Manfred Rommel dies at 84; son of 'Desert Fox,' former German mayor

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 Parkinson's disease.


Rommel, who served as mayor from 1975 to 1996 in the city of his birth, came to prominence 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 Porsche and to Mercedes-Benz's parent company Daimler.

The younger 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 last conversation with his son that Adolf Hitler had forced him to take a cyanide pill or face dishonor and retaliation on his family.

Erwin Rommel commanded the 7th Panzer Division during the 1940 invasion of France and led German and Italian forces in North Africa, earning the "Desert Fox" nickname for his military skills. Hitler suspected him of being involved in a plot to kill the German dictator, a charge Rommel denied.

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.

Manfred Rommel was born Dec. 24, 1928, in Stuttgart. Forbidden by his father to join Hitler's SS paramilitary guard, he manned anti-aircraft guns after being conscripted at age 14. Captured near the end of the war by French forces, he was held prisoner for six months. He later became a lawyer and civil servant.

Rommel later cited the postwar atmosphere in Germany for his professional success.

"Thirty percent of the older generation was dead," he said in a 1979 interview with the Washington Post. "There were no experienced people around, so they gave the jobs to young people. We could make a career and move up fast."

During his political career, Rommel was considered a liberal member of the conservative Christian Democratic Union. A popular mayor and capable administrator known for his civil libertarian stances, he made bold and sometimes controversial decisions, drawing criticism for his insistence on allowing three German Red Army Faction terrorists 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.

He is survived by his wife, Liselotte, and their daughter, Catherine.