PLOT TO KILL HITLER PUT ON HOLD

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 (German armed forces) that had been planning Hitler’s assas­si­nation since at least 1938. Because the second-most power­ful man in the Third Reich, Reichs­fuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler, chief of the Gestapo (secret police) and, from 1943, Minis­ter of the Interior, 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 Val­kyrie (Wal­kuere), 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 and the world by radio, telling lis­teners that his sur­vi­val was a provi­den­tial sign that he must surely continue in his role as Germany’s Fuehrer (leader).

The euphoria generated in the Allied camp by news of the conspir­a­tors’ bomb plot (failed though it was), mixed with the previous month’s start of Allied offen­sives in the West (finally!) (Normandy Landings) and East (Opera­tion Bagra­tion), led to a popular belief that the Third Reich was teetering on collapse from within and with­out. In London, the war cabi­net fore­cast, for planning pur­poses, Decem­ber 31, 1944, as the date hostili­ties would end. In Washington, the War Produc­tion Board began canceling mili­tary contracts. Unfor­tu­nately for war planners, armed forces service personnel, and non­com­batants alike, the blood-spattered collapse of Hitler’s Third Reich’s came principally from forces without, and it was lamentably 45 weeks away.



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German 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. Maj. Henning von Tresc­kow and Gen. Maj. 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 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


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