Eberstein was born on 14 January 1894 in Halle on the Saale, of the Dillenburger branch of the von Eberstein family. His father was an army major. Karl was at cadet schools until 1912. Early on in World War I, Karl served in the German Army with Field Artillery Regiment 17 in August 1914. He was also a balloon observer, and later a battery commander in Artillery Regiment 16. He was awarded the Iron Cross Second Class and the Iron Cross First Class. After World War I, Eberstein fought as a member of the Freikorps in Middle Germany and/or Upper Silesia, and also with the Halle "Protection Police". After that, he went into banking.
Eberstein joined the (NSDAP) Nazi Party in 1922, but quit after the Beer Hall Putsch in November 1923. He then re-joined the Party in 1925 with number: 15067. He was an early member of the SS (membership number: 1386) and on the staff of Heinrich Himmler. According to Jonathan Petropolous, Eberstein was part of Himmler's strategy to attract members of the nobility and aristocracy to the SS. Eberstein obtained the officer rank SS-Sturmführer on 1 April 1929. He also joined the SA in July 1930 but left it later.
Eberstein eventually reached the high rank of SS-Obergruppenführer, held two HSSPF posts, and was the Führer of SS-Oberabschnitt Mitte (and Elbe when Mitte was absorbed), and then later Führer of SS-Oberabschnitt Süd for over 10 years.
Eberstein played a part in the first meeting of two of the major leaders of both the SS and later the Holocaust: Reinhard Heydrich and Heinrich Himmler. Eberstein and Heydrich's families were both from Halle on the Saale. His mother was Heydrich's godmother. He was also a friend of Lina Heydrich, Reinhard Heydrich's wife. Acting on the advice of Karl von Eberstein, Himmler agreed to interview Heydrich. When Himmler cancelled Heydrich's interview in Munich due to alleged illness, Lina ignored the message, and sent Heydrich on a Munich bound train. Karl met Heydrich at the station and drove him to meet Himmler. Himmler received Heydrich and hired him as the chief of the new SS 'Ic Service' or Intelligence Service, which would later become known as the Sicherheitsdienst (SD).
Eberstein was the police president of Munich during Kristallnacht. On 10 November 1938, at 1:20 a.m., Heydrich sent out a telegram to various police organizations giving orders for police behavior during the riots. At 2:10 Eberstein sent a telegram to the State Police HQ of Augsburg, Nürnberg, Würzburg, and Neustadt a.d. Weinstraße, the Regierungspräsident, and the Gauleiter, with the subject line "Anti-Jewish Measures". It relayed orders "from the Berlin HQ of the State Police", saying that "Anti-Jewish demonstrations" would occur, with synagogues and Jewish communal centers as targets, and that the demonstrations were not to be interfered with, except to prevent looting and excesses. The Ordnungspolizei or Orpo (uniform order police) would "...do nothing to hinder the demonstrations", but the criminal police and state police would wear plain-clothes. The SS troops could help, but the state police was supposed to maintain control. It went on to state that between 20 and 30,000 Jews would be arrested in Germany. It concluded: "...Every effort will be made to arrest immediately as many Jews as the jails will hold, primarily healthy male and well-to-do adults of not too advanced age". A document from Beutel (probably Lothar Beutel), HQ of State Police Munich, six minutes later, stated that "officers of the state and criminal police" would accompany the demonstrators in plain-clothes, allow them to destroy Jewish shops and homes, but to prevent looting, after which the Ordnungspolizei would secure the destroyed buildings.
David Irving contends that Eberstein was a witness to Hitler's anger on that night, and that his testimony at Nuremberg helped prove that Hitler did not approve of Kristallnacht. This claim was refuted at the Irving v. Lipstadt trial, when Irving sued Lipstadt for calling him a Holocaust denier. Evans, in defense of Lipstadt, claimed that it made no sense for Eberstein to send his telegram of 2:10 a.m. if he had earlier that night listened to Hitler tirade angrily against the pogrom. The judge at the trial agreed that Irving "seriously misrepresents the available contemporaneous evidence".
In late 1941, and early 1942, Eberstein was involved in a case involving Soviet Prisoners of War (POWs) at Stalag VII A, Moosburg, and the conflict between certain military officers and the SS over the murder of the POWs.
The Gestapo was having problems with certain military officers, especially Major Meinel, who were not cooperating. Meinel was the army officer in charge of POWs for Munich and its surrounding areas. The Gestapo had been "screening" Soviet POWs in Stalag VII A Moosburg, and then shipping the "screened out" people to Dachau where they were murdered. Meinel discovered the murders were going on, and refused to follow orders to send several hundred of the remaining "screened out" Soviets to Dachau. He also complained to his superiors in the military about what was happening. "Screened out" people included anyone who was Jewish, any officers, believers in communism, incurably sick people, etc., but the Gestapo told Meinel their methods of screening were not his business.
Eberstein became involved. In the book Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, several telex / telegrams between the various offices involved have been translated and reproduced. These telegrams state that von Eberstein telephoned the RSHA or Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security Office) and told them that it was "intolerable" for Meinel to stay in his position, and it would cause problems with the relationship between the military and the SS. He told the RSHA to ask the military's German High Command (OKW) to have Meinel transferred to another position. After a few meetings, this is what concurred. The OKW decreed that the POWs that Meinel had temporarily saved would be surrendered to the Gestapo and then sent to Buchenwald. Meinel was later sent to Lithuania.
On 12 March 1938, Eberstein was appointed Higher SS and Police Leader (HSSPF) for military district VII in Munich. In addition, on 17 December 1942 he was appointed HSSPF for the military district XIII in Nuremberg. Dachau concentration camp fell under Eberstein's authority as HSSPF.
Karl von Eberstein was dismissed from all posts on 20 April 1945 for "defeatism", by Gauleiter Paul Giesler, on orders from Martin Bormann. The charge of "defeatism", was made because he refused to support orders from high command that prisoners held in camps within his administrative command be eliminated.
Eberstein was a witness at the Nuremberg Trials. He was interviewed by Horst Pelckmann, counsel for the SS, and Major F Elwyn Jones, junior counsel for the United Kingdom. In his testimony, Eberstein gave organizational and historical information about the SS, the SA, their relationship with the German nobility, the Nazi Party, the SD (Security Service) and the Gestapo (Secret State Police). Eberstein also claimed that the SS was not in the view of his peers, a criminal organization, it was not created for purposes of violence, did not participate in the invasion of Austria, that he knew nothing of SS participation in the invasions of France, Belgium, Russia, Poland, etc. Also that "my men" in the Allgemeine-SS (general SS) did not mention atrocities when home from "front leave".
As for his personal place in the chain of command, Eberstein stated that as a Police President, he had control over 1700 men, in the Schutzpolizei (Protection Police), Ordnungspolizei (Order Police), and Kriminalpolizei (Criminal Police). He claimed the "chiefs of police had nothing to do with the political police or the security service" (meaning the Gestapo, and the SD). It is unclear from this translation if he mentioned the Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police) or SiPo.
Eberstein also discussed his perspective on the Night of the Long Knives and Kristallnacht. In the latter, he claimed that he ordered his police to protect Jewish businesses, claiming, "We in the SS considered this action downright indecent", and blamed the events on a speech by Joseph Goebbels. However, given the telegrams Eberstein sent on that night, his claims cannot be seen as carrying any weight. He also briefly discussed the treatment of downed enemy pilots, per the Geneva Convention and Hague Rules on Land Warfare.
The Dachau Concentration Camp complex was only a few kilometers from Munich. The question arose in the trial as to Eberstein's knowledge of the camp, authority over it, and participation in its activities. Eberstein denied everything. He claimed that the Allgemeine-SS did not establish concentration camps, instead claiming that the State established them. Also, he claimed that the Higher SS and Police Leaders (HSSPF), and the leaders of the Allgemeine-SS had nothing to do with concentration camps. He claimed the camps were under an independent chain of command, blaming the RSHA, the Economic and Administrative Main Office of the SS (SS-WVHA), and its Amt D, Inspectorate of Concentration Camps.
Eberstein also claimed to have given tours of Dachau concentration camp, on orders from Himmler, from 1936 onward. These tours included some Americans. Eberstein stated there was no reason to inspect the camps, and he had no right to do so; they appeared to be run and during the war inmates looked "well fed". In Spring of 1944, Eberstein claimed he became aware of abhorrent medical experiments involving Sigmund Rascher and had Rascher arrested; he complained to Himmler as to the matter. Eberstein stated that Rascher was kept under arrest until 1945, but that he had no power over Rascher.
Eberstein also stated that he had no authority over the camp commander, and didn't know about the numerous executions inside the camp. Eberstein claimed he had nothing to do with Adolf Eichmann and never saw him and that the SS troops in Dachau were separate from the rest of the SS and "we met them only occasionally". He did admit that some members of the Allgemeine-SS became concentration camp guards.
In the fall of 1944 Himmler transferred to the Higher SS and Police Leaders the responsibility for safeguarding prisoner-of-war camps against mass escapes and against attempts from the outside to liberate prisoners. For this purpose, the Higher SS and Police Leaders were made senior commanders of the prisoners of war in their defense areas. According to international regulations regarding prisoners of war, police could not be used to guard prisoners of war, so the Higher SS and Police Leaders were taken over into the Waffen-SS and appointed generals of the Waffen-SS. - Eberstein's 1946 Nuremberg explanation for how he came to be in the Waffen-SS and to have some authority over POWs.
Eberstein claimed he had a dispute with Gauleiter Paul Giesler, after Giesler ordered him to kill prisoners should the Americans approach, and he refused. He stated the general SS mostly ceased to exist by the start of the war, and that the Gauleiters; and "Reich Defense Commissioners", under Martin Bormann, were to blame. He claimed to have no knowledge as to the Einsatzgruppen, Einsatzkommandos, and Auschwitz. Eberstein stated he was in Munich during the entire war, thought foreign newspaper reports of atrocities were "enemy propaganda", and said it was impossible to "penetrate into the secret sphere of these extermination camps". He claimed the mass deaths in the camps on Typhus and allied bombing of medicine factories.
The Denazification of Germany included the classification of ex-Nazis into one of 5 categories. On 15 November 1948, Eberstein was classified by a German Denazification court as a (class III) Nazi and ordered to forfeit 30% of his wealth. No additional jail time was ordered, because he was given credit for the three and half-years internment under the Allies. After some additional legal procedures, Eberstein was temporarily placed into a more serious category of former Nazi (class II). However, on 19 February 1953, he was finally classified in the less-serious category IV of Mitläufer, which can be roughly translated as "follower and sympathizer". Other criminal investigations of Eberstein were without consequences, including preliminary investigations in 1950 and 1961 by prosecuting authorities in Munich of charges that Eberstein had ordered or participated in the murders of prisoners of war.1913 to 1914. University of Halle (Saale)
1914 August. Field Artillery Regiment 17
1915 Lieutenant in reservers
1918–? no later than early 1920s. Freikorps in Middle Germany and Upper Silesia.
1920s. Studied banking
1928. Independent factory owner in Gotha
1930. SS Sturmführer and Standarten-Adjutant
1930–1931. City council member, Gotha
1930 Jul – Jan 1931. Joined SA. On staff of Gausturms in Weimar.
1931 Feb 1. SA-Standartenführer
1931 Sep 15. SA-Oberführer
1931 Nov – 1932 Jul. Gau SA-Sturmführer for Munchen Oberbayern
1931 Nov 15 – 1932 Apr 13. SA Gausturm / Untergruppe München
1932 July 1 – 1933 Feb 19. Führer for SA Gruppe Hochland
1932 Sep 1. SA-Gruppenführer
1933 Feb. Leaves SA
1933 Feb 21 – 1933 Sept 9. SS-Gruppenführer, and Führer of SS-Abschnitt XVIII (HQ in Weimar)
1933 Nov 15 – 1934 May 1. Führer for SS-Oberabschnitt Mitte (Halle) with 10-15,000 men under command
Located in Weimar, Thuringia.
In Staatsrat in Thuringia.
Delegate to the Nazi Reichstag for the 8th 'session' (Wahlperiod)
1934 May 1 – 1936 Apr 1. Führer for SS-Oberabschnitt Elbe (which had absorbed Mitte)
1934 June 30. (Night of the Long Knives) - in Dresden
1934 Dec 15 to 1936 Mar 31. District Governor (Kreishauptmann), Dresden-Bautzen
1936. In Munich
1936 January 30. Becomes SS-Obergruppenfuhrer
1936 April 1. Führer of SS-Oberabschnitt "Süd". Police president of Munich
1938 Mar 12 to 1942 Dec 17. HSSPF 'Main' (Benno Martin was de facto HSSPF)
1938 Apr 12 to 1945 Apr 20. HSSPF 'Süd'
1938 Nov 9-10.
In chain of command for orders implementing (Kristallnacht).
Führer of SS-Oberabschnitt Süd
Police President of Munich
1939 Jun – Jul. Ill
1941 Apr 8. General der Polizei
1942 Oct – 1945 Apr. Worked in Bavarian State Ministry of the Interior
1944 Jul 1. General der Waffen-SS
1944 Nov. 1200 SS men left in his Oberabschnitt, none available for SS work
1945 early Feb. Dismissed, replaced by Vogler as temporary substitute for HSSPF and Oberabschnitt Führer "Süd"
1945 Apr 20. Relieved of all posts for 'defeatism'
1946 August 3 & 5. Nuremberg Trial witness, by which time he had been 'under arrest for 15 months'
1979 Feb 10. Died in Tegernsee, Bavaria.
Iron Cross of 1914, 1st and 2nd class
Honour Cross of the World War 1914/1918
Golden Party Badge
War Merit Cross 1st and 2nd class with swords
SS Honour Ring ("Totenkopf")
Sword of honour of the Reichsführer-SS
NSDAP Long Service Award in silver and bronze
SS Long Service Award
Grand Cross of the Order of the Roman Eagle with swords (Italy)