Dietrich von Choltitz is most associated with saving Paris from destruction when, in August 1944, von Choltitz surrendered the city to the Allies rather than see Paris destroyed in a similar fashion to Stalingrad in 1942/43. By surrendering the city, von Choltitz was directly defying Hitler who wanted the city razed to the ground if it was threatened by the Allies.
Dietrich von Choltitz was born in November 1894 in Silesia. He fought in World War One and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. At the end of the war, he remained in the army and by 1929 he had risen to the rank of captain in a cavalry regiment. In 1938, Choltitz was commander of the 3rd battalion of the Luftlande-Infanterieregiment 16.
During World War Two, von Choltitz’ battalion took part in the occupation of Rotterdam in 1940. His leadership during this speedy and highly successful attack earned him the Knight’s Cross.
In September 1940, he became commander of the Luftlande-Infanterieregiment 16. In 1941 Choltitz was promoted to full colonel.
In June 1941, ‘Operation Barbarossa’ was launched – the massive invasion of Russia. At first the invasion was very successful. But after the failure to take Leningrad, Moscow and finally Stalingrad, the invasion was doomed to failure.
Von Choltitz’s regiment fought at Sebastopol in the south of the USSR in June 1942. In this year he became a major general. Von Choltitz became a lieutenant general in the following year. He served in Italy before moving to Normandy in 1944 with the rank of general in charge of the 84th Army Corps. However, his failure to stop the advance of the Americans led by Omar Bradley displeased Hitler and he was moved to Paris where he became the city’s military governor in August.
Here von Choltitz disobeyed orders that came directly from Hitler. He was told to blow up all the bridges in the city which he refused to do. He was also ordered to destroy the city rather than surrender Paris intact to the Allies. This he also failed to do. Von Choltittz also negotiated with the French Resistance in the city to keep violence to a minimum – despite being ordered to fight to the last bullet. Why would an army man through and through disobey his commander-in-chief? While von Choltitz did have a very good military pedigree, he was a practical and logical man. It is possible that to him, the order to destroy Paris was anything but logical – hence it was not carried out.
Von Choltitz surrendered the city to the Allies along with the garrison that remained in the city. Those who were there, said that Hitler was furious when he found out about the surrender. Von Choltitz became a prisoner of war and remained so until 1946.
Dietrich von Choltitz died in 1966 after a long illness. He was buried in Baden-Baden and his funeral was attended by a number of high ranking French army officers.