The Berghof, Bavaria, Germany · July 11, 1944

Adolf Hitler had been the target of four assassi­na­tion attempts before he became head of state in January 1933 and perhaps two dozen after­wards. On this date in 1944 Lt. Col. Claus von Stauf­fen­berg arrived at the Berg­hof on the Ober­salzberg, Hitler’s Bava­rian retreat near Berch­tes­gaden, carrying a bomb in his brief­case. Stauf­fen­berg was part of a resis­tance group in the highest levels of the Wehr­macht that had been planning Hitler’s assas­si­nation since at least 1938. Because the second-most power­ful man in the Third Reich, Hein­rich Himm­ler, Gestapo chief and Minis­ter of the Inte­rior from 1943, was absent that day, the plan was aborted. The plotters worried about a “civil war” breaking out between the power­ful police ser­vices under Himm­ler and the Wehr­macht if both men could not be killed at the same time. Four days later Stauf­fen­berg reappeared in Ras­ten­burg at the “Wolf’s Lair,” Wolfs­schanze, Hitler’s East Prus­sian head­quarters (now in Kętrzyn, Poland). Again the plan was nixed because Himm­ler was not pre­sent. Finally, on July 20, 1944, a hot and humid sum­mer day, an exas­per­ated Stauf­fen­berg crossed the Rubi­con and planted a power­ful bomb under a marble-topped map table in a wood-frame con­fer­ence room at the Wolf’s Lair. The explo­sion had the unin­tended con­se­quence of killing thou­sands of people. By a quirk of furni­ture design, the “legs” at each end of the long table were one con­tin­uous piece of wood running width­wise from table edge to table edge; thus, the bomb blast was deflected away from its in­tended target standing to the other side of the single sup­port. The explo­sion killed seve­ral indivi­duals. But Hitler, his uni­form in tatters, miracu­lously sur­vived, sus­taining an in­jury to his arm and ear­drums. (Hitler shipped his ruined uni­form to his girl­friend and future wife, Eva Braun, as a me­men­to.) The deto­na­tion was the start of Opera­tion Wal­küre (Val­kyrie), the code­name for the mili­tary coup that began taking shape in Ber­lin upon Stauffen­berg’s return flight to the capi­tal. There the con­spir­a­tors briefly believed their water­tight plans to kill Hitler had suc­ceeded. At 1 a.m. the next morning, Hitler ad­dressed the nation by radio, telling his lis­teners that his sur­vi­val was a provi­den­tial sign that he must surely con­tinue in his role as Germany’s Fuehrer (leader).

Some Conspirators in the Plots to Kill Adolf Hitler

Lt. Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, German Resistance memberGen. Henning von Tresckow, German Resistance memberGen. Hans Oster, German Resistance member

Left: Lt. Col. Claus von Stauffenberg (November 15, 1907–July 21, 1944) was a 36-year-old Ger­man army offi­cer and aristo­crat who, along with Gen. Henning von Tresc­kow and Gen. Hans Oster, was a leading mem­ber of the failed July 20, 1944, plot to assas­si­nate Hitler and remove the Nazi Party from power. For his in­volve­ment Stauf­fen­berg was shot shortly after the failed attempt known as Operation Valkyrie.

Middle: Four-star general Herrmann “Henning” von Tresc­kow (Janu­ary 10, 1901–July 21, 1944) helped orga­nize resis­tance within the Wehr­macht against Hitler. He attempted to assas­si­nate Hitler in March 1943, and he drafted the Val­kyrie plan. On learning of the failure of the July 20 plot, he com­mitted sui­cide on the Eastern Front.

Right: Gen. Hans Oster (August 9, 1887–April 9, 1945) was deputy head of the Ab­wehr (Ger­man mili­tary intel­li­gence) under Adm. Wil­helm Cana­ris and a leading figure in the Ger­man resis­tance move­ment from 1938 to 1943. Oster’s Ab­wehr group sup­plied British-made bombs to Tresc­kow’s group in their vari­ous bids to kill Hitler in 1943. Oster was exe­cuted on the same day Cana­ris was exe­cuted at Flossen­buerg prison in Bavaria.

Col. Gen. Ludwig Beck, German Resistance memberCarl Friedrich Goerdeler, German Resistance member Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist-Schmenzin, German Resistance member

Left: Col. Gen. Ludwig Beck (June 29, 1880–July 20, 1944) was Chief of the Ger­man Gene­ral Staff during the early years of the Nazi regime. In 1943 Beck planned two abor­tive attempts to kill Hitler using a bomb. In 1944 he was one of the driving forces of the July 20 plot with Stauf­fen­berg and Carl Goer­deler. Beck was tapped to head the pro­vi­sional Ger­man govern­ment that would assume power after Hitler had been killed.

Middle: Carl Friedrich Goerdeler (July 31, 1884–Febru­ary 2, 1945) was a con­ser­va­tive poli­ti­cian, the ex-mayor of Leip­zig. He was an execu­tive, eco­no­mist, civil ser­vant, and oppo­nent of the Nazi regime. Had the July 20 plot suc­ceeded, Goer­deler would have been named chan­cellor in the new govern­ment.

Right: With his father’s blessing, 22-year-old Ewald-Hein­rich von Kleist-Schmen­zin (July 10, 1922–March 8, 2013) unsuc­cess­fully attempted a sui­cidal assas­si­na­tion against Hitler in Janu­ary 1944 at the Wolf’s Lair. After the failure of July 20 plot, he managed to cover up his resis­tance acti­v­ities. Many of his fellow plotters, including his father, were brought before Roland Freis­ler’s kangaroo People’s Court in Berlin and sent­enced to death.

Lead-Up to Operation Valkyrie: The Plot to Kill Hitler, July 20, 1944