Walther Kurt von Seydlitz-Kurzbach (22 August 1888 – 28 April 1976) was a general in the German Wehrmacht during World War II and a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves. Seydlitz-Kurzbach was relieved of his command in early 1943 and then abandoned the German army lines under German fire to surrender to the Red Army. He became a Soviet collaborator while a prisoner of war. After the war he was convicted by the Soviet Union of war crimes. In 1996 he was posthumously pardoned by Russia.
Seydlitz-Kurzbach was born in Hamburg, Germany, into the noble Prussian Seydlitz family. During World War I he served on both fronts as an officer. During the Weimar Republic he remained a professional officer in the Reichswehr; from 1940-42 he commanded the 12th Infantry Division of the German Army. When the division was encircled in the Demyansk Pocket, Seydlitz was responsible for breaking the Soviet cordon and enabling German units to escape from encirclement; for this action he was promoted to General of the Artillery and appointed commander of the LI Corps.
The corps was subordinated to the Sixth Army during the Battle of Stalingrad. When the entire army was trapped in the city in the course of the Soviet Operation Uranus, Seydlitz was one of the generals who argued most forcefully in favor of a breakout or a surrender, in contravention of Hitler’s orders. On 25 January 1943 he told his subordinate officers that they were free to decide for themselves on whether to surrender. Friedrich Paulus immediately relieved him of command of his three divisions (the 100th, 71st and 295th Infantry Divisions).
A few days later Seydlitz fled the German lines under fire from his own side with a group of other officers. He was taken into Soviet custody, where he was interrogated by Capt. Nikolay Dyatlenko. He was identified by the interrogations as a potential collaborator. In August 1943 he was taken with two other generals to a political re-education center at Lunovo. A month later he was sent back to prisoner of war camps to recruit other German officers.
Seydlitz was a leader in the forming, under Soviet supervision, of an anti-Nazi organization, the League of German Officers, and was made a member of the National Committee for a Free Germany. He was condemned by many of his fellow generals for his collaboration with the Soviet Union. He was sentenced to death in absentia by Hitler's government. His idea of creating an anti-Nazi force of some 40,000 German POWs to be airlifted into Germany was never seriously considered, while in Germany his family was taken into Sippenhaft, detention for the crimes of a family member. Seydlitz was ultimately exploited by both Soviet and German propaganda: he was used by the former in broadcasts and literature to encourage German soldiers to surrender, while the latter cultivated the idea of "Seydlitz troops" (German: Seydlitztruppen). His role in Soviet propaganda was largely equivalent to that of Andrey Vlasov in Nazi propaganda.
In 1949 he was charged with war crimes. He was put on trial for responsibility for actions against Soviet POWs and the civilian population while in Wehrmacht service. In 1950 a Soviet tribunal sentenced him to 25 years’ imprisonment, but in 1955 he was released to West Germany, where in 1956 his Third Reich death sentence was nullified.
Seydlitz died on 28 April 1976 in Bremen. On 23 April 1996 a posthumous pardon was issued by Russian authorities.
- Iron Cross (1914) 2nd Class (19 September 1914) & 1st Class (21 October 1915)
- Clasp to the Iron Cross (1939) 2nd Class (17 May 1940) & 1st Class (22 May 1940)
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
- Knight's Cross on 15 August 1940 as Generalmajor and commander of 12. Infanterie-Division
- Oak Leaves on 31 December 1941 as Generalmajor and commander of 12. Infanterie-Division