Adolf Hitler is considered one of the most diabolical names in all of modern history. He is compared to the likes of Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Joseph Stalin. While history has been kind to Alexander the Great and Napoleon, giving them statuses of heroic behavioral conquerors instead of cruel and genocidal dictators, the fact still remains. Hitler is known by the entire world, and not for what he wished to be remembered for.
He’s hated by a majority of the world (there will always be a group of people still falling for nationalistic propaganda and the racist ideals of Nazism). His Third Reich slaughtered millions of innocent lives, yet he still remained a world figure from the time he stepped into power (January 30, 1933 after the president of Germany, Paul von Hindenburg, appointed Hitler Chancellor of Germany in a government dominated by conservatives) to the end of the Second World War, arguably the worst war in all of history.
Now imagine a world where World War II could have been avoided. Imagine a world where World War II could have ended years beforehand. A world where millions of men, women, and children weren’t slaughtered horrendously in genocide. A world where Nazi Germany never really became a global, or even continental, threat. Alternative history is very interesting, perhaps one of the most interesting things to study in the recordings of our world’s past.
Maybe it’s the idea that humanity could have avoided one of the largest disasters that has ever occurred right before our eyes. Maybe it’s the thought that millions of lives could have been saved, or at the very least have been changed, by just one tweak in the space time continuum. Or maybe it’s the idea of playing with fate itself. We have no time machine, and we have nothing that could change the course of history. But think of a world where Adolf Hitler could have been assassinated before or during his reign of power over the Third Reich of Nazi Germany. Now realize: it almost happened. At least fifty times.
The Plots to Kill Hitler
The primary purpose of these assassination attempt was to seize political control of Germany and the armed forces of the Nazi Party in order to create peace with the western Allies of the United States and Britain as soon as possible. Many high ranked officials in the German military were starting to see through the smog of propaganda and were able to see the failures piling up behind the foreign and war affairs of Nazi Germany. It was self-evident at this time that Germany was on a slope heading to disaster, and that only a quick peace attempt would be able to save the German militia from further prosecution and political tyranny.
These high ranking Wehrmacht officers believed they could save Germany from disastrous consequences and war policies distributed by Hitler and that they could finally put a stop the the cruelties and failures of his ongoing dictatorship. According to the assassins themselves, humanitarian reasons and the fight against Hitler — not Nazism — were the causes of their actions.
Military conspiratorial groups had been exchanging ideas for forced removal of government with civilian, political, and intellectual resistance groups throughout the state since at least 1938, only five years after Hitler’s rise to power. Some, like Helmuth James Graf von Moltke, the great grandnephew of a Franco-Prussian war hero, wished to place him on trial, stating that “we are all amateurs [at the idea of assassinating such a powerful figure] that we would only bungle it.” He, like many others, believed that killing Hitler would be quite hypocritical.
Many plans formed between these men before the July 20th Plot was staged. However, by 1942, they faded away to make room for a new conspiracy group led by Colonel Henning von Tresckow, commander of the Army Group Centre in Operation Barbarossa.
Tresckow teamed up with many other leading conspirators and staged several overthrows that all in turn backfired. Bombs failed to detonate, people backed out at the last minute, other high ranked officials refused to participate. Although several Field Marshals refused to help their treasonous activities form, none of them reported them to the Gestapo or Hitler himself. They most likely shared the main goal of removing Hitler from power, but they didn’t wish to go through the consequences of failure or post-war Germanic exploits themselves.
The men involved with the July Plot were merely conservative nationalists who shared the same goals with Hitler, but didn’t believe in (or in some cases even understand) the path Hitler was taking. They believed he was ruining Germany’s image; but even though they cared for Germany itself — many assassination attempts were planned by men in the Nazi government who lost their influence during the war and were concerned with regaining it.
Many members of the plot helped the Nazi’s gain power to start with. They shared the same foreign policy goals persued by Hitler himself, and many at the time were anti-democratic. They wanted to replace Hitler with a conservative-authoritarian government, one led and ruled by the elitists. Some, like Friedrich-Werner Graf von der Schulenburg, still wanted Germany to keep all of Poland after the war.
In August 1943, Tresckow met a man who was badly wounded in North Africa thanks to Hitler’s warfare. He was politically conservative and a zealous German nationalist who believed Hitler was killing Germany itself. He was a devoted Roman Catholic as well. He saw the disastrous effects of the Nazi government, and he believed that Hitler’s removal from power wasn’t even optional. Despite his religious ideals, he concluded to himself that the Fuhrer’s assassination was a lesser moral evil than the power bestowed upon and enacted by Adolf Hitler. Stauffenberg joined the conspirators, believing he could change history from remembering Germany as a terrible evil.
Operation Valkyrie, which was to be used in the event that the disruption caused by an Allied bombing of German cities caused complete chaos and breakdown in German law and order, became a new strategy for staging a coup against Hitler and his men. The only official with the power to begin Operation Valkyrie was General Friedrich Fromm, who knew of the conspiracies by neither supported them nor reported them.
False letters with signatures declared Hitler dead and were reported by radio stations across the state. Plans to shoot him during dinner at army base camps were aborted due to the widely spread rumor that Hitler wore a bullet proof vest. The idea of poisoning him were considered impossible after learning that all of Hitler’s food was specially prepared last minute and tasted by secretaries first. This finally broke down Stauffenberg and Tresckow into realizing that left one option: an explosive device.
Late 1943 and early 1944 was such a short period of time, yet it was filled with organized conspiracies and assassination attempts on Adolf Hitler. Four major attempts, revolving around the ideas of hand grenades, bombs, or guns, were formed.
Rudolf Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff, an officer in the German Army, launched an undetected yet failure of a plan in March 1943. The idea was simple: attack Hitler while he was present at an inspection of Soviet weaponry in a museum. As Hitler entered the museum, von Gersdorff set off two ten-minute delayed explosive devices hidden within his coat.
His plan was to throw himself around Hitler and embrace him, blowing them both up. A detailed plan for a coup d’état had been worked out and was ready to go; but, contrary to expectations, Hitler raced through the museum in less than ten minutes. von Gersdorff was barely able to get out of the museum, take the coat off, and defuse the bombs in time.
Axel Freiherr von dem Bussche-Streithorst, a German nobleman and high ranked official in the German Resistance, equipped a landmine with a hand grenade detonator, which he intended to hide in his pants pockets. He planned to detonate this bomb while embracing Hitler, thus killing both Hitler and himself.
The viewing was scheduled for 16 November 1943, but the night before, the truck containing the new uniforms was destroyed by an air raid on Berlin. Captain Bussche volunteered to try again in February 1944, when new uniforms would be at hand. In January 1944, however, von dem Bussche was seriously wounded on the front lines in Eastern Prussia and lost one of his legs, leading to the rejection of his proposal to volunteer to try on the uniforms. The meeting was postponed several more times until it was cancelled entirely, leaving the other models (who were also involved with the conspiracy) with no way to meet Hitler.
Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist-Schmenzin, a German Army officer in World War II, was designated to kill Hitler in a suicide attack and ended up being the last surviving member of the July 20th Plot to assassinate Hitler (dying in 2013 at age 90). He was a member of the group that was to stage the unsuccessful coup in Berlin. After failing, he managed to cover up his resistance and conspiracy activities. Proceedings against him were dropped in December that year for lack of evidence.
Eberhard Freiherr von Breitenbuch, a German cavalry officer, agreed with Tresckow to shoot Hitler in the head using a 7.65mm Browning pistol concealed in his pockets during a meeting with the Fuhrer. He was one of the few men used in the conspiracies who refused to commit suicide using a bomb attempt.
By the summer of 1944, the Gestapo began to catch onto the repetition of conspiracies and closed in on the conspirators. On July 20th, 1944, a “whatever the cost, it must occur” mindset amongst the remaining men against Hitler allowed the July 20th Plot to strike.
The July 20th Plot, in which Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a chief of the German Army Reserve, planted a bomb during a major conference that was to be held at Berchtesgaden, a municipality in the German Bavarian Alps, but was moved to Hitler’s now infamous “Wolf’s Lair”, which was a command post in Rastenburg, Prussia. The plan was simple, Stauffenberg was to plant the explosive in a briefcase, place it under the table, then exit the facility quickly while Hitler and several other high ranked officials looked over maps of the Eastern Front on the table above.
Colonel Heinz Brandt, trying to get a better look at the maps, accidentally moved the briefcase out of place. This unfortunate blunder would cost the man his own life and allow Hitler to survive.
At 12:42 pm exactly, the bomb exploded. When the smoke cleared and the debris was shifted through, Hitler was found wounded. He was charred, and he even suffered paralysis (not permanent) in one of his arms. Though the Fuhrer was harmed, he lived. In fact, we was well enough to keep a scheduled appointment with Italy’s Benito Mussolini that very afternoon. Mussolini was even given a tour of the chamber the bomb exploded in. Four of the men in the room with Hitler at the time ended up dead.
Had both bombs detonated (Stauffenberg, with missing fingers due to his time on the front lines, was too frustrated to ignite both timed bombs in the briefcase and believed only one would be needed), Hitler would have died. Had the meeting been held at the Berchtesgaden as it was originally planned, Hitler would have died. Had the briefcase not been moved by Heinz Brandt, Hitler would have died.
This plot is only one of at least fifty-two attempts to dispose of The Fuhrer. However, it ended up being the biggest backfire and led to the largest string of consequences out of all of them. The failure of the assassination/military coup d’état led to the arrest of at least 7,000 civilians by the Gestapo. All of these civilians were family members of the assassins. Hitler wished to dispose of any branch that could be remaining in the nurtured tree of hatred for his own government.
Mankind had at least fifty opportunities to kill Hitler. Opportunities to rid the world of one of the darkest individuals to ever grab power. Hitler even used his luck to his advantage, especially after the failure of the July 20th Plot, by announcing that fate wished for him to continue his leadership and wanted him to live. The Plots to Kill Hitler all failed, and perhaps they failed for a good reason. Had Hitler been killed, German soldiers and other officials might have had the “what if” question lodged in their heads. “What if Hitler lived long enough so that Germany could have won the war?” He would have become a German version of JFK – a man who would have been remembered more for his assassination than his actions. A man that would have people wondering what would have happened if only he managed to survive to the end.
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