Ulrich von Hassell

Ulrich von Hassell in front of the Nazi Volksgerichtshof, which condemned him to death in September 1944.
Coat of arms von Hassell c. 15th century

Christian August Ulrich von Hassell (12 November 1881 8 September 1944) was a German diplomat during World War II. A member of the German Resistance against German dictator Adolf Hitler, Hassell proposed to the British that the resistance overthrow Hitler, under the condition that Germany would keep all of its territorial conquests. He was executed in the aftermath of the failed 20 July plot.


Von Hassell was descended from ancient landed nobility, born the son of First Lieutenant Ulrich von Hassell and Margarete (née von Stosch).

His mother was a niece of Albrecht von Stosch, the Prussian Minister of State and chief of the Admiralität. She was furthermore the great granddaughter of Henriette Vogel, whom Heinrich von Kleist had accompanied in November 1811 in suicide. Ulrich v. Hassell has not excluded later that his ever growing admiration for the writer has been increased by this fact.

His grandfather on the mother's side was the godson of count August Neidhardt von Gneisenau. This explains the special interest of Hassell in the Prussian reformer, which found its expression in some publications, among other things.

His grandfather on his father's side, Christian von Hassell, born in 1805, chose a lawyer's career, an exception in their old Hanoverian family. Their members had exclusively been landowners or had taken a career in the military.

Hassell is also the grandfather of Agostino von Hassell], a noted author on military and war history; and of Corrado Pirzio-Biroli, former civil servant of the European Commission and ambassador of the EU to Austria during the Austrian European Union membership referendum, 1994.[1]

coat of arms of the von Hassell family

Early life

Hassell was born in Anklam, Province of Pomerania, to First Lieutenant Ulrich von Hassell and his wife Margarete. Hassell passed his Abitur at Prinz-Heinrich-Gymnasium in 1899. Between 1899 and 1903, he studied law and economics at the University of Lausanne, the University of Tübingen and in Berlin. He was active in the Corps Suevia Tübingen (a Studentenverbindung). After spending some time in Qingdao (then known as the German colony of "Tsingtao") and London, he began in 1909 to work as a graduate civil servant (Assessor) in the Foreign Office.

In 1911, Hassell married Ilse von Tirpitz, Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz's daughter. The couple would have four children. Also in 1911, he was named Vice-Consul in Genoa.

World War I

In the First World War, Hassell was wounded in the chest in the First Battle of the Marne on 8 September 1914. Later in the war, he worked as Alfred von Tirpitz's advisor and private secretary. He also later wrote his father-in-law's biography.

After the war ended in 1918, Hassell joined the nationalist German National People's Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei or DNVP). In the years that followed, he returned to the Foreign Office and worked until the early 1930s in Rome, Barcelona, Copenhagen, and Belgrade. In 1932, Hassell was made Germany's ambassador to the Kingdom of Italy.

In 1933, Hassell joined the Nazi Party. He was very much against the Anti-Comintern Pact concluded by Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and the Empire of Japan in 1937, and favoured instead Western-Christian unity in Europe (he was, in fact, a member of the Order of Saint John, a German Protestant noblemen's association, to which he had been admitted as a Knight of Honor in 1925 and in which he had been promoted to Knight of Justice in 1933[2]). In 1938, as a result of the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair, Hassell was recalled from his posting as ambassador in Rome by Adolf Hitler, without, however, being cast out of the diplomatic service. Then, soon after the German attack on Poland on 1 September 1939, Hassell led a delegation to allay north European governments' fears of a forthcoming German strike on their countries.

World War II

Memorial plaque for Ulrich von Hassell where he lived in Berlin-Charlottenburg.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, Hassell took part in plans to overthrow Hitler. Hassell's main function was to be a liaison between the conservative opposition groups centred about Carl Friedrich Goerdeler and Ludwig Beck (Hassell once ironically called this group "His Majesty's most loyal opposition" using the English term) and the younger Kreisau Circle.

In 1940 von Hassell met with amateur diplomat James Lonsdale-Bryans to discuss a possible pact between Germany and the British Empire. Lonsdale-Bryans proposed that Germany would be allowed control of Europe whilst Britain would control the rest of the world.[3] Over the next few years, Hassell used his position in the executive committee of the Central European Economic Congress to discuss with Allied officials what might happen after a possible coup d'état in Germany. He envisaged himself, along with Beck and Johannes Popitz, planning for Germany's post-Hitler internal organization after a successful coup. Depending on the source, either he or the former ambassador to the Soviet Union Friedrich Werner von der Schulenburg, would have become Foreign Minister in the foreseen transitional government. Hassell's offer in 1940 was based on condition that British let Germany keep almost all of Nazis's territorial gains in Europe, including Austria, Sudetenland and Poland. The British saw no reason to agree to a treaty that would be entirely beneficial for Germany alone.[4][5]

However, on 29 July 1944, von Hassell was arrested by the Gestapo for his involvement in the 20 July plot, something that he had foreseen. On 8 September, after a two-day trial at the German People's Court (Volksgerichtshof), over which presided Roland Freisler, he was sentenced to death, and executed the same day at Plötzensee Prison in Berlin.

Awards and decorations


See also


  1. "A change of a generation". The Economist.
  2. Robert M. Clark, Jr., The Evangelical Knights of Saint John; Dallas, Texas: 2003; p. 45.
  3. "Amateur diplomat sought Nazi pact". BBC NEWS - UK.
  4. Who's Who in Nazi Germany Robert S. Wistrich
  5. The German Opposition to Hitler: The Resistance, the Underground and Assassination Plots, 1938-1945 by Michael C. Thomsett page 147 1997)
  6. "The Knights of Saint John in Germany". GREAT ORDERS OF CHIVALRY. Retrieved 20 Nov 2013.

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