Melitta Schenk Grafin von Stauffenberg
By, Captain Nancy Aldrich, aviation writer
Melitta Schiller was born to Michael and Margaret Schiller on January 9, 1903. Michael was Jewish fur trader, who had converted to Christianity in the Lutheran Church. She was born in Krotoschin, Prussia. She was a very bright and curious youngster. Not much is known of her early life, but in 1922 she entered the University of Munich, studying math, physics and engineering. In 1927 she earned her Engineering Certificate at the Munich Institute of Technology, graduating Cum Laude. She was particularly interested in Aeronautical Engineering, unusual for a young lady of that era!
After graduating, she went to work for the German Research Institute for Aviation and worked there for over eight years. She worked on the new jet technology, and rocket propulsion. In 1929, she found a school that would accept female flight students, and began her flight lessons. At the age of 26 she qualified as both an engineer and a pilot. She would eventually be licensed for all classes of powered aircraft, aerobatic flight, and also gliders.
While attending a wedding, in 1931, she met the Stauffenberg family, and found Alexander very attractive. Their interests were very different. He was a historian and she a pilot and engineer, but they were attracted to each other and eventually married in1937.
In the meantime, Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. In 1935, all Germans had to prove their Aryan status. Her father was born Jewish. The family applied for “equal to Aryan” status by presenting her parent’s marriage certificate, which declared them to be Lutheran. This was not satisfactory proof, and they were not awarded “Aryan status. Because of that, Melitta was removed from her position with the Institute for Aviation, in October of 1936. Her sister stated that the family’s non Aryan status “hung like a sword of Damocles over us all.”
After being released from the Institute, Melitta was employed by Askania-Werke, who made aviation instruments. While working there she developed navigation and steering systems for sea planes.
As the war loomed, she wanted to volunteer with the Red Cross. However, the Nazis wanted her piloting skills and she was sent to Rechlin, the Luftwaffe’s testing station. There she became a test pilot with a remarkable record. She was flying up to 15 test flights a day, almost all of which were in dive bombers, Junkers Ju-87s and Heinkel He-118s. From October 1939 to February 1942, she made over 900 dives from between 13,000 and 15,000 feet. In 1943, Melitta met Goring, the head of the Luftwaffe, and was awarded the Iron Cross. She was given the title FlugKapitanin – Captain, and was also given the Military Flier’s Badge. in gold and diamonds. She flew approximately 2,500 test flights in her career.
Melitta was very loyal to Germany, but not to the Nazis. Her brothers-in-law, Claus and Berthold, hatched a scheme to assassinate Hitler. They asked if she could fly them to and from his headquarters. She agreed, but was not able to find a suitable airplane at the time. She was not with the brothers during the assassination attempt on July 20, 1944. Claus, who placed the bomb for the unsuccessful attempt, was arrested and executed the next day, and Berthold soon after. She, and most of the family members, were arrested along with them. However, due to the Luftwaffe’s need for her services as a test pilot, she was let go on September 2. Some of her staff were able to convince the Gestapo that she was only married to a Stauffenberg, but was not involved in the assassination plot. They reported that her skills as a pilot were necessary to the military and she was irreplaceable to the aviation efforts.
When released she made two demands before resuming her work. First, she demanded to always know where her husband was, and second, that she could visit the family members. When those demands were agreed to, she resumed her test pilot activities, which included dive bombing runs and night flying of prototypes. Franz Ludwig Schenk, the son of Claus, said of her, “She was a flyer, a pilot, which was not that common a profession for a woman to have at that time. She was not merely an adventurer, but she was also an engineer and had invented a number of quite important gadgets for night flying.” “So as a surprise, she came to us during Christmas 1944. On the holiday, we were asked to the house of the camp director, a woman. We went over, and there was Aunt Lita. As a result of this visit, she also could tell my grandmother where we had been and that we were well. We adored Aunt Lita and found her very exciting. She told the most wonderful stories of her flying and her planes. Christmas was great that year.”
Melitta did not survive the war. There are conflicting stories of what happened to her. The most accepted story is that while flying she was shot down during the last days of the war by be the Allies. However, some members of her family believe that she was purposely shot down in Bavaria by German troops. They believe that the officer in charge of anti-aircraft guns was told who she was. The Germans believed that she was trying to escape with her husband and the Stauffenberg family jewels. She was found with jewelry and money from her bank accounts. One account said while she survived the crash of her plane, she died shortly of bullet wounds. Another said that her only injury from the crash was a broken leg.
Her husband, Alexander however, believes that she was trying to find him and would have tried to escape with him into Switzerland.
We will never know for sure what happened to Melitta, but she died shortly after crashing her plane on April 8, 1945.
By, Captain Nancy Aldrich, aviation writer
Whoever trusts in the Lord Happy is He! Prov 16:20