Wilhelm Gustloff

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Wilhelm Gustloff

Wilhelm Maria Carl Gustloff (b. 30 January 1895 in Schwerin, Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, German Empire; d. 4 February 1936 in Davos, Switzerland) was a German leader of the NSDAP/AO (National Socialist) party in Switzerland. He was murdered in 1936 by David Frankfurter (de), a Jewish student and son of a rabbi "incensed" by Gustloff's patriotism.


Left: Poster of the Stiftung; Right: Double rifle Drilling presented to Hermann Göring in 1938.[1]

Gustloff, son of merchant Theodor Heinrich Max Gustloff (b. 12 March 1857 in Schwerin) and his wife Pauline Sophie Luise Emma, née Heise, came from Schwerin in Mecklenburg where he was employed in a bank. He relocated to Switzerland in 1917 because of a chronic lung disease, where he once again worked as a bank officer, as well as a Swiss government meteorologist.


He joined the NSDAP in 1929 and founded the Swiss branch of the party at Davos in 1932, which grouped together National Socialist party members who lived outside the German Reich. He put much effort in the distribution of the book The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, to the point that Jews in Switzerland launched an attack on freedom of the press and sued the book's distributor, the Swiss National Socialist Party, for libel.



He was given a State funeral in his hometown of Schwerin with Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler, Martin Bormann and Joachim von Ribbentrop in attendance. Thousands of Hitlerjugend members lined the route. His coffin, which was transported on a special train from Davos to Schwerin, made stops in Stuttgart, Würzburg, Erfurt, Halle, Magdeburg, and Wittenberg. His widow, mother, and brother were present at the funeral and received personal condolences from Hitler. Ernst Wilhelm Bohle was the first at Gustloff's funeral to recite a few lines in honour of the deceased.


The German cruise ship Wilhelm Gustloff was named in Gustloff's honor by the government; it was sunk by the Soviets in 1945 with a loss of more than 9,000 lives, almost all refugees from the Red Terror. Also named after him were the Wilhelm-Gustloff-Stiftung (Wilhelm Gustloff Foundation), a state-owned trust set up by the government of Germany in 1933, and the Wilhelm Gustloff Werke. His assassination is an element of the novel Crabwalk (2002) by the German author Günter Grass. The novel's plot is based on the fate of the ship Wilhelm Gustloff.


By 1938, the Wilhelm Gustloff Werke had been organized into five major branches:

  • Gustloff Werk Weimar, formerly Bautzener Waggon- und Maschinenfabrik AG, a branch of Simson & Co. Suhl; The company originally made wagons and tools. Under the new management it expanded into making ammunition crates, ammunition trailers, light infantry mortars (50mm caliber), anti-tank artillery (50mm, 75mm and 88mm caliber), anti-aircraft cannon (20mm caliber), military vehicles, and machine tools. It also assembled complete Kar98 Mauser rifles from component parts made by Gustloff Werk Suhl and subcontractors from Thuringia and Saxony (called the Sachsengruppe, or "Saxon Group").
  • Gustloff Werk Suhl, or Waffenfabrik Suhl (Berlin Suhler Waffen- und Fahrzeugwerke; BSW); They made small arms, motorcycles, and bicycles and were the official arms manufacturer for the Weimar Republic. In 1939, rifle production was shifted to Gustloff Werk Weimar so Waffenfabrik Suhl could concentrate on MG34 and MG42 machinegun production. All finished rifle parts and components were sold to the Wehrmacht, who sent them to supply depots as spares.
  • Gustloff Werk Hirtenberg (also known as Otto Eberhardt Patronenfabrik), cartridge manufacturer in Hirtenberg, Austria
  • Gustloff Werk Meuselwitz or Maschinenfabrik Meuselwitz, formerly Heymer & Pilz GmbH Maschinenfabriken, a machine tool maker that had been founded in 1910
  • Thüringen-Haus, previously Branch Office (Zweigniederlassung), situated in Berlin; This was the foreign sales office.

Further reading

  • Wolfgang Diewerge: Der Fall Gustloff. Vorgeschichte und Hintergründe der Bluttat von Davos [in German}, Eher-Verlag, München 1936