Bouhler, Philipp
First name:
Place of birth:
München (DEU)
* 11.09.1899
† 19.05.1945
Biography print

Senior Nazi functionary and key responsible for patient killings; National Socialist politician and writer.

Early life

Philipp Bouhler (1899–1945) was born in Munich into a military family. His father, Emil Bouhler, was a colonel in the Bavarian army and head of the Bavarian war office in 1917/18. Philipp Bouhler attended the prestigious Maximiliansgymnasium in Munich from 1909 to 1912 and then, at the age of thirteen, entered the Royal Bavarian Cadet Corps. He took part in the First World War from July 1916 as an officer cadet in the Royal Bavarian 1st Foot Artillery Regiment (Ebbinghaus & Roth 2000: 82; (1) Bayer. HstA) and was promoted to lieutenant one year later, in July 1917. On 8 August 1917, Bouhler was badly wounded near Arras in France, which ultimately lead to him being discharged from the army due to a permanent walking disability. He completed his school education in 1919 and enrolled at Munich University to study philosophy and German. He however discontinued his studies after only four semesters. During this time, he briefly joined the German Nationalist Protection and Defiance Federation. In 1921, he worked temporarily for the German-nationalist publishing house J.F. Lehmanns and for the publishing house that put out the Nazi Party newspaper Völkischer Beobachter. He also worked as a secretary for the National Socialist Society for German Culture from 1928 (cf. Lilla 2014; Tümmler 2010; Schmuhl 1999; Barbian 1995: 56).


National Socialist career

Philipp Bouhler joined the Nazi Party in 1922 and soon became its deputy manager. He took part in the failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich in November 1923 and was indicted for treason in 1924, but the case was ultimately dropped. After the Nazi Party had been refounded in February 1925, Bouhler, whose membership number was 12, was promoted to Reich Secretary on 25 March 1925. In March 1933, after the Nazis’ rise to power, he became a member of the Reichstag and was appointed “Reichsleiter”, the second highest rank in the Nazi Party (Ebbinghaus & Roth 2000: 82). He also joined the SS in the rank of a Gruppenführer and, on 2 June 1933, was promoted to SS-Reichsleiter, which made him directly subordinate to Hitler (SS-Personalkanzlei 1937: 8, no. 13). On 30 August 1934, Bouhler was appointed head of the Munich police and chairman of the Party Inspection Commission for the Protection of National Socialist Literature. In the latter function, he had to determine what writings were suitable for the Nazi society. He was promoted to SS-Obergruppenführer and appointed Chief of the Chancellery of the Führer on 17 November 1934 (Lilla 2014), a function in which all letters to the Führer went through his hands, including, for instance, clemency pleas (cf. Barbian 1995; Prodöhl 2011: 115 ff.).


Bouhler wrote his most prominent works between 1935 and 1942, among them the 1935 compilation Schriften der Bewegung (Writings of the Movement), Nationalsozialistische Bibliographie (1936; National Socialist Bibliography), a biography of Hitler (1938), a book on the history of the Nazi movement (1939), and a biography of Napoleon (1941).


Hitler’s “euthanasia order” and “letter of authorization”

Bouhler’s significance for the history of Nazi psychiatry is related to the so-called “euthanasia order” in which Hitler entrusted his escort doctor, Karl Brandt (1904–1948), and Philipp Bouhler “with the responsibility of extending the authority of physicians, to be designated by name, so that patients who, on the basis of human judgement are considered incurable, can be granted mercy death after a definitive diagnosis” (cf. Longerich 2001: 73 f.; Aly 1989: 56). This secret order was the result of a meeting of Hitler with his legal and medical advisors in late September 1939 to issue directives for the so-called Aktion T4 euthanasia program (named after the address of the program’s organizational headquarters on Tiergartenstr. 4 in Berlin). The letter authorizing the systematic killing of mentally ill and physically disabled patients was written on Hitler’s personal stationary and backdated to 1 September by himself (cf. Gruchmann 1988: 502; Moll 1997: 89). On the basis of this order, Bouhler and Brandt signed the guidelines for the actual organization of the killings (Klee 2004: 323, 328), to which about 70.000 patients fell victim in 1940/41 (cf. Burkhardt 2015: 90 ff.; Noakes 1986: 227). Other prominent figures involved in the Aktion T4 program were Leonardo Conti (1900–1945) and Viktor Brack (1904–1948), Bouhler’s deputy, who were tasked with organizing the strictly secret “Aktion” on the ground and with identifying a suitable agent for the killings in collaboration with the Leipzig psychiatrist Paul Nitsche (Fröhlich 1998: 119; on Nitsche, see, Böhm 2012).


The Reich Minister of Justice, Franz Gürtner, learned about Hitler’s authorization of patient killings only one year later, on 27 August 1940 (cf. Longerich 2001: 73 f.). In a letter to Gürtner from 5 September 1940, Bouhler stated: “On account of the authorization by the Führer, I, as the person solely responsible for implementing the measures to be taken, have given to my staff the instructions that I deem necessary. Beyond that, I do not consider it necessary to issue in writing special executive regulations” (cf. Vorbaum 2005: 305; translated from German). Although Hitler had “Aktion T4” officially discontinued after protests, especially by the churches, the killings were systematically continued through malnutrition and medication overdoses (“Aktion 14f13”), which ultimately claimed far more victims than the initial “Aktion T4” (cf. Aly 1989: 90, 114; Schmuhl 2016: 289 f.). Bouhler put the head of service at Hauptamt II of Hitler’s Chancellery, Viktor Brack, in charge of implementing the “Aktion 14f13” order.


Bouhlers influence started declining in 1942, since much of the functions of his office were gradually absorbed by the Party Chancellery under Martin Bormann (Himmler & Heiber 1968, document 198). Towards the end of the war, Bouhler sought to align with Hermann Göring, in whose entourage he was taken prisoner by SS troops on Hitler’s orders on 23 April 1945 – but was released again on 1 May, after Hitler’s death. Only few days later, he was arrested by US troops at Schloss Fischhorn in Austria. On 19 May 1945, Philipp Bouhler committed suicide with cyanide while being transferred to the US internment camp in Dachau (Burkhardt 2015: 37; Lilla 2014).


Awards and decorations

1914: Iron Cross, 2nd Class

1918: Wound Badge in Black

Bavarian Military Merit Order, 4th Class

After 1933:

Honour Cross of the World War 1914/1918

Honour Chevron for the Old Guard

1938: Golden Hitler Youth Badge

Nazi Party Long Service Award in Bronze, Silver and Gold

1939: War Merit Cross, 2nd and 1st Class

SS Honour Sword

SS Honour Ring



Aly, G. (2013): Die Belasteten. “Euthanasie” 1939–1945 – Eine Gesellschaftsgeschichte. Frankfurt/ Main: Fischer.

Aly, G. (1989, ed.): Aktion T4; 1939–1945. Die “Euthanasie”-Zentrale in der Tiergartenstraße 4. Berlin: Hentrich.

Barbian, J. P. (1995): Literaturpolitik im “Dritten Reich”. Institutionen, Kompetenzen, Betätigungsfelder. Frankfurt/Main: Buchhändler-Vereinigung.

Böhm, B. (2012): Paul Nitsche – Reformpsychiater und Hauptakteur der NS-“Euthanasie”. In: Der Nervenarzt 83 (3), pp. 293–302.

Bouhler, P. (1935, ed.): Schriften der Bewegung. Munich: Zentralverlag der N.S.D.A.P.

Bouhler, P. (1936, ed.): Nationalsozialistische Bibliographie. (Monthly Journal of the Official Party Inspection Commission for the Protection of National Socialist Literature, H. 1–10). Berlin: Zentralverlag der NSDAP.

Bouhler, P. (1938): Adolf Hitler. Biographie. Berlin: Terramare.

Bouhler, P. (1939, ed.): Schriften zur Geschichte der nationalsozialistischen Bewegung. Hamburg: Hanseatische Verlags-Anstalt.

Bouhler, P. (1941): Adolf Hitler. Das Werden einer Volksbewegung. Lübeck: Coleman.

Bouhler, P. (1941): Napoleon. Kometenbahn eines Genies. Munich: Callwey.

Bouhler, P. (1942): Kampf um Deutschland. Ein Lesebuch für die deutsche Jugend. Berlin: Eher.

Bouhler, P. (1942a, ed.): Der großdeutsche Freikampf. Reden Adolf Hitlers. Vol. 3. Munich: Zentralverlag der N.S.D.A.P.

Eberle, H. (2007, ed.): Briefe an Hitler. Ein Volk schreibt seinem Führer. Unbekannte Dokumente aus Moskauer Archiven. Bergisch Gladbach: Lübbe.

Ebbinghaus, A., K. H. Roth (2000): Bouhler, Philipp. In: K. Dörner (ed.): Der Nürnberger Ärzteprozess 1946/47. Wortprotokolle, Anklage- und Verteidigungsmaterial, Quellen zum Umfeld. Erschließungsband der Mikrofiche-Edition. Munich: K. G. Saur, S. 82–83.

Fröhlich, E. (1998, ed.): Die Tagebücher von Joseph Goebbels. Im Auftrag des Instituts für Zeitgeschichte und mit Unterstützung des Staatlichen Archivdienstes Rußlands. Part 1, Vol. 9. Munich: K. G. Sauer.

Gruchmann, L. (1988): Justiz im Dritten Reich 1933–1940. Anpassung und Unterwerfung in der Ära Gürtner. Munich: Oldenbourg.

Himmler, H., H. Heiber (1968): Reichsführer! ...Briefe von und an Himmler. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlagsanstalt.

Klee, E. (2010): “Euthanasie” im Dritten Reich. Die “Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens”. Frankfurt/ Main: Fischer.

Klee, E. (2005): Das Personenlexikon zum Dritten Reich. Frankfurt/Main: Fischer.

Klee, E. (2004): “Euthanasie” im NS-Staat. 11th edition. Frankfurt/Main: Fischer.

Lilla, J. (2014): Bouhler, Philipp. In: J. Lilla: Staatsminister, leitende Verwaltungsbeamte und (NS-) Funktionsträger in Bayern 1918 bis 1945, URL: [accessed on 3 September 2016].

Longerich, P. (2001): Der ungeschriebene Befehl. Hitler und der Weg zur “Endlösung”. Munich: Piper.

Moll, M. (1997): “Führer-Erlasse”, 1939–1945. Edition sämtlicher überlieferter, nicht im Reichsgesetzblatt abgedruckter, von Hitler während des Zweiten Weltkrieges schriftlich erteilter Direktiven aus dem Bereichen Staat, Partei, Wirtschaft, Besatzungspolitik und Militärverwaltung. Stuttgart : Franz Steiner Verlag.

Noakes, J. (1986): Philipp Bouhler und die Kanzlei des Führers der NSDAP. Beispiel einer Sonderverwaltung im Dritten Reich. In: D. Rebentisch, K. Teppe (eds.): Verwaltung contra Menschenführung im Staat Hitlers. Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, pp. 208–236.

Prodöhl, I. (2011): Die Politik des Wissens. Allgemeine deutsche Enzyklopädien zwischen 1928 und 1956. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.

Roer, D., D. Henkel (2012): Psychiatrie im Faschismus. Die Anstalt Hadamar 1933–1945. Frankfurt/ Main: Mabuse.

Schmuhl, H.-W.(1999): Philipp Bouhler. Ein Vorreiter des Massenmordes. In: R. Smelser, E. Syring, R. Zitelmann (eds.): Die braune Elite II. 21 weitere biographische Skizzen. Darmstadt: wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, pp. 39–50.

Schmuhl, H. W. (2016): Die Gesellschaft Deutsche Neurologen und Psychiater im Nationalsozialismus. Berlin: Springer.

Siemen, H.-L. (2012): Psychiatrie im Nationalsozialismus. In: M. von Cranach, H.-L. Siemen (eds.): Psychiatrie im Nationalsozialismus. Die Bayerischen Heil- und Pflegeanstalten zwischen 1933 und 1945. Munich: Oldenbourg, pp. 15–34.

Schneider, F., P. Lutz (2014): erfasst, verfolgt, vernichtet. Kranke und behinderte Menschen im Nationalsozialismus. Berlin: Springer.

SS-Personalkanzlei (1937): Dienstaltersliste der Schutzstaffel der NSDAP. Stand vom 1. Dezember 1937. Berlin: Reichsdruckerei.

Tümmler, H. (2010): Philipp Bouhler. In: H. Tümmler (ed.): Hitlers Deutschland: Die Mächtigen des Dritten Reiches. Wolfenbüttel: Melchior, pp. 117–118.

Vormbaum, T. (2005, ed.): “Euthanasie” vor Gericht. Die Anklageschrift des Generalstaatsanwalts beim OLG Frankfurt/M. gegen Dr. Werner Heyde u. a. vom 22. Mai 1962. Berlin: Wissenschafts-Verlag.

Wendt, B.J. (2000): Das Nationalsozialistische Deutschland. Opladen: Leske + Budrich.

Wojak, I. (2009): Fritz Bauer: 1903–1968. Eine Biographie. Munich: Beck.



(1) Bavarian Main State Archive (BHStA, Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, Abt. IV, Kriegsarchiv 1914/18): Kriegsstammrollen 1914–1918; Bd.: 15458, Kriegsstammrolle IV, Ersatztruppenteile Fußartillerie-Regimenter, I. Ersatz-Bataillon, II. mob. Ers.-Btl., II. Fußart. Reg. (Metz), Nr. 1301.


Jessica Thönnissen, Ansgar Fabri, Burkhart Brückner


Photo: Bundesarchiv, sign. 146-1983-094-01 / Source: Wikimedia / License: CC BY-SA 3.0


Referencing format
Ansgar Fabri (2015): Bouhler, Philipp.
In: Biographisches Archiv der Psychiatrie.
(retrieved on:06.12.2023)