Although traditionally a male occupation, certain women aviators have found notoriety. Rather her context within Nazi Germany has caused popular history to obscure her successes.
This fate is at odds with the high achieving pilot, who made herself known to her society and its powerful: to Hitler and Goring during the war, and thereafter to presidents of Ghana, Indira Ghandi, and even John F. Hanna Reitsch did not recognise limits; flight gave her this confidence. She knew her subject, but at times she knew the wrong people. How then should history remember this woman?
Reitsch, Hanna (1912–1979)
For the significance of her role in the development of aeromechanics is proven by the formal acknowledgement of the Nazi State. This preparedness to risk all was further recognised by the addition of the Iron Cross 1st Class for the testing of the rocket plane, the Me , which left Reitsch hospitalised for 5 months and requiring extensive reconstructive surgery.
It was for her daring and exemplary capacity as a pilot that she could be involved in those final flights to and from Berlin on the brink of surrender, for which if anything she has only been recalled.
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Hers was the last plane to leave Berlin three days later before its actual downfall. Her involvement in these flights was a conclusion of her extraordinary talent. Yet the absence of the specifics of her beliefs should prevent exaggerations like those, which followed the war painting Reitsch as the lover who visited Hitler in his final days in the bunker. In her accounts the absolute emphasis is on flight. It is this zeal that has oddly avoided common attention. She sought every opportunity to pursue her ambitions.
This possibility remained exactly that as her career as a glider and test pilot sky-rocketed. It appears that this passion had risen within her in response to the male prejudice that she endured. Instructors dismissing her success as accident in the initial tests at the School of Gliding in Grunau in the early s forced her to sit them again.
Her mentor, Wolf Hirth, acknowledged this inviting her to serve as an instructor at a new gliding school in Swabia, at which all her pupils were male. Further to the world records that she set in distance and endurance as an aviatrix , she outperformed her male colleagues as an aviator. In May she was very much one of the men as one of five Germans who were the first to cross the Alps by sailplane following a flight of over miles from Salzburg to Pieire di Cadone.
Reitsch's attitudes to race underwent a change.
She became close to Nkrumah. The details of their relationship are now unclear due to the destruction of documents, but some surviving letters are intimate in tone. In Ghana, some Africans were disturbed by the prominence of a person with Reitsch's past, but Shirley Graham Du Bois , a noted African-American writer who had emigrated to Ghana and was friendly towards Reitsch, agreed with Nkrumah that Reitsch was extremely naive politically. Contemporary Ghanaian press reports seem to show a lack of interest in her past.
Reitsch was interviewed and photographed several times in the s, towards the end of her life, by American photo-journalist Ron Laytner. In her closing remarks she is quoted as saying:. And what have we now in Germany? A land of bankers and car-makers. Even our great army has gone soft. Soldiers wear beards and question orders. I am not ashamed to say I believed in National Socialism. I still wear the Iron Cross with diamonds Hitler gave me.
But today in all Germany you can't find a single person who voted Adolf Hitler into power Many Germans feel guilty about the war. Reitsch died in Frankfurt at the age of 67, on 24 August , apparently after a heart attack. She had never married. This letter was short and finished with the words "It began in the bunker, there it shall end. It was well known that Hitler gave Hanna and Von Greim each a cyanide pill before dismissing them from the bunker on 28 April Hanna always considered that she and Von Greim had made a binding pact to commit suicide, one after another, but with an intervening period to prevent rumour of a love affair.
Von Greim swallowed his pill on 24 May while under arrest in hospital at Salzburg.
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It is known that Hanna had managed to retain her cyanide pill throughout these years, and then again news of her death was not made public until a fortnight after demise. Also there appears to have been no post mortem made on her body, or at least no such report is available. Anyway, Eric sent Hanna's letter to her brother Kurt, whom Eric knew in the post-war German Navy, but received no acknowledgement.
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International Women’s Day: aviation controversy
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New York Times. Retrieved 7 July The question whether Adolf Hitler is dead or alive may be answered by the testimony of Hanna Reitsch, woman Luftwaffe pilot, who was in a Berlin bomb shelter with him a few hours before the Russians captured it. She was arrested in the United States zone of occupation today and is being interrogated. The Guardian.
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- From Nazi Test Pilot to Hitlers Bunker: The Fantastic Flights of Hanna Reitsch.
Retrieved 16 April A Top German Pilot. Hanna Reitsch, the leading German female pilot and a much-decorated favorite of Hitler who flew the last plane out of Berlin hours before the city fell in , died Friday at her home in Bonn, West Germany. She was 67 years old. Washington Post. Aviation pioneer Hanna Reitsch, 67, who flew the last plane out of burning Berlin before the fall of the Nazis in , died Aug.
Retrieved 8 May Robert Ley Karl-Jesko von Puttkamer. Walter Frentz. Nicolaus von Below.