paris burning?")

Von Choltitz prevented a complete uprising of the city's inhabitants and direct battles within the city by a mix of active contact with his enemies, negotiation with the Resistance and demonstrations of power, ultimately preventing any major damage to the famous city. He and 17,000 men under his command surrendered to French general Philippe Leclerc de Hautecloque and the Resistance leader Henri Rol-Tanguy at the Gare Montparnasse on 25 August 1944. For preventing a second Stalingrad, von Choltitz was regarded as "saviour of Paris" by some.

He was held for a while at Trent Park in North London, a prison camp for senior German Officers. Unknown by the inmates many of their conversations were recorded.

After a spell in Camp Clinton, Mississippi he was released from Allied captivity in 1947. Dietrich von Choltitz died in November 1966 due to a longstanding war illness in the city hospital of Baden-Baden. He was buried at the city cemetery of Baden-Baden in the presence of high-ranking French officers. Baden-Baden was the post-WWII French headquarters in Germany.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 25 August 2009 12:28

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