Erich Kempka served as Adolf Hitler’s personal driver from 1934 through to the Führer’s dramatic suicide in 1945. His candid memoirs offer a unique eyewitness account of events leading up to and during the war, culminating in those dark final days in the Führer’s headquarters, deep under the shattered city of Berlin.
He begins by describing his duties as a member of Hitler’s personal staff in the years preceding the war, driving the Führer throughout Germany and abroad, and accompanying him to rallies. The crux of his memoir, however, covers his life with Hitler in the Berlin Führerbunker. Crucially, Kempka witnessed Hitler’s marriage to Eva Braun and his last dinner and personal farewell to all those present, before he and his wife committed suicide. Hitler’s final order to Kempka was that he have ready enough petrol to burn him and his wife. Under constant Soviet artillery fire, Kempka, Linge, and others poured petrol over the bodies and burnt them.
The account concludes with Kempka’s hazardous escape out of a burning Berlin more than 800 kilometers through Allied-occupied Germany, his arrest, and interrogation before being sent to serve as a witness at Nuremburg.
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Hitler Employs Me
Early on 25 February 1932 a telegram reached me in my office at the Gau HQ in Essen. 'Be at the adjutancy, Private Chancellery, Kaiserhof, Berlin on 26 February 1932,' it read. My boss, Gauleiter Terboven, had been in Berlin for a Reichstag sitting over the previous forty-eight hours. Was he behind it? I had no clue, nor any idea that this despatch was to change the course of my life, a young man with a world full of possibilities.
After receipt of this telegram I never had a minute to myself. On the slow train to Berlin, I sat bolt upright on a hard bench in a thirdclass compartment. The long journey seemed endless. Feverishly I reflected but could think of no serious misdeeds I had committed. Reassured, I began to dream that the cable might offer a favourable change of direction in my life.
When the train arrived finally at Friedrich-Strasse station in Berlin, I hurried through the bustle of the great city to Wilhelm-Platz. For several minutes I stood before the Kaiserhof Hotel, admiring this imposing modern building, before entering the vestibule through the revolving door. Ladies and gentlemen, apparently from the highest part of society, jostled around me.
I reported to one of the many staff standing around. He seemed to know what to do with me and signalled for me to follow him through long corridors, over thick, plush carpets. On reaching Wilhelm Brückner's room, I was briefly welcomed by Adolf Hitler's adjutant and told to wait in the hotel lobby. To my surprise I found another thirty men there. After short conversations between us I discovered we had all been summoned to the Kaiserhof Hotel by telegram from all corners of Germany. It was obvious how uneasy we all were. Very quickly we ascertained that each of us was the chauffeur for a leading personality of the NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei). Thus we were all to some extent prominent in our own professional calling. It would have to be an extraordinarily important job for us all to have been summoned here. Each man hoped privately that he would be the one to land the unknown position. Finally the call came: 'They are waiting for you gentlemen in Room 135!'
Trailing behind another member of staff we were led into Adolf Hitler's living and work quarters in Berlin. From habit we formed a semi-circle, smallest to the left, tallest at the right. As the smallest, I was on the left flank. My hopes plummeted as I looked at my much taller, well-developed colleagues. Beginning with the tallest, Brückner called us forward individually to be quizzed by Hitler on our technical knowledge and personal details. Finally came my turn. 'Erich Kempka ... father Ruhr mineworker from Oberhausen, twenty-one years old ... presently chauffeur for Gauleiter Terboven.' Those were my replies to Hitler's first questions. Then he snapped out rapidly: 'What types of vehicle have you driven? ... Do you know the 8-litre compressor motor? ... What is the horse power of this vehicle? ... Where did you learn to drive? ... You are on a blind zigzag bend doing eighty kilometres an hour when you see an oncoming car. What are your next actions?' The questions came so quickly that I had to react lightning fast. It was not easy, and I had not expected this man to have such a degree of technical knowledge. After answering the last question to his apparent satisfaction Hitler offered me his hand.
I was surprised to learn that I had apparently done well in this test. This made me feel elated. Just the idea of driving across the length and breadth of Germany alongside such a man, whom all Germany considered one of the outstanding personalities on the political scene, thrilled me. All the candidates for the job had been through the mill and now waited anxiously for what came next: a disappointment. Hitler addressed us briefly and in his emotional way explained what a responsible post was held by the man at the wheel. It had been a great pleasure for him to have had such a large number of responsible men before him. He left us with a brief salute, not having mentioned why we had been sent for. Brückner explained to us that a second chauffeur was needed to assist Julius Schreck for Hitler's personal service. The man chosen would be notified at the appropriate time. Each of us received fifteen Reichsmarks expenses and were then dismissed.
Now began hours of uncertainty. I wandered around Berlin waiting for the time of my train's departure. The meeting with Adolf Hitler had impressed me deeply. Now that I knew what the vacancy was, I lived in hope but suffered from doubt. It was a relief to climb aboard the train bearing me back to Essen. A few days after my return home I received another telegram: 'On 1 March 1932 report to Rudolf Hess at the Brown House, Munich.' My hopes had been fulfilled! I had been chosen to accompany and chauffeur the man about whom all Germany was talking, Adolf Hitler.CHAPTER 2
Thirteen Years in Adolf Hitler's Personal Service
On arrival in Munich, I stumbled – still tired from the journey – through the snow with my suitcases towards Brienner-Strasse. On enquiry, a passer-by pointed out where I should go. When I reported to Rudolf Hess's office, I was told they were expecting me at Daimler-Benz in Dachauer-Strasse. I therefore took a taxi and was met there by Schreck, Hitler's personal chauffeur and companion. He gave me a very friendly welcome and immediately began to ask me questions about motoring. The first thing he wanted to know was whether I had ever driven a six-litre Mercedes compressor car. I said no, and at that he led me together with his team to a garage where I was shown a six- to eight-seater open touring car. The mere sight of this vehicle excited my admiration. I had never seen anything like it before. Schreck related the technical details of the giant Mercedes and then opened the bonnet.
Because I was too short to drive the car as standard-equipped, blankets had to be strapped to the seat and adjustments made to give me a clear view from the wheel. I then had to manoeuvre the vehicle out of the garage, and once in the open I had a closer look at the engine and checked the oil and water. Meanwhile Schreck's team had grown to seven. All climbed in: I got behind the wheel and drove the giant to Berlin.
In the Reich capital I was introduced to Hitler again. This time our conversation took on a much more personal character. He wanted to know all about my family relationships, everything about my life and previous employment down to the minutest detail. During this hour there developed in me a strong personal bond of faith in Hitler, which never left me over the long years in which I was constantly in his company.
Once the election campaign for the Reich presidency began, I drove the guests' vehicle, covering enormous distances every day. Our arrival in the towns and villages where Hitler was scheduled to speak was invariably punctual. As soon as he had delivered his speech, we drove on. I envied Schreck and looked forward to the occasional opportunities I had to be with him. After his great oratorical efforts Hitler was always cheerful during the drive and would chat with the driver. One of his kindnesses was to prepare a snack for the chauffeur to ward off tiredness at the wheel. The road map on his knees, Hitler did all the navigating himself, working out the various times to ensure he always arrived on the dot. All the chauffeur had to do was drive safely and keep precisely to the timetable. After we had completed several electioneering speeches in northern Germany, we left Hamburg for Berlin.
Because Schreck had reported sick with food poisoning, Hermann Göring, who used to accompany Hitler on most of his travels at that time, drove in Schreck's place next day. Towards evening we arrived in Stettin. Before Hitler went into the hotel, he ordered me to familiarize myself with the car so that I could relieve Göring and drive that night to Landsberg an der Warthe. Our convoy set off between two and three o'clock in the morning, arriving at Schloss Liebenow a few hours later, to a wonderful welcome. While Hitler made his excuses and went off to rest in his reserved room, we in the personal escort and the guests were served more than we could possibly eat.
I would like to mention at this point that before 1932 Hitler never had a heavy meal. Even after taking over the affairs of State, he lived very modestly and in principle drank no alcohol. Exceptionally he would allow himself a glass of bitters to prevent the stomach problems that had plagued him since being gassed in the First World War.
After the election campaign had come to its end, we returned to Bavaria, deeply impressed by our experiences. We had covered 12,000 kilometres, a distance I was never to beat in such a short period of time. After our arrival in Munich, Schreck – who had by then recovered – confided that the election campaign had been my period of probation. Hitler had told him that my driving was satisfactory. It would now be my duty to drive Hitler in Munich and its environs, while on longer journeys I would drive the guests' car.
In 1932 I drove 132,000 kilometres, crossing all over Germany by day and night. My life was enriched on these trips by many experiences. I never had the feeling of being on travels with a 'boss', but rather with an elder, fatherly friend. He rarely spoke to me about politics, but said I could and should come to him with my personal problems and needs. He had an understanding and a ready ear for everything. He would always ensure that we drivers had the best accommodation and food on the way, emphasizing: 'My drivers and pilots are my best friends! I entrust my life to these men!'
A new election campaign began. In fourteen days Hitler spoke at about fifty locations. Ever more often the drives crisscrossed Germany from end to end. Where the distances between speaking venues were considerable, aircraft were used for the first time to reach the next appointment as quickly as possible. The constant long drives were eventually too much for Schreck, and so for driving purposes Germany was divided into two regions: Schreck was to be Hitler's chauffeur in the northwest, while I was responsible for covering the rest of the country. In that way the years passed. Even after Hitler became Reich Chancellor my position with him did not change. On all journeys home and abroad, in the air, on the Führer-train or aboard ship I was with him. If not driving his car, I would be his personal guest in his close proximity.
On the morning of 16 May 1936 I was summoned to Hitler's apartment on Prinz-Regenten-Strasse in Munich. I found him visibly sad and upset. Briefly he informed me of the sudden death of his long- standing loyal companion Julius Schreck. I was appointed successor to Schreck with immediate effect. At the same time I was nominated head of the Führer's motor pool (Chef des Kraftfahrwesens des Führers) and promoted to SS-Sturmbannführer. All rights and duties of my predecessor were transferred to me. The sudden death of Schreck affected me deeply. Ever since the first day, when he had given me such a kindly welcome, I had had much to thank him for. I knew nothing of the illness that befell him on a journey from Berlin to Munich. Immediately he arrived he had been hospitalized with severe meningitis, from which he died shortly afterwards. Fate had therefore afforded me no opportunity to take my leave of him.
For me there now began an exhausting period of special responsibility for someone of my fairly young age. I had to be constantly available for duty. I had hardly any free time for myself any more. The demands made of me grew ever larger. New vehicles had to be built. The garages were too small. Mechanics and other personnel had to be recruited. Additionally I had to keep up with the correspondence, which made demands on my time long after my official working day had ended. Hitler placed great personal trust in me, but he insisted that I complied with his requirements and deadlines precisely and to the letter. This trust was naturally a great stimulant for my ambitions. It was always my pleasure to watch over the new vehicles as they were being manufactured. Under my supervision and in close cooperation with the Daimler-Benz factory not only were the well- known Führer-cars built but also cross-country vehicles for manoeuvres, later used for drives in the mountains and later still well proven during the war.
On one occasion Hitler ordered me to place an experimental vehicle from Daimler-Benz at the disposal of the Berchtesgaden Mountain Rescue. It was to be used in the rescue of two mountaineers on the Watzmann. Only through the use of this vehicle could the men be saved. As a result of this success, other cars of the type were built and donated to the Mountain Rescue.
Vehicles with special bodywork were always under construction under my supervision, as gifts from Hitler to foreign Heads of State. Repeatedly I would visit the factory to check how assembly was proceeding and ensure that all extra features were being fitted. Only rarely did I have more than a day for this task, and I would often have to work through the night to keep abreast of my other duties. Hitler required me to keep him permanently informed about the progress of these cars at the works, just as he interested himself especially in all technical matters and innovations.
When the opportunity presented itself I suggested he should have a bullet-proof car built for himself. He turned this idea down at once. His life was in no danger from the German people! Even foreign powers were hardly likely to try to assassinate him! He was convinced that it was known abroad how much he was needed for the development of Europe.
I was taken by surprise when war came. As head of the Führer's motor pool I was not at all prepared for it. Now the idea of the bullet-proof car began to dominate my thinking day and night. Despite Hitler's refusal to have one, in 1939 I had an open-topped example built, on my own initiative. Apart from the armour plating it was no different to any of the related types. I applied to Martin Bormann, who was in charge of the motor pool budget, for finance, but he declined to foot the bill since he knew that Hitler considered armour unnecessary. Thus I was forced to seek donations from wealthy friends to pay for the completed vehicle.
On 8 November 1939 at the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich an attempt was made to assassinate Hitler. This provided me with the excuse to draw his attention to the existence of my bulletproof car. On the drive from Berlin Anhalter station to the Reich Chancellery I managed to obtain his agreement at least to look at it. Once in the Chancellery I had the new vehicle driven to the portico. Hitler looked it over with great satisfaction while I explained to him the strength of the armour. The windshields were of 45-mm multi-layer glass, the side armour 3.5–4-mm, specially hardened armour plating, while the floor had 9–11-mm plate as protection against land mines or bombs. The car was bullet proof against hand guns and explosives up to about half a kilogram of dynamite. 'In future I will use only this car, for I can never know when some idiot might throw another bomb in front of my vehicle,' Hitler remarked to Bormann with a smile. Bormann now had to pay for the vehicle.
A short while later, without any bodyguard, I made a night drive across the capital in a Volkswagen with Hitler. He liked to make these night outings to give him the best opportunity to observe and inspect the architecture of Berlin while in mufti. Although it is not the purpose of my memoirs to address political questions, I have never forgotten the conversation we had that night. When we stopped at the half-finished Tourist Office on the Potsdamer-Brücke, Hitler said to me: 'What a pity we have this war. In a few years Berlin and many other cities of the Reich would have been rebuilt.'
The boss was enthusiastic about my new bullet-proof car. I was given orders to commission several more. I considered it to be a special recognition of my initiative to receive the honour later of delivering the new vehicles personally to various Heads of State as gifts. Thus in December 1941 I handed over to Baron von Mannerheim, the Finnish leader, an armoured open Daimler-Benz 150 touring car. During my stay in Finland I noticed the poor nutrition of the Finnish population. Upon my return to Führer-HQ at Rastenburg, East Prussia, I drew the matter of Finland's food shortage to the attention of the Führer. He ordered that 50,000 tonnes of cereals should be made available to the Finnish government.
To mark the seventy-fifth birthday of the Finnish Head of State I received the unexpected order to procure three cross-country vehicles. I succeeded at very short notice in obtaining these from the firm of Steyr. They were loaded at Stettin and shipped to Finland. On Mannerheim's birthday, Hitler flew to Finland. I brought up the cross-country vehicles and Hitler gave them to von Mannerheim as a birthday present.
In January 1942, while the Romanian Head of State, Ion Antonescu, was confined to bed with a severe bout of influenza, I arrived in Bucharest with an armoured limousine. Antonescu was notified of my arrival by the German Embassy. Next day despite his condition he took possession of the vehicle from me as a gift from Hitler.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "I Was Hitler's Chauffeur"
Copyright © 1991 Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft mbH.
Excerpted by permission of Pen and Sword Books Ltd.
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Table of Contents
List of Plates,
Introduction by Roger Moorhouse,
1. Hitler Employs Me,
2. Thirteen Years in Adolf Hitler's Personal Service,
3. On the Berghof,
4. Professor Dr Theodor Morell,
5. Martin Bormann,
6. Signs of Disquiet,
7. In the Führer-bunker in Berlin,
8. The End Approaches,
9. The Death of Adolf Hitler,
10. After the Burning,
11. My Escape from Berlin,
1 In the Bunker for the Last Battle,
2 The Break-out from the Citadel,
3 Christa Schroeder's He Was My Chief,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I've read several versions of the end of Hitler's life, but this was different and perhaps the most interesting.