Karl Dönitz was a German admiral during World War II and, for a brief time after Hitler’s suicide, the president of Germany. Dönitz served as a junior lieutenant in World War I, remaining in the Navy during the interwar period and rising through the ranks. At the outbreak of World War II, Dönitz was promoted to rear admiral and put in charge of Germany’s U-boat fleet. Though not a Nazi Party member, he was pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic and fanatically loyal to Hitler.
Dönitz became Reich president on April 30th 1945 and oversaw Germany’s surrender to the Allies, before his arrest three weeks later. According to an apocryphal story, Dönitz, who suffered from poor bladder control, was wearing several pairs of underpants when arrested. He was held by the British for several weeks, then charged with war crimes and moved to Nuremberg.
While awaiting trial, Dönitz admitted to a US Army psychiatrist Lieutenant-Colonel Douglas Kelley that he had feigned insanity while in British custody:
“Two companions and I decided it might aid our efforts to escape if we were adjudged insane. We walked about, our heads hunched down, going ‘Bzzz, bzzz’ and insisting that we were U-boats. But the British doctors were too much smart for us.”
Dönitz was convicted of military war crimes but acquitted of the more serious crimes against humanity. Sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, he was held at Spandau until 1956. After his release Dönitz retired to northern Germany where he penned two memoirs and remained unapologetic for his role in the war. He died in 1980, aged 89.