Ernst Hanfstaengl

From Metapedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Ernst Hanfstaengl
Ernst Hanfstaengl.png
Born 2 February 1887(1887-02-02) in Munich, Kingdom of Bavaria, German Empire
Died 6 November 1975 (aged 88) in Munich, Bavaria, West Germany
Nationality German American
Occupation Businessman
Spouse ∞ 1920 Helene Elise Adelheid Niemeyer
Children 2, including Egon

Ernst Franz Sedgwick Hanfstaengl (2 February 1887 – 6 November 1975) was a Harvard-educated German businessman who was an early NSDAP party member and intimate of Adolf Hitler. Hanfstaengl betrayed Hitler and defected. He was later used as a resource for Franklin D. Roosevelt.


Early life

Hanfstaengl attended Harvard University and knew Walter Lippmann and John Reed. A gifted pianist, he composed several songs for Harvard's football team. He graduated in 1909. He moved to New York and took over the management of the American branch of his father's business, the Franz Hanfstaengl Fine Arts Publishing House. On frequent mornings he would practice on the piano at the New York Harvard Club, where he became acquainted with both Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt. Among his circle of acquaintances were the newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst, author Djuna Barnes (to whom he was engaged), and actor Charlie Chaplin. Upon the outbreak of World War I, he asked the German military attache in New York to smuggle him back to Germany. Slightly baffled by the proposal, the attache refused and Hanfstaengl remained in the U.S. during the war. After 1917, the American branch of the family business was confiscated as enemy property.

Hitler's confidant

Returning to Germany in 1922, he was living in his native Bavaria when he first heard Hitler speak in a Munich beer hall.[1] A fellow member of the Harvard Hasty Pudding club who worked at the U.S. Embassy, asked Hanfstaengl to assist a military attache sent to observe the political scene in Munich. Just before returning to Berlin the attache, US Captain Truman Smith, suggested to Hanfstaengl to go to a party rally as a favor and report his impressions of Hitler. Hanfstaengl was so fascinated by Hitler that he soon became one of his most intimate followers, although he did not formally join the Party until 1931.

Hanfstaengl introduced himself to Hitler after the speech and began a close friendship and political association that would last through the 1920s and early 1930s. After participating in the failed Munich Putsch in 1923, Hanfstaengl briefly fled to Austria, while the injured Hitler sought refuge in Hanfstaengl's home in Uffing, outside of Munich. Hanfstaengl's wife, Helene, allegedly dissuaded Hitler from committing suicide, when the police came to arrest him.

For much of the 1920s, Hanfstaengl introduced Hitler to Munich high-society and helped polish his image. He also helped to finance the publication of Hitler's Mein Kampf, and the NSDAP's official newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter. Hitler was the godfather of Hanfstaengl's son Egon. Hanfstaengl wrote both Brownshirt and Hitler Youth marches patterned after his Harvard football songs and, he later claimed, devised the chant "Sieg Heil". Included among Hanfstaengl's friends during this period were Hanns Heinz Ewers and fellow party worker and journalist Kurt Lüdecke.

Fluent in English, with many connections to higher society both in England and the United States, he became head of the Foreign Press Bureau in Berlin. Aside from this official position, much of his influence was due to his friendship with Hitler, who enjoyed listening to Hanfstaengl play the piano.

Hanfstaengl's presence at his 25th Harvard reunion in 1934 created a furor. He was originally named a vice marshal of his class but he resigned following complaints from Jewish alumni and communist student groups. His arrival in New York was met by 1,500 protesters and two students were arrested at Harvard Commencement after chaining themselves to benches and disrupting the commencement address with shouts of "Down with Hanfstaengl" and "Down with Hitler." Months after the reunion, Harvard President James Conant rejected a donation of $1,000 from Hanfstaengl.

Fall from power

As the NSDAP consolidated its power, several disputes arose between Hanfstaengl and Germany's Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels. Hanfstaengl was removed from Hitler's staff in 1933. He and Helene divorced in 1936. Hanfstaengl fell completely out of Hitler's favour after he was denounced by Unity Mitford, a close friend of both the Hanfstaengls and Hitler.

Party hierarchy came up with a ruse to get ride of Hanfstaengl. In 1937, Hanfstaengl was told to parachute into an area held by the Communist side of the Spanish Civil War, to supposedly assist in negotiations. While on board the plane he feared a plot on his life and learned more details from the pilot about the mission, who eventually admitted he had been ordered to drop Hanfstaengl over loyalist-held territory, which would have meant almost certain death. Hanfstaengl convinced the pilot to let him escape.

This version of the story was related by Albert Speer in his memoirs, who stated that the "mission" to Spain was an elaborate practical joke, concocted by Hitler and Goebbels, designed to punish Hanfstaengl after he'd displeased the Führer by making "adverse comments about the fighting spirit of the German soldiers in combat" in the Spanish Civil War. Hanfstaengl was issued sealed orders from Hitler which were not to be opened until his plane was in flight. These orders detailed that he was to be dropped in "Red Spanish territory" to work as an agent for Francisco Franco. The plane, according to Speer, was merely circling over Germany containing an increasingly disconcerted Hanfstaengl, with false location reports being given to convey the impression that the plane was drawing ever closer to Spain. After the joke had played itself out, the pilot declared he had to make an emergency landing and landed safely at Leipzig Airport.[2] Hanfstaengl was so alarmed by the event that he defected soon afterward.

In a late 1960s interview at his home in Schwabing (Munich), Hanfstaengl said he was convinced he was to be tossed out of the plane sans parachute over northern Germany.

He made his way to Switzerland and after securing his son Egon's release from Germany, he moved to England where he was imprisoned as an enemy alien after the outbreak of World War II. He was later moved to a prison camp in Canada. In 1942, Hanfstaengl was turned over to the U.S. and worked for President Roosevelt's "S-Project", revealing information on approximately 400 German leaders. He provided 68 pages of information on Hitler alone, including personal details of Hitler's private life, and he helped Professor Henry Murray, the Director of the Harvard Psychological Clinic, and psychoanalyst Walter C. Langer and other experts to create a report for the OSS, in 1943, designated the "Analysis of the Personality of Adolph Hitler". In 1944, Hanfstaengl was handed back to the British, who repatriated him to Germany at the end of the war. William Shirer, a CBS journalist who resided in National Socialist Germany until 1940 and was in frequent contact with Hanfstaengl, described him as an "eccentric, gangling man, whose sardonic wit somewhat compensated for his shallow mind."

Hanfstaengl wrote Unheard Witness (1957) (later re-released as Hitler: The Missing Years) about his experiences. In 1974, Hanfstaengl attended his 65th Harvard Reunion, where he regaled the Harvard University Band about the authors of various Harvard fight songs. His relationship to Hitler went unmentioned.


Ernst Hanfstaengl died in Munich in 1975.


Ernst Hanfstaengl was born in Munich, Germany, the son of a wealthy German art publisher Edgar Hanfstaengl (1842–1910) and his German American mother (born in Berlin) Katharina Wilhelmina, née Heine (1859–1945). He spent most of his early years in Germany and later moved to the United States. His mother was the daughter of artist and Brevet Brigadier General of the Union Army Peter Bernhard Wilhelm Heine[3] (30 January 1827 in Dresden; d. 5 October 1885 in Kötzschenbroda), a cousin of American Civil War Union Army general John Sedgwick. His godfather was Duke Ernst II of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. He had four siblings:

  • Edgar (1883–1958)
    • The eldest son Edgar from 1907 took control of his father's Art business.
  • Egon (1884–1915)
  • Erna (1885–1981)[4]
    • Edgar's only daughter Erna found, after her father's death in 1910, an envelope with the hand-written endorsement by her father: "Letters of Princess Sophie Charlotte – burn these unread. Edgar." Erna did not carry out her father's wishes, but instead handed over the letters in February 1980 to the author Heinz Gebhardt, in order 'once (for all) to set the record straight' and he published details of the affair with excerpts from the correspondence in his history of the Hanfstaengel family business.
  • Erwin (1888–1914)[5]


On 11 February 1920, Hanfstaengl married German American Helene Elise Adelheid Niemeyer of Long Island. Their only son, Egon Ludwig, eventually enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. A daughter, Hertha, died at the age of five. Ernst and Helene divorced in 1936


  1. The initial encounter was on 22 November 1922 at the Kindlkeller, a large L-shaped beer hall. Toland, p. 128.
  2. Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich, (Sphere Books, 1971), Chpt.9, pp. 188-9.
  3. Heine married Katherine Whetton Sedgwick (b. 1824 in Albany/N.Y.; d. 1859 in Berlin), a cousin of general John Sedgwick (1813–1864). His daughter Katharina Wilhelmina Heine (1859–1945) married Edgar Hanfstaengl, one of their five children was Ernst Hanfstaengl.
  4. Some authorities suggest that Hitler was romantically involved with Erna, a tall and stately woman, or had romantic affections for her. Shirer, William L. (1960). The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Simon and Schuster, 131.  ("Shirer"). See also Wikipedia article on Geli Raubal. While some historians have written that Hitler was nursed by Erna (and her mother) at Uffing following the Beer Hall putsch, Toland claims that this is a myth, resulting from the misinterpretation of the American journalists who interviewed the three Hanfstaengl women (the mother, sister and wife of Ernst) immediately after Hitler's arrest by the authorities. Toland, p. 181 (footnote).
  5. See A Sedgwick Genealogy: Descendants of Deacon Benjamin Sedgwick (p. 143) at (Sedgwick Genealogy). His elder brother Egon served in the German Army in World War I and was killed in 1915; his younger brother Erwine died of typhoid in the American Hospital in Paris in 1914.