This German Aristocrat Beat a 12-Year Prison Sentence As a Nazi War Criminal

Alexander von Falkenhausen led Turks in opposition to the British and Chinese language Nationalists in opposition to the Japanese, spared Belgian hostages and conspired in Adolf Hitler’s assassination

Jonathan Fenby, Chiang Kai-shek’s British biographer, known as Alexander von Falkenhausen “a First World Warfare veteran with a vulturelike head and pince-nez.” Historian Barbara Tuchman described Falkenhausen as a talented commander who led from the entrance however received nowhere with Chiang, who was the villain in her biography of American Gen. Joseph Stilwell. In 1953 Chiang, by then president of the Republic of China on Taiwan, despatched Falkenhausen seventy fifth birthday needs and an enclosed test for $12,000 (greater than $120,000 in in the present day’s {dollars}). Nevertheless it was a Chinese language girl named Qian Xiuling, “China’s feminine Schindler,” who helped Falkenhausen—a hero in China and a villain in Belgium—beat a 12-year jail sentence as a Nazi conflict prison.

Falkenhausen appeared destined for controversy lengthy earlier than his start. Family tree establishes him as a descendant of Karl Wilhelm Friedrich, margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach, by his mistress, Elisabeth Wünsch, making Falkenhausen a distant member of the Prussian royal household.

The long run normal himself was born on Oct. 29, 1878, in Blumenthal, Silesia, to Baron Alexander von Falkenhausen and spouse Elisabeth (née Schuler von Senden). The second of seven youngsters and son of a baronial household, younger Alexander initially attended a Gymnasium (classical secondary college) in Breslau however at age 12 transferred to the navy academy at Wahlstatt as a cadet. In 1897 {the teenager} was assigned to an Oldenburg infantry regiment as a second lieutenant. When the Boxer Riot broke out in 1900, Falkenhausen volunteered and was despatched to China. Many of the combating was over by the point he arrived, however he developed a lifelong fascination with each China and Japan.

Falkenhausen wears the sash and ornament of the Republic of China’s Order of the Sacred Tripod, awarded to him in 1958 on his eightieth birthday. / World Warfare II Database

In 1904, whereas educating on the Prussian navy academy, Falkenhausen married Sophie von Wedderkop, the daughter of a navy commander from Oldenburg’s hereditary dynasty. Within the wake of the 1904–05 Russo-Japanese Warfare the German Basic Employees confirmed a rising curiosity in Japan’s navy potential. Falkenhausen was seconded to the Basic Employees and spent 18 months learning the typically maddeningly imprecise Japanese language and parsing diplomatic reviews on Japan, China and Korea. In 1912, after promotions to senior lieutenant after which captain, he was appointed a navy attaché in Tokyo.

In August 1914 Japan, a proper ally of Britain since 1902, declared conflict on Germany and took over the Shandong Peninsula, which the Germans had leased beneath treaty from China since 1898 and changed into their largest abroad naval base. The German navy workers in Tokyo was recalled, and by November 1914 Falkenhausen was serving as a significant on the Western Entrance. He later transferred to the Japanese Entrance.

In 1916 Falkenhausen joined the German navy mission to Turkey, an project requiring the utmost tact. Kaiser Wilhelm II’s major navy commander within the Turkish military, Generalleutnant Otto Liman von Sanders, had considered the Turkish “evacuation” (learn genocide) of Armenians with horror and warned the Turks that in the event that they touched a single Armenian soldier in his personal command he would withdraw to Germany and take his males and ammunition with him. German diplomats and missionaries additionally protested the outrage. The Turks in the end killed an estimated 1 million Armenians by outright homicide, thirst or hunger. Falkenhausen arrived after the disaster abated and fought Russians within the Caucasus, then in 1917 was transferred to Palestine. As chief of workers of the seventh Ottoman Military he inflicted a sequence of non permanent defeats on the British. When the Turks recommended that resident Jews in Palestine have been British spies and proposed one other “evacuation,” the German navy officers objected, doubtless stopping one other genocide.

Germans serving with the Turks might solely hope to stave off collapse so long as attainable. One trooper of the Australian Gentle Horse famous “how the Turk fights until the final cost, till the pounding hooves are upon him, then he drops his rifle and runs screaming, whereas the Austrian artillerymen and German machine-gun groups usually struggle with their weapons till they’re bayoneted.” Wilhelm thought of himself a protector of the Jews and appreciated Falkenhausen’s diplomacy in addition to his management. In 1918 the kaiser awarded the foremost the Pour le Mérite, imperial Germany’s highest award for excellent management in fight, and within the closing weeks of the conflict Falkenhausen was made chief navy adviser to Constantinople.

Though the Boxer Rebellion was largely over by the time Falkenhausen arrived in China as a young lieutenant, he came away with a lifelong fascination with the Far East. / AKG Images
Although the Boxer Riot was largely over by the point Falkenhausen arrived in China as a younger lieutenant, he got here away with a lifelong fascination with the Far East. / AKG Pictures

Below the phrases of the Treaty of Versailles the postwar German military was to be lowered to 100,000 males with 4,000 officers. Falkenhausen stored his job, and when navy Korvettenkapitän Hermann Ehrhardt refused to dissolve his 6,000-man Freikorps (free corps) marine brigade, the foremost was despatched to the insurgent’s guarded camp outdoors Münster to facilitate the unit’s peaceable disbandment. Whereas the federal government had issued a warrant in opposition to Ehrhardt for prime treason (regardless of his having signed orders from his superiors), the captain had promised his males that anybody not stored on within the much-reduced navy would have a job earlier than he himself left the brigade. His males refused to offer him up—certainly, they needed to march on Berlin.

“At my request, Main Falkenhausen took over as my chief of workers,” Ehrhardt later wrote. “He was exceptionally environment friendly. He labored not solely with understanding, but additionally along with his coronary heart. I owe him my profound thanks.” Ehrhardt shaved off his beard and made himself scarce as soon as Falkenhausen discovered his males jobs.

Falkenhausen additionally negotiated with the Poles to resolve border disputes after a 60–40 plebiscite vote allowed Weimar Germany to retain Higher Silesia. Many members of the Polish majority voted to stay German—maybe attributable to concern about Soviet Russia—whereas some upper-class Germans voted to merge with Poland as a result of the Weimar Republic was a lot additional to the left than Gen. Józef Pilsudski’s militaristic authorities in Warsaw. The Poles have been anticipated to respect inherited estates or massive companies. Giving all inhabitants (ethnic Germans and Poles alike) equal rights quickly resolved the query.

The Nazi motion—even earlier than Adolf Hitler got here to energy—was anathema to Falkenhausen. In 1930, when the Nazi Social gathering urged then Generalleutnant Falkenhausen to affix, he declined, but the social gathering newspaper crowed he had certainly signed up. The false report prompted the Weimar authorities to sack him, at which level main Nazis recommended he be a part of the paramilitary Sturmabteilung (SA) for a considerable wage enhance. Falkenhausen once more refused and as an alternative joined the Stahlhelm, an anti-communist veterans’ group that made overtures to Jewish fight veterans and opposed Hitler’s dictatorial aspirations. Falkenhausen additionally joined the German Nationwide Folks’s Social gathering, a conservative monarchist group that garnered about 10 p.c of the favored vote and included senior officers, industrialists and aristocrats as supporters. By 1933 it had dissolved, opening the trail to dictatorship.

Chaing Kai-Shek

“Folks accepted the incomprehensible false impression it might be attainable merely to make use of Hitler as a ‘rallying drummer,’” Falkenhausen later recalled. “It was clear to me the coalition of the German Nationalists with the Nationwide Socialists might solely be in comparison with the friendship of the defenseless lamb with the hungry wolf.” He caught it out with the Stahlhelm till it federated with the SA through the Despair amid the rising worry of communism.

When Hitler got here to energy by the again door, Falkenhausen knew he was completed in German military politics. However then a door to the East opened: Chiang Kai-shek supplied Falkenhausen command of his workers of German navy advisers. After acquiring approval from senior commanders, the overall moved to Nanjing. His new employer, Chiang, had reworked from one thing of a insurgent in Manchu instances right into a hard-core anti-leftist who had purged communists and commerce unionists in Nanjing and Shanghai in 1926–27 amid the brewing civil conflict. (Oft-reproduced images of kneeling Chinese language being shot by Chinese language troopers have been offered falsely in Frank Capra’s 1944 documentary Why We Battle: The Battle of China and Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1987 epic The Final Emperor as depicting Japanese atrocities.) However no such atrocities occurred on the German watch.

Falkenhausen’s personal answer to communism was militaristic quite than terroristic. “China should resist in two methods: morally and materially,” he wrote.

Already advising Chiang was Generaloberst Hans von Seeckt, the monocled “Sphinx” who rebuilt the German military within the Nineteen Twenties by turning the 100,000-man Reichswehr right into a cadre to coach officers and sergeants. Seeckt had been dumped by Hitler in 1926 ostensibly as a result of the latter believed the overall’s spouse was of Jewish origin—although in actual fact she was of ethnic German origin, from Friesland, and she or he and her husband have been anti-Semites. Seeckt’s actual offense had been to permit Prince Wilhelm, grandson of the previous emperor, to take part in military maneuvers. Hitler hated the Jews however feared the Prussian royals and their affect on the officer corps. By the point Seeckt arrived in China, he was dying of most cancers. Earlier than he returned to Germany for the final time in 1936, nevertheless, he and Falkenhausen made plans to drastically cut back the scale of Chiang’s military to 60 well-trained divisions loyal solely to Chiang, to not regional warlords. Additionally they directed the generalissimo to erect hundreds of blockhouses close to communist strongpoints, to be garrisoned by stalwart troops with provides dropped off by vans so the communists couldn’t raid lackluster authorities troops or peasants for meals.

The 1937 Japanese invasion of China caught Falkenhausen unprepared, with solely 80,000 educated Chinese language troops in eight divisions, however he tried to exude a confidence he by no means truly felt. At Shanghai that fall he led his troopers in individual, they usually put up a struggle that astounded the world. “We [Germans] all agreed that as non-public residents in Chinese language employment there might be no query of leaving our Chinese language mates to their destiny,” he wrote. “Subsequently, I assigned German advisers wherever they have been wanted, and that was usually within the entrance traces.”

During his time in China Falkenhausen helped put a stop to atrocities committed by Nationalist troops. / Pictures from History (Granger)
Throughout his time in China Falkenhausen helped put a cease to atrocities dedicated by Nationalist troops. / Footage from Historical past (Granger)

Everybody knew the Chinese language would lose, however the truth they held up the Japanese for 3 months, and that some items fought nearly to the loss of life, gained them appreciable respect. The survivors fell again on Nanjing, capital of the republic. Falkenhausen urged the Chinese language to evacuate and declare Nanjing an open metropolis, thus sparing it destruction beneath worldwide legislation. Chiang determined to struggle to the loss of life to save lots of face, then escaped by seaplane. When the Japanese broke by town partitions, a few of the Chinese language educated by Falkenhausen fought to the loss of life. Others formally surrendered in full uniform after exhausting combating.

Within the aftermath the Japanese executed tens of hundreds of troopers and suspected troops in what has come to be often called the Nanjing Bloodbath. Japanese troops additionally engaged in widespread looting and rape. The worldwide committee (comprising Individuals, British, Germans and Danes) of the Nanjing Security Zone investigated and signed off on 360 rapes and 41 murders of apparent civilians.

Appalled by the wanton killing and unpunished rapes, Falkenhausen subtly identified to the Chinese language that Japanese officers have been simply distinguished by their map instances, binoculars and samurai swords, and that a couple of Chinese language snipers might do the Nationalist trigger much more good than doomed final stands in opposition to Japanese artillery and tanks. German-trained Nationalist troops gained an evening assault in opposition to the Japanese at Taierzhuang in early 1938, however by that point Falkenhausen and his fellow advisers had been ordered residence—reportedly beneath Nazi menace to their households—and Germany had signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan and Italy.

When conflict broke out with Britain and France in September 1939, Falkenhausen was recalled to obligation by Nazi Germany. He was conflicted, for regardless of his dismay at Hitler’s insurance policies, he remained firmly anti-communist. The next spring he adopted in his uncle Ludwig von Falkenhausen’s footsteps when appointed navy governor of Belgium and northern France. Whereas Falkenhausen readily deported Belgian leftists as slave laborers to Germany, he tended to tug his toes the place Jews have been involved.

One “Belgian” who remembered Falkenhausen was Chinese language-born Qian Xiuling, whose relations have been influential mates of Chiang and whose cousin had served as a normal beneath Falkenhausen’s oversight. A gifted scholar who had traveled to Belgium in 1929 to review superior chemistry, Qian later broke her organized engagement to a Chinese language fiancé so as to marry Belgian doctor Grégoire de Perlinghi in 1933. Her household reminded her Falkenhausen was a person who might be trusted. When members of the Belgian resistance killed three Gestapo officers within the city of Écaussinnes on July 7, 1944, within the tense wake of the D-Day landings, superiors in Berlin ordered the arrest of 97 random townsmen to be shot in retaliation. Qian, although anticipating her first baby, drove to Falkenhausen’s headquarters on a wet evening and pleaded with him to spare the hostages. She will need to have been persuasive, for the governor did precisely that, for which he was instantly summoned to Berlin and faraway from command. Two weeks later he was once more known as on the carpet and instantly despatched to Dachau.

Qian Xiuling / China Each day Information

Falkenhausen’s arrest had nothing to do with the Belgian hostage challenge. He had been involved with members of the failed July 20 plot to kill Hitler, having agreed in precept to position the German garrison in Belgium and northern France at their disposal whereas they sought to barter a separate peace with the Western Allies. Although not tried for lack of proof, Falkenhausen spent the closing months of the conflict in varied focus camps. He was liberated by American troopers on Might 5, 1945, solely to be promptly arrested by Belgian authorities as a conflict prison. Belgian leftists pressured him to incriminate King Leopold III as a pro-Nazi collaborator, however Falkenhausen, a monarchist, flatly refused. For practically six years he cooled his heels in a cell awaiting trial.

In 1951 Qian, by then a heroine of the Belgian resistance, confirmed up at 72-year-old Falkenhausen’s trial, producing Belgian witnesses to his act of mercy and phrases of reward from a grateful President Chiang. His protection legal professional additionally pointed to the overall’s identified position within the July 20 plot. Although the courtroom sentenced Falkenhausen to a dozen years of exhausting labor, it launched him after three weeks, citing time served. “Ungrateful Belgium, you’ll not have my bones,” he proclaimed on crossing the border into Germany after his launch. Childless after two marriages (his second to a Belgian resistance fighter he’d met in jail), Falkenhausen lived one other 15 years, dying at age 87 on July 31, 1966.

For her half, Qian remained in Belgium and by no means returned to her homeland. She obtained a medal from a grateful Belgian authorities, was the central heroine of a 16-episode Chinese language TV sequence and lived effectively into her 90s. Requested as soon as by a Chinese language reporter to explain Falkenhausen, she stated merely, “He was a person with morals.” MH

A frequent contributor to Historynet publications, John Koster is the creator of Hermann Ehrhardt: The Man Hitler Wasn’t, and Operation Snow. For additional studying he recommends Falkenhausen’s personal Mémoires d’Outre-Guerre, and Chiang Kai-shek: China’s Generalissimo and the Nation He Misplaced, by Jonathan Fenby.

This text appeared within the January 2022 challenge of Army Historical past journal. For extra tales, subscribe and go to us on Fb.


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