Otto Meissner

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Otto Meissner (1930)

Otto Lebrecht Eduard Daniel Meissner (born March 13, 1880 in Bischweiler , Alsace-Lorraine , † May 27, 1953 in Munich ) was a German diplomat and civil servant during the German Empire , the Weimar Republic and the Nazi state . From 1920 to 1945 he headed the office of the Reich Presidents Friedrich Ebert and Paul von Hindenburg as well as the Presidential Chancellery of Adolf Hitler without interruption .

Live and act

Early years (until 1919)

Otto Meissner was born as the son of the post office clerk Gustav Rudolf Meissner and his wife Magdalena Albertine Meissner - née Hetzel - in Alsace , which at that time was part of the German Empire . A distant relative of Meissner was the popular French general of the Napoleonic Wars , Jean-Baptiste Kléber . Because of his Alsatian origins, Meissner mastered German as well as French and the so-called Elsässerditsch , and spoke and wrote fluent Russian and Latin . During his childhood in Strasbourg , he attended grammar school there .

From 1898 to 1903 Meissner studied law at the University of Strasbourg . During his studies, which he obtained with a doctorate to become Dr. jur. and graduated summa cum laude , Meissner became a member of the Strasbourg fraternity Germania in 1898 , to which he belonged until his death. He also got to know the lawyer Heinrich Doehle , who was his closest colleague in the office of the Reich President from 1920 to 1945. After completing his studies, Meissner did his military service from 1903 to 1904 as a one-year volunteer .

In 1906 Meissner joined the Alsace-Lorraine judicial service as a court assessor . The son Hans-Otto Meissner (1909–1992) and daughter Hildegard Meissner (* 1917) emerged from the marriage with Hildegard Roos in 1908 . In 1908 Meissner switched to administrative service as a government assistant at the Imperial General Management of the Railways in Alsace-Lorraine and Luxembourg . From 1915 to 1917 Meissner took part in the 136th Infantry Regiment in World War I , most recently as captain of the reserve. During this time he met Paul von Hindenburg for the first time in 1915 , who honored him with the Iron Cross for his services in the rapid construction of a railway bridge and was fondly remembered.

From 1916 Meissner worked as a traffic officer at the military railway directorates in Brest-Litowsk , in Warsaw and from April 1917 in Bucharest and most recently at the railway central office in Kiev . He was then accepted into the diplomatic service and from 1918 acted as a German chargé d'affaires for the Ukrainian government in Kiev. In February and March 1919 Meissner succeeded - after the complete collapse of all organizational structures in the German-occupied areas of Eastern Europe as a result of the German defeat at the end of 1918 - a train with several hundred former occupation soldiers "stranded" in Ukraine over a distance of several thousand kilometers and to maneuver through several civil war areas into the German Reich. In addition, he was able to save the treasury entrusted to him by the German embassy in Kiev with 3.4 million marks and hand it over to the government in Berlin. In recognition of these achievements - which Meissner achieved mainly due to his knowledge of Russian, his organizational skills and his intimate knowledge of train technology operations - the recently newly elected first head of state of the German Republic, Friedrich Ebert , appointed Meissner as lecturer and deputy head of his office. At the same time - as a born Alsatian - he was offered French citizenship and a high position as councilor of the newly established French administration in Strasbourg, however, Meissner refused.

Head of the Presidential Office (1920–1945)

Meissner with Friedrich Ebert during a joint cure in Bad Mergentheim, 1922

After Meissner's superior Rudolf Nadolny had gone to Sweden as the German envoy in 1920, Meissner moved to Nadolny's position as head of the office of the Reich President in early 1920 . He kept this position under changing employers, names of his department and personal rankings until the end of May 1945.

As head of the office of the Reich President Meissner served successively Ebert (1919-1925), Hindenburg (1925-1934) and from 1934 to 1945 Adolf Hitler , who after the unification of the offices of the Reich Chancellor and the Reich President in his person in August 1934 Meissner's office Renamed the Presidential Chancellery of the Führer and Reich Chancellor . In between, he also worked in 1925 for the President of the Reichsgericht , Walter Simons , who between Ebert's death and the election of Hindenburg was in charge of the official business of the Reich President. In May 1945, after Hitler had again separated the offices of Chancellor and President in his political will and distributed them to different people, Meissner worked again briefly under his old title for the new German head of state, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz . Hitler met Meissner for the last time on March 13, 1945, when Hitler congratulated him on his 65th birthday and him a cashier's check with an endowment over 100,000 Reichsmarks handed.

Until 1939, Meissner's office was in the so-called Palais of the Reich President at Wilhelmstrasse 73 in the Berlin administrative district. From 1919 to 1939, the same building housed his 26-room private apartment in the right side wing ( Meissner wing ). After 1939, the Reich President's Palace became the residence of Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop . For this purpose, the building had been rebuilt according to plans by Albert Speer . Meissner himself moved with his office and official apartment into Bellevue Palace , which had previously been converted into the Reichsgästehaus .

Meissner with Paul von Hindenburg (around 1930)

While Meissner took up his post in the Reich President's Palace in 1919 as a privy councilor, he left him in 1945 with the rank of Reich Minister. In the meantime, he was promoted by Ebert first to Ministerial Director (1920) and then given the title of State Secretary (1923), while Hindenburg granted him the post (i.e. also the salary) of State Secretary (1927). Hitler finally appointed Meissner as Minister of State on December 1, 1937 with the rank of Reich Minister . His function as head of the office of the head of state remained de facto the same despite the varying titles. Only in 1934 there was a certain shift in competencies, when Meissner had to give up some of his old tasks in the course of the aforementioned amalgamation of the offices of Head of State and Government in the person of Hitler and was given new, above all representative responsibilities: his political power functions were at Hitler's instigation largely to Hans Heinrich Lammers , the head of the Reich Chancellery, while Meissner received additional protocol tasks. Like Hans Heinrich Lammers, Otto Meissner was one of the founding members of Hans Frank's National Socialist Academy for German Law

In 1919, Meissner wrote the official commentary on the Weimar Constitution , which was used in all authorities and offices of the Reich until the 1930s.

When Ebert was commissioned by the Reichstag in 1919 to propose a national anthem for the newly founded Weimar Republic to replace the old imperial national anthem " Heil dir im Siegerkranz ", Reich President Meissner, who he knew as a good connoisseur of German songs, asked for his advice . Meissner suggested that Germany Song of August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben to make the new anthem. Ebert took up this idea before the Reichstag, which accepted it. Thereafter, the Deutschlandlied remained the national anthem during the Weimar period and also under Hitler's rule until 1945, and it was again after the establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949.

time of the nationalsocialism

Signature of Otto Meissner on an award document for the "Commemorative Medal for Rescue from Danger"

As a result of the war wanted and brought about by Anglo-French politics (Otto Meissner, 1941) ... the whole of Alsace fell back undamaged as ripe fruit to the brave, victorious troops . The nationality politicians Robert Ernst and Meissner saw themselves as future protectors, following the example of the Reich Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia , but were kicked out by the Gauleiter Josef Bürckel and Robert Wagner . Robert Ernst was still mayor of Strasbourg, Meissner remained in his position in Berlin and was the editor of two books with which the annexation was secured by journalism. Meissner also secured the “will of the Führer” after the territory of the former Reich was divided up.

Late life (1945–1953)

After the Second World War , Meissner was arrested by the Allies on May 23, 1945 in Flensburg and interned at Camp Ashcan in Bad Mondorf , Luxembourg, along with other Nazi giants. In August 1945 he was transferred to Nuremberg where he was questioned as a witness for the Nuremberg trials . In July 1947 he appeared as a witness for the accused former State Secretary Franz Schlegelberger .

The trial against Meissner himself, which took place in the course of the so-called Wilhelmstrasse Trial , ended on April 14, 1949 with an acquittal. Immediately after his acquittal, Meissner was again indicted in May 1949, this time by the State of Bavaria as part of a Munich arbitration chamber , and classified as an "offender". The appeal was dismissed and the case closed in January 1952.

In 1950 he published his memoirs under the title State Secretary under Ebert, Hindenburg and Hitler .

Judgment by contemporaries and posterity

André François-Poncet , long-time French ambassador in Berlin, described Meissner in retrospect as follows: “An apoplectic type, plump and very corpulent - all his suits were too tight for him - with a shy look behind thick glasses, an opaque personality, with everyone Governments on good terms and entrusted with all secrets. ”It is undisputed that Meissner, who lived with his family in the palace of the Reich President from 1919 to 1939, had great influence over the German head of state.

Title page in the twelve o'clock sheet on Meissner's possible appointment as Reich Chancellor, from November 22, 1932

Meissner's influence on the second Reich President Hindenburg was already assessed by contemporaries as considerable. In 1932, the twelve o'clock newspaper even considered the appointment of Meissner as Reich Chancellor, but added that he basically did not need it, since he had "hardly less influence on political affairs in the post of State Secretary".

However, the Hindenburg biographer Wolfram Pyta refers this view to the realm of legend. Meissner had been an adviser on constitutional issues, but Hindenburg did not want to make himself dependent on officials like Meissner. Hindenburg did not allow Meissner to act arbitrarily, while Meissner kept a low profile and did not come up with any ideas of his own. Meissner was afraid of losing the goodwill of the Reich President and with it his office, to which his wife had become accustomed because of the social position associated with it.

Meissner's role in Hitler's appointment as Reich Chancellor in December 1932 and January 1933 is the subject of controversy among historians in the literature. As a member of the camarilla , Meissner's influence as State Secretary was certainly not negligible due to the close proximity to Hindenburg: Together with Oskar von Hindenburg and Franz von Papen , he organized negotiations with Hitler to remove Kurt von Schleicher and appoint Hitler as Reich Chancellor. On the side of the NSDAP , the talks were initiated by the banker Kurt Freiherr von Schröder (a former officer, head of the gentleman's club , in which Papen also frequented), Wilhelm Keppler and Ribbentrop. Neither Hitler nor Hindenburg approached each other directly at the end of 1932 - the personal dislikes were too great.

In his memoirs, Meissner responded to the criticism that he should not have made himself available to the Nazi regime by declaring that he “could not and did not want to evade his new duties”. His son later reported that his father had been encouraged in this idea by his conservative and liberal friends. In addition, church circles asked him to stay, as it was assumed that his position would have prevented many bad things and helped those who were politically persecuted. Furthermore, he would have had the obligation to remain in his post, since in the event of his resignation it would have been feared that a staunch National Socialist would have been appointed as his successor as head of the presidential chancellery.

In the following years of Nazi rule Meissner mainly took on representative tasks, his influence on big politics was insignificant. The judges in the Wilhelmstrasse trial of 1949 shared this view and passed a verdict that completely exonerated the defendant Meissner: First, they attested to him that he had “taken a position against Hitler's appointment as Reich Chancellor right up to the last moment”. Furthermore, he “did not belong to the political leadership [in the Third Reich]” and had “little or no executive power”. In addition, he had never been a member of the NSDAP and had “never enjoyed the favor of the party.” Rather, the highest party officials viewed him with “deep suspicion and reluctance”. Hitler left Meissner in office "because of his useful knowledge of protocol and ceremonial" and whether Meissner had "long acquaintances with leading personalities at home and abroad". It is also "perfectly" established that Meissner used his position to prevent or mitigate the "harsh measures of the man he served, sometimes not without considerable personal danger. We have no evidence whatsoever that he initiated or carried out crimes against humanity. "

honors and awards

During the First World War, Meissner u. a. the Iron Cross 2nd and 1st class. The Abyssinian Crown Prince Ras Tafari - later Haile Selassie - awarded Meissner the title of Ras of Abyssinia in 1921 after Ebert had rejected this feudal award with reference to his position as chairman of a workers' party. Hitler awarded Meissner the golden party badge of the NSDAP at a memorial session of the cabinet on January 30, 1937, and Meissner was automatically a party member from this point on ( membership number 3,805,235). Meissner himself claimed in his preface to his over 600-page autobiography State Secretary under Ebert, Hindenburg, Hitler , dated May 1950 , that despite his membership of Hitler's entourage, he was “always politically independent” and “never with the NSDAP or one of its branches to have listened.


  • The imperial constitution. The new Reichstaatsrecht for practical use. Berlin 1919.
  • The new constitutional law of the empire and its countries. Berlin 1921.
  • Outline of the constitution and administration of the Reich and Prussia together with a list of the authorities and their areas of responsibility. Berlin 1922.
  • Constitutional law of the empire and its countries. Berlin 1923.
  • Constitutional and administrative law in the Third Reich. Berlin 1935.
  • German Alsace, German Lorraine. A cross-section of history, folklore and culture. Otto Karl Stollberg Verlag, Berlin 1941.
  • Alsace and Lorraine, German land. Verlaganstalt Otto Stollberg, Berlin 1941 (324 pages).
  • State Secretary under Ebert, Hindenburg, Hitler. The fate of the German people from 1918–1945. How I experienced it. Hamburg 1950 (also Ebert, Hindenburg, Hitler. Memories of a State Secretary 1918–1945. Munich 1991).


Web links

Commons : Otto Meissner  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b birth certificate
  2. Hans-Otto Meissner: Young Years in the Reich President's Palace , 1988, p. 7.
  3. ^ A b Karl-Heinz Janßen : Servant of three masters. From Ebert to Hindenburg to Hitler. The unique career of privy councilor Dr. jur. Otto Meissner. In: Die Zeit No. 38, September 14, 2000.
  4. ^ Yearbook of the Academy for German Law, 1st year 1933/34. Edited by Hans Frank. (Munich, Berlin, Leipzig: Schweitzer Verlag), p. 255.
  5. a b Minister of State Dr. Otto Meißner: The fate of Alsace and Lorraine in the course of history , in: Otto Meißner (Hrsg.): Deutsches Elsaß, deutsches Lothringen , 1941, p. 47.
  6. ^ Lothar Kettenacker : National Socialist Volkstumsppolitik in Alsace . Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, Stuttgart 1973, p. 48f.
  7. ^ Twelve o'clock sheet of November 22, 1932.
  8. ^ Wolfram Pyta: Hindenburg. Rule between Hohenzollern and Hitler. Siedler, Berlin 2007, pp. 559-561.
  9. Hans-Otto Meissner: Young Years in the Reich President's Palace , 1987, p. 417.
  10. Hans Otto Meissner: Young Years , 1988.
  11. Léon Poliakov , Joseph Wulf : The Third Reich and its servants. Arani Verlag 1956, p. 515.