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Karl August Hanke

Karl August Hanke (24 August 1903 - 8 June 1945) was an official of the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazi Party or NSDAP). He served as Governor and Region Leader (Gauleiter) of Lower Silesia from 1940 to 1945.

Early Career

Hanke learned the trade of a miller and from 1928 onward worked as an instructor in a vocational school in Berlin. An early and fervent member of the Nazi Party (NSDAP) and the "General SS" (Allgemeine-SS), from 1928 onward, Hanke was a member of the Prussian State Parliament (Landtag). He was finally fired from his Prussian State service job at the vocational school in 1931 for his political activities.

In September 1930, after the Nazis won a huge electoral victory, Hanke became leader of the party's local office in the western district of Berlin. In this position, he was the first party official to establish contact with the young architect Albert Speer. Hanke contracted Speer to convert a villa in the western suburbs into an office for the local party organization. Hanke and Speer became close friends. In 1944, according to Albert Speer's book (Inside the Third Reich), Hanke strongly advised Speer never to visit Auschwitz for any reason. Hanke had "seen something that he was not allowed to describe and indeed could not describe".

Government Service

In 1932, Hanke was elected to the German Parliament (Reichstag) on the slate of the NSDAP.

On 1 April 1932, Hanke became personal aide to Joseph Goebbels, the NSDAP's Region Leader (Gauleiter) of Berlin. Again he secured a task for Albert Speer, having him build a headquarters for the Berlin NSDAP in the center of the city (at Vossstrasse 11). Following the Nazi takeover of power and the parliamentary elections of March 1933, Goebbels established the Propaganda Ministry (Propagandaministerium). Hanke followed his boss there as personal aide. In 1938, he was promoted to State Secretary (Deputy Minister) in the Propaganda Ministry.

Hanke's seemingly unstoppable ascent on the coattails of Goebbels came to a sudden, albeit temporary, halt when he was drawn into the marital affairs of the Joseph Goebbels and his wife, Magda. Goebbels had many extramarital affairs, notably with actresses. In 1938, Magda appeared ready to abandon her marriage when Goebbels had a liaison with a young Czech actress. Hanke sided with Magda, to whom he was attracted and who apparently seemed willing to leave Goebbels for him. Both affairs were finally stopped by an order from Hitler.

In 1939, Hanke volunteered for military service, having previously obtained a reserve officer's commission. From September to October of 1939, he served with the 3rd Panzer Division in Poland. In May and June of 1940, Hanke served under General Erwin Rommel with the 7th Panzer Division in France. He was discharged from the German Army (Wehrmacht) in 1941 with the rank of 1st Lieutenant (Oberleutnant).

In Breslau, Hitler appointed Hanke to the positions of Governor and Region Leader (Gauleiter) of Lower Silesia. One year later, Protective Squadron (Schutzstaffel, SS) Chief Heinrich Himmler promoted him to the rank of SS Group Leader (SS-Gruppenführer). Hanke was a fanatical enforcer of Nazi policy: during his rule in Breslau more than 1000 people were executed on his orders, earning him the moniker "Hangman of Breslau".

The Fall of Breslau

During the waning months of World War II, as the Soviet army advanced into Silesia and encircled Fortress (Festung) Breslau, Hanke was named by Hitler to be the city's "Battle Commander" (Kampfkommandant). Hanke oversaw, with brutal fanaticism, the futile and militarily useless defense of the city during the Battle of Breslau. Goebbels, dictating for his diary, repeatedly expressed his admiration of Hanke during the spring of 1945. However, when Breslau was finally taken, Hanke was not to be found.

On 6 May, German General Hermann Niehoff surrendered Breslau. Hanke flew out on 5 May in a small plane kept in reserve for him, a Fieseler Storch. (Speer's assertion that Hanke fled in a prototype helicopter may not be credible.)


Hanke's fanaticism and unconditional obedience to Hitler's orders also impressed Hitler, who in his final will appointed him to be the last Reichsführer-SS and Chief of the German Police, replacing Heinrich Himmler on 29 April 1945. Just eight days before, Hanke had been honored with Nazi Germany's highest decoration, the German Order, a reward for his defence of Breslau against the advancing Soviet army. Hanke's ascendancy to the rank of Reichsführer-SS was a result of Adolf Hitler proclaiming Himmler a traitor, stripping him of all his offices and ranks, and ordering his arrest.


Hanke received word of his promotion on 5 May 1945. For unknown reasons, he flew to Prague and attached himself to the 18th SS-Freiwilligen-Panzer-Grenadier-Division "Horst Wessel". Hanke chose to wear the uniform of an SS private, to conceal his identity in the event of capture. The group attempted to fight its way back to Germany but, after a fierce battle with Czech partisans, surrendered in what is now Nova Ves (ex Neudorf), north west of Chomutov (ex Komotau). His true identity was not discovered by his captors, and Hanke was thus placed in a POW camp alongside other low-ranking SS members. One possible explanation of his death is that, realizing that it was only a matter of time before he would be found out, Hanke attempted to escape from the camp on the morning of 8 June 1945. He managed to escape the camp itself, but a Czech guard spotted him fleeing and shot him in the back, killing him instantly. Other accounts have him beaten to death by Czechs or executed by Poles.

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