German History
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German History

The forgotten Countess Stauffenberg

Count Claus von Stauffenberg’s sister-in-law was the Third Reich’s female star pilot and a brilliant scientist.

Countess Melitta Stauffenberg was a test pilot for the Luftwaffe, an engineer, and an accomplished aviator, whose name never made it into the history books. Her misfortune was to live and work during the Third Reich. Her genius as a scientist and her accomplishments as a pilot were hijacked for Nazi purposes. But she was also a prime example of Nazi opportunism when it came to overlooking that she was half Jewish and married into a family that had tried to assassinate the Führer.

Melitta, born in 1903 in the province of Posen, today part of Poland, was the daughter of the civil servant Michael Schiller who descended from a family of Jewish furriers. During WWI, she lived with her grandmother in Silesia while her father fought at the front and her mother and sisters served in the medical corps. After her Abitur — high school diploma in 1927, Melitta studied mathematics, physics, and aviation at the university in Munich. She started a steep career as an aviation engineer at Germany’s premier aviation research facility in Berlin-Adlershof. To conduct the test flights necessary for her research, she trained as a pilot, acquiring licenses for all levels of airplanes. It led to her promotion to flight captain of the Reich in 1937, a title only bestowed on one other woman: the controversial Hannah Reitsch. Also, in 1937 Melitta married Alexander, a brother of Claus Stauffenberg, who later became known for his failed assassination attempt on Hitler.

In 1939 she was drafted into the Luftwaffe- air force to continue her research by improving fighter planes. She flew over 2500 times on Stukas and Junkers. In 1943 she received the Iron Cross second class. The Reich was aware of her Jewish ancestry but decided to ignore it as she was too valuable to them. On July 20th, 1944, her brother in law Claus failed in killing Hitler in operation Valkyrie, and the whole extended family was shipped off to concentration camps, taken into Sippenhaft- kinship imprisonment, a favorite Nazi tool to impress on potential dissidents that their whole extended family would suffer punishment. But while Claus’ wife Nina was giving birth to her 5th child while held at a concentration camp, Melitta was freed to resume her duties at the Luftwaffe. There has been much speculation about how much Melitta knew about the assassination plans and her personal views about the regime. There is no definite answer. After the assassination attempt, Melitta felt that she could help her family better if she were on the outside, but she died on a flight attempting to locate her imprisoned husband.

As for her early death, there is an interesting conspiracy theory mentioned in Gerhard Bracke’s biography. She was shot down in April 1945, but it appeared that her injuries were not life-threatening. Nevertheless, she died a few hours later at the hospital. It has been put forward that a Gestapo doctor annihilated her. As she could no longer fly for the foreseeable future and the war was lost, she had outlived her usefulness to the Reich, and her Stauffenberg name counted against her. It was the same callousness that my father, the former elite student, experienced as a boy soldier when he was sent as cannon fodder to the Eastern Front in April 1945. My father, Countess Stauffenberg and millions of Germans found their lives destroyed when they had outlived their usefulness to one of the cruelest regimes in history.

Bibliography:

http://falkeeins.blogspot.com/2012/09/germanys-other-wwii-female-test-pilot.html

https://www.leser-welt.de/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=6803:melitta-graefin-stauffenberg-das-leben-einer-fliegerin-gerhard-bracke&catid=56&Itemid=669

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Helene Munson

Helene Munson

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Author of 'Boy Soldiers-A personal Story of Nazi elite Schooling and its Legacy of Trauma.