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 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.”

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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.

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.

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