What was the planned line of succession for the Nazi Party in the event that Adolf Hitler died? I see that after Hitler's suicide in April 1945, Joseph Goebbels succeeded as Chancellor of Germany for a single day before committing suicide himself, and best I can tell, nobody succeeded Goebbels before Nazi Germany was dissolved.

Did Joseph Goebbels' historical succession match the Nazi Party's planned line of succession (i.e. would he have succeeded Hitler at an earlier date of, say, 1939 or 1942)? If both Hitler and Goebbels were to have been killed together at an earlier date, who would have been next in line to lead the country?

  • I am under the impression that, prior to his falling out of favour, Albert Speer was widely rumoured to have been the prime candidate for succession. I have no source for that.
    – Shimon bM
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 4:53
  • 1
    Was there no (legal) difference between succession in the Nazi Party and succession in the German government?
    – bof
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 5:28
  • @bof Even if there was no legal difference between Nazi Party succession and later German governments, the difference is which group of people decided the succession plans. I'm interested in what the Nazi party had planned. Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 5:42
  • Wouldn't "under normal circumstances" (I.e not losing a world war and facing utter destruction) the Stellvertreter des Führers been next in line? Hess until 1941 and then Bormann?
    – Marakai
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 6:43

2 Answers 2


For almost the entire war, Hermann Göring was Hitler's designated successor. He had been the second most powerful man in the Reich since the Nazi takeover, and had done much of the practical work of leading the country.

At the outbreak of war with Poland, Hitler had announced in a speech that Göring would succeed him "if anything should befall me." This was emphasised by Göring's promotion to Reichsmarshall in 1940, making him the highest-ranking officer in Germany, second only to the supreme commander, Hitler. In June 1941, Hitler issued a formal, although secret, decree, naming Göring his successor and deputy in all his roles. In particular, Göring had the right and duty to act in Hitler's place if Hitler were incapacitated.

By 1943, Göring was falling out of favour, although the decree remained in place. This was the point at which Speer started being talked of as a possible successor. Hitler could have made him the successor with a spoken sentence. He didn't have to deal with a constitution, legal system or legislature for this. He could do whatever he wanted. However, he did nothing.

In April 1945, after Göring had left Berlin for Berchtesgaden, and the Soviets had entered Berlin, Hitler suggested that Göring might be better suited to negotiate peace terms. The Luftwaffe Chief of Staff, Karl Koller, who was loyal to Göring, left Berlin and went to tell Göring. He, Koller and Hans Lammers, the secretary of the Reich Chancellery, concluded on examining the 1941 decree that Hitler was, or very soon would be, incapacitated, since he would be captured, killed or lose communications, and it was therefore Göring's duty to take over.

Göring sent Hitler a telegram asking for confirmation of this. Martin Bormann, Hitler's secretary, spun this into an attempt to unseat Hitler. Hitler was furious, and sent a telegram back telling Göring that he had committed high treason, and that he should resign all his offices immediately, or he would be shot.

Four days later, Hitler wrote his will, designating Goebbels as Chancellor and Doenitz as President, separating the two main offices that Hitler had held. He also sacked Göring from all his offices and expelled him from the Nazi Party. Hitler killed himself the next day. So while Goebbels and Doenitz were Hitler's designated successors at the time of his death, they'd held those positions for about a day before succeeding. Goebbels, of course, killed himself the next day. His wife did the same, after killing their children.

It's a serious mistake to look for a lengthy list of people in the order of succession, like that of the USA. Hitler's policy was that senior leaders were in competition with each other, and the constitution was "Whatever the Führer says it is." Thinking of the senior Nazis as the quarrelling heads of clans within a barbarian tribe is a much better model than civilised politicians in an advanced state.

Addendum: Goebbels had a de facto successor as Chancellor, Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk, who had been finance minister since 1932. Doenitz had asked him to form a new administration, and he did. It's known as the Flensburg Government, and von Krosigk used the title of "Leading Minister" rather than Chancellor.

Sources: the Wikipedia page linked above, as a reminder of the dates, The Bunker, by James P O'Donnell, and the German official history, Germany and the Second World War, volumes V/IIA and V/IIB.


As quoted from If Nazi Germany survived, how would Hitler's successor be chosen?

In his final will Hitler had wished that after his death Karl Dönitz (Commander-in-Chief of the German navy) should become Reichspräsident (head of state) and Goebbels should become the Reichskanzler (prime minister, head of government).

These two positions had existed in the old Weimar republic until Hitler replaced it with himself as Führer. But in his will Hitler wished that the Weimar republic structure should be reinstated.

Goebbels committed suicide after Hitler's death but Karl Dönitz run an interim government in North Germany until total surrender of Germany.

Karl Dönitz's leadership was recognized by Churchill who said that the surrender of Karl Dönitz's, as head of the state means an end to the war in Europe.


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