Johann Georg Elser
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (May 2008)|
|Johann Georg Elser|
4 January 1903|
|Died||9 April 1945
Dachau concentration camp
|Cause of death||Shot|
|Known for||Attempting to assassinate Adolf Hitler|
Johann Georg Elser (4 January 1903 – 9 April 1945) was a German opponent of Nazism. He planned and carried out an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler on 8 November 1939 in Munich, and he also planned to assassinate Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels in 1939.
Elser was born in Hermaringen, Württemberg to Ludwig Elser and Maria Müller, who married one year after their son's birth. He attended elementary school in Königsbronn from 1910–17 and showed ability in drawing and handicrafts. His father was a farmer and lumber dealer, and expected his son to succeed him in this trade. Georg, who had helped his father in his work, however, instead pursued his own interests. He began an apprenticeship as a lathe operator in a foundry, which he quit two years later for health reasons. He completed an apprenticeship as a carpenter in 1922. He then worked as a carpenter in several joineries in Königsbronn, Aalen and Heidenheim. From 1925–29, he worked in a watch factory in Konstanz, where he acquired the knowledge enabling him to build the timer for the bomb he was later to use in an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. From 1929–32 he worked as a carpenter, in Switzerland.
After his return to Königsbronn, he worked with his parents. From 1936, he worked in a fitting factory in Heidenheim. While working here, he became aware of the Nazis' rearmament program. Elser was a quiet yet sociable character, joining in different cultural societies and clubs, amongst others, a Tracht club. He played the zither and the double bass for the local choir. He also enjoyed to hike with his friends. In 1930, his girlfriend, Mathilde Niedermann, became pregnant and gave birth to his son Manfred. The pregnancy was unplanned and mirrored his parents' situation at his birth. Unlike his parents, Elser did not marry Mathilde and separated from her soon afterwards.
He became a member of the federation of wood workers union. In 1928, a colleague persuaded him to join the Red Front Fighters' Association, the paramilitary organization of the Communist Party. He did not devote much time to these memberships. Though not a committed Communist, he was a devoted church-going Protestant, he voted for the Communist Party until 1933, as he considered them to be the best defenders of workers' interests. He opposed Nazism from the beginning of the regime in 1933, and refused to perform the Hitler salute, or to join others in listening to Hitler's speeches broadcast on the radio. Nor did he vote in the Third Reich's elections or referendums.
Hitler assassination attempt
In 1938, Europe was on the verge of war over the Sudetenland Crisis. After the experience of World War I, Elser was apprehensive about the possibility of another war. Though war was averted at this time, Elser mistrusted Hitler's peace proclamations and considered removing the Nazi leadership by assassination. In order to find out how best to implement his plan, Elser travelled to Munich on 8 November 1938, to attend Hitler's annual speech on the anniversary of Hitler's failed Beer Hall Putsch. Elser not only judged the poorly guarded event to be a favourable opportunity, but during the same night also witnessed the outbursts of anti-Jewish violence during the Kristallnacht. This experience convinced Elser that a leadership capable of inciting such violence would plunge Germany into a major war, and that only Hitler's death could prevent this from happening. Elser chose the next anniversary of the Beerhall Putsch, to kill Hitler with a bomb during his speech at the Bürgerbräukeller. He built a time bomb with which he travelled to Munich in the weeks preceding Hitler's anniversary speech. Elser managed to stay inside the Bürgerbräukeller after closing hours each night for over a month, during which time he hollowed out the pillar behind the speaker's rostrum, and placed the bomb inside it. Security was relatively lax as it had been left to local party strongman Christian Weber rather than Reinhard Heydrich.
While Elser was making these preparations, World War II broke out on 1 September 1939. Due to his intense, laborious preparations, he hardly noticed these and other events. Unknown to Elser, Hitler initially cancelled his speech at the Bürgerbräukeller because of the war. However, he then changed his mind and attended the anniversary, but planned on returning to Berlin that same night. Fog prevented a flight back to Berlin, forcing Hitler to deliver his speech earlier than planned in order to take the train. Hitler left the beer hall at about 13 minutes before Elser's bomb exploded as planned at 21:20, and Hitler did not even learn of this attempt on his life until later that night on a stop in Nuremberg. The bomb killed eight people, and injured sixty-three, seriously injuring sixteen of them. The government blamed the bomb on the British and announced the next day that it had captured two British agents, Stevens and Best, although they were part of the unrelated Venlo Incident.
Elser was arrested by chance at 20:45, about 35 minutes before the bomb exploded, by the customs border police in Konstanz when he tried to cross the border into Switzerland. At first the officers did not suspect his involvement in the assassination attempt, but then they found picture postcards from the Bürgerbräukeller in Elser's coat. Elser was transferred to Munich, where he was interrogated by the Gestapo. Elser remained silent and denied any involvement in the explosion, but the evidence pointing to his complicity became increasingly clear. What finally pointed to Elser as the would-be assassin were his bruised, scraped knees. As it turned out, the hollow space in the column where the explosives had been hidden could only have been reached by an assassin crawling on his knees. Waitresses then identified Elser as a frequent patron of the Bürgerbräukeller, and he eventually confessed. After his confession to the crime in Munich, Elser was taken to the Berlin headquarters of the Gestapo where he was severely tortured. The SS-Leader Heinrich Himmler did not believe that a diminutive Swabian, a craftsman with a grade-school education, could have almost managed to assassinate the Führer without accomplices. The protocol from the Gestapo was recovered at the end of the 1960s. This 203-page document is the most important source of information about Elser.
Elser was imprisoned in Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps. Although he consistently claimed to have been acting on his own, the Nazis, especially Goebbels persisted in suspecting a British-led conspiracy, and intended to stage a trial exposing this alleged plot after the war. Elser was kept in special custody. The mystery about the identity of this "special security prisoner" sometimes led to malicious rumours among his fellow inmates. Even after the war, Martin Niemöller, also in custody at Sachsenhausen, claimed that Elser had been a member of the SS and that the whole assassination attempt had been staged by the Nazis to portray Hitler as being protected by Providence. However, historical research by Anton Hoch in 1969 confirmed that Elser acted alone, and no evidence involving the regime, or any outside group has been found.
In April 1945 German defeat became imminent and Allied troops were drawing nearer to Dachau. This meant that the Nazis' aim of staging a trial became futile, so Hitler ordered the killing of the "special security prisoner Eller", the name by which Elser was called in Dachau. Gestapo chief, SS-Gruppenführer Heinrich Müller delivered the order for this killing to the Commandant of the Dachau concentration camp, SS-Obersturmbannführer Eduard Weiter.
Following order has arrived: At one of the next terror attacks on Munich area of Dachau, "Eller" has a deadly accident. I ask you to liquidate "Eller" without attracting attention after such a situation appears. Also take special care that only a few people who are specially bound come to know of this. The message for me then shall be something like...
On... caused by a terror attack (air raid) on.... security prisoner "Eller" fatally injured
Elser was shot dead on 9 April 1945, in the Dachau concentration camp, a few weeks before the end of the war. He was 42 years old. A plaque (see illustration) dedicated to his memory in Königsbronn says:
|“||I wanted to prevent even greater bloodshed through my deed||”|
- Claus Christian Malzahn (8 November 2005). "The Carpenter Elser Versus the Führer Hitler". Der Spiegel International. Retrieved 26 January 2006.
- Martyn Housden, Resistance and Conformity in the Third Reich, Routledge, 1997, p. 174
- Knickerbocker, H.R. (1941). Is Tomorrow Hitler's? 200 Questions On the Battle of Mankind. Reynal & Hitchcock. p. 67.
- S. Payne Best, The Venlo Incident, first published by Hutchinson & Co in 1950
- Hoch, Anton: Das Attentat auf Hitler im Muenchner Buergerbraeukeller 1939. Vierteljahrheft fuer Zeitgeschichte, 17.Jahrg., 4.H. (Okt. 1969), pp. 383-413
- Georg Elser streets and places
- Georg Elser monuments
- Roger Moorhouse, Killing Hitler: The Third Reich and the Plots against the Führer. Jonathan Cape, 2006, pp. 36–58. ISBN 0-224-07121-1
- Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich at War. Penguin Press, 2008, pp. 109–111. ISBN 978-1-59420-206-3
- Hellmut G. Haasis, Bombing Hitler (William Odom, Translator). Skyhorse, 2013. ISBN 978-1616087418.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Georg Elser.|
- The Carpenter Elser Versus the Führer Hitler from Der Spiegel (in English)
- Most extensive archive on Elser (German) at www.georg-elser-arbeitskreis.de
- Ulf Märtens: What does Georg Elser's act of resistance against the Nazi regime tell us about the ability of ordinary people to resist?
- Georg Elser at www.georg-elser.de
- Georg Elser und das Attentat vom Bürgerbräukeller 1939 at www.shoa.de
- Heilige - Selige - Ehrwürdige - Namen – Geschichten – Ökumenisches Heiligenlexikon at www.heiligenlexikon.de
- "The Carpenter Elser Versus the Führer Hitler" Der Spiegel, 8 November 2005
- Georg Elser – Einer aus Deutschland (1989) at the Internet Movie Database The 1989 Movie, also known as Georg Elser or Seven Minutes.
- YouTube: Murder attempt on 8 november 1939 against Hitler
- Mike Dash, One Man Against Tyranny, 18 August 2011