The forced suicide of Erwin Rommel

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On October 14, 1944, Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel, nicknamed “The Desert Fox” was given the choose to face a public trial for treason – as a co-conspirator in the ’20 July’ plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, or taking cyanide. Choosing the latter, he also was assured that his family would not be persecuted following his death.

Erwin Rommel was born on 15 November 1891 in Württenberg, Germany. During World War I, he showed himself to be a natural leader with unnatural courage, fighting in France, Romania, and Italy. For his exploits on the Italian Front, he was awarded the Pour le Mérite. Following the war, he pursued a teaching career in German military academies, writing a textbook, Infantry Attacks, that was well regarded.

During World War II, he further distinguished himself when he was given a chance to put his leadership abilities in action, when he was given command of the 7. Panzer-Division. His leadership of German and Italian forces in the North African campaign established him as one of the most able commanders of the war, and earned him the appellation of “the Desert Fox”. Rommel later commanded the German forces opposing the Allied cross-channel invasion of Normandy on the Atlantikwall. However, although being a national Hero – respected by both friend and enemy -, it was ordered that Erwin Rommel had to eliminated after he had been linked to the conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

Rommel observes the fall of shot at Riva-Bella, just north of Caen in the area that would become Sword Beach in Normandy. (Credits: Bundesarchiv via Wikipedia)

Rommel observes the fall of shot at Riva-Bella, just north of Caen in the area that would become Sword Beach in Normandy. (Credits: Bundesarchiv via Wikipedia)

On 14th of October, 1944, Wilhelm Burgdorf and Ernst Maisel, visited Erwin Rommel at his home. There they informed Rommel of the charges and offered him a choice: he could either face the People’s Court or choose suicide, in return for assurances his family would not be persecuted. Choosing to commit suicide, he was driven just outside the town of Herrlingen, Baden-Württemberg and took his own life. As he was a national hero, they kept the real reason of his death behind and stated to the public, that Rommel had succumbed to his injuries from the earlier strafing of his staff car in Normandy. To further strengthen the story, Hitler ordered an official day of mourning in commemoration and Rommel was buried with full military honours.

Erwin Rommel is regarded as having been a humane and professional officer. His Afrika Korps was never accused of war crimes, and Allied soldiers captured during his Africa campaign were reported to have been treated humanely. 

Erwin Rommel in North Africa, near Trobruk. (Credits: Bundesarchiv)

Erwin Rommel in North Africa, near Trobruk. (Credits: Bundesarchiv)

References: History Magazine, The Rommel Papers, Wikipedia and The Life and Death of Erwin Rommel.

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Argunners Magazine is an independent online historian and collector's magazine, dedicated to the militaria and history of both Axis and Allied powers during the World War 1 & 2. Argunners is a central resource offering the latest militaria and war history news, journals, articles and press releases related to these themes.

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