Olaf von Schwerin

A German noble psychiatrist between tradition and National Socialism

Count Olaf von Schwerin was born into one of germany's oldest noble families on November 4, 1910. The Von Schwerin family of Mecklenburg-Pomeranian gave Germany dozens of prominent generals and politicians. Olaf's father, Claudius von Schwerin, was a well-known legal historian and an internationally respected specialist in Germanic law. In his interest in legal history, the examination of the concepts of "loyalty", "honor" and "community" played a central role. He joined the NSDAP on May 1, 1937, presumably for tactical reasons – he had previously done much to remove martin heidegger, the philosopher whom he despised, who had made serious compromises with the Nazis, from the position of rector, which he succeeded in February 1934.

Olaf's father once confronted the history of capital letters himself. On February 18, 1943, he was walking down the university stairwell in Munich when members of the "White Rose" resistance movement, Hans and Sophie Scholl, began throwing leaflets from the upper steps of the stairwell. This action was one of the rare instances in which Young Germans risked their lives to call on their fellow men to resist politically on a humanistic and Christian basis – that is, they actually adhered to the values that were fundamental to Claudius. The Scholl brothers were sentenced to death in an expedited trial and beheaded on February 22, 1943. Claudius and his wife were killed by a devastating bombing of the U.S. Air Force on June 13, 1944. His eldest son, Rolf von Schwerin, was killed on the Eastern Front in 1942.

The White Rose resistance movement was formed in Munich in the summer of 1942. Its members were a circle of friends of young university students Alexander Schmorell and Hans Scholl. Many of them witnessed mass murders as soldiers and saw the everyday life of the Warsaw Ghetto – and these experiences motivated them to resist. Members of the movement illegally distributed replicated leaflets in Munich and other German cities. A total of six different forms were produced, with a maximum number of copies of one type of form being 9000. Their first materials were distributed by post without a sender. The sixth leaflet was sent abroad by the German resistance.

Since the summer of 1942, the Gestapo has been investigating the perpetrators to no avail. However, in connection with the Munich leaflet-scattering operation of February 18, 1943, employees of the University of Munich arrested Hans and Sophie Scholl, who scattered leaflets in the university stairwell. Subsequently, the German Volksgerichshof ["people's court") sentenced five people to beheadings in two trials, many of them receiving prison sentences.

In the spring of 1943, news of the White Rose resistance movement appeared in the U.S. press, and the U.S. Air Force dropped a copy of the movement's last leaflet over Germany. The White Rose was the resistance movement that a significant part of the German population knew about before 1945. 

Olaf studied to be a psychiatrist and in 1936, at the University of Freiburg, he prepared his doctoral dissertation with the promising title:"Race and physique qualities of 100 Saden schizophrenics". This was in line with the fact that he joined SA as early as 1933, and then the NS-Dozentenbund, which was a National Socialist member organization of the faculty of professors. He also participated in the training in race policy and eugenics at the Leadership School of the German National Socialist Medical Association with the Alt-Rehse center. Due to his profession and subject matter, he was surely aware of the T4 operation that began in September 1939, which meant the murder of persons classified as mentally handicapped. However, its activities in this regard cannot be reconstructed. He certainly wasn't involved in selecting patients in objects designated for destruction. On the other hand, he must have provided documents relating to patients on the basis of which the persons concerned could have been transferred to such objects. In the same way, it can be assumed that during his medical operation he participated in studies that led to the forced sterilization of those concerned.

Very little is known about his military career. His first call-up took place in 1939, but he did not serve in the military until 1944. What we do know for sure is that in the autumn of 1944 he became commander of the medical section of the 978th Grenadier Regiment, which was then established. The task of this subdivision was to care for the wounded between the lashings of the battalion providing the first care and the lashings of the division dedicated to hospital care. From November 1944, the 271st People's Grenadier Division defended itself first in the river protection of the Danube, then in the Margaret Line east of Lake Venice. The Soviet offensive, which began on December 20, 1944, tore the division's front line in two. The 978th Grenadier Regiment and a class of artillery were confined to Buda, while the rest were stranded outside the ring. The units that were forced to budapest were named after their commander, Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Kündiger, the "Kündiger Group".

Schwerin's battle point may have been in the 11th district at first, but he could also change sides with the Kündiger group's settlement of Pestre. After January 16, 1945, he returned to Buda.

His last letter was written on a typewriter between December 24 and 30, 1944, and he was able to send it to his wife.


Heissa! It's Christmas today. Dear CH [non-decodeable K.U], today at least I can think a little more relaxed, even a little. Today, something became clearer to me about marriage. It's a great thing: even if things are messy, even if I feel so lonely in my momentary situation, there's still the certainty that someone is counting on me.


Dear ones. On the same day, the so-called Christmas Eve, the beautiful thoughts came to an end. Ivan stormed us. And he hasn't let go since. In the meantime, we're in a crazy quarze battle, and we're fighting like immortals, as Himmler telegraphed us. In our defense phase, the battle is door-to-door. Formality sits in the cellars and behaves fantastically. They support us in every way. And we also very much hope that salvation will come [sic!] from the outside. In the meantime, we're going to have to hold on to the bridgehead. Unfortunately, the losses are such that I have to do it all the time. I don't get much sleep. Only sometimes it is possible to take a little nap, on a chair or on the floor, wherever possible. But the mood remains good."

Schwerin was involved in the outburst, according to Karl Luzy's hearsy testimony, he fell on February 14, 1945. The exact location of his death cannot be determined.

After 1945, all documents relating to his relationship with National Socialism were systematically destroyed. However, this also made it difficult for his grandchildren to understand their grandfather's behavior.