I often hear people say, “Why didn’t people just assassinate Hitler?” There are 42 known assassination attempts on Hitler’s life, although experts believe there were many more. Many attempted to shoot him or bomb him, while many others tried creative ways such as poisonous flowers that would inject poison in his face, transporting a bomb in a wine box, and an exploding pen.
In one incident, before WWII even began, German carpenter Georg Elser predicted Hitler would leave Germany in ruins, and planned to assassinate Hitler with a time bomb. He spent several weeks building the bomb and its hiding place – behind the podium where Hitler would be speaking. The bomb was set to go off at precisely November 8, 1939 at 9:20 PM – in the middle of Hitler’s speech. Unfortunately, Hitler changed his plans and began his speech an hour earlier than planned, and left the building at 9:12. Eight minutes later, the bomb exploded – killing eight and injuring dozens more.
Whether it was a defective fuse, a last-minute change of plans on Hitler’s part, or a moved briefcase – a small movement changed the course of history. As we know, Hitler survived every single one of them, and committed suicide in his bunker in April 1945.
However, here was the closest attempt.
Welcome to Inspirational Tuesday! A while ago on Facebook, I posted the story of Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who saved 6,000+ Jews during the Holocaust. Many of you commented you had never heard of him, and it got me thinking: You know the Adam Lanza’s, the evil people of the world. Yet often, for some weird reason, the good people often go overlooked. I decided to balance this out by showcasing a courageous and inspiring person. Feel free to comment your requests.
“Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love… true love never dies.” -Hub, Secondhand Lions
Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg grew up a strong Roman Catholic in Germany. Born in 1907 in his family’s castle, Stauffenberg was known as a very intelligent child growing up. Joining his family’s traditional regiment, he became a cadet at age nineteen. Early in WWII, Stauffenberg lost his left eye, right hand, and two fingers on his left after an Allied attack.
Early in 1942, Stauffenberg began planning to assassinate Hitler. In March 1943, a group planted a bomb (disguised as brandy) on Hitler’s plane. The bomb failed to explode due to a defective wire, however the group wasn’t caught. This group, led by Henning von Tresckow, tried another four times, and each time, something went wrong. Since there had many assassination attempts in the 1930s, Hitler would frequently change his schedule last-minute.
Tresckow met Stauffenberg in August 1943, and together they worked on revising Operation Valkyrie. Approved by Hitler, Operation Valkyrie was Germany’s plan in case of an Allied bombing or uprising. Behind his back, Stauffenberg and Tresckow had altered the plan so that they, along with a group of other anti-Nazis, would take control of the government after Hitler’s death and immediately surrender to the Allies, ending the war. Since all Nazis had sworn an oath to Hitler, Hitler’s death was the only way of being able to break that oath. The group agreed they should kill Hitler, Heinrich Himmler (who ran the concentration camps) and Hermann Göring (Hitler’s second in command) concurrently.
Stauffenberg originally planned the assassination on July 11, however Himmler was not present. On July 15, Stauffenberg had the bomb in hand but Hitler left before the plan was put into action.
Finally, the plan was set. On July 20, 1944; a meeting was held, with more than 20 German officers and staff present. At the last minute, the meeting room was moved from inside the underground Wolf’s Lair to a nearby outdoor barrack.
As the conference began, Stauffenberg made an excuse to go the washroom and mangled the end of a pencil detonator to set the bomb off. Although he had planned to set two off, he only had the chance to set one off. Placing the bomb back in his briefcase, Stauffenberg went into the meeting room and carefully placed the briefcase next to Hitler. At a designated time, Stauffenberg said he had to make a phone call and quickly left the building. An officer moved the briefcase behind a thick table leg only moments before it exploded.
Four Germans died, but Hitler was barely touched. Assuming Hitler was dead, Stauffenberg scurried into his staff car, passed three check points, and headed for Berlin to execute Operation Valkyrie. No official confirmation of Hitler’s death came, and the plan stalled. Finally, Stauffenberg received the news – Hitler was still alive.
The July 20 plot was the last of 15 known attempts on Hitler’s life by Germans.
There are a few theories on why the bomb failed.
- The move from the underground, concrete Wolf’s Lair to the outside opened barrack (Since the pressure of the bomb would have had no where to go in the concrete Wolf’s Lair, Hitler more than likely would have been killed. However, since it was aboveground, the pressure had “somewhere to go.”)
- The briefcase moved right before the bomb exploded, farther away from Hitler.
- One bomb, instead of two, was used.
Sadly, the next day, Stauffenberg, along with several other members of the plot, were executed by firing squad. Before being shot, Stauffenberg’s last words were, “Long live sacred Germany!” In total, it is estimated around 200 people directly or indirectly involved in the July 20th plot were executed. Stauffenberg’s wife, Nina, and their five children survived the war.
(After the explosion on July 20, 1944)
When he learned of the bomb’s failure to kill Hitler, Tresckow committed suicide on the Eastern front. In a final letter to his cousin, he wrote:
“The whole world will vilify us now, but I am still totally convinced that we did the right thing. Hitler is the archenemy not only of Germany but of the world. When, in few hours’ time, I go before God to account for what I have done and left undone, I know I will be able to justify what I did in the struggle against Hitler. God promised Abraham that He would not destroy Sodom if only ten righteous men could be found in the city, and so I hope for our sake God will not destroy Germany. No one among us can complain about dying, for whoever joined our ranks put on the shirt of Nessus. A man’s moral worth is established only at the point where he is ready to give his life in defense of his convictions.”
Hermann Göring (Hitler’s second in command) committed suicide before he was sentenced to be hanged in October 1946. (Ironically, his brother Albert was extremely anti-Nazi and rescued several Jews from concentration camps.) Heinrich Himmler (who ran the concentration camps) committed suicide shortly after he was arrested in May 1945. Hitler and his mistress committed suicide in his bunker on April 30, 1945 – a week before the war ended, and doing what so many failed to accomplish.
Operation Valkyrie has been featured in many films and documentaries, including a 2008 feature film, Valkyrie, starring Tom Cruise. Germany has also made a film called Operation Valkyrie. The Military Channel’s show Unsolved History had a 2005 episode called “Killing Hitler” which went over the three reasons why Hitler survived the bomb. There is also a NatGeo documentary called 42 Ways To Kill Hitler that explores the different assassination attempts. (also available on YouTube)
“You did not bear the shame. You resisted, sacrificing your life for freedom, justice, and honor.”
-German Resistance Memorial in Berlin, the end of the 2008 film Valkyrie