This Day in History

While July 20, 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of arguably man’s greatest achievement (landing on the moon), this day also marks yet another important day in history: the 65th anniversary of the nearly successful attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler and overthrow of the Third Reich (a.k.a Operation Valkyrie) from individuals within the German Government.

An idealistic young Catholic aristocrat, Colonel Claus von Staufenberg was assigned the key role. The key conspirators were Admiral Wilhelm Canaris (head of the Abwehr), Carl Goerdeler, Julius Leber, Ulrich Hassell, Hans Oster (Admiral Canaris’ deputy), Henning von Tresckow, Fabin Schlabrendorff, Peter von Wartenburg, Ludwig Beck, and Erwin von Witzleben. As a result of the need for secrecy, many individuals were not directly involved in the plot, but were willing to accept Hitler’s removal as demonstrated by the fact that they did not report clearly treasonous conversations. Stauffenberg was promoted to Colonel and appointed Chief of Staff to Home Army Commander General Friedrich Fromm (June 1944). This was the posuition that gave him direct access to Hitler’s briefing sessions. The overall plot was much more involved including a range of Wehrmacht officers including General Erwin Rommel. The attemp became known as the July Bomb Plot. The plan was to assasinate the key NAZI leaders (Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler ), then use loyal troops to seize control of Berlin and the major government buildings. This would include the important communication facilities in Berlin: telephone and signal centers and radio broadcasting stations. The key target of course was the Führer himself. Several attempts were made on Hitler’s life. At least six attempts had to be aborted. Stauffenberg decided he could kill Hitler during a military conference at the Führer Wolf’s Lair (field headquarters) in northern Poland (July 20, 1944). Stauffenberg was there as a representative of the Home Army. The idea was to kill Göring and Himmler with the same bomb. After Hitler was dead, the Home Army would seize cintrol of Berlin and then Germany. Göring and Himmler were not at the conference. Despite orders to abort the bombing, Staufenberg decided to go ahead. Stauffenberg had never previously met Hitler. He carried the bomb in a briefcase and placed it on the floor next to where Hitler was standing. He then left to make a pre-arranged telephone call. The bomb exploded and Staufenberg thought he had suceeded. Hitler had, however, moved the brirf case to the other side of a oak beam supporting the briefing table. Four men were killed. Hitler was badly shaken and his right arm injured, but he was not killed. After Hitler’s assasintion, Ludwig Beck, Erwin von Witzleben and Erich Fromm were to take command of the Wehrmacht. This effort was abandoned when it became clear that Hitler had survived.

While it is unfortunate that the operation failed and would have saved countless lives by bringing the European theater of WWII to an end nine months sooner, these brave conspirators who paid with their lives was proof to the world that the German people were not all evil and not all Germans supported the Third Reich. This also serves as a reminder that individuals must fight for their country and their liberty by opposing their government (as tarran so eloquently points out, government is not society). These conspirators who were at first considered “traitors” would later be revered by the German people as great defenders of their beloved country.