Hans von Dohnányi


Hans von Dohnányi, 1 January 1902–8 or 9 April 1945, Copyright http://www.americanhungarianfederation.org/

Hans von Dohnányi, a German of Hungarian descent, was the son of composer Ernő Dohnányi and pianist Elisabeth Kunwald. After his parents divorced, he moved to Berlin, where he attended the Grunewald Gymnasium. It was at gymnasium that he became friends with the famous Bonhoeffer brothers, Dietrich and Klaus. Hans married the Bonhoeffers’ sister, Christine (Christel), in 1924.

Hans earned a doctorate in law, and worked at the Hamburg Senate for a short time. In 1929, he started working at the Reich Ministry of Justice, as a personal consultant to several justice ministers. In 1934, his title of prosecutor was changed to Regierungsrat (government adviser). Because of his important position, he made the acquaintance of several high-ranking Nazi goons, including Hitler himself, and had access to the most secret documents of the justice ministry.

Following the infamous Night of the Long Knives in 1934, Hans began seeking out people in the Resistance. He made records of all these crimes being committed by the state, so he’d have evidence after the Third Reich went down in flames. His criticism of Nazi racial politics became known in 1938, and he was transferred to the Reichsgericht in Leipzig as an advisor.

Hamburg Senate, Copyright Daniel Ullrich, Threedots, GFDL and CC-by-sa-2.0-de, Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Shortly before the outbreak of war, Hans became a member of the secret Abwehr espionage and resistance group. In 1942, he helped two Jewish Berliner lawyers, Friedrich Arnold and Julius Fliess, to flee with their families into Switzerland, disguised as Abwehr agents.  In total, 13 people were able to escape Germany thanks to Hans’s phony papers. Hans went to Switzerland himself to make sure they’d be admitted, and that they’d have enough money to support themselves.

In late February 1943, Hans got involved with an attempted assassination and coup d’état plot against Hitler. He was the one who carried the smuggled bomb onto Hitler’s plane in Smolensk, but it sadly failed to go off. On 5 April 1943, he was arrested at his office, on charges of alleged breach of foreign currency violations (relating to the money he’d transferred to a Swiss bank for the people he’d saved). His wife and brother-in-law Dietrich were also arrested, but his wife was released after a week.

In 1944, Hans was sent to Sachsenhausen after it was discovered he’d been involved in the failed 20 July Plot of that year. The Gestapo also discovered some of the documents he’d saved, and decided Hans was “the spiritual head of the conspiracy against Hitler.” He was condemned to death on 6 April 1945, on Hitler’s orders. Two or three days later, he was hanged with piano wire.

On 23 October 2003, Hans was honored as Righteous Among the Nations.


12 thoughts on “Hans von Dohnányi

  1. It was incredibly interesting reading, your post! I wanted to read more! I can only imagine the life that Hans must have had to live, the stealth with which he carried out his missions, etc. He died a hero with a compassionate heart. I’m interested in learning more so I’ll be back!
    Happy A-Zing…
    Michele at Angels Bark


  2. The courage that so many showed during this time is remarkable. I am very sad to see he was discovered, but am glad he was able to help even that many with his retaliation.


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