November 13, 2013

People who make a difference

Manfred Rommel, Son of German Field Marshal, Dies at 84
By DOUGLAS MARTIN; Published: November 9, 2013
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was a hero of Hitler’s Germany, the legendary “Desert Fox” who seized the world’s attention with his daring tactics in North Africa from 1941 to 1943.
Manfred Rommel was his son. He was 15 when he said goodbye to his father, then watched as two German generals ushered him into a car. The generals had given the field marshal a choice: commit suicide or face a rigged trial on charges of conspiring to kill Hitler. If he chose the trial, they said, they could not promise that his family would be safe.
Field Marshal Rommel was guilty of supporting a plot to kill Hitler, whom he had decided was leading Germany to disaster. Within minutes, he bit into a cyanide pill and quickly died. It was Oct. 14, 1944.
Manfred went on to become the three-term mayor of Stuttgart, a major city in southwestern Germany where Mercedes-Benz makes cars. He became a liberal voice in postwar West Germany, supporting the rights of immigrants, backing civil liberties and strengthening the city’s Jewish population.
He died on Thursday in Stuttgart at 84. The present mayor of Stuttgart, Fritz Kuhn, announced the death without giving a cause. Mr. Rommel had Parkinson’s disease.
As mayor, Mr. Rommel angered his constituents in 1977 by allowing convicted terrorists to be eulogized and buried in the municipal cemetery. He said he wanted “to show how, with a little generosity of spirit, enmity ends with death.”
In his tenure, from 1974 to 1996, Mr. Rommel tightened control over city finances and reduced debts, while expanding public transport and building a new arena and convention center. In 1982, The New York Times called him “the rising political figure with the best chance of becoming national leader.”
But he turned down opportunities to run for state or federal office in favor of the municipal politics he said he liked best. “I’m not ambitious,” he said. “It’s an unbearable burden to be chancellor,” his country’s highest office.
He continued, in his touchingly honest style, “Federal officials in this country have an aversion to outsiders, and they’re only interested in them for help if they’re in mud up to their ears.”
Part of his political appeal was his last name. Many Germans felt pride in his father’s brilliant generalship, while also remembering his humanity in an inhuman situation. Field Marshal Rommel ignored orders to kill Jewish soldiers, civilians and captured commandos, and was not accused of war crimes. He angered Hitler by urging a negotiated surrender on the Western Front.
Manfred’s response to the Nazi horror was to emphasize the unity of Europe rather than German patriotism. “German history is too much for us,” he said in an interview with The Times.
“The shadow is too great,” he continued. “I belong to the generation of burned children, and I am not so sure about our capabilities. My father once said during the war, ‘The best thing would be to live as a British dominion now that we’ve shown we can’t manage our own affairs.’ He was being sarcastic, of course.”
Manfred Rommel was born in Stuttgart on Dec. 24, 1928. He was only 14 when he was drafted by the Luftwaffe as an antiaircraft gunner. When his father killed himself, he deserted and surrendered to French forces.
After his release from captivity, he studied law and political science at Tübingen University, then went to work for the state government of Baden-Württemberg, of which Stuttgart is the capital. He became deputy finance minister of the state.
During his tenure as mayor, he was president of the German Association of Cities for nine and a half years. He retired in 1996, when he reached the compulsory retirement age of 68.
Mr. Rommel is survived by his wife, the former Liselotte Daiber, and their daughter, Catherine.
As the field marshal’s son, Mr. Rommel formed friendships with the sons of two of his father’s most prominent opponents: David Montgomery, son of Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery of Britain; and Maj. Gen. George Patton IV, son of Gen. George S. Patton of the United States.
His many honors include the Commander of the British Empire, the French Legion of Honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the highest grade of the German federal order of merit.
“The number of honors seems to be endless,” he once said. “The inscription on my gravestone will read, ‘Please turn over!’ ”

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