Childhood and Early Life
Baldur Benedikt von Schirach was born on May 9, 1907, in Berlin, Brandenburg, Prussia, German Empire. He was the youngest of the four children of his parents.
His father, Carl Baily Norris von Schirach, was a theater director (first in Weimar and then in Vienna) and a retired captain of the cavalry.
His mother, Emma Middleton Lynah Tillou, was of American descent. In fact, three of his grandparents were American, mainly from Pennsylvania.
Schirach was a direct descendant of Thomas Heyward Jr. and an indirect descendant of Arthur Middleton, two of those who signed the ‘American Declaration of Independence.’
He had two sisters, Viktoria and Rosalind von Schirach. Rosalind later became an opera singer. His only brother, Karl Benedict von Schirach, committed suicide in 1919, at the age of 19.
His first language was English, and he did not learn German until he was 5. In 1924, Schirach went to Munich to study Germanic folklore and art history. In March 1925, he heard one of Adolf Hitler’s speeches. He then read ‘Mein Kampf’ in a single evening.
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Military Career & Nazi Leadership
In May that year, he joined the ‘National Socialist German Workers Party’ (NSDAP) and worked for their ‘Sturm Abteilung’ unit. Schirach was an author and had contributed to many literary journals. He soon came to be known as the organization’s poet laureate.
In 1929, he was made the head of the ‘National Socialist Students' Union’ by Hitler. He was also assigned the duty of bringing the university system under ‘Nazi’ authority.
He pleased Hitler with his work and was thus promoted to the position of the youth leader of the ‘Nazi Party’ in 1931.
The next year, he led a huge youth demonstration in Potsdam, where more than 100 thousand young people marched for 7 hours.
On June 1, 1933, Schirach was made the leader of ‘Hitler Youth.’ He was assigned the task of educating the German youth in National Socialism.
Schirach wrote prayers dedicated to Hitler that were read by members ‘Nazi’ youth groups prior to having their meals.
He was also part of rallies, such as the 1934 Nuremberg rally, where he appeared along with Hitler. The event was caught on film for the ‘Nazi’ propaganda movie ‘Triumph of the Will.’
In July 1939, Schirach went to Passau on an official visit. The following year, a play by Hans Baumann was staged in the city. Schirach wanted 2,000 local ‘Hitler Youth’ members to be part of the play.
In 1940, Schirach evacuated 5 million children from various cities that were under attack by the ‘Allies.’ The same year, he enlisted in the army and volunteered to serve in France. There, he won the ‘Iron Cross’ and was then recalled.
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He was also part of the ‘4th (Machine Gun) Company’ of ‘Infantry Regiment Großdeutschland,’ as “Gefreiter.” He was made the “Leutnant” when the French Campaign began.
Schirach later lost his authority over ‘Hitler Youth’ to Artur Axmann. He became the governor (Gauleiter or Reichsstatthalter) of the Reichsgau Vienna and continued to serve in the post till the war ended.
Schirach was a staunch supporter of anti-Semitism. He was in charge of deporting countless Jews from Vienna to ‘Nazi’ death camps. Around 65,000 Jews were deported in his time. On July 25, 1942, Schirach, in a speech, said that deportation of Jews was "a contribution to European culture.”
In 1942, German composer Richard Strauss moved to Vienna with his son, his Jewish daughter-in-law, and their children and requested the protection of Schirach.
In 1944, Strauss’s son and daughter-in-law were abducted by the Viennese Gestapo and captured for 2 nights. Schirach, acting on a request of Strauss, took them to his estate at Garmisch-Partenkirchen and put them under house arrest till the war ended.
Toward the end of the war, Schirach criticized the inhumane conditions the Jews had to face while being deported. In 1943, he fell out of favor with Hitler but continued to serve in his post in Vienna.
Schirach, constantly afraid of air raids, reconstructed the ‘Hofburg Palace’ cellars in Vienna and turned them into bomb shelters. The lower level of the Vienna air defence coordination center, located deep in the forests, stored his personal supplies. The Viennese called this the "Schirach-Bunke.”
Trial & Conviction
The ‘Allied’ troops arrested him in 1945, at the end of World War II. At the ‘Nuremberg Trials,’ Schirach maintained that he had no information about the concentration camps.
He also provided evidence that he was against the deplorable treatment meted out to Jews. Schirach and Albert Speer criticized Hitler at the tribunal. However, Schirach was convicted of war crimes on October 1, 1946, and received a 20-year sentence in ‘Spandau Prison.’
Family, Personal Life, & Death
Schirach married 19-year-old Henriette Hoffmann on March 31, 1932. She was the daughter of Hitler's personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann.
Schirach's family was against the marriage, but he got Hitler’s support. Schirach, through the marriage, gained access to Hitler's inner circle. He and his wife were often invited to Hitler's home, the "Berghof.”
Henriette and Schirach had four children: Angelika (born in 1933), Klaus (born in 1935), Robert (born in 1938), and Richard (born in 1942).
On July 20, 1949, while he was serving his prison sentence, his wife filed for divorce. The divorce was finalized in July 1950. She continued to fight to get him released from prison, but he remained imprisoned till September 30, 1966.
He then retired to Southern Germany and subsequently released his memoirs, ‘Ich glaubte an Hitler’ ("I believed in Hitler"). Schirach died on August 8, 1974, in Kröv, Rhineland-Palatinate, Federal Republic of Germany. He was 67 at the time of his death.
Klaus later became a lawyer, while Robert and Richard became a businessman and a sinologist, respectively.
German crime writer and lawyer Ferdinand von Schirach is Schirach’s grandson. Novelist Benedict Wells and philosopher Ariadne von Schirach are also his grandchildren.