London, England · May 13, 1940

As Adolf Hitler’s armies raced across Europe, seemingly un­stop­pable, gobbling up coun­try after coun­try for Nazi Ger­many, and (God forbid) perhaps Brit­ain her­self, Winston Churchill on this date in 1940 succeeded a war-weary Neville Cham­ber­lain as British prime minister. After a luke­warm recep­tion from fellow Mem­bers of Parlia­ment, Chur­chill uttered one of the greatest calls-to-arms ever: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat,” he told his audi­ence. The policy of his new govern­ment was “to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a mon­strous tyran­ny, never sur­passed in the dark, lament­able cata­log of human crime.” His govern­ment’s aim was “victory at all costs. Victory in spite of all terrors. Victory, how­ever long and hard the road may be, for with­out victory there is no sur­vival.”

The road to vic­tory appeared to in­clude encour­aging those inside Ger­many to do battle against Hitler. If Germans also were ready to fight against the “mon­strous tyranny” of the Nazis, was it right to dis­courage or ignore them? asked a high offi­cial of the Church of Engl­and. A year later, as the war raged on and Hitler cele­brated one vic­tory after an­other, Chur­chill changed his stance, repeatedly turning a cold shoul­der to Ger­man conspir­a­tors who were eager for Hitler’s demise and going so far as to brand every Ger­man a Nazi. Anti-Hitler con­spir­a­tor and Ger­man theo­logian Diet­rich Bon­hoef­fer secretly wrote to the Chur­chill admin­is­tra­tion, pro­testing that if good Ger­mans, after risking their lives to re­move Hitler, were to be treated by the British and their allies as indis­tin­guish­able from Nazis, there was pre­cious little in­cen­tive to pro­ceed.

Yet as the Wehr­macht began stumbling, suffering set­back after set­back on the Eastern Front, and as Hitler scape­goated one army gen­eral after another, the num­ber of con­spir­a­tor groups grew. The most famous was the Val­kyrie group headed by Col. Claus von Stauf­fen­berg, which on July 20, 1944, nearly suc­ceeded in decap­i­tating the Hitler regime in the Fuehrer’s forward head­quarters in Rasten­burg, now Kętrzyn in Poland. When Churc­hill heard about the failed bomb plot, he kicked the con­spir­a­tors’ corpses, calling the attempted assas­si­na­tion a case of “the highest per­son­al­ities in the German Reich murdering one another.”

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

Claus von Stauffenberg, 1907–1944Ludwig 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 shot in the Bendler­block (Head­quarters of the Army) on the night of July 21, 1944. A cine­matic retelling of the officers’ plot to assas­sinate Hitler and replace his regime with a new German govern­ment was released in late 2008, starring the Amer­ican actor Tom Cruise. Bendler­strasse, the street on which army headquarters was located, has been renamed Stauffenbergstrasse.

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 had the July 20, 1944, plot succeeded. Beck com­mitted suicide on July 21, 1944.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1906–1945Karl 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 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 the noto­rious People’s Court (Volks­gerichts­hof), pre­sided over by Judge Roland Freis­ler, Goer­de­ler was sen­tenced to death and exe­cuted by hanging on Febru­ary 2, 1945, at Ploetzensee Prison in Berlin.

Wilhelm Leuschner, 1890–1944Helmuth 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.

Excerpt from Winston Churchill’s First Speech to the House of Commons: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat”