Wilhelm Gustloff

Wilhelm Gustloff (30 January 1895 – 4 February 1936) was the founder of the Swiss NSDAP/AO (the Nazi Party organisation for German citizens abroad) at Davos. He remained its leader from 1932 until he was assassinated in 1936.[1]

Life and assassination

Gustloff (a son of merchant Herrmann Gustloff[2]), who worked for the Swiss government as a meteorologist, joined the NSDAP in 1929. He put much effort into the distribution of the antisemitic propaganda book The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, to the point that members of the Swiss Jewish community sued the book's distributor, the Swiss NSDAP/AO, for libel. Gustloff was shot and killed in 1936 by David Frankfurter, a Croatian Jewish student incensed by Gustloff's antisemitic activism.

Frankfurter surrendered immediately to the Swiss police. He was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment and spent the war in a Swiss prison.[3] Frankfurter was pardoned and exiled at the end of the Second World War.[4]


Gustloff was given a state funeral in his birthplace of Schwerin in Mecklenburg, with Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler, Martin Bormann and Joachim von Ribbentrop in attendance. Thousands of Hitler Youth members lined the route. His coffin, transported on a special train from Davos to Schwerin, made stops in Stuttgart, Würzburg, Erfurt, Halle, Magdeburg and Wittenberg. Gustloff's widow, mother and brother attended the funeral and received personal condolences from Hitler. Ernst Wilhelm Bohle was the first at Gustloff's funeral to recite a few lines in his honour.

Gustloff was proclaimed a Blutzeuge of the Nazi cause and his murder became part of the propaganda that served as pretext for the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom. His wife Hedwig, who had been Hitler's secretary, received from Hitler personally a monthly "honorary pay" of 400 Reichsmark, the equivalent of some $13,000 today.

Unlike the assassination of the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan in Paris in 1938, Gustloff's death was not immediately politicized to incite Kristallnacht. Hitler did not want to risk any domestic bouts of anti-Semitism to cause Germany to lose the recently awarded right to host the 1936 Summer Olympics, since his anti-Semitic policies had already led to calls to relocate the games.[3]


The German cruise ship MV Wilhelm Gustloff was named for Gustloff by the Nazi regime. The ship was sunk by a Soviet submarine in January 1945 in the Baltic Sea while carrying mostly civilian refugees from the advancing Red Army. More than 9,000 lives were lost, the greatest death toll from the sinking of a single vessel in human history. The disaster remains relatively unknown.

In 1933 the Nazi Party created the Wilhelm-Gustloff-Stiftung ("The Wilhelm Gustloff Foundation"), a national corporation funded by properties and wealth confiscated from Jews. It ran the Gustloff Werke ("Gustloff Factories"), a group of businesses that had been confiscated from their Jewish owners or partners.

The small arms factory Berlin Suhler Waffen und Fahrzeugwerke was renamed Wilhelm Gustloff Werke in Gustloff's honour in 1939.

See also


  1. A Survey of Nazi and Pro-Nazi Groups in Switzerland: 1930-1945
  2. info from Günter Grass's Crabwalk
  3. Frum, David (December 19, 2016). "Why the Shooting in Ankara Won't Start World War III". The Atlantic. Retrieved December 20, 2016.
  4. "David Frankfurter, Who Killed Swiss Nazi Leader, Pardoned; Served Nine Years" (PDF). JTA Daily News Bulletin. Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 18 May 1945. Retrieved 29 October 2017.

Further reading

  • Peter Bollier, 4. Februar 1936: das Attentat auf Wilhelm Gustloff; in: Roland Aergerter (Hrsg.), Politische Attentate des 20. Jahrhunderts, Zürich, NZZ Verlag, 1999
  • Matthieu Gillabert, La propagande nazie en Suisse, L'affaire Gustloff 1936, Lausanne, Presses polytechniques et universitaires romandes, 2008
  • Emil Ludwig; Peter O. Chotjewitz; Helmut Kreuzer (Hrsg.), Der Mord in Davos, Herbstein, März, 1986
  • Roger Weston: Fatal Return, 2012. Novel linked to the history and sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff.
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