On 20 July 1944 a bomb placed in the briefing room of Wolf’s Lair would explode in an attempt to kill Hitler. It failed and many of the conspirators, including Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, would either be executed or commit suicide. So, who were the conspirators and why did it fail? Let’s find out.
The conspirators were a combination of both civilians and military and had varying reasons for coming together. Some opposed the anti-Jewish policies and were shocked by Kristallnacht, others were upset with how Hitler had mismanaged the war. Many wanted to save Germany from a catastrophic defeat they saw coming. Some of them no doubt would have faced a military tribunal had they survived for war crimes for working or assisting with the elimination of Jews. An earlier plot to kill Hitler on his airplane had failed, so the plan was changed. Called Operation Valkyrie, the plan was to take control of cities, disarming the SS, and arresting Nazi leaders.
Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg was to place a bomb under a table at the East Prussian headquarters called Wolf’s Lair. Then once Hitler was confirmed dead, a radio announcement would go out saying that the Nazi Party had murdered Hitler and ordering the Reserve Army to take control of key installations in Berlin, arresting Nazi leaders. Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, former mayor of Leipzig would become chancellor with former army chief of staff Ludwig Beck becoming president. Then the new government would begin negotiating for an armistice.
Stauffenberg arrived with two bombs on 20 Jul 1944 but was unable to arm one of them. In the briefing room where military aides were briefing Hitler, he placed the briefcase with the bomb under the table and near Hitler. He excused himself and left the room. Unfortunately, the briefcase was moved to under a thick leg of the table. When it detonated at 12:42 PM, Stauffenberg believed Hitler had been killed and put Operation Valkyrie into action. Hitler was wounded but not killed but the stenographer and three officers died. However instead of acting right away, many of the conspirators waited until Stauffenberg arrived in Berlin three hours later. By that time rumors of Hitler’s survival sapped the courage of many to go through with their plans. Precious time was lost, and it was too late now.
General Friedrich Fromm, who knew of the plot and condoned it, quickly saved himself by arresting the key conspirators and executing them. Hitler would go on the radio on 21 July 1944 to announce his survival to the nation and that those who had done this would be taken care of. The Gestapo swung into action arresting and torturing the remaining conspirators. Some were hauled before the infamous Volksgericht (People’s Court). There the infamous Nazi judge Roland Freisler handed out death sentences. Some were hanged, shot, and a few were strangled with piano wire. Fromm did not escape eventually being arrested, tried, and executed. General Beck was allowed to commit suicide but only wounded himself and had to be shot. The surprising revelation that Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was involved (he knew of the plot but took no active role in its planning or execution) shocked Hitler. Due to his popularity-and to avoid a trial-he was told if he committed suicide his family would be spared. Upon his death from an “illness”, he was given a full military funeral.
The assassination attempt did not weaken Hitler but strengthened it. His grip was tightened, and they went after not just those involved but other enemies, they could get rid of at the same time by claiming they were part of the plot as well. Over 7,000 were arrested and 4,980 were executed. The barbaric deaths of some by piano wire was specifically ordered by Hitler
- July Plot (Britannica.com)
- Assassination plot against Hitler fails (History.com)
- Plot to Assassinate Adolf Hitler (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum)
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