Reitsch as portrayed by Anna Thalbach
Hanna Reitsch was a German aviatrix, Nazi test pilot, and the only woman awarded the Iron Cross First Class and the Luftwaffe Pilot/Observer Badge in Gold with Diamonds during World War II. She set over forty aviation altitude and endurance records during her career, both before and after World War II, and several of her international gliding records still stand in 2012. In the 1960s she founded a gliding school in Ghana, where she worked for Kwame Nkrumah.
Reitsch began flight training in 1932, and left medical school in 1933 to become a full-time instructor at Baden-Württemberg, proceeding to set a number of glider endurance records. In 1937 she was posted to the Luftwaffe testing centre at Rechlin-Lärz Airfield where she served as test pilot for the Junkers Ju-87 Stuka and Dornier Do 17, for which she was awarded the Iron Cross Second Class by Adolf Hitler in 1941. Reitsch was the first female helicopter pilot and one of the few pilots to fly the Focke-Achgelis Fa 61, the first fully controllable helicopter, for which she received the Military Flying Medal. Her flying skill, desire for publicity and photogenic qualities made her a star of Nazi party propaganda, and she appeared in films throughout the late 1930s and early 1940s. Reitsch was asked to fly many of Germany's latest designs, among them the rocket-propelled Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet in 1942. A crash landing on her fifth Me 163 flight badly injured her and she spent the next five months recovering in hospital. Reitsch received the Iron Cross, First Class, a few days after the accident.
After news of the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943, she accepted an invitation from Col. Gen. Ritter von Greim to visit the Eastern Front, spending three weeks visiting Luftwaffe units via Fieseler Storch. On 28 February 1944, she presented the idea of Operation Suicide to Hitler at Berchtesgaden, a strategy reminiscent of the Japanese kamikaze pilots which "would require men who were ready to sacrifice themselves in the conviction that only by this means could their country be saved." While Hitler "did not consider the war situation sufficiently serious to warrant them" he nonetheless approved development; she assisted Heinz Kensche in testing the Me 328 and Otto Skorzeny in adapting the V-1 as a manned aircraft, although neither plan was implemented operationally.
Following the Göring Telegramme toward the end of the war, Hitler recalled von Greim to Berlin; von Greim was wounded on approach and Reitsch took control, landing their Storch on an improvised airstrip in the Tiergarten. Hitler promoted von Greim to commander of the Luftwaffe and ordered him to arrest Heinrich Himmler for attempting to negotiate a secret peace with the Western Allies; Hitler also gave them each a poison capsule. On the evening of 28 April they were flown out of Berlin; they were captured and interrogated by Allied forces, and von Greim committed suicide on 24 May.
After her release, Reitsch resumed her aviation career after prohibitions on German pilots were lifted. In 1959 she was invited by Jawaharlal Nehru to establish a gliding centre in India, and was invited to the White House by John F. Kennedy in 1961. In 1962 Kwame Nkrumah invited her to found a gliding school in Ghana, which she ran to 1966. She continued flying throughout the 1970s. Reitsch died in Frankfurt at the age of 67, on 24 August 1979, apparently after a heart attack; the same month Eric Brown, a British test pilot who had known her before the war, received a letter in which she reminisced about their shared love of flying, ending with the words; "It began in the bunker and there it shall end". Brown speculated that this may have referred to a suicide pact with von Greim, who may well have been Reitsch's lover. Her death was announced shortly after Brown received this letter, which led him to wonder whether she had finally carried out her side of the pact and had used the suicide pill at last: apparently no post-mortem inquest was carried out on her body.
Reitsch remained a devout supporter of National Socialism during and after the war; during interrogation she repeatedly stated that "It was the blackest day when we could not die at our Führer's side." In a final interview conducted in the 1970s, Ron Laytner quoted her as saying:
- And what have we now in Germany? A land of bankers and car-makers. Even our great army has gone soft. Soldiers wear beards and question orders. I am not ashamed to say I believed in National Socialism. I still wear the Iron Cross with diamonds Hitler gave me. But today in all Germany you can't find a single person who voted Adolf Hitler into power... Many Germans feel guilty about the war. But they don't explain the real guilt we share – that we lost.
Her career in Ghana led to a drastic change in racial attitudes. She remarked: "Earlier in my life, it would never have occurred to me to treat a black person as a friend or partner..." She now experienced guilt at her earlier "presumptuousness and arrogance". While some African-Americans were disturbed by the prominence of a person with Reitsch's past, Shirley Graham Du Bois concurred with Nkrumah that Reitsch was extremely naïve politically.
In October 1944, she was shown a booklet Peter Riedel had obtained while in the German Embassy in Stockholm, concerning the gas chambers. She claims she believed it to be enemy propaganda, but agreed to inform Heinrich Himmler about it. Himmler asked her if she believed it, and she replied, "No, of course not. But you must do something to counter it. You can't let them shoulder this onto Germany." "You are right," Himmler replied.
In the Downfall universeEdit
Reitsch accompanies von Greim in two scenes midway through the film, reaffirming their unwavering loyalty to Hitler and expressing confidence in what were in fact utterly unattainable strategic calculations. In the parodies, she is routinely portrayed as even more clueless than Günsche, and in the second half of the dinner scene will often ask Hitler to repeat his plans in further detail. In Multipolarity II, Reitsch is the in character "player" of the West Coast Federation. Her forum handle is LuftHanna.