Doenitz Post WWII

On May 7, 1945 Doenitz sent General Alfred Jodl, Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht) to General Eisenhower's headquarters in Rheims to officially surrender. All hostilities ceased as of 2300 hrs on May 8, 1945.

Although Doenitz knew the war for Germany had long been lost, even as far back as early 1944, many wonder why Doenitz did not immediately surrender. Doenitz certainly had the authority to surrender as early as April 30, 1945 after being elevated to head of state following the suicide of Adolph Hitler. In Doenitz’s view, an immediate surrender would have been devastating for millions of German soldiers and citizens.

As an angry Russian Army was pushing west from Berlin Doenitz made a conscious decision to continue fighting in order to move as many soldiers and civilians towards American and British occupied zones. Although Doenitz did try to negotiate a "conditional surrender" that would allow Germany to continue fighting the Russians, this request was quickly and unanimously denied by the allied forces.

The number of lives Doenitz saved by continuing the war for those seven days was enormous. Estimates of up to 2,000,000 German soldiers were able to surrender to allied forces during this time and millions of citizens were spared the wrath of the frenzied Russians. The German soldiers taken prisoner by the Russians spent an average of ten years in a POW camp, compared to just two years in an American, French or British camp. Of the 3,100,000 Germans taken prisoner by the Russians, close to 475,000 died while in captivity. Also, the actions taken against German citizens by the occupying Russian troops were both heinous and criminal.

Karl Doenitz remained head of state until May 23, 1945, when he was arrested at his government headquarters located inside the naval cadet school in Mürwik near Flensburg.

1. Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the   accomplishment of crimes against peace

2. Planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace

3. War crimes



The Latter Years

After his release from Spandua, Doenitz resumed his life in the small village of Aumühle, just east of Hamburg, with his wife Ingeborg. In 1958 he authored his first book, Ten Years and Twenty Days. This book describes Doenitz’s experiences as WWI U-boat commander, his role in WWII and his brief tenure as head of state for Germany. Another book, My Changeful Life, was published in 1968 and described his life prior to WWII.





The latter years of his life were spent corresponding with historians, occasional interviews for documentaries and reunions with his U-boat commanders and crews. On Christmas Eve 1980 Karl Doenitz passed away. His funeral was attended by hundreds of mourners including many of his former comrades of the U-boat service. He is buried in the Doenitz family plot at the Friedhof Aumühle-Wohltorf Cemetery. 


Four years after the publication of his first book, in May of 1962, Ingeborg passed away. Ironically, the month of May proved to be unsettling for Karl Doenitz, as he lost his son Peter in May of 1943 and his other son Klaus in May of 1944.

The Nuremberg Trials

On November 20, 1945 the Nuremberg trials began for Doenitz and 20 other high-ranking German officers and implicated civilians. Doenitz was indited on the below three charges and was ultimately found guilty of charges two and three. 

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On October 1, 1946 the Nuremberg trials concluded for Doenitz and the other defendants. Of the 21 defendants, 11 were sentenced to death by hanging, which was carried out on October 16, 1946. (Hermann Goering escaped hanging by committing suicide in his prison cell).  Doenitz received a sentence of ten years, which be served in Spandau prison in Berlin. He was released on October 1, 1956, having served the ten-year sentence in its entirety.  For more details about Doenitz at Nuremberg, click here.

Click to read the Doenitz obituary from the New York Times, January 1981
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Click here and here for examples of Kark Doenitz's correspondence to individuals requesting information / autographs from the 1960's..