Dönitz-Erlaß

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The Dönitz-Erlaß (English: Dönitz decree), more correctly Dönitz declaration, was probably issued on 7 May 1945 at the end of WWII in Europe, which regulated the awarding of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross at all levels one week after the death of Adolf Hitler until May 23, ending with the arrest and deposition of the Dönitz government (Regierung Dönitz) in Flensburg by British occupying forces in absolute violation of international law.

History

The approval authority of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross became confusing after Hitler's death on 30 April 1945. Lieutenant General Ernst Maisel, deputy chief of Army Personnel Office, was authorized by the Presidential Chancellery to approve presentations of the Knights Cross effective as of 28 April 1945. Maisel, on 30 April 1945, legally approved and conferred 33 Knight's Crosses, rejected 29 nominations, and deferred four. Hitler's death ended Maisel's authority to approve nominations.

The authority to approve and make presentations was passed on to Hitler's successor as Head of State (Staatsoberhaupt) Karl Dönitz, who held the title of State President (Reichspräsident) and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. A teleprinter message dated 3 May 1945 was sent to the Commanders-in-Chief of those units still engaged in combat, empowering them to make autonomous presentations of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross themselves. Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, as President of Germany and Hitler's successor as Head of State and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, soon declared that

"All nominations for the bestowal of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and their higher grades which have been received by the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht — staff of the Wehrmacht high command — until the capitulation becomes effective are approved, under the premise that all nominations are formally and correctly approved by the nominating authorities of the Wehrmacht, Army including the Waffen-SS, Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe all the way to the level of the field army and army group leadership."

Dönitz confirmed this State act (realizing Berlin had fallen and normal award proceedings had been disrupted), which complies with international law, in a letter to the OdR dated 20 September 1970, which states:

“Shortly before the surrender came into force, probably on 7 May 1945, I gave the following verbal order:
All proposals for the award of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher levels received by the High Command of the Wehrmacht — Wehrmacht Command Staff [note: Wehrmachtführungsstab] — until the surrender comes into force [note: not surrender of the Wehrmacht, but the surrender of the Reich and it's government, which never took place] are approved by me on the condition that the proposals were duly approved by those authorized to propose up to the level of army and army group commanders of the Wehrmacht units, the Army including the Waffen-SS, the Navy and Air Force. [...]"[1]

The Association of Knight's Cross Recipients (AKCR) examined award claims by Dönitz, but also by Commanders-in-Chief of the 6th Army SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer und Generaloberst der Waffen-SS Sepp Dietrich among others, and, if judged factual and appropriate, assigned an award number and an award date. This practice is considered legal by some military historians and illegal by others. The military-scientific dispute continues to this day (as of 2023).

Major a. D. Walther-Peer Fellgiebel, military historian and on the board of the AKCR/OdR, wrote to military historian Manfred Dörr:[2]

“If documents are available in the OKW/OKH PA or equivalent offices and approved by all offices, but no real award has been made – i.e. the Dönitz decree can be applied – we list the person concerned under 8 May 1945. If no official proposal documents are available, but the submission is known through other evidence or similar circumstances, then the date is 9 May 1945, so that at least we [note: the OdR] can distinguish what is as good as real and which names are at least open to doubt!"

References

  1. Walther-Peer Fellgiebel: Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945, Podzun-Pallas, ISBN 3-7909-0284-5, last page in the appendix
  2. Source: Veit Scherzer: Die Ritterkreuzträger, Hauptband, 2. überarbeitete Aufl., Scherzers Militaer-Verlag, 2007, ISBN 3-938845-17-1, p. 55, note 163