Feature

Manfred Rommel, 1928–2013

The Wehrmacht general’s son who made amends

As a teenager, Manfred Rommel was granted a brief leave from his anti-aircraft unit on Oct. 14, 1944, to go home and visit his convalescing father, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. The famous “Desert Fox,” whose North African successes had earned him a reputation as one of the German army’s most gifted commanders, had been wounded in Normandy that summer, and after breakfast he took a walk with his only son. He told Manfred that he was suspected of being involved in the failed July 20 assassination attempt against Adolf Hitler. Hours later, Rommel bid his family goodbye as he was led away by two generals, who offered him a choice of a rigged public trial or suicide. Rommel bit a cyanide pill, allowing the regime he had come to despise to bury him as a hero.

Manfred related that tale to Allied interrogators in April 1945, months after he had surrendered to the French, said the Daily Telegraph (U.K.). “I have, in the course of my life, thank God, known happier days,” he later said. After the war, Rommel studied law and soon “began to make his mark in the civil service of the state government of Baden-Württemberg.” His father’s legacy “haunted the younger Rommel for the rest of his life,” said Bloomberg.com. He sought out and made friends with the sons of his father’s main military adversaries, British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and U.S. Gen. George S. Patton.

Yet in postwar Germany’s early years, “part of his political appeal was his last name,” said The New York Times. His father, unlike others, had treated POWs humanely and refused Hitler’s orders to kill captured commandos. The younger Rommel was elected mayor of Stuttgart in 1974 and served for more than 20 years, supporting immigrant rights and strengthening the Jewish community. In 1977 he faced a crisis when three members of the terrorist Red Army Faction committed suicide in a Stuttgart prison. Angering supporters of his center-right party, Rommel allowed them to be eulogized and buried in a municipal cemetery. He said he wanted “to show how, with a little generosity of spirit, enmity ends with death.”

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