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 Hitler 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 had already 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.

Earlier, in August, German lawyer and conserva­tive poli­ti­cian Ewald von Kleist-Schmen­zin left Ger­many for Eng­land as a sec­ret emis­sary of Chief of the Gen­eral Staff Gen. Ludwig Beck and Adm. Wil­helm Canaris, head of the Ab­wehr (Ger­man mili­tary intel­li­gence). Kleist-Schmen­zin had two main issues to discuss with Win­ston Chur­chill, then simply a mem­ber of the Brit­ish Parlia­ment. The first was to beg Eng­land to stop appeasing Hitler on the diplo­matic front, 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 govern­ment. Chur­chill allegedly told Kleist-Schmen­zin to “first bring us Hitler’s head.” After the head was delivered the con­spir­a­tors would supposedly get the help they wanted.

Actually, it was Kleist-Schmenzin, Canaris, and Beck who lost their heads in the after­math of the failed July 20, 1944, bomb plot against Hitler. 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. 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.”

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

Claus von Stauffenberg, member, German resistance, 1907–1944 Ludwig Beck, member, German resistance, 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 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 had the July 20, 1944, plot succeeded. Beck committed suicide on July 21, 1944.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, member, German resistance, 1906–1945 Karl Friedrich Goerdeler, member, German resistance, 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 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, member, German resistance, 1890–1944 Helmuth James Graf von Moltke, member, German resistance, 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.

German Resistance in the Wehrmacht

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