Flossenbürg’s Secret Prisoner:
Gottfried Graf von Bismarck-Schönhausen?

In his book 30000 Tote mahnen! (30000 Dead Urge us to Remember!) Toni Siegert mentions that Flossenbürg had a secret prisoner. Among the 55 special prisoners there was also a high SS-General, an SS-Obergruppenführer who went under the code name – Pfau – Peacock. We cannot be sure but it is possible that this secret prisoner was Gottfried Graf von Bismarck-Schönhausen. One element that speaks against this theory is the different grades. As far as we know Gottfried Graf von Bismarck-Schönhausen only had the grade of SS-Brigadeführer, a grade he received in January 1944. Flossenbürg»s secret prisoner is reported to have been SS-Obergruppenführer, two grades higher. But we don’t have any indication of the accuracy of this information. Presumably the secret prisoner would have been dressed in prisoner garb or in civilian clothing. He would not been strutting around in his SS uniform. Therefore it is quite possible that the reported SS grade for the secret prisoner is wrong. However, if the two prisoners are not the same person, then we will show that in that case Flossenbürg had two secret prisoners, both being high SS-officers.

In the evening on 9 April 1945 the Flossenbürg camp commander Max Kögel sent the following radio message addressed to the RSHA office in Prague.

09.04.1945 – Nr. 71 – 1709 – 248 – HSD MCJ –

Mit Bitte an RSHA Prag. Geheim.
Betreff: Graf Gottfried von Bismarck-Schönhausen.
Bezug: Dort Fernschreiben Nr. 117001 von 2.4.45.
Obengenannter wurde am 11.12.44 durch den
Kriminalsekretär Vogt des RSHA nach Fürstenberg

English translation:

With request [for transmission] to RSHA Prague. Secret.
Subject: Graf Gottfried von Bismarck-Schönhausen.
Reference: Your Telex Nr. 117001 of 2 April 1945.
The above-mentioned was on 11.12.44 handed over to
Fürstenburg through
Kriminalsekretär (Criminal Police
Secretary) Vogt from RSHA.

Further details about this message are given here:

Gottfried Graf von Bismarck-Schönhausen, born on 29 March 1901, was the second son of Herbert Fürst von Bismarck and the grandson of the Iron Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. He was a farmer and a member of the Nazi party (NSDAP) where in 1933 he was district leader (Kreisleiter) for the island Rügen. From March 1933 he became a member of the German Parliament (Reichstag). In 1935 he became chairman of the regional council (Regierungspräsident) for Stettin, and in 1938 he held the same position in Potsdam. He belonged to the inner circle of the friends of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler and he quickly rose in the SS hierarchy, from SS-Untersturmführer (Second Lieutenant) in 1935 to SS-Brigadeführer from 30 January 1944.

On 29 July 1944 he was arrested and accused, in front of a Nazi People’s Court (Volksgerichthof), of being actively involved in the assassination attempt on Hitler. Since 1942 Graf von Bismarck-Schönhausen had been in close contact with SA-Obergruppenführer Wolf-Heinrich Graf von Helldorf, Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg and General Friedrich Olbricht with the aim of stopping the war and starting negotiations with the allied forces. In the days preceding the attack he was in direct contact with Helldorf at army headquarters in Bendlerstrasse in Berlin. On 20 July 1944, on the day of the attack, he met there with Helldorf, Major Egbert Hayessen and Regierungsrat Hans Bernd Gisevius. He then learned that the meeting was seen as the last preparation for the takeover of key points and installations in Berlin. His involvement seems to have been on the periphery of the conspiracy even if he had direct contact with many of the major perpetrators.

On these grounds the Chief of the RSHA and the Security Police and Security Service, SS-Obergruppenführer Ernst Kaltenbrunner, decided to expel Graf von Bismarck-Schönhausen from the SS. On 29 August 1944 his Reichstag membership was dissolved and on 1 September 1944 he was degraded to a common SS man and then expelled from the SS. The expel order carried the following comment from Heinrich Himmler:

“Sie sind erwiesenermaßen aktiv in den Attentatskomplex des 20. Juli 1944 verwickelt und haben dadurch Ihre Ehre verloren. Gez. H. Himmler.”
‘It has been proved that you were actively involved in the assassination complex of 20 July 1944 and you have thereby lost your honour. Signed H. Himmler.”

On 4 October 1944 Graf von Bismarck-Schönhausen was acquitted of the charges made against him by the Nazi People’s Court (Volksgerichthof), but he was nevertheless sent to KL Sachsenhausen where, the historical accounts says, he stayed until spring 1945. However, the message above shows that it cannot have been that straight forward. He seems to have spent some time at KL Flossenbürg until 11 December 1944 when he was moved to Fürstenberg.

The reference to Fürstenberg can mean two things. Either he was moved to the special prison complex at KL Ravenbrück situated outside the village of Fürstenberg or he was moved to the prison cells in the security police school (Sicherheitspolizeischule) nearby in Fürstenberg-Drögen. Both prison complexes were used by “Sonderkommission Lange” – The Special Committee Lange – a part of the “Sonderkommission 20. Juli 1944,” which was set up to investigate the assassination attempt on Hitler. Sonderkommission Lange was run by SS-Sturmbannführer and Kriminalrat Herbert Lange who was investigating the cases involving the general civilian sector and special cases. Even if the Sonderkommission Lange mainly dealt with the civilian sector, several higher military commanders, such as Admiral Wilhelm Canaris and General Friedrich von Rabenau, were kept and interrogated at Fürstenberg.

We do not know who Kriminalsekretär (Criminal Police Secretary) Vogt from the RSHA might be. Unfortunately the complete list of people working for the Sonderkommission Lange is not known. It could have been SS-Sturmbannführer Josef Vogt but the title Kriminalsekretär does not fit. Of course we do not know if the commander of KL Flossenbürg, Max Kögel, has got the title correct. Perhaps it should have been Kriminalrat instead of Kriminalsekretär.

Unlike many others in his position Graf von Bismarck-Schönhausen survived the war and his stay in the concentration camps. But his luck did not last, on 14 September 1949 he was killed in a car accident in Verden south-east of Bremen.

  1. Siegert, Toni. 1996. 30000 Tote mahnen! Die Geschichte des Konzentrations-lagers Flossenbürg und seiner 100 Außenlager von 1938 bis 1945 (30000 Dead Urge Us to Remember! The History of the Concentration Camp Flossenbürg and Its 100 Sub-Camps from 1938 to 1945). Weiden: Verlag der Taubald’schen Buchhandlung GmbH.
  2. Johannes Tuchel, Die Sicherheitspolizeischule Drögen und der 20. Juli 1944 - zur Geschichte der Sonderkommission Lange, (The Security Police School Drögen and 20 July 1944 - on the History of the “Special Committee Lange”), in Florian von Buttlar, Stefanie Endlich, and Annette Leo, “Fürstenberg-Drögen: Schichten eines verlassenen Ortes”, Edition Hentrich, Berlin, 1994.
  3. Ernst Klee, “Das Personenlexikon zum Dritten Reich: Wer war was vor und nach 1945”, (The Persons Encyclopedia for the Third Reich: Who Was What Before and After 1945), S. Fischer Verlag, 2003.
  4. Axis History Forum at http://forum.axishistory.com/




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