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Alfred-Ingemar Berndt (22 April 1905 – 28 March 1945) was a German journalist, writer and close collaborator of Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. Berndt wrote an eyewitness account of the 1940 German invasion of the Low Countries and France, Tanks Break Through!, and is regarded as propagandistic creator of the "Desert Fox" myth attached to the German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.
|Birth name||Alfred Ernst Berndt (baptized)|
|Born||22 April 1905|
Bromberg, Posen (now Bydgoszcz Poland)
|Died||28 March 1945 (aged 39)|
|Unit||SS Division Wiking|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards||Iron Cross First Class, German Cross in Gold, War Merit Cross, Silver Medal of Military Valor|
|Relations||married Lisa Berndt née Kroßa, daughters Hildegund and Roswitha Anke Heidelind |
Youth and first political activitiesEdit
Alfred-Ingemar Berndt was the son of Gustav Berndt and Alma Berndt née Kaeding. The Berndts were expelled and dispossessed from Posen in 1920, a result of the Versailles Treaty. The family moved to Berlin-Schöneberg, where Berndt in 1922, age 17, joined the National Socialist German Workers Party. In 1924 he joined the Frontbann, reorganized front organization of the Sturmabteilung or SA. After the prohibition of the Nazi Party expired in 1925, he re-joined definitively. He was instrumental in building the organization and structure of the Hitler Youth in Berlin.
In December 1928, after interrupted study of German literature and volunteer work for German newspapers, Berndt got a job at Wolffs Telegraphisches Bureau (WTB), the largest news agency in Germany. Berndt was able to disguise his Nazi leanings as serious journalism. He wrote under various pseudonyms as columnist and commentator, and became a writer for two Nazi papers, Der Angriff and Der Völkische Beobachter. In 1931 he became head of the writers’ division of the Kampfbund für deutsche Kultur, an organization of Nazi authors, high school teachers, journalists, and cultural personages. A central figure in a growing network of Nazi newsmen at home and abroad, he was jailed and imprisoned from time to time during the Weimar Republic on account of his politics.
Hitler’s rise to power as a career boosterEdit
When Hitler became Chancellor in January 1933, Berndt's position in the Kampfbund für deutsche Kultur led to his promotion in Wolffs Telegraphisches Bureau, which had become the Nazi press office, the Deutsche Nachrichtenbüro (DNB). In December 1933 he became chief editor of the DNB. Berndt was responsible for the coordination of the Reichsverbandes der Deutschen Presse (RDP) and was deputy of the Reich Press Chief, Otto Dietrich. After the Night of the Long Knives in 1934, when Hitler's men murdered many opponents, Berndt left the SA and joined the Schutzstaffel (SS).
In the Propaganda MinistryEdit
Joseph Goebbels, with his doctorate in German literature from the University of Heidelberg, recognized a good writer when he read one. In 1935 Goebbels hired Berndt as official head of the Reich Press Office in the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. In April 1936, Berndt was appointed head of the press department of the Propaganda Ministry (Division IV). In a November 1936 interview, Berndt told The New York Times that German 'Art Reporters' were permitted to 'Employ Values Established' by the Party and State. In February 1938, reacting to Hitler's taking complete control of the Wehrmacht, Berndt told the press that no street fighting or troop mutiny had occurred; the frontiers had not been closed, and no army officers had been executed. After the partitioning of the press department in March 1938, Berndt was made head of the newly created home department (Division IV-A). Berndt devised the propaganda used during the annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland. He announced to foreign reporters that it was an insult to the German government for a citizen to doubt what he reads in the newspapers.
Pleased with his protégé, Goebbels promoted Berndt, October 1938, to Ministerial Director. At the instigation of Otto Dietrich, Berndt was replaced as head of the press department by Hans Fritzsche, December 1938. Berndt then took on, at Goebbels' personal request, the department of literature (Division VIII), which had, among other tasks, responsibility for literary censorship and ideological control of writers and authors.
During World War IIEdit
On 30 August 1939, two days before the start of the Second World War, Berndt was appointed Head of Broadcasting of the Propaganda Ministry (Division III). In early November 1939 Goebbels learned of Berndt's conflicts with the Reich Post Office, and rejected him as a negotiator for the Propaganda Ministry. In February 1940, Berndt reported that he had fulfilled his task of adapting the German broadcasting system to the requirements of war and war propaganda. He was released from all functions in the Propaganda Ministry and enlisted as a volunteer in the Wehrmacht. In the French campaign he was a sergeant in Heavy Tank Destroyer Battalion 605. He was awarded the Iron Cross second class, 27 May 1940. On 6 June 1940 he received the Iron Cross First Class. He wrote about his experiences at the front (Tanks Break Through!, 1940). In August 1940 Berndt returned to the Propaganda Ministry, but left administrative work mainly to his previous deputies. Berndt was first head of the Propaganda Ministry Offices in Paris. In May 1941 he went back to the front; this time as a lieutenant on the staff of the German Afrika Korps under then Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel. Rommel had been enormously displeased with Oberleutnant Alfred Tschimpke, a propaganda reporter who had written a book about the 7th Panzer Division that Rommel commanded in France. Author David Irving described Berndt as "Burly, wavy-haired and dark-skinned". He "had the lumbering gait of a bear and a physiological oddity--six toes on one foot. (Goebbels had a right club foot.) Berndt was literate and personable, poked his nose in everywhere, and was put in charge of keeping the Rommel diary. Before joining Rommel's staff as a kind of Party 'commissar,' he was already a tough, ambitious Nazi zealot." In the book Hitler's Airwaves, Berndt is described as a "notably unsavory character: Goebbels and his senior officials were frequently astounded by his slyness and cunning, fabrication and lies." Wilfried von Oven, personal press secretary to Joseph Goebbels, called Berndt "an unscrupulous and ambitious, but not untalented young man."
Head of the Propaganda Department Division II and Rommel’s adjutantEdit
After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Goebbels ordered Berndt back to Berlin and promoted him to Ministerial Director and head of propaganda (Division II). Despite his heavy involvement in the Ministry, Berndt shuttled regularly between Berlin and Rommel's headquarters until Rommel left North Africa. Berndt quickly became Rommel's trusted aide, a propaganda press manager for his boss. Berndt worked hard to promote the myth of Rommel the "Desert Fox," as a role model par excellence for many Germans. In addition, Berndt took on the role of Rommel's personal representative in Hitler's headquarters. On 17 July 1943, Hitler personally honored Berndt for his contributions to the North African campaign with the German Cross in Gold.
During his time as head of the Propaganda Department, Berndt dealt with the battle of Stalingrad, the capitulation of Tunis and the discovery of the mass graves of the Katyn massacre. He was also chairman of the Interdepartmental Air War Damages Committee, which was responsible for the coordination of relief and reconstruction after air raids.
Allied pilot murderEdit
On 24 May 1944, just before the Western Allies landed in Normandy, a USAAF B-17 #42-31941 "Big Stoop" from the 350th Bombardment Squadron was shot down by Luftwaffe fighters west of Bückwitz Lake. Eight crew members were taken prisoner, among them the co-pilot Second lieutenant James Gordon Dennis. Berndt halted his car on Hamburger Chaussee in Segeletz where Dennis was being held, and shot him dead in the street. Dennis was initially buried at Friedhof Segeletz on 26 May 1944. His remains were later interred at the Ardennes American Cemetery and Memorial.
Break with GoebbelsEdit
After the successful landing of the Western Allies, a rift developed between Goebbels and Berndt. Berndt commented, after a visit to Rommel's headquarters on the western front, that he was extremely pessimistic about the military situation. Goebbels accused Berndt of defeatism, pulled him from the propaganda department and suspended him indefinitely from the Ministry.
Combat on the Eastern FrontEdit
According to several eyewitnesses, Berndt, as commander of the second battalion of SS Panzer Regiment 5 "Viking," was killed at Veszprém, Hungary, during an attack by Soviet dive bombers on 28 March 1945. He was buried in 1945 to the west of Körmend, Hungary. His name is inscribed in the Szombathely German Military Cemetery, Vas, Hungary. His valise was found in a buried chest near Lake Schwerin and restored by the Bundesarchiv. It is now at the Bundesarchiv Military Archive in Freiburg.
- We experience the liberation of the Saar (Scherl, Berlin 1935)
- From Work to Machine-Gun (with Kurt Kränzlein). Dreyse (Otto Stollberg, Berlin 1936). This book invitingly portrays the authors' experience as reserve soldiers for eight weeks in summer 1935.
- From critic to art servant (VB-Zeitung Verlag, Berlin 1936)
- Give me four years! - Documents for the first four-year plan of the Führer (Franz Eher Nachf., Munich 1937)
- Milestones of the Third Reich (Franz Eher Nachf., Munich 1938)
- The march into the Greater German Reich (Franz Eher Nachf., Munich 1939)
- The German and East German culture (NSDAP Gau Danzig-West Prussia, Danzig 1939)
- Panzerjäger Brechen Durch! (Tanks(lit. tank destroyers) Break Through!) (Franz Eher Nachf., Munich 1940)
- The songs of the front – song collection of the Great German Radio (Georg Kallmeyer, Wolfenbüttel 1943)
- Germany at War (Deutschland im Kampf) (Otto Stollberg, Berlin 1939–1944). Berndt and Hasso von Wedel (general) were editors of this book series, 43 volumes, almost 10,000 pages, covering every battle in which the German Army, Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe were involved, from the Blitzkrieg in Poland, September 1939 to mid-1944.
Berndt wrote, besides various prefaces and epilogues to publications by other authors, several hundred newspaper articles in various non-Nazi newspapers of the Weimar Republic and the Nazi Party newspapers. He was later occasionally active as a political commentator in the United Rundfunk program.
- Familien-Anzeige in: Völkischer Beobachter. Wiener Ausgabe. Nr. 204 vom 23. Juli 1941, S. 7 (online in ANNO).
- Willi A. Boelcke: Kriegspropaganda 1939–1941. Geheime Ministerkonferenzen im Reichspropagandaministerium. DVA, Stuttgart 1966, S. 77.
- Germany Explains Curb on Criticism. New York Times. November 29, 1936 p 31.
- Sigrid Schultz. Berlin charges Jews started anti-Nazi yarns. Chicago Tribune. 12 Feb 1938 p 7
- A great American institution. Lancaster Eagle Gazette (Lancaster, Ohio) 12 March 1938
- Tanks Break Through in the Library of Congress catalog
- Lehrer, Steven. Wartime Sites in Paris. SF Tafel 2013 p 143 ISBN 1492292923
- Desmond Young. Rommel the Desert Fox. Quill / William Morrrow; Reprint edition (February 18, 1987)
- Alfred Tschimpke. Die Gespenster-Division (Die Wehrmacht im Zweiten Weltkrieg 2) Eher Verlag 1940
- Irving, David. The Trail of the Fox. Harper Collins, New York 1990 p 101
- Bergmeier, H. J. P. (1997). Hitler's airwaves : the inside story of Nazi radio broadcasting and propaganda swing. Lotz, Rainer E. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-06709-7. OCLC 35620242.
- US Flight Lieutenant James Gordon Dennis on findagrave.com
- Joseph Goebbels: Ein Wort zum Luftkrieg. according to Peter Longerich: Goebbels - Biographie. München 2010, S. 618.
- Günter Neliba: Lynchjustiz an amerikanischen Kriegsgefangenen in der Opelstadt Rüsselsheim. Rekonstruktion eines der ersten Kriegsverbrecher-Prozesse in Deutschland nach Prozessakten (1945-1947). Brandes & Apsel, Frankfurt a.M. 2000, ISBN 3-86099-205-8, S. 28f.
- Alfred Ingemar Berndt on findagrave.com
- Szombathely Cemetery entry for Alfred Ingemar Berndt
- Restorative treatment of the "estate" of Alfred Ingemar Berndt. A buried chest after the war hid another archival treasure. Archived 2015-10-15 at the Wayback Machine (in German)