From the series, “Corrections to History of our Time – The Great Wendig”, Volume 2, page 326. Published by Grabert Verlag, D-72066 Tübingen, PO.Box 1629, Germany
Flight captain Hannah Reitsch
An especially impressive example of the devious methods of interrogation on part of the US- military toward high profile German prisoners was the treatment of the exceptional flight pioneer Hanna Reitsch. Like many others, this exemplary woman had to endure the worst humiliation and great hardship.
A biography of Hanna Reitsch, born on the 29. March 1912 in Hirschberg/ Silesia, cannot be told in just a few pages. But in the manifold parts of her life three directions stand out: Her love for her family, her homeland and flying. She became famous for her flying, she is even included in encyclopaedia entries.
Hanna Reitsch learned to fly in her local Glider flying school at Graunau in Lower Silesia. Apart from her studies at Medical School, she has always been – according to her own words – a „birdman“, when she visited, among others, South America, Finland and Libya and gained further record breaking awards. „Every trial flight served the life of others and enhanced Germany's reputation“, she said. Small wonder that she also became a pilot for motorised aeroplanes and in 1937 she was the first woman to be awarded the distinction of „Flight Captain“.
During the war she increasingly made testflights, especially with the rocket aoeroplanes „Me 163B“ and in Peenemünde with the manned „V1-rocket“. But she was also serving at the Eastern Front and in April 1945 she flew Fieldmarshall Ritter von Griem with her „Fieseler Fi 156 Stork“ to a meeting with Hitler in the beleaguered City of Berlin. She was the only woman to receive the EK 1 (Iron Cross 1), as well as the Military Flyers Award in Gold with Diamonds.
At the day of the surrender she, as well as other soldiers, was taken in American captivity and had to live through emotionally and physically most difficult times. The following chapter gives an insight of the American methods of interrogation, as suffered on part of Hanna Reitsch through the US-Captain Cohn:
„I said clearly that I had nothing to disclose and there was nothing with which to implicate my country and its government, he should not set his hopes too high. I saw that in his fury the blood shot to his head and I had the feeling to be sitting opposite the most unpleasant person I had ever met. My words and my facial expression must have revealed the limitless contempt I held for him. ... Now he got excited and said to me agitatedly and loudly not to be so stupid, so short-sighted and foolish, as to reject the chance he offered simply for the reason of a false loyalty complex. He would not hear another word from me, but rather said with cutting severity: „I warn you not to commit this stupidity. Think of the rest of your life!“
Hanna Reitsch would not be otherwise persuaded ‚to change her mind’ with chocolates, nor was she willing to take the ‚presents’ of the occupation officers, such as: Shoes, stockings, perfume, powder, lipsticks etc. She also declined to have her hair coiffured by a hairdresser, seeing clearly it was all part of the plot.
Inevitably poorly groomed, „with woolen socks, unmended shoes, stringy straight hair“ and after an outburst of fury on part of Captain Cohn, Flight Captain Reitsch meets the press: „Behind a lectern stood Captain Cohn and asked me in English to step up. I was completely calm and looked nonchalant out of the window, while he repeated the flatteries regarding myself, in front of the others, which I well knew from the day before. Then he requested of me to frankly answer the questions, which would be asked of me. First question: 'how I would judge the criminal Hitler'. My answer: 'If you are addressing our Head of State as a criminal, I am surprised that your Heads of State have made contracts with him and have sat with him. Perhaps you should ask them this question.....“
Second question: If I had not perhaps acted against my conscience in the service for Hitler, that is, had I been forced? My answer: 'No, absolutely out of my own free will. And apart from that, I have fought for my country as devotedly as you have for yours. If I were placed before the same decision again, I would once more act as I have done and as it is regarded as honourable in every country of the world'. Third question: 'What do say to the crimes, which Adolf Hitler had committed?' Answer: 'I know of an incredibly tragic war, which cost many lives on every side. Who and what caused this war, I am not able to determine as yet. In regards to crimes, one hears more about those committed by other countries, rather then those committed by one's own country. I have come to know much about the crimes of other countries. About the crimes of my own country I only have heard since my imprisonment from our enemies.' It had become noticeably quiet in the room, apart from some clearing of throats.
Captain Cohn, who had grown very nervous, declared a break, in which I was quickly led outside. In front of the door, where two guards took charge of me, he told me with eyes full of hatred: 'You will regret this for the rest of your life'. It was altogether like a nightmare.“
From the life of this outstanding woman, who even after her time as POW broke many records and received awards, are many more things to tell. She flew in may parts of the world and was received and honoured by many personalities of highest rank, such as President Kennedy, Wernher von Braun and NATO-General Steinhoff. After an unusually rich, but also hard life Flight Captain Hanna Reitsch died on 24. August 1979 in Hamburg. Her personality is and remains a role model.
Next to Hanna Reitsch and Elly Beinhorn, another woman flyer deserves to be named, Frau Melitta Countess Schenk von Stauffenberg, née Schiller, was 1937 the second woman in Germany to be awarded the title of Flight Captain. She flew mostly the dive bomber Ju 87 (Stuka) and the Ju 88 at the Aeronautics Test Station Rechlin and at the technical Academy of the Luftwaffe in Berlin-Gatow, with 2500 Sturz-flights to her credit and was only surpassed by Hans-Ulrich Rudel. In 1943 she was the fourth woman to receive the EK II (Iron Cross II).
She had a Master’s Degree (Diplom-Engineer), still handed in a dissertation during the war, developed flight gun sight, and was shot down on 8. April 1945 by a US-hunter and died, after surviving the crash only a few hours, of heavy injuries.
Hanna Reitsch wrote:
„Fliegen mein Leben. Erinnerungen,“ („Flying is my life. Memories,“) Herbig, München 1951, 89 Tsd. 1986; Heyne-Pocket Book Nr 5839; Ullstein-Book Nr. 34537
„Das Unzerstörbare in meinem Leben“, („The indestructable part of my life“) Herbig, München 1979, 1984; Heyne-Pocket Book Nr. 5628
„Höhen und Tiefen“, („Heights and Depths“) Herbig, München 1978
„Ich flog in Afrika für Nkrumahs Ghana“, („I flew for Nkrumah's Ghana“) Herbig, München 1979
„Hanna Reitsch, des Ikarus deutsche Schwester“, („Hanna Reitsch, the German sister of Ikarus“) Documentation by Robert H. Dreichsel, in „Deutsche Dokumente,“ 1/1980
Gerhard Bracke „Melitta Gräfin Stauffenberg. Das Leben einer Testpilotin“, („Melitta Countess Stauffenberg. The life of a woman Test Pilot“) Langen-Müller, München 1990; Obituary by Gert Sudholt (publisher) in „Deutsche Annalen 1980“, Druffel, Leoni 1980, S. 256 ff.