Karl Wolff

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Karl Wolff
Karl Wolff.jpg
SS-Obergruppenführer Wolff
Birth name Karl Friedrich Otto Wolff
Birth date 13 May 1900
Place of birth Darmstadt, Grand Duchy of Hesse, German Empire
Death date 17 July 1984
Place of death Rosenheim, Bavaria, West Germany
Allegiance  German Empire
 Weimar Republic
 National Socialist Germany
Service/branch Iron Cross of the Luftstreitkräfte.png Imperial German Army
Freikorps Flag.jpg Freikorps
War Ensign of the Reichswehr, 1919 - 1935.png Reichswehr
Flag Schutzstaffel.png SS
Years of service 1917–1918
Rank SS-Obergruppenführer
Unit Schutzstaffel
Commands held Chief of the Personal Staff Reichsführer-SS
Supreme SS and Police Leader in occupied Italy
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Iron Cross, German Cross in Gold
Relations ∞ 1923 Frieda von Römhild (1901–1988)
∞ 1943 Inge Christensen (1904–1983)
6 children
Helga Lili Wolff (Fatima Grimm), daughter (1934–2013)

Karl "Karele" Friedrich Otto Wolff (b. 13 May 1900 Darmstadt, Grand Duchy of Hesse, German Empire; d. 17 July 1984 in Rosenheim, Bavaria, West Germany) was a German officer of the Imperial German Army, the Freikorps, the preliminary Reichswehr and the Allgemeine SS, as well as the Waffen-SS, finally SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS, but also member of the Reichstag. Actually, he is even Colonel General (Generaloberst) of the Waffen-SS,[1] but this promotion is still controversial towards the end of the war. He became Chief of Personal Staff for Heinrich Himmler and SS Liaison Officer to Hitler until 1943. After the war, Wolff stated that he had never, during the entire length of the war, been informed of the Holocaust, only in March 1945 had he heard the first rumors .


From left to right: SS-Brigadeführer Karl Wolff, Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler and SS-Gruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich
Naming ceremony through Weisthor for Thorisman Heinrich Karl Reinhard Wolff, 1937
SS-Gruppenführer Karl Wolff (with the collar tabs before 1942)
Karl Wolff's 2nd wife with their son Widukind
Wolff, 1955
Mit Wissen Hitlers. Meine Geheimverhandlungen über eine Teilkapitulation in Italien 1945, Karl Wolff.jpg

Karl Wolff was the son of a district court judge. Brought up agnostically, although baptized as a Protestant, after the family spent two years in Schwerte, they returned to Darmstadt where Wolff was educated at the local Catholic school. From an early age he had a desire to join the military and become an officer. As a student at the Ludwig-Georgs-Gymnasium in Darmstadt, he voluntarily completed a two-year pre-military training course with the National Youth Armed Forces (Nationale Jugendwehr).

1917, still at the age of sixteen, Wolff passed his war related emergency secondary education exams (Notabitur) and joined the German Army and became officer candidate (Fahnenjunker) in the Leibgarde-Infanterie-Regiment (1. Großherzoglich Hessisches) Nr. 115. During the First World War, he served on the Western Front. In 1918 he was awarded the Iron Cross second and first class for bravery and was promoted to Leutnant by September 1918..

After the Armistice, he joined the Freikorps Hessen and then a Hesse Infantry Regiment with the intention of making the army his career. However, he was demobilised in 1920 as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, which reduced the strength of the German military forces.

Wolff now became a banker in Frankfurt. In July 1922 Wolff was engaged to Frieda von Römheld, whom he married the following year. The couple moved to Munich, where Wolff worked for Deutsche Bank. Due to raging economic inflation, however, he was unemployed two years later. He then joined the public relations (ads) firm "Annoncen-Expedition Walther von Danckelmann". Wolff may also have studied law, but never took any state exams. On 1 July 1925 he started his own company, "Annoncen-Expedition Karl Wolff – von Römheld" (the later advertising agency Linnebach).

Wolff joined the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) in July 1931. In October he attempted to join the Sturmabteilung (SA) but was told "a tall blond fellow like you should join the SS." Wolff took their advice and joined the Schutzstaffel (SS rune.png). His party membership number was 695,131. His SS membership number was 14,235.

In 1933, after the NSDAP came to power, Wolff became a full-time political party member and was promoted to SS-Sturmhauptführer to serve as SS military liaison officer to the Army. On 8 March 1933 he became a member of the Reichstag. In June 1933 with the leap from volunteer to full member of the SS, the associated financial security allowed him to relinquish his previous profession and to sell his company. He was personally recruited by Heinrich Himmler to head the office of the Reichsführer's Personal Staff. Wolff became Himmler's adjutant (Chief of Staff) on 15 June 1933. By 1937 he was an SS-Gruppenführer and considered third in command of the entire SS (after Himmler and Heydrich). He was a rival to Reinhard Heydrich. This competition was accentuated by Himmler.

Wolff’s court testimony, in the Oswald Pohl trial, provides many biographical details about Wolff:

In October 1931, I joined the Allgemeine SS, that is the first SS Standarte in Munich, and that was in an unpaid position as an honorary member. When we took over the power in Bavaria I was assigned as Adjutant to General Ritter von Epp (de), who was Bavarian prime minister and Reichsstatthalter at that time. In May 1933, the then Reich Leader SS Himmler, called me as an adjutant in a full time position. That is, in other words, I became reactivated, because already during the First World War I had been an active professional officer. From 1933 to 1936 I was being assigned as adjutant and chief adjutant to the Reich Leader SS. From 1936 to 1939, in other words, up until the beginning of the war, I became the chief of his personal staff, and at the outbreak of the war I was assigned to the Führer, Adolf Hitler, as liaison officer for the Waffen SS in his headquarters, where I was active until 18 February 1943. Then I became sick, and that prevailed for approximately 6 months, and on 9 September 1943, as Highest SS and Police Leader, I was sent to Italy. I kept that function until the end of the war, that is May 1945. In addition to that I was assigned to the ex-Duce Mussolini by the Führer as a special expert for police matters. From 26 July 1944, and until the end of the war I received the

additional function of the military commander of Italy with the title Plenipotentiary General for the Armed Forces in Italy. A week prior to the beginning of the French campaign I was appointed as first general, with the rank of a major general of the Waffen SS.

In January 1938, Himmler placed his Lebensborn organisation under Wolff’s control. After the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in June 1942, Wolff developed a strong rivalry with other SS leaders, particularly with Heydrich's successor at the Reich Security Main Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt), Ernst Kaltenbrunner, and with Walter Schellenberg of the foreign intelligence service in the RSHA. His position was weakened by his frequent absence from Berlin, in part due to his suffering from pyelitis and renal calculus (kidney stones), which required surgery.

During the later part of WWII, Wolff fell out of favor with Himmler and was dismissed as his chief of staff and liaison officer to Hitler in April 1943. Himmler announced he would temporarily take over Wolff's duties. A new replacement as liaison officer to Hitler's HQ did not occur until the appointment of Hermann Fegelein (de), who assumed the duty in January, 1944. In September 1943, Wolff was transferred to Italy as Supreme SS and Police Leader. In that position, Wolff shared responsibility for standard police functions such as security, maintenance of prisons and supervision of labour camps.

By February 1945, the Allies had driven the Wehrmacht about four-fifths of the way up the Italian boot. The Germans were holding south of Bologna in northern Italy. Elsewhere the picture was far worse for the Germans. Their last great counter-offensive, the Battle of the Bulge, had failed, grinding to a halt well short of its objectives and seriously depleting Hitler’s few remaining reserves. Allied invaders were now advancing relentlessly from the west, on their way to breach the Rhine in early March. In the east, the Russians had two huge daggers pointed at the heart of the Reich—one from across the River Oder, only about 50 miles from Berlin. Late in February 1945, Wolff approved a proposal by two officers under his command, Colonel Eugen Dollmann and Captain Guido Zimmer, both of whom wore the black uniform of the SS, but had a soft spot for Italy and its culture.

Directed at Swiss military intelligence through intermediaries, they asked the Swiss—who, being neutral, could talk to both sides—to extend peace feelers to the Western Allies on their behalf. The Swiss knew who to turn to: Allen W. Dulles, head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) base in the Swiss capital, Bern. The 52-year-old one-time diplomat was a Wall Street lawyer on extended leave from one of the great white-shoe law firms, Sullivan & Cromwell, where his older brother, John Foster, was a senior partner. The Americans were not entirely sure what to make of Wolff. OSS files in Washington contained little more than a paragraph or two of information about him.

With Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring's (de) knowledge, he agreed at the end of April 1945 with US intelligence chief Allan Dulles[2] in Switzerland on the premature German surrender of the Italian front (Operation Sunrise), which came into effect on 2 May 1945. This upset Reichspräsident Karl Dönitz, who had otherwise planned a staged series of surrenders designed to give the troops and refugees more time to make their way west.

Dulles reported his favorable impressions to Washington, especially that Wolff represented a “more moderate element in [the] Waffen SS, with a mixture of Romanticism”—an apparent reference to the Teutonic never-never land that Wolff believed in. This was where the men were cultured Aryans like himself, the women fertile like his two wives, the children with folkish names like his sons Widukind and Thorisman. The 44-year-old general was, Dulles summed up, “probably the most dynamic personality in North Italy and most powerful after Kesselring.” Dulles was eager to proceed, as was OSS Director William J. Donovan. Others in Washington were guardedly optimistic—so long as Wolff understood that the only possible terms were unconditional surrender.[3]

Postwar trials

At the Nuremberg trials, Wolff was not prosecuted in exchange for his role in Italy and for appearing as a witness for the prosecution. The Americans finally handed him over to the British in January 1948, who continued to imprison him in Minden. In 1948, he was sentenced to five years imprisonment by a "denazification" court. The court of appeals appealed to by Wolff overturned the verdict on 6 March 1949 and reduced the sentence to four years in prison in June 1949, which had since been served.

Wolff was again tried in West Germany in 1964 and was convicted of deporting 300,000 Jews to Treblinka and sentenced to fifteen years' imprisonment on 30 September 1964. After his application for revision was rejected by the Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof) in October 1965, the judgment became final. To serve his sentence, Wolff was transferred to the Straubing penitentiary. At the end of August 1969 he was released because he was "incapacitated by illness". Wolff stated at the Nuremberg show trials and also later, that he had disobeyed an order from Hitler to kidnap the Pope and instead warned him.

Holocaust revisionism

By August 1942 the massacre machinery was gathering momentum -- of such refinement and devilish ingenuity that from Himmler down to the ex-lawyers who ran the extermination camps perhaps only seventy men were aware of the truth.Hitler's War, in: "Viking Press", New York 1977], p. 393

Robert Faurisson on a 1983 meeting with David Irving:

"In my brief conversation with him, I asked Irving who the approximately "seventy men" were who, in his opinion, knew about the existence of the extermination camps. I reminded him of the following passage from his Hitler's War: Irving told me that it was General Karl Wolff, former SS-Obergruppenführer, who had mentioned that figure of approximately seventy men. Wolff had mentioned that figure in a study that can be found today at the Institut fuer Zeitgeschichte in Munich. I then asked Irving if there wasn't something strange about that. In point of fact, Karl Wolff, Himmler's Chief of Staff and liaison officer with Hitler, had never, during the entire length of the war, been informed of any such extermination program. It was only in April 1945 that he had heard it mentioned in Switzerland, over the radio, at the time of his negotiations over the surrender of the German troops in Italy. Irving stated his agreement with me on this point."[4]

David Irving in 1988 at the second of Ernst Zundel's Holocaust trials:

"In Irving's opinion, many of the witnesses at Nuremberg and other war crimes trials were unreliable. An example was Karl Wolff: "Major General Karl Wolff was the liaison officer between Hitler and Himmler, an SS general, a character I would describe as being a rather suave character who ended up, by reason of his personal favouritism with Himmler, in charge of the police units in northern Italy at the end of the war and as the military commander in that region, and largely in order to create an alibi, he then began negotiating with the American secret service in order to speed the surrender of the German troops in northern Italy...Wolff testified on many occasions over the years up to his death, frequently varying his testimony according to...which way he was being required to testify. He was always acutely aware of the fact that he had done a deal with the Americans whereby the Americans...promised him immunity and the subsequent West German government also promised him immunity from prosecution if he behaved in a certain way.""[5]

Post-war career

From 1949, he was the general agent for the advertising section of the German magazine “Revue” in Cologne. Still wealthy, he settled with his family in Starnberg near Munich, where he had built his villa on the shores of Lake Starnberg. In 1973, Wolff was seen as a contemporary witness in the British television series "The World at War". In the late 1970s Wolff also became involved with Stern journalist Gerd Heidemann. Together with Heidemann, he travelled through South America, where he helped to locate, among others, Klaus Barbie and Walter Rauff, with whom Heidemann conducted interviews for a series of articles. Wolff served as a consultant for the alleged Hitler Diaries and was upset when they turned out to be forgeries by Konrad Kujau.


Surrounded by his loving family, Karl Wolff died in a hospital in Rosenheim on 17 July 1984. Since 21 July 1984, he rests in the idyllic city cemetery of Prien am Chiemsee. Just a few steps away is the resting place of SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Polizei a. D. Adolf Theodor Ernst von Bomhard (de).


Wolff was born as the son of the wealthy district court magistrate Dr. jur. Karl Friedrich Wolff (b. 19 December 1871 in Giessen; d. 2 January 1916 in Darmstadt). In 1901, his father became a public prosecutor in Darmstadt. In 1906 he switched to the judge's profession and became a district judge in Butzbach. After that, Karl Wolff, who had a doctorate in law, was a district judge in Darmstadt. In 1910, he was appointed councilor of the district court (Amtsgerichtsrat), in 1911 councilor of the state court (Landgerichtsrat). Most recently he was State Court Director (Landgerichtsdirektor) in Darmstadt. His mother was Elisabeth Luise, née Ulrich (1872–1939), from Büdingen.[6]

First marriage

On 20 August 1923, Wolff married in Darmstadt his fiancée Frieda Ludwiga Elsa von Römhild (b. 30 June 1901 in Darmstadt; d. 11 April 1988 in München), daughter of Gustav von Römheld, head of the cabinet of the Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine (Kabinettschef des Großherzogs von Hessen und bei Rhein), and Elsa, née Knöckel. Wolff had particularly angered Himmler by his divorce and remarriage in March 1943. Himmler, who believed the family to be the nucleus of the SS, had denied Wolff permission to divorce, but Wolff had turned directly to Hitler, who allowed the divorce.

  • Irene (b. 1930), married Halt
  • Dora, married Maass
  • Helga Lili (b. 25 July 1934; d. 6 May 2013), married Heeren (at the time of her father's death)
  • Thorisman Heinrich Karl Reinhard (b. 14 January 1936)

Naming ceremony for Thorisman

An Irministic baptism of Karl Wolff's son Thorisman in the family villa at Tegernsee was performed by Karl Maria Wiligut ("Weisthor") on 4 January 1937, attended by SS dignitaries Reinhard Heydrich and Karl Diebitsch.

Second marriage

In 1936, Wolff fell in love with the widow Ingeborg "Inge" Maria Gräfin von Bernstorff, née Christensen (b. 2 Febuary 1904 in Hamburg; d. 7 December 1983 in Grabs, Kanton St. Gallen). She was married twice before, first to Richard Michael, Architect, in 1925, then in 1928 to Landrat Dr. jur. Heinrich Eduard Eberhard Hieronymus Graf von Bernstorff (b. 25 April 1891 in Berlin), who died on 15 April 1935 in München. Their son was Andreas Victor von Bernstorff (1929–1997). On 9 March 1943, three das after his divorce from Frieda, Wolff could finally marry Inge in Hohenlychen. Their children were:

  • Widukind Thorsun (b. 23 December 1937; out of wedlock)
    • At the end of 1937 Countess von Bernstorff was given false ID by the head of the SD enabling her to travel to Budapest where Wolff’s child was born.
  • Hartmut



  • Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS: 3 May 1940
  • SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS: 30 January 1942

Awards and decorations


See also

Further reading

  • Jochen von Lang: Der Adjutant. Karl Wolff: Der Mann zwischen Hitler und Himmler, 1985


  1. During several interviews in the 1970s, Wolff stated that on 20 April 1945 he had been granted a personal promotion by Adolf Hitler to the rank of SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer. During the filming of the World at War series, Wolff further showed to producers a display case showing the tri-pip collar insignia and shoulder boards of an SS-Colonel General. This late war promotion, however, is not annotated in Wolff's SS service record.
  2. During World War II, Allen Dulles was head of the Swiss field office, in Berne, of the Office of Strategic Service’s (OSS). The OSS is an American wartime intelligence organization. Dulles became director of the CIA in 1953 and held this position through 1961. On 2 May 1945, following many false starts, protests from Stalin a formal cancellation and subsequent re-activation, Operation Sunrise culminated in the early surrender of approximately one million German and Italian soldiers in Northern Italy. This occurred a few days before the final surrender by the remainder of German Wehrmacht.
  3. Karl Wolff: Peacemaker, Mass Murderer, or Both?
  4. A Challenge to David Irving http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v05/v05p289_faurisson.html
  5. The 'False News' Trial of Ernst Zündel -- 1988: David Irving: http://www.ihr.org/books/kulaszka/35irving.html
  6. „Wolff, Karl Otto“, in: Hessische Biografie