Erich Kempka

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Erich Kempka
Erich Kempka.jpg
SS-Sturmbannführer Kempka
Birth date 16 September 1910(1910-09-16)
Place of birth Oberhausen, Rhine Province, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
Death date 24 January 1975 (aged 64)
Place of death Freiberg am Neckar, Baden-Württemberg, West Germany
Allegiance  National Socialist Germany
Service/branch Flag Schutzstaffel.png SS
Years of service 1930–1945
Rank SS-Obersturmbannführer
Unit Allgemeine SS (SS-No. 2,803)
Führer Escort Command (Führer-Begleit-Kommando)
Battles/wars World War II

Erich Kempka (16 September 1910 – 24 January 1975) was a German electrician and SS officer. He served as Adolf Hitler's chauffeur from 1932 to April 1945.


Erich Kempka driving a Mercedes-Benz W 31 with Hitler and Mussolini during a maneuver in Mecklenburg in September 1937, in the back seat Oberst i. G. Friedrich Hoßbach, army adjutant of the Wehrmacht to Adolf Hitler.
The Führer at the fairground in Berlin visiting the International Motor Show (Internationale Automobil- und Motorrad-Ausstellung) on 4 March 1939; Hitler is at the stand of the Opel AG; others are (from left): Jakob Werlin, chairman of the Daimler-Benz AG, Chefpilot Hans Baur, chauffeur Kempka, and, on the far right, Hitler's doctor Dr. Theo Morell; in the background (left) Hitler's personal adjutant Albert Bormann, NSKK-Brigadeführer of the National Socialist Motor Corps. Photographer: Heinrich Hoffmann.

Early life

Kempka was born in Oberhausen to a miner with ten children. He attended school (Volksschule) up to his 14th year of age and completed successfully a three-year apprenticeship as an electrician. After his apprenticeship, he worked for one year as a practical apprentice with the automobile-distributers of DKW at Essen. Then he received a position as a driver with the "Essener Nationalzeitung".

National socialist career

Kempka joined the National socialist Party on 1 April 1930 as member #225,639 but also the Allgemeine SS (SS-No. 2,803). Two years later, he would become one of eight founding members of the Führer-Begleit-Kommando.

Kempka served initially as chauffeur for Josef Terboven, Gauleiter of the Rhine Province (NSDAP-Gau Essen), until 29 February 1932, when, based on Terboven's recommendation, he was tasked as a reserve driver for Hitler's personal entourage. In 1934, he was present at the arrest of Ernst Röhm (Röhm Putsch). In 1936, he replaced Julius Schreck as Hitler's primary chauffeur and chief of his car fleet.[1]

As his chauffeur, Kempka usually drove one of Hitler's black Mercedes cars from a fleet of six to eight which were stationed in Berlin, Munich and other places. Unless in the company of an important personality, Hitler would sit in the front, next to Kempka, with his valet behind him.[2] In a cavalcade, Hitler's car would be followed by a second car with the SS bodyguard, then a police car, further a car with his adjudants and physician, and more cars for press agency representatives, stenographers, and provisions. Later, Hitler's car was protected by bulletproof glass and armor plates.[2]

On 1 December 1937, Kempka joined the Lebensborn society. He was also awarded a Totenkopfring and the SS Honor Sword from Heinrich Himmler. Kempka had been engaged to Gerda Christian (born Daranowski), a private secretary of Hitler's. She later married Luftwaffe officer Eckhard Christian on 2 February 1943.[3]



In 1945, as the end of the Third Reich drew near, Kempka accompanied Hitler to the Reich Chancellery and later the Führerbunker. By then, Kempka oversaw a fleet of 40 vehicles.[1] On 20 April, ten days before Hitler's suicide, he briefly wished the Führer a happy birthday and spent about fifteen minutes with him.

Kempka was one of those responsible for the burning of Hitler and Eva Braun's corpses after they committed suicide together on the afternoon of 30 April 1945. Otto Günsche telephoned Kempka to deliver 200 litres of gasoline to the garden behind the Reich Chancellery. Kempka and his men brought over eight to ten Army petrol cans and deposited them by the emergency exit of the Führerbunker.[4] Later, SS guards brought over additional cans of petrol to further burn the corpses.[5] Kempka left the bunker complex on the following night of 1 May along with SS-Hauptscharführer Heinrich Doose, a driver who was part of his staff. During his escape, Kempka, according to his own statements, came across the severly wounded Flugkapitän SS-Obersturmbannführer and Lieutenant Colonel of the Reserves of the Luftwaffe Georg Betz (b. 15 June 1903 in Bavaria) from the Reichssicherheitsdienst (Hitler's personal co-pilot and Hans Baur's substitute) and left him in the care of Kaethe Hausermann, a dental assistant who had been on Hitler's staff working with Dr. Hugo Blaschke, in her appartment in Berlin.

On 20 June, Kempka was captured by U.S. troops at Berchtesgaden near the Berghof.[1] According to The Last Days Of Adolf Hitler (H. R. Trevor-Roper, p. 128), Betz was last observed in the area of the Weidendammer Bridge as part of a group which left the Führerbunker during the evening of 1 May 1945. Other sources give more details as to Betz's fate, stating that he died from wounds received during the crossing of the bridge on 2 May 1945.

Historical reliability

Despite claims made to the contrary during his interrogation, Kempka later admitted that when Hitler and wife Eva locked themselves in a room to commit suicide, he lost his nerve and ran out of the Führerbunker, returning only after Hitler and Braun were dead. By the time he returned to the bunker, Hitler and Braun's bodies were already being carried upstairs for cremation. Despite his questionable reliability, many interviewers quote Kempka in their accounts of Hitler's suicide because of his colorful (and coarse) language. For example, one interviewer, O'Donnell, recounted the following quips in his book, The Bunker:

  • He referred to SS-Gruppenführer and Generalleutnant of the Waffen-SS Hermann Fegelein as having "his brains in his scrotum" (Fegelein was executed by Hitler for trying to desert Berlin with his mistress).
  • He remarked that when Magda Goebbels was around Hitler, you could "hear her ovaries rattling" (Magda Goebbels was claimed to be quite attached to Hitler psychologically).
  • When Martin Bormann carried Eva Braun's corpse out of the bunker, Kempka took the body from him and insisted on carrying it up himself, remarking that Bormann was carrying Braun "like a sack of potatoes" (Bormann and Braun had a mutual dislike).


At the Nuremberg trials, Kempka was called to testify because he claimed to have seen Martin Bormann killed by a Soviet anti-tank rocket. He later referred to Eva Braun as "the unhappiest woman in Germany". He was released on 9 October 1947.

Kempka was the subject of Mauri Sariola's 1972 book Kolmannen valtakunnan kuningatar (Queen of the Third Reich). Kempka retained his association with the "Führer-Begleit-Kommando" by attending reunions of I SS Panzer Corps members until the year before his death. His memoirs first appeared in 1951 under the title Ich habe Adolf Hitler verbrannt (I cremated Adolf Hitler). In 1975, it was reissued with a foreword by author and former member of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Erich Kern under the less sensationalist title Die letzten Tage mit Adolf Hitler (The Last Days with Adolf Hitler). An English edition of the book was published in 2010 by Frontline Books-Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., under the title I was Hitler's Chauffeur: The Memoirs of Erich Kempka, with an introduction by Roger Moorhouse.

Portrayal in the media

Erich Kempka was portrayed by Jürgen Tonkel in the 2004 German film Downfall (Der Untergang).[6] He is also played by Axel Werner in the comedy film Mein Führer – Die wirklich wahrste Wahrheit über Adolf Hitler.

At the 2008 military trial for Osama bin-Laden's driver, Salim Hamdan, the defense argued for his innocence, noting that Kempka was not tried as a war criminal for being a chauffeur for Hitler.[7]

SS officer promotions

Erich Kempka IV.jpg
Erich Kempka III.jpg

Awards and decorations (excerpt)

  • Honour Chevron for the Old Guard (Ehrenwinkel der Alten Kämpfer)
  • Sports Wreath of the Ring of the National Motor and Aviation Movement (Sportkranz des Ringes der nationalen Kraftfahrt- und Luftfahrtbewegung; RKL)
  • Golden Party Badge
  • SS-Ehrendegen
  • SS Honour Dagger (SS-Ehrendolch)
  • SS-Ehrenring
  • SS Long Service Awards (SS-Dienstauszeichnungen)
  • NSDAP Long Service Award (Dienstauszeichnung der NSDAP in Bronze or Silver)
  • Knight's Cross of the Bulgarian Military Order of Merit on 4 June 1941 as SS-Sturmbannführer and leader of the motor vehicle fleet of the leader and Reich Chancellor of the German people (Führer des Kraftfahrzeugparks des Führers und Reichskanzlers des deutschen Volkes)

Further reading

  • Dietrich, Otto (2010). The Hitler I Knew: Memoirs of the Third Reich's Press Chief. Skyhorse Publishing. ISBN 978-1-60239-972-3. 
  • Hamilton, Charles (1984). Leaders & Personalities of the Third Reich, Vol. 1. R. James Bender Publishing. ISBN 0-912138-27-0. 
  • Joachimsthaler, Anton [1995] (1999). The Last Days of Hitler: The Legends, The Evidence, The Truth. Brockhampton Press. ISBN 1-86019-902-X. 
  • Kempka, Erich (2010), I was Hitler's Chauffeur, London: Frontline Books-Skyhorse Publishing, Inc, ISBN 978-1-84832-550-0 
  • Kershaw, Ian (2008), Hitler: A Biography, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-06757-2 

External links