World War II Day by Day World War II was the single most devastating and horrific event in the history of the world, causing the death of some 70 million people, reshaping the political map of the twentieth century and ushering in a new era of world history. Every day The Daily Chronicles brings you a new story from the annals of World War II with a vision to preserve the memory of those who suffered in the greatest military conflict the world has ever seen.


Berlin, Germany May 28, 1938

On this date in 1938 Adolf Hitler informed his senior mili­tary com­manders of his plans to march into neigh­boring Czecho­slo­va­kia and erase that coun­try from the map. No serious objec­tions were raised by those who heard the German dic­ta­tor ring the death knell for Czecho­slo­va­kia and for the Euro­pean order that had been in place since 1919.

Six months earlier Hitler had called his gen­erals together to spell out his plans for war on Ger­many’s south­eastern door­step, and one of the two nations in his cross­hairs, his native Aus­tria, had in fact ended its carto­graphi­cal exis­tence following the Anschluss (union) with Germany in March 1938—its new name was Ost­mark (East­ern March). The second nation targeted by Hitler was Czecho­slo­va­kia, a 1919 creation. Hitler hacked off a chunk of that coun­try when his army marched into German-speaking Czech Sude­ten­land on Octo­ber 1, 1938, following the signing of the Munich Agree­ment by the leaders of England, France, Germany, and Italy the day before.

Days earlier, in mid-August 1938, German lawyer and conserva­tive poli­ti­cian Baron Ewald von Kleist-Schmen­zin left for England as a secret emis­sary of Chief (soon ex-Chief) of the German Gen­eral Staff Col. Gen. Ludwig Beck and Adm. Wil­helm Canaris, head of the Abwehr (German mili­tary intel­li­gence). Kleist-Schmen­zin had two main issues to discuss with critics of British Prime Minis­ter Neville Cham­ber­lain’s govern­ment, including Win­ston Chur­chill on August 19, then simply a back­bench member of the British Parlia­ment. The first was to beg England to stop appeasing Hitler on the diplo­matic front, espe­cially regarding his war­like designs on Czecho­slo­va­kia, and the second, more critical issue, was to gauge whether England would be inter­ested in helping those in Germany who were trying to topple the Nazi regime. Cham­ber­lain’s supporters, including his ambas­sador in Berlin, Nevile Hender­son, a known appeaser, were unsym­pa­thetic to the clan­des­tine envoy’s visit and request. On the other hand Chur­chill was keen to stiffen the resolve of Germans opposing Hitler. “We will give you every­thing,” he is said to have told Kleist-Schmenzin, “but first bring us Hitler’s head.” The conspirators were working on that.

Actually, it was Kleist-Schmenzin, Beck, and Canaris who lost their heads in the after­math of the botched July 20, 1944, bomb plot against Hitler (see photo essay below). By then Chur­chill, who for the past four years as British prime minis­ter had been leading his nation in a fight to the death with Nazi Germany, had turned a remark­ably cold shoul­der to plotters like Beck and Claus von Stauffen­berg who had nearly suc­ceeded in killing Hitler and installing more mod­er­ate German mili­tary and polit­i­cal leaders in a govern­ment that was focused on ending the war and that was not headed by a man the Allies would never deal with. To Chur­chill there was little dif­ference between a Nazi and a good German. Indeed, he heaped scorn on the very peo­ple whose actions might have ended the war a year early, saying that the 1944 assas­si­na­tion bid was a case of “the highest person­al­ities in the German Reich murdering one another.” Chur­chill even threw water on Oper­a­tion Fox­ley, a plan drafted by two British intel­li­gence services, the Special Oper­a­tions Exec­u­tive and the Secret Intel­li­gence Service, to assas­si­nate Hitler at his Bava­rian vaca­tion home, the Berg­hof on the Ober­salz­burg Moun­tain. Chur­chill was reluc­tant to make Hitler a martyr to many Germans by imple­menting Fox­ley. In the end it was up to the Fuehrer him­self, in his Berlin bunker in April 1945, to do what all the plotters had hitherto failed to do: kill Hitler.

German Stamps Commemorating the Heroes on the 20th Anni­ver­sary of the Attempt to Assassinate Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944

German resistance to Hitler: Claus von Stauffenberg, 1907–1944German resistance to Hitler: Ludwig Beck, 1880–1944

Left: Claus von Stauffenberg (b. 1907) was a colonel in the Ersatz­heer (Replace­ment Army) and the driving force behind the July 20, 1944, plot to assas­si­nate Hitler and take con­trol of Ger­many. For his involve­ment in the failed bomb plot known as Oper­a­tion Valkyrie, he was exe­cuted in the court­yard of the Bendler­block (Head­quarters of the Army) in the early morning hours of July 21, 1944. Staffen­berg’s role in the bomb plot and his exe­cution is vividly retold in the 2008 Tom Cruise film, Valkyrie.

Right: Ludwig Beck (b. 1880) was a German gen­eral and Chief of the German General Staff during the early years of the Nazi regime. He became a major leader with­in the con­spir­acy against Hitler and would have been pro­vi­sional head of state (Reichs­verweser) had the July 20, 1944, plot succeeded. Beck committed suicide on July 21, 1944, thus escaping a humil­i­ating trea­son trial before the noto­rious People’s Court (Volks­gerichtshof) in Berlin. The People’s Court, presided over by Judge Roland Freisler, was the Nazi regime’s highest judicial body for political crimes (politische Strafsachen).

German resistance to Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1906–1945German resistance to Hitler: Karl Friedrich Goerdeler, 1884–1945

Left: Lutheran pastor, theologian, and Nazi dis­si­dent, Diet­rich Bon­hoef­fer (b. 1906) was involved in plans by mem­bers of Adm. Wil­helm Cana­ris’ Ab­wehr (German Mili­tary Intel­li­gence) to assas­si­nate Adolf Hitler. He was arrested by the Gestapo in April 1943 and exe­cuted by hanging in April 1945, along with Canaris, while they were impri­soned at Flossenbuerg concentration camp in Northeastern Bavaria.

Right: A politician, economist, civil ser­vant, and oppo­nent of the Nazi regime, Karl Friedrich Goer­de­ler (b. 1884) would have served as chan­cel­lor of the new govern­ment had the July 20, 1944, coup suc­ceeded. After a trial in Freisler’s People’s Court, Goer­de­ler was sen­tenced to death and exe­cuted by hanging on Febru­ary 2, 1945, at Ploetzen­see Prison in Berlin. His exe­cu­tion was post­poned time and again in the hope that, under torture, he would reveal the names of his co-conspirators.

German resistance to Hitler: Wilhelm Leuschner, 1890–1944German resistance to Hitler: Helmuth James Graf von Moltke, 1907–1945

Left: In contact with the resis­tance group around Karl Friedrich Goer­de­ler, Wilhelm Leusch­ner (b. 1890) would most likely have become Ger­many’s vice-chan­cel­lor after the July 1944 coup d’état. Arrested in mid-August 1944 and brought before Freis­ler’s People’s Court, Leusch­ner was sen­tenced to death and exe­cuted at the end of Septem­ber 1944 at Ploetzensee Prison in Berlin.

Right: Helmuth James Graf von Moltke (b. 1907) was a leading human rights advo­cate in Nazi Ger­many and a founding mem­ber of the Krei­sau Circle resis­tance group. In Janu­ary 1945, Moltke found himself in Freis­ler’s People’s Court, along with sev­eral of his fellow regime oppo­nents. Moltke was sen­tenced to death for trea­son on Janu­ary 11, 1945, and exe­cuted twelve days later at Ploetzensee Prison in Berlin.

Excellent Discussion of Resistance to Nazism in Germany’s Civilian and Military Circles, 1933–1940