The Blomberg-Fritsch Affair (also known as Blomberg-Fritsch-Krise or Blomberg-Fritsch crisis) were two related scandals in early 1938 that resulted in the subjugation of the German Armed Forces (Wehrmacht) to dictator Adolf Hitler. As documented in the Hossbach Memorandum, Hitler had been dissatisfied with these two highest ranking military officials and regarded them as too hesitant towards the war preparations he demanded.
The affair started after the 12 January 1938 marriage of War Minister Werner von Blomberg when a policeman reported that the young bride had previously posed for pornographic photos, and as a result had a criminal record. This violated the standard of conduct for officers as defined by Blomberg himself and was a shock to Hitler—Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring had been Blomberg's best man and Hitler himself a witness. Hitler ordered Blomberg to annul the marriage in order to avoid a scandal and to preserve the integrity of the army. Blomberg refused to annul the marriage and, when Göring threatened to make his wife's past public knowledge, consequently resigned all of his posts on 27 January 1938.
The events surrounding Blomberg's marriage inspired Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler to arrange a similar affair for Commander-in-Chief Werner von Fritsch. Göring did not want Fritsch to become the successor to Blomberg and thus his superior. Himmler wanted to weaken the Wehrmacht and its mainly aristocratic leaders in order to strengthen his Schutzstaffel and especially the Waffen-SS as a competitor to the regular German Army (Heer).
A few days later, Fritsch was accused of being a homosexual by Himmler and the SS. A police file was produced which the Gestapo had already shown to Hitler in 1935. At that time, Hitler rejected it and ordered its destruction.
It is reported that Fritsch was encouraged by General Ludwig Beck to carry out a military putsch against the State, but that he declined and resigned on 4 February 1938, to be replaced by Walther von Brauchitsch, whom Fritsch himself had recommended for the post.
Hitler used the situation to transfer the duties of the Ministry of War (Reichskriegsministerium) to a new organization—the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, or OKW)—and Wilhelm Keitel, who became the new head of the OKW on 4 February 1938. This weakened the traditional Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres, or OKH) which was now subordinated to the OKW.
Hitler took advantage of the situation by replacing several generals and ministers with people even more loyal to him, taking more effective de facto control of the Wehrmacht which he de jure commanded. These changes were protested by some senior members in the Wehrmacht, most notably Colonel General Ludwig Beck who circulated a petition that was signed by Colonel General Gerd von Rundstedt and others.
Soon it became known that the charges were false—the file was about someone with a similar name: Rittmeister von Frisch. Himmler then presented a witness who supported the charge. The Wehrmacht demanded that an honour court of officers examined the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair as it had come to be known. The proceedings were presided over by Hermann Göring himself.
The witness supplied by Himmler claimed to recognise von Fritsch as an officer whom he had witnessed in a homosexual act in a public lavatory in Berlin with a man known (in translation) as "Bavarian Joe".  The witness, a man named Otto Schmidt, turned out to be a Munich streetwalker with a long criminal record who had been bribed to support the accusation—his chief criminal activity had been spying on and blackmailing homosexuals.
Members of the German officer corps were appalled at Fritsch's maltreatment and, in the next meeting, Himmler, Göring, and even Hitler might have come under pressure from them. The successful annexation (Anschluss) of Austria shortly thereafter silenced those critics. Colonel General Beck resigned on 18 August 1938 and Colonel General von Rundstedt obtained permission to retire in October 1938.
The witness against Fritsch later withdrew his accusation, but was murdered. Fritsch was acquitted on 18 March, but the damage to his name was done; he was never reinstated as Commander-in-Chief. Despite the Army demanding his rehabilitation, Hitler would only go as far as naming him honorary colonel of an artillery regiment. He was inspecting the front lines just after the invasion of Poland when he was shot in the leg and died within a minute. Some believed that he'd been seeking his own death.
Bound by their personal oath to Hitler (the Reichswehreid of 1934, ironically ordered by Blomberg), many members of the Wehrmacht never acted on their feelings of displeasure regarding this event. Thereafter, the army was more or less a reliable instrument for Hitler, ultimately leading to the destruction of both.
- ↑ Wheeler-Bennett Nemesis p369
- ↑ Keitel, according to his memoirs, had met with Hitler on 26 January 1938 to discuss Blomberg's successor. At this meeting Keitel records that Hitler showed him the indictment against Fritsch under Paragraph 175 of the penal code and explained that despite his efforts to suppress the matter it had now come to a head. See In the Service of the Reich Irving P.51
- ↑ Hans Gisevius To the Bitter End, p 229
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