Many countries fought in World War 2 and the leaders of some countries became famous as a result of the war. For example, Roosevelt, Churchill & Stalin became famous as the competent leaders of the Allies. On the other side of the fence, Hitler, Goering, Goebbels, Hess, Himmler, Bormann, and Speer became famous as German leaders.
This web site focuses on the German leaders of World War 2. The country had its share of top-notch leaders in World War 2 including Speer, Goebbles, and Goering. Other leaders, for example Himmler and Heydrich, possessed strong leadership skills, but were so sadistic in nature that their skills were used only for evil. Hess & Bormann also achieved fame in the war; Hess because of his screwy flight to Britain and Bormann because of his shadowy dealings as the alleged "power behind the throne" while serving in a relatively minor position.
1. American Generals World War 2. American Generals (Eisenhower, Patton, & Bradley) along with British & Russian Generals of World War 2 are discussed.
2. World War 2 Battlefield Tours. The visitor to Europe needs to tour the World War 2 battlefields of Europe: D-Day, The Battle of Britain, Battle of the Bulge, and Dunkirk. The battlefield tours could also include the World War 2 battlefields of Italy, Sicily, North Africa, and Russia.
3. President Roosevelt President Roosevelt Led the U.S. and Allies to Victory over Germany and Japan in World War 2.
Adolf Hitler - Number 1 German Leader
Der Fuehrer (the leader). No question who the top German leader was. Hitler was a fearless fanatical genius with charisma. Hitler was a gambler and loved to rely on boldness and bluff but he frequently had good intuitive insights in critical situations and often acted decisively on these occasions. On the other hand, he would often waffle in critical situations and great opportunities would pass without action. The end for Hitler came in April 1945, when he and his wife of one day - Eva Braun - committed suicide in the bunker.
Details for Adolf Hitler are provided on a separate page.
Commander of the Luftwaffe. Like Hitler, a World War I veteran (actually a fighter pilot ace). Goering was from a well-to-do family and met Hitler through his first wife in 1922. Hitler was glad to have the World War I ace in the party, and Goering rose quickly in the Nazi party.
Undoubtedly, Goering greatest crime as a leader was his role in the "final solution." In1941, at Hitler's order, Goering sent a letter to Reinhard Heydrich ordering him to submit a plan for "a final solution to the Jewish problem". He sent the letter even though Goering had never shown any particular concern about the "Jewish problem.".
Convicted at Nuremberg. Two hours before he was to wear the hangman's noose, Goering committed suicide with a cyanide pill that is believed to have been smuggled to him.
Hitler's Propaganda Minister. Highly educated (PhD) and very intelligent. The most fanatical of the German leaders. Born with a crippled foot, he was turned down for military service in World War I and this stigma along with his being undersized, was a constant source of embarrassment for Goebbels as he preached the philosophy of the Nazi master race.
In pre-World War 2 Germany, Goebbels first opposed Hitler and tried to have him ejected from the Nazi party. He then drastically changed his opinion on Hitler, however, and Hitler became his idol.
In May 1933, Goebbels organized the book burning event in which thousands of library books written by undesirables were publicly burned - an event that was denounced throughout the world.
In his propaganda campaigns, Goebbels used all forms of the media but stressed radio. which he said was his "No. 1 weapon in maintaining the Nazi state" Goebbels was a workaholic who, in his "spare time" kept a voluminous diary - The Goebbels Diary - which described the war and German home front in infinite detail. (A must read for World War 2 buffs)
Goebbels continually worked to get greater wartime effort out of the German people, an area that Hitler neglected.
As the end of the war approached, Goebbels had his wife, Magda, and himself shot after Magda had killed their six children with cyanide. He did not see any reason for them to live in a world without Hitler.
The most feared German leader, he held the power of life and death over all and did not mind using it. Being a master organizer made him even more dangerous. Himmler had the look of a school teacher. He was quiet and introverted but with so much political power that he was allowed to have his own armies and, at one time, commanded thirty five divisions of troops in addition to the Gestapo, the secret police force and other police apparatus.
The Gestapo was one of the most powerful and cruel police forces that ever existed.
Himmler's organization was so powerful that it almost constituted a government within a government. Additionally, he was not above using the occult in his organization.
SS organizations were responsible for the concentration camps. Although Himmler had over 5,000,000 people killed, it is said the only time he personally watched a group of Jews being shot by firing squads, he almost fainted.
Despite his brutality, Himmler, as early as 1943, foresaw the end for Germany and he tried to broker a number of deals (without Hitler's permission) to end World War 2 in Europe.
When the war ended, Himmler blended in with refugees in an attempt to escape but was apprehended and, as he was being examined by a Doctor, he committed suicide with cyanide poison implanted in a tooth. A book challenging the authenticity of his death was written. But he had good reason to commit suicide since the only fate left for him, if incarcerated, was a hangman's noose.
Hitler's private secretary. A shadowy figure who never made speeches but who became one of the most powerful leaders by working behind the scene. He obtained his power from his close association with Hitler, and he has been described as the power behind the throne.
Bormann was a manipulator who worked in secret. Early on, he was Hess's assistant and, after Hess made his ill-fated flight to England, Hitler appointed Bormann head of the Nazi party chancellery, a position which provided him great opportunity to advance his agenda which he constantly did. Because of his close ties to Hitler and his use of this closeness to advance his agendas, he was universally hated by the rest of the German leaders. Borman kept track of Hitler's every activity, even having Hitler's table conversations recorded.
After Hitler committed suicide in the bunker, Bormann made a run for it and was apparently killed by a Soviet bullet as he ran. His death has been disputed and the strongest rumor of the post-war era is that Bormann escaped to South America. At Nuremberg, Bormann was sentenced to death in absentia.
Why Did Hess Fly to Britain?
The No. 2 leader for a number of years. Like many German leaders, Hess was wounded in World War I. After the war, he studied for a time at the University of Munich where he was heavily influenced by the geopolitical teachings of Professor Karl Haushofer. Hess was at Hitler's side in the 1923 Beer-Hall Putsch and was sentenced to prison. In prison with Hitler, Hess got Hitler interested in geopolitics. He also served as Hitler's secretary and took dictation as Hitler wrote Mein Kampf. After prison, he continued to follow Hitler and also continued to rise in the Nazi party.
All of Hess's efforts in the Nazi party came to naught in 1941 when he apparently became mentally unbalanced and flew solo to England for the apparent purpose of talking England into a peace treaty. After the war, Hess was tried at Nuremberg and sentenced to life imprisonment. Although, some wanted him released early because of his obvious mental problems, the Russians refused to consider his release.
After 41 years imprisonment, the last 21 of which were without the presence of fellow inmates, Hess hung himself. In my opinion, Hess deserved some punishment but not the amount he received. He did not appear to have committed the obvious crimes against humanity that Hitler, Goebbels, and other German leaders had committed. The Russians had suffered greatly in World War 2, however, and were not interested in providing mercy.
Referred to as the "good Nazi" although many have strongly disagreed with that tag. Speer was Hitler's architect. Hitler was a wannabe architect and he and Speer built German dream cities together. Speer was given the job for the technical arrangements for the giant Nazi rallies in the thirties and showed a great talent for this work.
In 1941, Speer became Minister of Armaments and War Production after the death of Dr. Fritz Todt the minister at that time. Again, he showed great talent in the job pushing war armament production to new heights even as pressure from Allied bombing intensified. This was an area that Hitler and Goering had neglected and Speer's efforts probably prolonged the war by a year or more.
At one point Speer and the fanatical Goebbels became partners in an attempt to counter the power of Martin Bormann and his associates and to get a greater German effort in the war. The two sought to recruit Goering to their side. At first, Goering agreed to work with them but then promptly dropped the matter and the Speer - Goebbels partnership fell apart. If this group had been able to gain more power, the war would probably have been extended even more because Speer and Goebbels knew Germany's war effort weaknesses and how to counter them. However, they also needed a leader of Goering's stature to advance their cause with Hitler.
Toward the end of the war, Speer turned against Hitler when Hitler began to order the destruction of German facilities to punish the German people who he felt was unworthy of him. Speer refused these orders to destroy and, according to him, even toyed with the idea of assassinating Hitler.
After the war, Speer was tried at Nuremberg where he confessed (sort of) his part in the crimes of the Germans. He spent 20 years in prison for his crimes. After his release, his book "Inside the Third Reich" was published providing a vivid description of the inner workings of the German establishment during the war. (This book is a 'must read' for World War 2 buffs.)
Whether Speer was the good Nazi or not will be left for history to decide. Many feel that he should have gotten the death sentence but I think he got about the punishment he deserved.
Be thankful that Speer was not given the armaments job earlier or that the Speer-Goebbels-Goering alliance came to naught. We might still be fighting World War II.
Heydrich, Reinhard. Himmler's assistant and a sadistic individual. A Nazi through and through! Administrator of the concentration camps and also head of other top level security - terror functions. He worked out the details of the "final solution" at the instruction of Hitler acting through Goering. Although one of the most cold-blooded killers in history, he was also a lover of fine music and beautiful women-his only redeeming features. He was assassinated by two Czech resistance fighters in May, 1942. Some thought him the eventual successor to Hitler.
Roehm, Ernst. Chief of the SA (Storm Troopers). A bully boy. He was wounded several times in World War I as were many other German leaders. He also participated in the Beer Hall Putsch with Hitler. After organizing the Storm Troopers and defeating the Communists in the streets, Roehm became a little too ambitious and was eliminated (along with many others) by his trusted friend Hitler during the "night of the long knives" that started on June 30, 1934.
Roehm's homosexuality (and that of many SA leaders) plus the rowdy behavior of the entire organization was a factor in his downfall.
At Nuremberg, Goering, who was a friend of Roehm's, was asked by the psychiatrist how he could have participated in the assassination of his friend Roehm. After a pause, Goering finally responded, "because he was in the way."
Doenitz, Karl. Grand Admiral Doenitz was a U-Boat expert and led the U-Boat Service in its assault on Allied shipping in the Atlantic. Before Hitler died, he designated Doenitz as his successor. Doenitz was taken into custody by the British after serving as head of government for about 3 weeks. He was convicted of several war crimes and served 10 years in Spandau prison.
Ernst Kaltenbrunner. Chief of Security Police. He succeeded Heydrich after Heydrich's assassination. A cold-blooded killer, Kaltenbrunner sent many Jews to the gas chambers. He was convicted at Nuremberg and hanged.
Alfred Rosenberg. Nazi Party Philosopher. Strong anti-Semitic. Convicted at Nuremberg and hanged.
Hans Frank. Governor-General of Occupied Poland. Hitler's lawyer early on. He systematically destroyed Poland. Convicted at Nuremberg and hanged.
Wilhelm Frick. Minister of Interior. Early close associate of Hitler. Responsible for over 100,000 persons sent to concentration camps. Convicted at Nuremberg and hanged.
Franz von Papen. German Chancellor. Aristocratic political figure. Engineered Hitler's selection as Chancellor in 1933 but was later shocked at the behavior of Hitler's followers. Tried at Nuremberg & acquitted.
Artur Seyss-Inquart. Reich Governor of Austria. Played key role in turning over Austria to Hitler. Convicted at Nuremberg and hanged.
Adolph Eichmann. SS Official. Eichmann was a Kaltenbrunner protege and was responsible for the death of many Jews. He fled to Argentina after the war, was captured in 1960 by Israel, and was then returned to Israel for trial. He was convicted and executed.
Rudoph Hoess. Commandant of Auschwitz. Responsible for death of 2.5 million persons at Auschwitz. As per his own statement, he was the biggest mass murderer of all time! Convicted at a Warsaw trial and hanged.
Josef Mengele. Camp Doctor at Auschwitz. Famous for his sadistic experimentation on concentration camp inmates. Escaped to South America after the war. His body was believed found in Brazil in 1985.
Conclusion: German Leaders of World War 2. Some of Germany's top leaders of the Second World War 2 - Speer, Goebbels, Himmler, and Bormann - displayed a great deal of ability though most of their efforts were for a sinister cause. Other German leaders of World War 2, notably Hitler and Goering, often showed flashes of brilliance but were, also, sometimes incompetent or indecisive.