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Karl Wolff

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Wolff sends a tightly-controlled confidential note from Heinrich Himmler

about the divorce of an important Nazi SS officer

Karl Friedrich Otto Wolff, 1900–1984.  Nazi SS Obergrüppenführer and General of the Waffen-SS; Chief of the Personal Staff of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, 1936–1943.  Typed Letter Signed, Wolff, one page, 8” x 11½”, on stationery of the Reichsführer-SS, Chief of the Personal Staff, Führer Headquarters (likely Rastenburg, East Prussia), March 3, 1943.  In German, with translation.

This letter has a fascinating association that is not evident in the language of the letter itself.  Wolff writes to send a confidential communication from Himmler relating to the divorce of SS-Oberführer Fritz Kranefuß, an important Nazi industrialist who was part of Himmler’s inner circle. The very month that Wolff wrote this letter, however, he angered Himmler by his own divorce and remarriage.  Himmler believed that family was the nucleus of the SS and had denied Wolff permission to divorce, but Wolff went over his head and obtained permission directly from Nazi Führer Adolf Hitler.  Wolff knew that he was on the bubble, since his closest confidant, Reinhard Heydrich, was dead.  Indeed, Himmler dismissed Wolff as his Chief of Staff, and the following month Wolff was relieved of his duties as the SS liaison to Hitler, a powerful position as Himmler’s inside man in Hitler’s headquarters.

So this letter drips with irony.  Wolff writes to Maximilian Karl Otto von Herff (1893–1945), chief of the SS Personnel Main Office, to pass along Himmler’s own note about Kranefuß’s divorce.  Access to the note, he says, is tightly controlled.  In full:  “In the adjacent envelope there is a note from the Reichsführer-SS in the matter of the divorce of SS Oberführer Kranefuß.  This envelope may be opened only by the Reichführer-SS, the Chief of the Personal Staff Reichführer-SS and the Chief of the SS Personnel Main Office and must be closed and sealed after inspection.”

Friedrich Carl Arthur Kranefuß (1900–1945) was a director of Braunekohle-Benzin AG, a group of coal mining and chemical firms involved in the production of synthetic fuel.  He was also a director of the Dresdner Bank.  Close to Himmler, he was head of the Freundeskreis der Wirtschaft, or Circle of Friends of the Economy, which entitled him to the rank of SS-Oberführer, or senior colonel, the rank he held when Wolff wrote this letter, and ultimately to SS-Brigadeführer, or major general, in 1944.  It is no wonder, then, that Himmler dealt carefully with his divorce.

One must wonder, then, what thoughts Wolff had as he read what Himmler had written—particularly since Kranefuß evidently suffered no sanction—and then wrote this letter to convey Himmler’s message.

Wolff joined Himmler’s staff in 1933 and became Chief of the Personal Staff in 1936.  By 1937, he was considered the third ranking member of the SS, behind Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich, and served as the SS Liaison Officer to Hitler until he was removed.  Himmler appointed him SS and Police Leader in Italy, and ultimately Hitler appointed him the German Military Governor of northern Italy and Plenipotentiary to the government of Benito Mussolini. 

By February 1945, convinced that Germany had lost World War II, he privately negotiated with the Allies and brought about an early surrender of the German forces in Italy.  He escaped trial at the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials by testifying for the prosecution, but in 1948 he was sentenced to four years in prison as part of the post-war German government’s denazification.  Subsequently his involvement in the Holocaust came to light, and he was tried and sentenced to another 15 years in prison.  He served seven years before he was released in 1971.

Wolff has signed this letter with a large signature in black fountain pen.  The letter has one normal horizontal mailing fold, typical file holes in the left margin, staple holes and a light paper clip stain in the blank upper left margin, and typical markings.  The lower right corner appears to have been purposely clipped.  Overall the letter is in fine condition. 

We reject Nazism and all that it represented. We nevertheless offer this document because the German Third Reich, although despised, spawned World War II and thus played a critical role in the history of the 20th Century.


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