"The Beginning, Middle and End of the Anti-Nazis: The Story of the Events that lead up to July 20th, 1944"

Josh St. Louis

Mr. Rauer

CP European History 222-03

21 March 2005

"The Beginning, Middle and End of the Anti-Nazis: The Story of the Events that lead up to July 20th, 1944" "A man's life is worth it if he can sacrifice it for his values and beliefs."

-General Baron Henning von Trescow (1901-1944)

Between the year 1933 and the closure of WWII, forty-two failed attempts were made on Adolph Hitler's life by both the Allied forces and Hitler's own Third Reich. One of those attempts, however, which occurred on July 20th, 1944, nearly succeeded and was carried out by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg. Stauffenberg tried to detonate a bomb at Fuhrer Headquarters, also known as the "Wolf's Lair" in Rastenburg, East Prussia, using a British bomb hidden in a briefcase. A coup d'etat was also attempted that day. However, Hitler was not killed and only sustained minor injuries (Galante 10). Had the July bomb plot seceded, World War II might have ended sooner.

German resistance to Hitler did not begin on the day of this near assassination attempt. There were many involved in the resistance movement that ultimately paid the price with their lives in the end. The resistance movement started with a man named Dr. Karl Goerdler who became an anti-Nazi when he witnessed the oppression of the Churches and the discrimination against the Jews (Orbach 1). Goerdler was involved in politics, but resigned after having a disagreement with Hitler over policies. The movement struggled to gain support, until a man named Colonel Hans Oster joined. Together they gave the Allies the top-secret war plans of the German Army and provided early warning if the Gestapo, the secret police under the Nazi regime, was hunting people down. General Ludwig Beck joined the German army and became the Chief of General Staff (Jewish Virtual Library 1). Hitler later found out that Beck was plotting against the regime and removed him from office. After Beck was removed from office, he worked with Goerdler, Oster, and others involved in the anti-Nazi regime and later became the leader of the resistance (Jewish Virtual Library 1). Beck was loyal but lacked the ability to make quick decisions, which would hurt him later.

Friedrich Olbricht fought in the German Army during World War II and reached the rank of Lieutenant General. Olbricht became unsure of Hitler's leadership and joined Ludwig Beck, Carl Goerdeler, and Henning von Trescow in the resistance movement. Olbricht gave the signal on July 20th, 1944 to seize power and was the one to come up with Operation Valkyrie. This Operation was originally a code-name for an emergency plan designed to protect the Nazi regime. Hitler did not know that Olbricht and Stauffenberg intended the plan to serve as a military coup d'etat. They were hoping not only to assassinate Hitler and Himmler, but also seize power in Berlin and Paris. However, the opportunity to assassinate Himmler never arose.

The main leaders of the Rastenburg Plot included, but were not limited to the following people: Henning von Trescow, Hans Oster, General Beck, Olbricht, Albrecht Mertz, Werner von Haeften, and Colonel Claus Schenk count von Stauffenberg (History Learning Site 1). (See Appendix for pictures of them) Trescow joined the German army during World War I and became a junior officer at the end of the war. By 1939, Trescow had become a Lieutenant Colonel, and was serving at AG Centre Headquarters. Trescow decided that the Nazis had to be overthrown when he saw the Gestapo kill captured Red soldiers in 1941. Hans Oster joined the German army in World War I, but was dismissed from the army for having an affair with an officer's wife (Jewish Virtual Library 1). He was later recruited to work under General Bredow to work in Abwehr, the German spy agency. He became a strong anti-Hitler supporter when he witnessed the murder of General Bredow in the Night of the Long Knives.

Hitler constantly feared that he would be overthrown, so he divided rule among Hermann Goering, Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, and Ernst Röhm. Röhm was not liked by many officers because of the fact that he was a homosexual (Jewish Virtual Library 1). Because of pressure from Himmler and others, Hitler agreed that Röhm should die. He was shot by two men from the S.S. The S.S was getting more powerful, and in doing so, replaced the S.A. When the S.S. became dominant over the S.A., many were killed, in a single night, including General Brendow. This was called the Night of the Long Knives, taken from a popular Nazi song. This demonstrated to all of Germany that Hitler had the power to kill who ever he wanted to and had unquestioned control of Germany. Heinrich Himmler became head of the S.S. and the Gestapo. He established a network of concentration camps, fostered human experimentations and ordered extermination of Jews, Poles, Russians, and the gypsies (Gray 23). Hermann Goering was the second man of the Third Reich and Hitler's designated successor. He was seriously wounded at the Munich Beer-Hall putsch. He was then placed in an insane asylum and became addicted to morphine (Jewish Virtual Library 1). He later returned to the German Army, where he set up concentration camps with Himmler. After the War, Goering and Himmler were eventually tried in the Nuremberg trials.

In terms of Hitler's military aids, Wilhelm Keital became Hitler's chief of the armed forces. Keital was the first to tell everyone that Hitler had not been assassinated during the July Bomb Plot (Gray 23). After the War, he was later tried and hung at Nuremberg.

Albrecht Ritter Quirnheim von Mertz was a career officer at the rank of colonel at the time of the July Bomb Plot. He was involved in the planning of Operation Valkyrie (Fest 392). Werner von Haeften joined the German Army during World War II and acquired the rank of First Lieutenant. Before becoming involved in the Rastenburg Bomb Plot, Haeften took part in Operation Barbarossa and recovered from serious wounds. He later joined the conspiracy in November 1943.

Of all of the conspirators, Colonel Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg was the most important, as he carried out the July bomb plot himself. He became a supply officer and became an anti-Nazi when he observed Jews being murdered in Russia (Orbach 7). He was stationed at the African front where he was severely wounded during an air raid. Stauffenberg lost an eye, a hand, two fingers from his other hand, and was hospitalized for months. After he recovered from his wounds, he later decided that he needed to go back to the war. He was connected to the Resistance through General Friedrich Olbricht, the man who organized Operation Valkyrie.

Stauffenberg, with the help of a friend, von Schulenburg, began to persistently search for a man who would agree to perform a suicide mission to blow up the Fuhrer. They found a young captain, Axel count von dem Busshe. Busshe was thought to be the perfect candidate; his courage had won him the Iron Cross. Busshe agreed to die for his country when he saw a massacre of Ukrainian Jews at an airport in October 1942 (Schorr 2). Busshe's mission was to show the Fuhrer the new German uniforms (2). He would have been armed with two grenades with a three-second fuse. While showing him the uniforms, he was planning to throw himself on top of Hitler and activate the fuse. The opportunity never came for Busshe to attempt a mission. The train carrying the uniforms was bombed by the Allies before it reached East Prussia (Schorr 2). After the failure of this mission, Stauffenberg decided to carry out a few more attempts before the Rastenburg Plot was organized.

Since guns were not allowed anywhere near the Fuhrer, any assassination attempt would have to be done with a bomb. Men would strap grenades with a two or three second fuse on them and get near the Fuhrer. The following men that were recruited for suicide attempts were, Lieutenant Heinrich Von Kleist, John Hoffmann, and Colonel von Gerdorff. The Swiss government recruited Georg Elser for a suicide bombing (Fuchs 140). There were other attempts that were not suicide missions. Trescow took part in Operation Spark. This operation was difficult for Trescow to complete, as he could never arrange to meet with the Fuhrer. At a military meeting, Trescow put two bombs in one of Hitler's drinks and waited for it to blow. The drink was given to the wrong person, and it never went off, so Trescow had to retrieve the drink (Orbach 6). Hitler was never bombed at that meeting. Bombs were often placed on Hitler's planes or occasionally one of Hitler's food testers would die from food poisoning. The Allies also conducted assassination attempts that failed.

Hitler took many precautions to avoid assassination. Hitler always wore a steel or metal hat and never went in public without wearing a bulletproof vest (Fuchs, 75). He had people sample his food for him, even if a friend or family member gave him food. Additionally, he always rode in a bulletproof limousine and gave bulletproof limousines to his top officers as presents (75). Any assassination attempt on the Fuhrer's life would be hard to accomplish, if not impossible.

Towards July of 1944, several problems arose for the anti-Nazi movement. The Gestapo was starting to get suspicious and began to arrest several anti-Nazis. No one knew how much information the Gestapo had. Some senior officers were moved to different posts. Field Marshall Kludge was moved to the Western Front. In addition, Field Marshall Rommell was critically injured during a bombing. When the situation began to get worse, Stauffenberg realized that time was running out and that he needed to act quickly if an attempt was to be made on Hitler's life. Stauffenberg decided that he was the perfect candidate to carry out a mission, because he had access to Fuhrer Headquarters, located in East Prussia.

Stauffenberg was to go to a Staff conference at Wolf's Lair, in present-day Poland. The meeting was to take place at 1300 hours at July 20th, 1944. Stauffenberg flew into Rastenberg with Werner von Haeften and Helmuth Steiff at approximately 1000 hours (Fest, 255). They drove into the restricted areas and arrived at Wolf's Lair at 1100 hours (Fest 255). Stauffenberg carried the papers need for a report that he had to present. Haeften carried a briefcase with the two British bombs supplied by Phillip von Boeselager (Connolly 1). Upon arriving at Wolf's Lair, Stauffenberg learned that because of a scheduled visit by Mussolini, the Italian Premier, later in the day, the meeting would be moved from 1300 hours to 1230 hours. Upon hearing this, Stauffenberg asked if he and Haeften could freshen up and change shirts, as July 20th was a day with scorching heat (Bancroft, 218). They were led to an officer's room, traded briefcases and began to arm the first fuse on the bomb. As soon as they finished with the first bomb, Sergeant Werner Vogel urged Stauffenberg to hurry, for the meeting had already started (Fest 258). Stauffenberg left the second bomb in the room and proceeded to the meeting. He asked to sit as close to Hitler as possible; he claimed to have impaired hearing (Galante 8). Before the meeting, Stauffenberg learned one more thing. Due to the extreme heat, the meeting was moved from the concrete bunker to a wooden bunker with windows, so that some air circulation could take place. If an explosion occurred inside of a wooden bunker, it would dissipate outside the structure and do less damage. However, if an explosion was to occur inside a concrete bunker, the walls would contain the explosion and everyone in the room would be killed. Stauffenberg did not realize that one bomb in a wooden bunker would not be sufficient enough.

Stauffenberg was led into the map room while Haeften waited in the car for him. Hitler asked him to wait before giving his report, as Hitler was listening to another report. Stauffenberg set the briefcase down close to Hitler and waited for a minute. He left the room at 1235 hours saying that he was expecting a phone call from Berlin. He went to go wait with Haeften in the car. At exactly 1242 hours, a violent, loud thunder-like crack could be heard all though out Wolf's Lair, as the bomb exploded (Galante 10). Glass, wood, and bodies went flying. The map room's walls had collapsed. Maps were incinerated, along with other reports. Cursing could be heard as officers yelled: "Where is the Furhrer?" (10). Most in the room were severely injured. Hitler was knocked out his chair with singed hair, burned clothes, cuts on his face and hands, and a damaged eardrum. The big oak table in the map room had collapsed. Stauffenberg and Haeften witnessed all of this. Deciding that Hitler and everyone in the room perished, Stauffenberg left Wolf's Lair, saying that he had orders to go to Berlin. By 1315 hours, Stauffenberg was on a plane to Berlin.

Olbricht and Beck were waiting for Stauffenberg's return at the coup headquarters, where they received a phone call at 1300 hours (Galante 11). General Fellgiebel was on the other line. He said, "The bomb has exploded! Hitler is dead!" Olbricht went to Fromm's office and demanded that the Valkyrie plans should be announced. Fromm called Fuhrer Headquarters and had the following conversation with Keitel. Fromm: "Is Hitler alive?" Ketiel: "The Fuhrer is alive and barely wounded…He will be meeting with Mussolini this afternoon. Do you know where Stauffenberg is?" Fromm: "He hasn't come back yet." (Galante 12). Stauffenberg came to Berlin later and said: "Ketiel is lying! Everyone who was in that room has been killed!"

After Stauffenberg left for Berlin, news of the plot had reached army headquarters in Bendlerstrasse (Fest 260). The search for the plotters of the attempt had begun. At first, Hitler cast blame on construction workers working at Wolf's Lair. It was soon realized that Stauffenberg was guilty due to his abrupt departure prior to the explosion.

Upon arriving in Berlin, Stauffenberg realized that something had gone terribly wrong. After Stauffenberg left the wooden bunker, Colonel Brandt walked into the map to look at a report that Hitler was looking at. He accidentally knocked Stauffenberg's briefcase over. He moved it out of the way behind the table leg. Hitler was completely shielded from the blast. Word of failure had gotten out, and the coup orders were delayed (Bancroft 221). Even though Hitler did not perish, Stauffenberg insisted that the coup orders be carried out. Operation Valkyrie had to be launched. Olbricht immediately proclaimed a state of emergency, but it was too late. The coup became a disaster.

The S.S. had completely surrounded the coup center in Berlin, led by General Fromm. Several officers who were originally loyal to Beck had betrayed the anti-Nazis and helped arrest the conspirators. The building was swarmed with the S.S. Stauffenberg had no other choice. He left the room and ran across the hall, trying to escape where he ran into the S.S. He was shot in the shoulder and then rounded up with the other officers. Beck, Stauffenberg, Olbricht, Hoepner, Mertz, and Haeften were all captured by Fromm and the S.S. Fromm said to them: "Gentlemen, you are all guilty of treason and deserve to die. Put down your weapons." (Galante 211). The end of the coup was in sight.

Hitler made sure that those who were involved in the Rastenberg assassination plot were severely punished. The weeks following July 20th were filled with the arrests of 7000 people, many of them just knowing about the coup and not being involved. About 200 plotters were shot, hung, strangled with piano wire, or hung up on giant meat hooks (Britannica 1). It cannot be agreed as to how Trescow died. Some say that Treskow walked into a Russian No-Man's-Land and was shot with machine gun fire (Jewish Virtual Library 1). Yet, others say he committed suicide and by strapping a grenade to his chest, causing decapitation, along with death. Oster was arrested by the Gestapo and interrogated. He was then taken to the Flossenburg Concentration Camp and executed on April 9, 1945 (Jewish Virtual Library, 2). Goerdler went into hiding before being tortured for five months, followed by an execution on February 2nd, 1945. Many had to deal with the Nazi judge Roland Freisler, who showed no mercy. Freisler humiliated them as much as he possibly could, and usually sentenced them to be tortured by the Gestapo. Judge Freisler started the following conversion with a man named Hoepner by saying, "You are a dirty dog!" Hoepner: "I am not a dog!" Freisler: "So you aren't a dog. Tell me, what zoological category do you belong to?" Hoepner: "I am ass." (Orbach 10) Hoepner was forced to drink poison. After Fromm captured Beck, he refused to let Fromm kill him. Beck said to Fromm, "You will not give an order to your former superior! I will carry out the consequences myself." Beck pulled out a pistol, aimed the gun at his temple, and shot. The bullet creased the top of his head, causing Beck to severely wound himself, so Fromm finished his death by ordering an officer to shoot him in the back of the head. Olbricht, Mertz, Stauffenberg, and Haeften were shot by a firing squad the night of July 20th, 1944. Stauffenberg died saying: "LONG LIVE OUR FREE, HOLY, ETERNAL GERMANY!" (Galante 211) He was answered by General Kortzfleisch and members of the S.S. saying: "For our Fuhrer Adolph Hitler! Sieg Heil!" At exactly 2400 hours, Hitler spoke to Germany over the radio, saying: "I am speaking to you today for two reasons: first, I want you to know that I'm alive and well; and second, I want to tell you about one of the most vicious crimes in the German history (Orbach 11). A very small clique of ambitious, unscrupulous, evil, and criminally stupid officers plotted to kill me (Hamerow 1). A bomb was planted next to me by Colonel Claus count von Stauffenberg. Some of my loyal officers got wounded, and one was killed. I wasn't hurt. This is a small group of criminals that will be eliminated without mercy!" (Orbach 11). This speech ended the Rastenberg Bomb Plot.

If the July bomb plot had succeeded, World War II might have ended sooner. The German resistance was hoping that they could surrender before the Allied invasion and form peace talks. Despite the failure, all involved in the anti-Nazis are considered today as heroes in Germany, as well as other places throughout the world. These men were willing to die for their country because of what they believed. This has happened in many places throughout history. This event was important because it showed the world that not all of the Germans were Nazis or loyal to Hitler.

APPENDIX: PICTURES

Goerdeler

Beck

Oster

Haeften

Trescow

Olbricht

Fromm

Judge Freisler

Damage done by Stauffenberg's Bomb

Claus von Stauffenberg

Hitler