FRANKFURT, Germany — Manfred Rommel, the former mayor of the German city of Stuttgart and the son of the World War II field marshal dubbed the “Desert Fox,” has died. He was 84.
Rommel died Thursday, local authorities said in a statement on Stuttgart’s official website. He had suffered from Parkinson’s disease since 1996.
Rommel, who served as mayor for 22 years in the city of his birth, came to prominence in the 1970s and ’80s as a municipal politician who earned international respect for his tolerance and liberal policies, standing up for the fair treatment of immigrant workers who helped rebuild Germany’s automotive industry in the postwar years. Stuttgart is home to Daimler and Porsche.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel plans to convey her condolences to the Rommel family, Steffen Seibert, her spokesman, said at a press conference in Berlin on Friday. Manfred Rommel “was a leading figure in municipal politics, a remarkable and important mayor of a major German city,” Seibert said.
Rommel was a member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union.
“Our country has lost a passionate democrat and an immensely popular figure, who made an outstanding contribution to his city of birth and to the political culture of this country,” Norbert Lammert, the president of the German Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, said in an emailed statement.
Manfred Rommel was deeply traumatized by the death of his father, Erwin Rommel, by suicide in 1944, minutes after the German military commander had revealed in a conversation with his son that Adolf Hitler had forced him to take a cyanide pill or face dishonor and retaliation on his family. Manfred Rommel, who was conscripted at age 14, disclosed the true nature of his father’s death in a letter to Allied forces after his capture in 1945.
Hitler suspected Erwin Rommel, who commanded the 7th Panzer Division during the 1940 invasion of France and led German and Italian forces in North Africa, of being involved in a plot to kill the German dictator, a charge that Rommel denied.
Erwin Rommel, whose military skills in North Africa earned him the “Desert Fox” nickname, forbade his son to join Hitler’s SS paramilitary guard. His Afrika-Korps was known for treating prisoners of war humanely.
His legacy haunted the younger Rommel for the rest of his life. He struck up friendships with the sons of his father’s war adversaries, including U.S. Army Maj. Gen. George S. Patton and Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery.
“Rommel’s basic position is inseparably linked to his personal experiences and lessons from the time of National Socialism,” Josef Schunder wrote in his 2012 biography of Manfred Rommel. “It should never happen again that a people could march so willingly into dictatorship, he warned.”
A popular mayor, he made bold and sometimes controversial decisions, drawing criticism for his insistence on allowing German Red Army Faction terrorists Gudrun Ensslin, Andreas Baader and Jan-Carl Raspe to be buried together in Stuttgart after their collective suicide in the Stammheim prison.
“I am of the opinion that all wrath, justified as it may be, must end with death and that there are no first and second- class graveyards and that all graveyards are the same,” he said at the time.
Manfred Rommel was born on Dec. 24, 1928, in Stuttgart to Erwin and Lucie Maria Rommel. He spent his early years with his family in Dresden, Goslar and Potsdam as well as five years in Wiener Neustadt, Austria.
“A good politician listens to the people,” Manfred Rommel said in one of his last interviews with SWR television.
He is survived by his wife, Liselotte, and their daughter Catherine.