Childhood & Early Life
Karl August Hanke was born on August 24, 1903, in Lauban (present-day Luban, Lower Silesia, Poland), Silesia, Prussia. Prussia was a kingdom in the German Empire (dissolved in 1918, after the end of World War I).
He attended school until 11th grade. Back then, Germany was unofficially called the Weimar Republic, a name that remained till the ‘Nazi Party,’ also known as the ‘Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei’ (NSDAP), or the ‘National Socialist German Workers’ Party’ (in English), came to power in 1933.
From 1920 to 1921, he volunteered for temporary enlistment with the ‘Reichswehr,’ the military organization of the Weimar Republic, and served in the ‘19th Infantry Regiment’ in Frankfurt/Oder, a town in Brandenburg (located in modern-day Germany, not to be confused with the city Frankfurt in Germany)
He attended ‘German Miller’s School’ in Dippoldiswalde, Saxony, Germany, and became a milling engineer. However, before venturing into the trade of milling, he apprenticed with a railway workshop to gain practical knowledge.
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Career as a Milling Engineer
Between 1921 and 1926, he worked as a business manager with many mills around the regions of Silesia, Bavaria, and Tyrol.
Later, he secured a degree from the ‘Berufspädagogische Institut’ in Berlin, thus qualifying to teach milling at vocational institutes.
In 1928, he worked as a master miller in Berlin-Steglitz. Shortly, he began working as a vocational instructor at a technical school in Berlin. He continued to work there until he was fired in April 1931.
Role in the Nazi Party & the Government
Hanke joined the ‘Nazi Party’ on November 1, 1928. He was assigned the membership number 102,606.
His career with the party began in Berlin, at the lower rung, as an “Amtswalter,” (a speaker of low ranking) and factory-cell organizer.
In 1929, he enlisted with the ‘Sturmabteilung,’ the paramilitary wing of the ‘Nazi Party.’
The same year, he was promoted from an ordinary speaker to a deputy street cell leader of the party. The following year, he became a street cell leader. Shortly, he became a section leader in Berlin.
Due to his involvement in the political agitation organized by the ‘Nazi Party,’ he was expelled from his teaching job at the vocational training school in April 1931.
Faced with this challenging situation, he began to work full-time with the party. Toward the end of 1931, he was promoted to the position of the ward leader of Westend in Berlin. In this new role, he reported to Gauleiter Paul Joseph Goebbels (“Gauleiter” was the second-highest ‘Nazi Party’ paramilitary rank).
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In April 1932, he became the party’s representative in the ‘Prussian State Parliament’ and also found himself in the good books of Adolf Hitler. In November that year, he won the elections as a member of the ‘Nazi Party’ and represented Potsdam in the ‘Reichstag’ (lower house of the Weimar Republic).
After the ‘Nazi Party’ established its government in March 1933, Hanke reported to Goebbels, who started a ministry of propaganda, to enforce the ‘Nazi’ ideology.
As the private secretary to Goebbels, Hanke traveled with him to Italy and Poland several times.
He joined the ‘Allgemeine SS,’ a vital branch of the ‘Schutzstaffel,’ on February 15, 1934, and was attached to the ‘6th SS-Standarte’ located in Berlin. There, his membership number was 203,103.
As a member of the ‘Allgemeine SS, he was appointed as a special duties officer on the staff of the Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler. He served in this position from January 1935 to April 1936.
Toward the end of 1937, he received a promotion to the post of state secretary in the ministry of propaganda, with effect from January 15, 1938. The same year, he was made the second vice-president of the ‘Reich Chamber of Culture.’
However, his swift growth through the ranks of the ‘Nazi Party’ and its allied organizations came to a sudden pause. Upon Goebbels’s insistence, he stepped in as a mediator between Goebbel and his wife, Magda, to settle their differences due to his extramarital affair. This extraordinary situation also led to an illegitimate relationship between Hanke and Magda in 1938, which was revealed in 1939.
Goebbels reacted by sending Hanke on vacation, compelling Hanke to forfeit his post with the ministry of propaganda.
Service during World War II
With the onset of World War II, Hanke was recalled to serve in the military in July 1939. A couple of months later, he served in Poland and was attached to the ‘3rd Panzer Division.’
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Later, in May 1940, he started working with the ‘7th Panzer Division’ and the ‘25th Panzer Regiment’ under General Erwin Rommel in France. Rommel appreciated him for his services in the military. Following this, he was decorated with the ‘Iron Cross’ in both ‘Second Class’ and ‘First Class,’ for his impressive services.
He attained the rank of “Oberleutnant” (1st lieutenant) before being discharged from the army in 1941. Immediately, Hitler appointed him as the Gauleiter of Lower Silesia, stationed in Breslau.
The following year, Himmler raised him to the rank of “SS-Gruppenfuhrer” (general).
While he was in charge of Breslau, he forcefully imposed ‘Nazi’ policies and ordered the execution of more than a thousand people. Hence, he came to be known as the “Hangman of Breslau.”
Due to Hanke’s unconditional loyalty to Hitler, he was promoted to the post of “Reichsfuhrer-SS” and the chief of ‘German Police’ by Hitler on April 29, 1945. The same was noted in Hitler’s political testament on the same day.
Hanke heard of his promotion on May 5, 1945, and flew out of Breslau, on a plane reserved for him, to Prague, where he joined the ‘18th SS-Freiwilligen-Panzer-Grenadier-Division’ (Horst Wessel). However, he camouflaged himself by wearing the uniform of an ‘SS’ private to avoid arrest, as Germany was on the brink of losing the war.
In his absence from Breslau, on May 6, 1945, the city fell to the Soviet soldiers who had been trying to occupy it to for 82 days. The siege resulted in more than 30,000 civilian and military casualties, whereas 40,000 were taken prisoner. On May 7, 1945, Germany signed the instrument of surrender and brought the war to an end.
Family, Personal Life, & Death
Hanke married Baroness Freda von Fircks on November 25, 1944. They were in a relationship for a long time. Their daughter was born in December 1943, almost a year before the marriage.
After Hanke reached Prague on May 5, 1945, the German soldiers, defeated by the Czech partisans, surrendered in Neudorf (present-day Nova Ves). He was put in a “Prisoner of War” (POW) camp, along with the other soldiers. However, he attempted to escape while they were being taken on foot, by boarding onto a moving train that was on their path. The Czechs fired at him and beat him to death on June 8, 1945.