Leading Figures of Nazi Germany / Leitfiguren des nationalsozialistischen Deutschland

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Arno Breker

Arno Breker, 19 July 1900 – 13 February 1991, was a German architect and sculptor who is best known for his public works in Nazi Germany, where they were endorsed by the authorities as to the antithesis of degenerate art. One of his better-known statues is Die Partei, representing the spirit of the Nazi Party that flanked one side of the carriage entrance to Albert Speer’s new Reich Chancellery.

Hugo Bruckmann

Hugo Bruckmann, 13 October 1863 in Munich – 3 September 1941 in Munich, was a German publisher.

Bruckmann was the younger son of the publisher Friedrich Bruckmann. After his father’s death in 1898, Hugo and his brother Alphons became the owners of F. Bruckmann KAG in Munich. Bruckmann and his wife Elsa Bruckmann were among the early and highly influential promoters of Adolf Hitler, and they helped him with gaining access to, and acceptance within, upper-class circles in Munich.

The Bruckmanns were from 1928 public promoters of the National Socialist Society for German Culture. As from 1930, Hugo Bruckmann was a board member of the Kampfbund for German culture, founded by Alfred Rosenberg, and from 1932 until his death in 1941 was an NSDAP member of the Reichstag. After Oskar von Millers resignation in 1933, Bruckmann became a member of the board for the German museums. His personal influence on Hitler was to some extent to reduce political interference within the cultural sphere. The attempt to ban Jewish books from libraries was successfully opposed by Bruckmann.

After the outbreak of World War II, Bruckmann was, because of personal connections, able to have his publishing house declared of special importance for the war effort. After his death in 1941, he was honored with a state funeral.

Franz Xaver Dorsch

Franz Xaver Dorsch, 24 December 1899 – 8 November 1986, was a German civil engineer who became the chief engineer of the Organisation Todt (OT), a civil and military engineering group in Nazi Germany that was responsible for a huge range of engineering projects at home and in the territories occupied by the Germans during the Second World War. He played a leading role in many of the Third Reich’s biggest engineering projects, including the construction of the Siegfried Line (Westwall), the Atlantic Wall and numerous other fortifications in Germany and occupied Europe. Following the war, he founded the Dorsch Consult consulting engineering company in Wiesbaden.

Wilhelm Gustloff

Wilhelm Gustloff, 30 January 1895 – 4 February 1936, was the founder of the Swiss NSDAP/AO (the Nazi Party organisation for German citizens abroad) at Davos. He remained its leader from 1932 until he was assassinated in 1936.

Erhard Heiden

Erhard Heiden, 23 February 1901 – 1933, was an early member of the Nazi Party and the third commander of the Schutzstaffel (SS), the paramilitary wing of the Sturmabteilung – SA. He was appointed the head of the SS, an elite subsection of the SA in 1927. At that time, the SS numbered less than a thousand men and Heiden found it difficult to cope under the much larger SA. Heiden was not a success in the post, and SS membership dropped significantly under his leadership. He was dismissed from his post in 1929, officially for “family reasons”. He was arrested after the Nazis came to power in 1933 and executed that same year.

Ernst Heinkel

Dr. Ernst Heinkel, 24 January 1888 – 30 January 1958, was a German aircraft designer, manufacturer, Wehrwirtschaftsführer in the Third Reich, and member of the Nazi party. His company Heinkel Flugzeugwerke produced the Heinkel He 178, the world’s first turbojet aircraft and jet plane, and the Heinkel He 176, the first rocket aircraft.

Margarete Himmler (Boden)

Margarete Himmler (née Boden) also known as Marga Himmler, 9 September 1893 – 25 August 1967, was the wife of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler.

Oskar Körner

Oskar Körner, 4 January 1875 in Oberpeilau – 9 November 1923 in Munich, was a German resistance fighter against the Weimar Republic and one of the sixteen martyrs of 9. November 1923 marching on the Feldherrnhalle during the Beer Hall Putsch. From 1920 to 1923, he was the second chairman, advertising boss, and propaganda leader of the NSDAP.

Willy Messerschmitt

Wilhelm Emil “Willy” Messerschmitt (26 June 1898 – 15 September 1978) was a German aircraft designer and manufacturer. He was born in Frankfurt am Main, the son of Baptist Ferdinand Messerschmitt (1858–1916) and his second wife, Anna Maria née Schaller (1867–1942).

Probably Messerschmitt’s single most important design was the Messerschmitt Bf 109, designed in 1934 with the collaboration of Walter Rethel. The Bf 109 became the most important fighter in the Luftwaffe as Germany rearmed prior to World War II. To this day, it remains one of the most-produced warplanes in history, with some 34,000 built, with only the Soviet Union Ilyushin Il-2 surpassing it at 36,000. Another Messerschmitt aircraft, first called “Bf 109R”, purpose-built for record setting, but later redesignated Messerschmitt Me 209, broke the absolute world airspeed record and held the world speed record for propeller-driven aircraft until 1969. His firm also produced the first jet-powered fighter to enter service — the Messerschmitt Me 262, although Messerschmitt himself did not design it.

Brunhilde Pomsel

Brunhilde Pomsel, 11 January 1911 – 27 January 2017, was a German woman who, as a personal secretary to Joseph Goebbels from 1942 onwards, was one of the last surviving eyewitnesses of the Nazi power apparatus. She was also a broadcaster and died in 2017 at the age of 106.


Born in Berlin in 1911, Pomsel worked as a stenographer for a Jewish lawyer and as a typist for a rightist nationalist, at one point working for both simultaneously. In 1933 she gained a job as a secretary in the news department of the Third Reich’s broadcasting station after joining the Nazi Party. On the recommendation of a friend, she was transferred to the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda in 1942, where she worked under Joseph Goebbels as a shorthand writer until the end of the war.  According to Kate Connolly in the Guardian, Pomsel’s tasks included “massaging downwards statistics about fallen soldiers, as well as exaggerating the number of rapes of German women by the Red Army”. After the fall of Berlin in 1945, Pomsel was sentenced by the Soviets to five years in prison.

After being released from prison in 1950 Pomsel worked in German broadcasting until her retirement in 1971. On her 100th birthday in 2011, she publicly spoke out against Goebbels. A documentary called A German Life, drawn from a 30-hour interview with Pomsel, was shown at the Munich International Film Festival in 2016.

Towards the end of her life, Pomsel lived in Munich, where she died on 27 January 2017 at the age of 106. Shortly before her death, she revealed that she had been in love with Gottfried Kirchbach, who was Jewish, and with whom she planned to escape Germany. Kirchbach went to Amsterdam to arrange a new life and Pomsel visited him there regularly until he told her she was endangering her life by doing so. A doctor advised her to abort the child of theirs she was carrying because she had a serious lung complaint and she might have died.

Ferdinand Porsche

Ferdinand Porsche, 3 September 1875 – 30 January 1951, was an automotive engineer and founder of the Porsche car company. He is best known for creating the first gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle (Lohner-Porsche), the Volkswagen Beetle, the Mercedes-Benz SS/SSK, several other important developments and Porsche automobiles. In addition, Porsche designed the 1923 Benz Tropfenwagen, which was the first racing car with a mid-engine, rear-wheel drive layout.

Porsche was an important contributor to the German war effort during World War II. He was involved in the production of advanced tanks such as the Tiger I, Tiger II, Elefant, and Panzer VIII Maus, as well as other weapon systems, including the V-1 flying bombs. Porsche was a member of the German Nazi party and the SS. He was a recipient of the German National Prize for Art and Science, the SS-Ehrenring and the War Merit Cross. He was called the Great German Engineer by Nazi propaganda despite his Austrian-Czech background.

In 1996 Porsche was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and in 1999 posthumously won the award of Car Engineer of the Century.

Hanna Reitsch

Hanna Reitsch (29 March 1912 – 24 August 1979) was Germany’s most famous female aviator and test pilot, starting in the early 1930s. During the Nazi era she served as an international representative for the regime. In the 1960s, she was sponsored by the West German foreign office as a technical adviser in Ghana and elsewhere.

She was the only woman awarded the Iron Cross First Class and the Luftwaffe Pilot/Observer Badge in Gold with Diamonds during World War II. She set more than 40 altitude and endurance women’s records in gliding before and after World War II. In the 1960s, she founded a gliding school in Ghana, where she worked for Kwame Nkrumah.

Leni Riefenstahl

Helene Bertha Amalie “Leni” Riefenstahl, 22 August 1902 – 8 September 2003, was a German film director, producer, screenwriter, editor, photographer, actress and dancer.

Born in 1902, Leni Riefenstahl grew up in Germany with her brother Heinz (1905–1944), who was killed on the Eastern Front in World War II. A talented swimmer and artist, she also became interested in dancing during her childhood, taking dancing lessons and performing across Europe.

After seeing a promotional poster for the 1924 film Der Berg des Schicksals (“The Mountain of Destiny”), Riefenstahl was inspired to move into acting. Between 1925 and 1929, she starred in five successful motion pictures. In 1932, Riefenstahl decided to try directing with her own film called Das Blaue Licht (“The Blue Light”).

In the 1930s, she directed Triumph des Willens (“Triumph of the Will”) and Olympia, resulting in worldwide attention and acclaim. Both movies are widely considered two of the most effective, and technically innovative, propaganda films ever made. Her involvement in Triumph des Willens, however, significantly damaged her career and reputation after the war. The exact nature of her relationship with Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler remains a matter of debate. However, Hitler was in close collaboration with Riefenstahl during the production of at least three important Nazi films, and a closer friendship is claimed to have existed. When in 2000 Jodie Foster was planning a biographical drama on Riefenstahl, war-crime documenters warned against a revisionist view that glorified the director. They stated that publicly Riefenstahl seemed “quite infatuated” with Hitler and was in fact the last surviving member of his “inner circle”. Others go further, arguing that Riefenstahl’s visions were essential to the success of the Holocaust. After the war, Riefenstahl was arrested, but classified as being a “fellow traveler” or “Nazi sympathiser” only and was not associated with war crimes. Throughout her life, she denied having known about the Holocaust. Besides directing, Riefenstahl released an autobiography and wrote several books on the Nuba people.

Riefenstahl died of cancer on 8 September 2003 at the age of 101 and was buried at Munich Waldfriedhof.

Kurt Tank

Kurt Waldemar Tank, 24 February 1898 – 5 June 1983, was a German aeronautical engineer and test pilot who led the design department at Focke-Wulf from 1931 to 1945. He was responsible for the creation of several important Luftwaffe aircraft of World War II, including the Fw 190 fighter aircraft, the Ta 152 fighter-interceptor, and the Fw 200 Condor airliner. After the war, Tank spent two decades designing aircraft abroad, working first in Argentina and then in India, before returning to Germany in the late 1960s to work as a consultant for Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm (MBB).

Richard Vogt

Richard Vogt, 19 December 1894 – January 1979, was a German engineer and aircraft designer. He is well known as a designer of unique warplanes, including an asymmetrically-shaped reconnaissance aircraft and a nuclear-powered bomber, during and after World War II.

Wernher von Braun

Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun, March 23, 1912 – June 16, 1977, was a German-American aerospace engineer and space architect. He was the leading figure in the development of rocket technology in Germany and the father of rocket technology and space science in the United States.

While in his twenties and early thirties, von Braun worked in Nazi Germany’s rocket development program. He helped design and develop the V-2 rocket at Peenemünde during World War II. Following the war, he was secretly moved to the United States, along with about 1,600 other German scientists, engineers, and technicians, as part of Operation Paperclip. He worked for the United States Army on an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) program, and he developed the rockets that launched the United States’ first space satellite Explorer 1. His group was assimilated into NASA, where he served as director of the newly formed Marshall Space Flight Center and as the chief architect of the Saturn V super heavy-lift launch vehicle that propelled the Apollo spacecraft to the Moon. In 1975, von Braun received the National Medal of Science. He advocated a human mission to Mars.

Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter

Ludwig Maximilian Erwin von Scheubner-Richter or Max Scheubner-Richter, born Ludwig Maximilian Erwin Richter, 21 January 1884 – 9 November 1923, was an early member of the Nazi Party. Along with fellow member Alfred Rosenberg, he devised the plan to drive the German government to revolution through the Beer Hall Putsch. During the Putsch, he was shot in the lungs and died instantly, at the same time dislocating Hitler’s right shoulder.

Horst Wessel

Horst Ludwig Georg Erich Wessel, 9 October 1907 – 23 February 1930, was a German Nazi Party (NSDAP) activist known for writing the lyrics to the “Horst-Wessel-Lied”. His death in 1930 was used by the party for propaganda purposes.

Wessel first joined the German National People’s Party (DNVP), but by 1926 was removed for being too extremist. He then joined the NSDAP, where he wrote songs for Nazi events. He rose to command several SA squads and districts. On 14 January 1930, he was shot in the head by two members of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). Albrecht Höhler was arrested and charged with his murder. He was initially sentenced to six years in prison but was executed after the Nazis came to power. Wessel’s funeral was given wide attention in Berlin, with many of the Nazi elite in attendance. After his death, he became a major Nazi propaganda symbol. His name was used for several civilian and military purposes during the time of the Third Reich.

Others Figures:

  • Oberingenieur Rudolf Blaser
  • Kreisleiter Ernst Wagner



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