Manfred Rommel, son of WWII military leader, dies at 84


Manfred Rommel, in 1990. (Bernd Weissbrod/European Pressphoto Agency)
November 8, 2013

Manfred Rommel, the former mayor of the German city of Stuttgart and the son of the World War II field marshal dubbed the “Desert Fox,” died Nov. 7, authorities in Stuttgart reported on the city’s official Web site. He was 84.

He had Parkinson’s disease.

Mr. Rommel served for 22 years as mayor of Stuttgart, the city of his birth. He came to prominence in the 1970s and ’80s by standing up for the fair treatment of immigrant workers who helped rebuild Germany’s automotive industry in the postwar years. Stuttgart is home to Daimler and Porsche.

Mr. Rommel was deeply traumatized by the death of his father, Erwin Rommel, by suicide in 1944, minutes after the German military commander had revealed in a conversation with his son that Adolf Hitler had forced him to take a cyanide pill or face dishonor and retaliation on his family. Manfred Rommel, who was conscripted at age 14, disclosed the true nature of his father’s death in a letter to Allied forces after his capture in 1945.

Hitler suspected Erwin Rommel, who commanded the 7th Panzer Division during the 1940 invasion of France and led German and Italian forces in North Africa, of being involved in a plot to kill the German dictator, a charge that Rommel denied.

Erwin Rommel, whose military skills in North Africa earned him the “Desert Fox” nickname, forbade his son to join Hitler’s SS paramilitary guard. His Afrika Korps was known for treating prisoners of war humanely.

His legacy haunted the younger Rommel for the rest of his life. He struck up friendships with the sons of his father’s war adversaries, including U.S. Army Maj. Gen. George S. Patton and British Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery.

“Rommel’s basic position is inseparably linked to his personal experiences and lessons from the time of National Socialism,” Josef Schunder wrote in his 2012 biography of Manfred Rommel. “It should never happen again that a people could march so willingly into dictatorship, he warned.”

A popular mayor, Mr. Rommel made bold and sometimes controversial decisions. He drew criticism for allowing German Red Army Faction terrorists Gudrun Ensslin, Andreas Baader and Jan-Carl Raspe to be buried together in Stuttgart after their collective suicide in the Stammheim prison.

“I am of the opinion that all wrath, justified as it may be, must end with death and that there are no first- and second-class graveyards and that all graveyards are the same,” he said at the time.

Manfred Rommel was born on Dec. 24, 1928, in Stuttgart. Survivors include his wife, Liselotte, and a daughter.

“A good politician listens to the people,” Mr. Rommel said in one of his last television interviews, with SWR television.

— Bloomberg News

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