Karl Haushofer

Karl Haushofer

Karl Haushofer, the son of Max Haushofer, a professor of economics, was born in Munich on 27th August, 1869.

In 1887 he joined the Imperial German Army. He served in the 1st Field Artillery Regiment and later studied at the Artillery Academy and the Bavarian War Academy. In 1896, he married Martha Mayer Doss, the daughter of a Jewish merchant from Mannheim.

In 1908 he was sent to Tokyo. Haushofer learnt Japanese and became an expert on South and East Asia. Haushofer continued his studies and received a degree in Geography, Geology and History from the University of Munich in 1913.

During the First World War he served on the Eastern Front in Russia and the Western Front in France. By 1918 he had reached the rank of Major-General and in 1918 supervised the return of the Thirtieth Bavarian Reserve Division from Alsace to Bavaria.

In 1919 Haushofer retired from the German Army and and started teaching geopolitics at the University of Munich. Based on the writings of Oswald Spengler, Alexander Humboldt, Karl Ritter, Friedrich Ratzel, and Halford J. Mackinder, Haushofer developed the theory that the state is a biological organism which grows or contracts, and that in the struggle for space the strong countries take land from the weak.

One of Haushofer's students was Rudolf Hess. Haushofer's teachings inspired Hess to write a prize-winning essay: How Must the Man be Constructed who will lead Germany back to her Old Heights? It included the following passage: "When necessity commands, he does not shrink from bloodshed... In order to reach his goal, he is prepared to trample on his closest friends."

In 1920 Hess heard Adolf Hitler speak at a political meeting. Hess remarked: "Was this man a fool or was he the man who would save all Germany." Hess was one of the first people to join the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) and soon became a devoted follower and intimate friend of Hitler, who was also influenced by the teachings of Karl Haushofer.

In November, 1923, Rudolf Hess took part in the failed Beer Hall Putsch. Hess escaped and sought the help of Karl Haushofer. For a while he lived in Haushofer's home, Hartschimmelhof, in the Bavarian Alps. Later he was helped to escape to Austria. Hess was eventually arrested and sentenced to 18 months in prison. While in Landsberg he helped Adolf Hitler write My Struggle (Mein Kampf). According to James Douglas-Hamilton (Motive for a Mission) Haushofer provided "Hitler with a formula and certain well-turned phrases which could be adapted, and which at a later stage suited the Nazis perfectly".

Although Adolf Hitler had the support of certain sections of the German population he never gained an elected majority. The best the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) could do in a election was 37.3 per cent of the vote they gained in July 1932. When Hitler became chancellor in January 1933, the Nazis only had a third of the seats in the Reichstag.

After the 1933 General Election Hitler proposed an Enabling Bill that would give him dictatorial powers. Such an act needed three-quarters of the members of the Reichstag to vote in its favour.

All the active members of the Communist Party, were in concentration camps, in hiding, or had left the country (an estimated 60,000 people left Germany during the first few weeks after the election). This was also true of most of the leaders of the other left-wing party, Social Democrat Party (SDP). However, Hitler still needed the support of the Catholic Centre Party (BVP) to pass this legislation. Hitler therefore offered the BVP a deal: vote for the bill and the Nazi government would guarantee the rights of the Catholic Church. The BVP agreed and when the vote was taken, only 94 members of the SDP voted against the Enabling Bill.

Adolf Hitler was now dictator of Germany. His first move was to take over the trade unions. Its leaders were sent to concentration camps and the organization was put under the control of the Nazi Party. The trade union movement now became known as the Labour Front.

Once in power Hitler began to express anti-Semitic ideas. Based on his readings of how blacks were denied civil rights in the southern states in America, Hitler attempted to make life so unpleasant for Jews in Germany that they would emigrate. The campaign started on 1st April, 1933, when a one-day boycott of Jewish-owned shops took place. Members of the Sturm Abteilung (SA) picketed the shops to ensure the boycott was successful.

The hostility of towards Jews increased in Germany. This was reflected in the decision by many shops and restaurants not to serve the Jewish population. Placards saying "Jews not admitted" and "Jews enter this place at their own risk" began to appear all over Germany. In some parts of the country Jews were banned from public parks, swimming-pools and public transport.

Germans were also encouraged not to use Jewish doctors and lawyers. Jewish civil servants, teachers and those employed by the mass media were sacked. On 7th April 1933 the Nazi government passed the Civil Service Laws which excluded those of non-Aryan origin from public office within the Reich.

Karl's son, Albrecht Haushofer , who worked as a government advisor on foreign affairs, now became a second-class citizens because of his mother's Jewishfather. However, in June 1933, Rudolf Hess intervened personally and issued a protective letter to Haushofer. Now an "honorary Aryan" this enabled Albrecht to continue working for the Nazi government.

Albrecht had serious doubts about continuing to work for Adolf Hitler. He wrote to his parents on 27th July: "I sometimes ask myself how long we shall be able to carry the responsibility, which we bear and which gradually begins to turn into historical guilt or, at least, into complicity."

In October 1933, Karl Haushofer was appointed as chairman of the Volksdeutsch Council. Albrecht Haushofer became his father's representative in Berlin.

On 26th June, 1938, Albrecht Haushofer sent a report of his meetings with British politicians to Joachim von Ribbentrop stating that: "Britain has still not abandoned her search for chances of a settlement with Germany... A certain measure of pro-German sentiment has not yet disappeared among the British people; the Chamberlain-Halifax government sees its own future strongly tied to the achievement of a true settlement with Rome and Berlin (with a displacement of Soviet influence in Europe.)"

Adolf Hitler and Joachim von Ribbentrop had become very disillusioned with Haushofer's attempts to obtain a peace agreement with Britain and in July, 1938, he ceased to work for the government. However, he remained close to Rudolf Hess and continued to meet with those sympathetic to the Nazi government.

Albrecht Haushofer continued to work behind the scenes in an attempt to persuade the British to accept a peace agreement. On 16th July, 1939, Haushofer wrote again to Douglas Douglas-Hamilton suggesting a way to avoid a war. Haushofer showed this letter to several members of the government including Winston Churchill. He replied that it was too late and that a war with Germany was inevitable.

On 8th September, 1940, Albrecht Haushofer, wrote to the Duke of Hamilton: "You... may find some significance in the fact that I am able to ask you whether you could find time to have a talk to me somewhere on the outskirts of Europe, perhaps in Portugal." Haushofer also referred to people who the German government believed wanted an "German-English agreement." This included Samuel Hoare and Rab Butler.

Two days later, Haushofer sent a letter to his father. The letter discussed secret peace talks going on with Britain. Albrecht talked about “middlemen” such as Ian Hamilton (head of the British Legion), the Duke of Hamilton and Violet Roberts, the widow of Walter Roberts. The Roberts were very close to Stewart Menzies (Walter and Stewart had gone to school together). Violet Roberts was living in Lisbon in 1940. Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland were the four main places where these secret negotiations were taking place.

On 19th September, 1940, Albrecht Haushofer wrote to Rudolf Hess about his letter to the Duke of Hamilton. He explained that Hamilton would find it difficult to fly to Portugal without the permission of Lord Halifax, the British Foreign Secretary and Archibald Sinclair, the Secretary of State for Air. Haushofer suggested that it would probably be better to work through Samuel Hoare but planned to send the letter via an old friend.

The letter was intercepted by MI5 and Hamilton was persuaded to work as a double-agent. Hamilton agreed to go to Lisbon to meet Haushofer. Colonel Tar Robertson, head of MI5's double agent section, wrote in April 1941: "Hamilton at the beginning of the war and still is a member of the community which sincerely believes that Great Britain will be willing to make peace with Germany provided the present regime in Germany were superseded by some reasonable form of government... He is a slow-witted man, but at the same time he gets there in the end; and I feel that if he is properly schooled before leaving for Lisbon he could do a very useful job of work."

In 1959, Heinrich Stahmer, Albrecht Haushofer’s agent in Spain, claimed that meetings between Samuel Hoare, Lord Halifax and Rudolf Hess took place in Spain and Portugal between February and April 1941. The Vichy press reported that Hess was in Spain on the weekend of 20/22 of April 1941. The correspondence between British Embassies and the Foreign Office are routinely released to the Public Record Office. However, all documents relating to the weekend of 20/22 April, 1941 at the Madrid Embassy are being held back and will not be released until 2017.

Karl Haushofer was arrested and interrogated by the Allies after the war. The British government has never released the documents that include details of these interviews. However, these interviews are in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) archive. Karl told his interviewers that Germany was involved in peace negotiations with Britain in 1940-41. In 1941 Albrecht was sent to Switzerland to meet Samuel Hoare (Lord Templewood) the British ambassador to Spain. This peace proposal included a willingness to “relinquish Norway, Denmark and France”. Karl goes onto say: “A larger meeting was to be held in Madrid. When my son returned, he was immediately called to Augsburg by Hess. A few days later Hess flew to England.”

According to his friend, Rainer Hildebrandt, Albrecht Haushofer became very distressed when he discovered that the Hess peace initiative had ended in failure. As Haushofer knew the true details of the operation, he feared for his life and expected the same fate as Karlheinz Pintsch. He was right, and on 11th May, 1941, Adolf Hitler ordered the arrest of Haushofer.

The following day he was taken to Berchtesgaden and ordered to write a full report on what he knew about the reasons for Rudolf Hess flying to Scotland. Haushofer also outlined his contacts with people like the Duke of Hamilton, Samuel Hoare (Viscount Templewood), Lord Halifax and Alec Douglas-Home (Lord Dunglass) during these peace negotiations.

After reading Haushofer's report Hitler ordered that he should be sent to the Prince Albrecht Strasse Gestapo Prison in Berlin to be interrogated by Heinrich Mueller, the head of the Gestapo. Haushofer was released in July 1941. The reason for this is that Hitler believed that Haushofer could still play a key role in any future peace negotiations with Britain. Haushofer was kept under surveillance and Martin Bormann sent a letter to important figures in the media that: "Professor Albrecht Haushofer should no longer be given any publicity".

Irmegard Schnuhr, one of Haushofer's favourite students, was recruited by Heinrich Mueller to spy on him. However, she remained loyal to her tutor and only gave the Gestapo information that was first cleared by Haushofer. However, she was not the only spy used and it soon became clear that Haushofer was in contact with other opponents of the Nazi government including Ulrich von Hassell, Ludwig Beck, Helmuth von Moltke, Peter von Wartenburg and Carl Goerdeler.

On Sunday, 7th December, 1941, 105 high-level bombers, 135 dive-bombers and 81 fighter aircraft attacked the the US Fleet at Pearl Harbor. In two hours 18 warships, 188 aircraft and 2,403 servicemen were lost in the attack. Luckily, the navy's three aircraft carriers, Enterprise, Lexington and Saratoga, were all at sea at the time. The following day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and a united US Congress declared war on Japan.

Soon afterwards, Irmegard Schnuhr was summoned by Adolf Hitler and asked her to discover what Haushofer's views were on the possibility of negotiating a peace with Britain. Haushofer told Schnuhr that Hitler's foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, would make it impossible for any negotiations to get off the ground. Hitler replied that it "would be easy to sack Ribbentrop" if the British first sacked their Foreign Minister, Anthony Eden.

A group of anti-Nazis, including Claus von Stauffenberg, Wilhelm Canaris, Carl Goerdeler, Julius Leber, Ulrich Hassell, Hans Oster, Peter von Wartenburg, Henning von Tresckow, Friedrich Olbricht, Werner von Haeften, Fabian Schlabrendorff, Ludwig Beck and Erwin von Witzleben decided to assassinate Adolf Hitler (the July Plot). Haushofer was opposed to any attempt on Hitler's life because he did not believe it would bring an end to the war.

At least six attempts were aborted before Claus von Stauffenberg decided on trying again during a conference attended by Adolf Hitler on 20th July, 1944. It was decided to drop plans to kill Herman Goering and Heinrich Himmler at the same time. Stauffenberg, who had never met Hitler before, carried the bomb in a briefcase and placed it on the floor while he left to make a phone-call. The bomb exploded killing four men in the hut. Hitler's right arm was badly injured but he survived the bomb blast.

Albrecht Haushofer immediately went into hiding but was arrested by the Gestapo on 7th December 1944. He was taken to Moabit Prison in the Lehrterstrasse, Berlin. For the next few weeks Haushofer was interrogated constantly. However, unlike the other conspirators, Haushofer was not executed.

A fellow prisoner, Eberhard Bethge, later claimed that this was because Hitler had the "intention to make use of Haushofer at a later date." Hitler and Himmler were both still hoping that they could use Haushofer to negotiate a peace deal with Britain and the United States. Haushofer was given special privileges and during this period he wrote what became known as the Moabite Sonnets.

Irmegard Schnuhr approached Karl Haushofer about the possibility of using his influence to get his son released from prison. He replied: "Why should I do that? He has betrayed his country and his people and deserves no help from me."

In February 1945, Heinrich Himmler explored the possibility of doing a deal that involved capitulating to the Western Allies but not to the Soviet Union. Winston Churchill and Harry Truman considered this offer but with the Red Army advancing on Berlin, it was not a realistic option. On 21st April 1945, Himmler instructed Heinrich Mueller to execute Albrecht Haushofer. This was carried out two days later.

It was decided not to prosecute Karl Haushofer at Nuremberg because it was decided that his role had only been "academic and advisory". On 11th March 1946, Karl and his wife committed suicide.

Primary Sources

(1) Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (1925)

If European soil was wanted by and large it could be had only at the expense of Russia.... For such a policy as this there was but one ally in Europe - England. Only with England covering our rear could we have begun a new Germanic migration. No sacrifice should have been too great in winning England's friendship. We should have given up all thought of colonies and seapower and avoided competition with British industry.

(2) Albrecht Haushofer, letter to Karl Haushofer (26th October 1929)

For years now Western German policy was made with sacrifice after sacrifice in order to get a free hand in the East one day - now, in the few weeks since Stresemann's death, our last means of pressure in the Poland negotiations has been thrown overboard...

Everybody who sails under the direct flag of the Right is not even listened to owing to the anxiety psychosis into which Hugenberg and Hitler have plunged the people...

I must confess that four weeks ago I could not have considered how deep the desire for Stresemann's return must be. He was certainly not a great man, but among the blind he was certainly one-eyed.

(3) Albrecht Haushofer, letter to his mother (7th May 1933)

I am glad about the optimism of father and of Heinz, although I do not understand it.... The way our German world develops I see no possibilities of activity for myself....

But these are only the external things. Internally it looks like this: I now stand on a narrow strip of land which remains when one becomes indifferent to one's own existence, and when on the other hand there is no compelling reason for taking an active step towards non-existence.

I cannot really say very much regarding father's political letter. I am glad that he sees possibilities of activity for himself to a certain extent - in the same state which disqualifies his sons from the Civil Service ( I have very carefully read the new Ordinance to the Civil Servants' Act, I do not notice much relaxation in them). But we judge matters too differently for me to be able to say anything in respect of this attitude, in respect of his standing up or not standing up for people.

You cannot plane wood without producing shavings is a very fine proverb; but when some of the shavings are personally known to you, things look very different. I only do not know whether I should envy or admire the blindness which does not see how near to us already is the blade of the plane.

(4) Albrecht Haushofer, letter to his parents about the reasons why he decided to work for Adolf Hitler and the Nazi government (June 1933)


Lack in me of National Socialist philosophy of life. Lacking faith in the ability to teach and to find contact with the young generation. Compulsion to make a whole series of compromises in questions of opinion; loss of a good deal of both inner and external freedom.


Increased possibility of practical activity: improvement of my position in the sense of external prestige and of middle class significance of titles.

Compulsion to be active:

In a certain sense increase and safety of external freedom of movement, both financially as well as in respect of freedom to travel, which one must grant to the holder of this position.

You see, it is all rather muddled up, but it is, after all, a fact that the incentives are all on the side of my worldly vita activa - while the inhibitions are just inhibitions of my character. That I could accomplish many things better than others, that in this position a tolerably reasonable person is better than an unreasonable one, that I probably possess the necessary skill to create for myself further influence from this activity, that (and this is said really more for you than for myself, because your external need for my prestige is greater than my own) the then existing combination of external position would for quite a number of years serve as an absolutely satisfactory basis - all that I know of course. The question is whether I could manage to jump over the internal shadow, and if I do, how it will end.

(5) Albrecht Haushofer, letter to his parents (27th July, 1934)

I sometimes ask myself how long we shall be able to carry the responsibility, which we bear and which gradually begins to turn into historical guilt or, at least, into complicity.... But all of us are, after all, in a situation of conflicting obligations, from which at best fate can find a way out, and we have to carry on working, even when the task has become completely hopeless.

And now I must try to finish my geopolitics report. How, I do not know. In the evening of the day before yesterday I heard father's radio talk; I must admit it was very sinister to me to hear his sarcastic remark on Dolfuss's accumulation of offices while on the adjoining wave-length it was announced that he was dead.... There will be much violent dying and nobody knows when lightning will strike one's own house.

(6) Albrecht Haushofer, letter to his mother (16th November 1938)

That I am alive is evident from our telephone conversations. If I were physically ill, I would let you know. Should there be essential changes in the external order of my existence or should such be in the immediate offing, I would write about it, although such changes nowadays occur so quickly that often there remains no time for thinking or even for writing.

But on what else should I otherwise write? I no longer have a private life, and if I had I would not write about it. One never knows, after all, who else reads one's letters. One cannot write about things which move one. And when one can write about them once in a while like today, when I can send the letter by my brother - what is the point of making life even more difficult for each other?

You know very well yourselves that we live in medieval circumstances, which are an insult to the gallantry of our Middle Ages; that our spiritually possessed great leaders are enraged over their failure with their nice little war (with the result that all those who in the last minute pleaded for settlement and peace are now highly unpopular), that they endeavour as far as possible to frustrate a German-English settlement. And if you do not know it, it is perhaps better for Father's peace of mind...

It will be soon enough to realise what is going on, when we are all robbed or hanged. The disappointed fury over the missed war is now raging internally. Today it is the Jews. Tomorrow it will be other groups and classes.

The financial advice I gave to you yesterday is based on the contingency that perhaps as early as next Saturday, but perhaps only later, a partial capital levy will be imposed also for Aryans the financial consequences of which cannot be assessed, but which can very easily lead to a lowering of purchase power so that one may suddenly become non-liquid. The exact amount of the confiscation, which is to go by the name of `Thank Offering' is not yet known. It will be unavoidable because public coffers are empty.

(7) Albrecht Haushofer, Guilt: the 38th Sonnet of Moabit (1945)

I lightly carry what the judge calls my guilt

Guilt in planning and caring

I would feel guilty had I not from inner duty

Planned for the people's future

But I am guilty other than you think:

I should have sooner seen my duty

I should have sharper condemned evil

I have too long delayed my judgement.

I now accuse myself

I have long betrayed my conscience

I have lied to myself and to others.

I soon foresaw the evil's frightful path;

I have warned,

But my warnings were too feeble.

I know today wherein lies my guilt

(8) James Douglas-Hamilton, Motive for a Mission (1971)

No prosecution was made against Karl Haushofer at Nuremberg because the American prosecuting team regarded his role as being academic and advisory. He was taken to Nuremberg merely to see Hess who was alleged to be suffering from amnesia and who refused to recognise him. He was also asked to prepare a last statement on German geopolitics, which he agreed to do. On his way back to his lodgings, Karl Haushofer said that Hess was completely sincere in his fanatical support of Hitler, that his flight to Britain was characteristic of him, and that at no other time had Hess concealed his plans from him. Whilst being driven back he could see the ruins of the bombed city and he was dismayed.

He had always been in favour of setting aside the Versailles Treaty; now he saw Germany occupied and with far less territory than she had had under the Treaty of Versailles. He did not want to live in a Germany which had been defeated for the second time in a world war. In 1943 he had quarrelled with Albrecht and had told him that if the war was lost as Albrecht thought, he would kill himself, and his mind kept reverting to this theme.

Only the presence of his family kept him from putting his threat into action. At the end of 1945 after the return of his son Heinz, although his health was deteriorating, he did not wish to escape a confrontation regarding his life's work. Once he had completed his last defence of German geopolitics in which he claimed that his teachings had been misunderstood, and once he had discovered that Hess's counsel did not require him as a defence witness at the Nuremberg war trials he felt freed from all obligations. He told Heinz `You no longer need me' and again and again emphasised the right of the stoic to put an end to his life, once he had fulfilled all his duties.

Throughout his life Karl Haushofer had been an admirer of the ancient Greek stoics and on 11 March 1946 he carried his admiration to its logical conclusion. On that Monday Karl and Martha Haushofer set out for their last walk through the woods. They stopped about half a mile from their house in a hollow by the stream under a willow tree. There they took poison. Martha was also hanged from the tree; the General was not strong enough to follow suit as the poison took effect.