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The man who almost assassinated Adolph Hitler: Claus von Stauffenberg

.. Count Claus von Stauffenberg was born in one of the oldest aristocratic families in Southern Germany, in the family, closely related to the royal house of Baden-Wurttemberg - father Earl held a high position at the court of the last king of Baden-Württemberg. Klaus was the third child in the family. His elder brothers were Berthold and Alexander. Claus von Stauffenberg was brought up in the spirit of Catholic piety, German patriotism and monarchical conservatism. He received an excellent education, marked his literary talents ... Zeitgeist, education, love of country, all this could not lead him to a military career. Claus Philipp Maria entered military service in 1926. Stauffenberg enthusiastically ... took Hitler's rise to power in 1933, believing in the fact that the Nazi regime would ensure a revival of Germany. Later, however, his attitude to the National Socialist ideas changed. The reason for this was the atrocities committed against the Jews and the persecution of religious ministers in Germany. At the beginning of World War II, Stauffenberg was an officer in the Bavarian Cavalry Regiment, participated in the occupation of the Sudetenland in Polish and French campaigns, was at the German-Soviet front, and in 1943 - in North Africa. Seriously injured in Tunisia (loss of his left eye, his right hand and two fingers on his left hand), Klaus miraculously survived and returned to service. By this time he had realized that Hitler was leading Germany to disaster ...

The family man: Claus Stauffenberg with wife Nina Baronesse von Lerchenfeld, Baroness von Lerchenfel. They married in 1933.

Claus Philipp Maria Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg (15 November 1907 – 20 July 1944) was a German army officer and Catholic aristocrat who was one of the leading members of the failed 20 July plot of 1944 to kill German dictator Adolf Hitler (Operation Valkyries) and remove the Nazi Party from power in World War II Germany. Along with Henning von Tresckow and Hans Oster, he was one of the central figures of the German Resistance movement within the Wehrmacht.

Stauffenberg (left) with Hitler at the Wolfsschanze, Rastenburg, five days before the assassination attempt. Alos in the picture with his back is Friedrich Fromm, the commander in chief of the Reserve Army. 

A young von Stauffenberg


Stauffenberg was much more than an action hero driven by the kind of simple moral imperative that suits Hollywood's desire to portray everything in terms of starkly opposed opposites of good and evil. He found moral guidance in a complex mixture of Catholic religious precepts, an aristocratic sense of honour, Ancient Greek ethics, and German Romantic poetry. Above all, perhaps, his sense of morality was formed under the influence of the poet Stefan George, whose ambition is was to revive a "secret Germany" that would sweep away the materialism of the Weimar Republic and restore German life to its true spirituality. Inspired by George, Stauffenberg came to look for a revival of an idealized medieval Reich, in which Europe would attain a new level of culture and civilization under German leadership.

Stauffenberg was confident that an anti-Nazi government would be able to work out an arrangement with the Allies and avoid unconditional surrender. Julius Leber sought in vain to disabuse him of this illusion. In a paper apparently written by Stauffenberg himself and left behind in army headquarters on Bendlerstrasse on July 20, the hope was expressed that Germany would remain a "significant factor in the constellation of powers" and that the Wehrmacht would be an "effective instrument" in bringing about negotiations "on an equal footing" with the Allies.

The tenacity with which Stauffenberg clung to this misconception has often been noted. Perhaps, as some commentators have speculated, he needed it as much as he needed his moral outrage in order to take action. After all, any clearheaded assessment of the situation could only have led to the conclusion that events should be allowed to play themselves out to the bitter end. The historian Gordon Craig regards the German conspirators as incurable "romantics," and his characterization is probably apt, even in respect to Stauffenberg. But the critical undertone of that judgment denies them the dignity of their efforts, however desperate, impulsive, and irrational they may have been. The particular heroism of the German resistance resides precisely in the hopelessness of the conspirators' position, in what one historian calls the "last hurrah of a lost cause."

Utterly without support or encouragement from within or without, they carried on the struggle even though, by the end, no national or tangible political interest could be advanced. Thus the assassination attempt of July 20 was launched in the spirit of Tresckow's words to Stauffenberg: "coûte que coûte"-do it "whatever the cost." Stauffenberg surely knew that the political goals he was serving by killing Hitler were now a mere fantasy. To the Allied demand for unconditional surrender he and his friends responded with an equally unconditional determination to act, motivated at this point by only the most abstract and general ideals: the dignity of humankind, justice, responsibility, self-respect. It is revealing that all discussion of the "right psychological moment," which had played so prominent a role in the debates of previous years, had long since ceased.
The dashing Wehrmacht officer in 1936

After several unsuccessful tries by Stauffenberg to meet Hitler, Göring and Himmler when they were together, he went ahead with the attempt at Wolfsschanze on 20 July, 1944. Stauffenberg entered the briefing room carrying a briefcase containing two small bombs. The location had unexpectedly been changed from the subterranean Führerbunker to Speer's wooden barrack/hut. He left the room to arm the first bomb with specially-adapted pliers, a task made difficult because he had lost his right hand and had only three fingers on his left. A guard knocked and opened the door, urging him to hurry as the meeting was about to begin. As a result, Stauffenberg was able to arm only one of the bombs. He left the second bomb with his aide-de-camp, Werner von Haeften, and returned to the briefing room, where he placed the briefcase under the conference table, as close as he could to Hitler. Some minutes later, he excused himself and left the room. After his exit, the briefcase was moved by Colonel Heinz Brandt.


But even in the late 1930s, he was markedly more sympathetic to National Socialism than were many more senior officers. His relatives were wont to describe him as the only "brown" member of the family. While he was later to lose altogether his enthusiasm for National Socialism, he never lost his contempt for parliamentary democracy. This alone would make him ill-fitted to serve as a model for the conduct and ideas of future generations.
Goering inspects the room after the explosion

When the explosion tore through the hut, Stauffenberg was convinced that no one in the room could have survived. Although four people were killed and almost all survivors were injured, Hitler himself was shielded from the blast by the heavy, solid-oak conference table and was only slightly wounded.

Stauffenberg and Haeften quickly left and drove to the nearby airfield. After his return to Berlin, Stauffenberg immediately began to motivate his friends to initiate the second phase: the military coup against the Nazi leaders. When Joseph Goebbels announced by radio that Hitler had survived and later, after Hitler himself personally spoke on the state radio, the conspirators realized that the coup had failed. They were tracked to their Bendlerstrasse offices and overpowered after a brief shoot-out, during which Stauffenberg was wounded in the shoulder.


The over-ambitious military strategy adopted by Hitler in 1941, which led to disaster at Moscow in January 1942, was repeated on an even greater scale in the following year, and it became clear to Stauffenberg that it was overstretching Germany's resources to such an extent that failure was becoming inevitable. Even more important, the mass killings of Soviet civilians behind the Eastern Front, the murder of three and a half million Soviet prisoners of war, the looting and destruction of Soviet property, above all, the shooting of hundreds of thousands of Jews, convinced Stauffenberg that the National Socialist regime was recklessly squandering the goodwill that it had initially met among the peoples it had freed from Stalin's yoke. It was betraying his idea of a new Europe under the benevolent rule of the Reich. Indeed, Stauffenberg thought it was betraying the ideals of National Socialism itself.
The death sentence for Stauffenberg


In the courtyard outside, several military vehicles pulled up, their headlights glaring. Along all the sides of the square, groups of curious onlookers gathered. In the middle stood an execution squad consisting of Lieutenant Werner Schady and ten noncommissioned officers. As the prisoners emerged from the staircase, they were positioned in front of a small pile of sand. Olbricht was the first to be shot. Next it was Stauffenberg's turn, but just as the squad fired, Haeften, in a defiant gesture, threw himself into the hail of bullets. When the squad again took aim at Stauffenberg, he shouted, "Long live sacred Cermany." Before the sound of his voice died away, shots resounded. 

In what turned out to be a futile attempt to save his own life, co-conspirator General Oberst Friedrich Fromm, Commander-in-Chief of the Replacement Army present in the Bendlerblock (Headquarters of the Army), charged other conspirators in an impromptu court martial and condemned the ringleaders of the conspiracy to death. Stauffenberg and fellow officers Colonel General Olbricht, Lieutenant von Haeften, and Oberst (Colonel) Albrecht Mertz von Quirnheim were shot before 1:00 a.m. that night (21 July 1944) by a makeshift firing squad in the courtyard of the Bendlerblock, which was lit by the headlights of a truck.

As his turn came, Stauffenberg spoke his last words, "Es lebe unser heiliges Deutschland!" ("Long live our sacred Germany!") Others say the last words were: "Es lebe das geheime Deutschland"("Long live the secret Germany!") Fromm ordered that the executed officers (his former co-conspirators) receive an immediate burial with military honors in the Matthäus Churchyard in Berlin's Schöneberg district. The next day, however, Stauffenberg's body was exhumed by the SS, stripped of his medals, and cremated.


 Himmler discussed the failed coup at length at a meeting of gauleiters in Posen two weeks after the event, declaring that he would "introduce absolute responsibility of kin ... a very old custom practiced among our forefathers." One had only to read the Teutonic sagas, he said: "When they placed a family under the ban and declared it outlawed or when there was a blood feud in a family, they were utterly consistent. . . . This man has committed treason; his blood is bad; there is traitor's blood in him, that must be wiped out. And in the blood feud the entire clan was wiped out down to the last member. And so, too, will Count Stauffenberg's family be wiped out down to the last member.

Accordingly, Himmler ordered relatives of the Stauffenberg brothers arrested, from their wives all the way to a three-year-old child and the eighty-five-year-old father of a cousin. A third Stauffenberg brother, Alexander, was not involved in the plot but was nevertheless returned from Athens to Berlin, interrogated at length, and dispatched to a concentration camp. The property of all relatives was seized. After an interrogation that yielded nothing of interest, Countess Stauffenberg was sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp, as was her mother. Her children were placed in an orphanage.


Had Stauffenberg's bomb succeeded in killing Hitler, it is unlikely that the military coup planned to follow it would have moved the leading conspirators smoothly into power. Large parts of the army, the SS and the NSDAP would have resisted by force of arms, and a civil war would have been the most probable result. There can be little doubt, however, that this would have brought huge military advantages to the Allies, and that the war would have come to an end several months sooner than it did, with the consequent saving of millions of lives.
Stauffenberg's resting place

Today, there is a stone in memorial of this event.

Nina Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg (Stauffenberg's wife he had married in 1933) and others were awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Honorary Medal of the City of Bamberg for their commitment to the preservation of the old town of Bamberg.

The following day Adolf Hitler made a radio broadcast to the German nation detailing the failed assassination and thanked fate for allowing him to continue his "work".

The planned coup, known as the July plot, was led by senior military leaders like Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben and General Ludwig Beck.

After Claus von Stauffenberg had placed the briefcase under the table next to Hitler, he left the building, heard the bomb explode and assumed Hitler was dead.

He flew to Berlin to join Von Witzleben and Beck and take over using the German Home Army. But through a series of lucky circumstances Hitler was only slightly injured, though three
other people were killed.

Von Stauffenberg was arrested the same day and shot. The rest of the conspirators were tried and hanged or offered the chance to commit suicide.

Eight of those executed were hanged with piano wire from meat-hooks and their executions filmed and shown to senior members of the Nazi Party and the armed forces.

Hitler and Geli Raubal




Suggested Reading


This book is vastly superior to the recent movie. Author Nigel Jones initially covers some of the previous assassination attempts on Adolf Hitler. Hitler always credited "Providence" for his survival, and confirmation that he was to continue with his plan for Germany. The book really picks up its interest when Count Claus von Stauffenberg and his cohorts realized the war was lost with the D-Day invasion at Normandy, and put together their plan to show the world they wanted to save Germany before it was totally destroyed.


Overall I found this book a good history of Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators. It tells the Valkyrie story not only in an exciting way, but with keen psychological insights that do not assume to know more about the characters and their motivation than the authors possibly could. What I found most fascinating was its exploration of the national psyche of the German nation -- the authors make the reader understand how German "volk" character, mysticism, the defeat of WWI, the Treaty of Versailles, and the Teutonic need for order and a leader all conspired to make Hitler not only a predictable leader growing out of the Weimar Republic, but an almost inevitable one.

Stauffenberg: A Family History, 1905-1944 


 Stauffenberg is not only a hero of Germany, but of anyone on earth who loves freedom and respects the laws of God and humanity. Stauffenberg was Germany's guardian angel, who attempted to save his nation and slay the man he deemed "the antichrist." Doctor Hoffmann paints a wonderful picture of Stauffenberg's early life and military career. He then moves into minute detail of the plot to kill Hitler and the man whom fate had chosen to lead it.

Plotting Hitler's Death: The Story of German Resistance 

The author of this book, Joachim Fest, is one of the better know of the German World War 2 historians so I was expecting a well researched and factual book. What I found was just that. Fest first takes us through a history of a number of the failed plots and people responsible before sending the second half of the book on the plot that actually got the closest with a bomb blast injuring Hitler. Fest describes the set up of the plot, what was to take place after the assassination in regards to taking control of the German government and the assumptions of what would happen with the war. We also get a chapter on what happened to the members of the plot once it failed.
Overall this is an interesting and well-constructed book. 

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