20 July plot
|20 July Plot|
The Wolf's Lair conference room soon after the explosion
|Military-led German resistance||Nazi government|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Casualties and losses|
The 20 July plot refers to the attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Führer of the Third Reich, inside his Wolf's Lair field headquarters near Rastenburg, East Prussia. The primary purpose of the assassination attempt was to seize political control of Germany and its armed forces from the Nazi Party (including the SS) in order to obtain peace with the western Allies as soon as possible. But it was also assumed as "self-evident" that the German forces should continue to occupy Eastern European countries and Allies such as Poland or Czechoslovakia, while continuing to wage war against the Soviet Union. The underlying desire of many of the involved high-ranking Wehrmacht officers was to save Germany from the disastrous war policies by Hitler and to get rid of the cruelties of his dictatorship.
There were many discussions among the people organizing this final attempt, e.g. in the Kreisau Circle, and also failed assassination initiatives preceding the final one. According to references, there are, however, known conditions for a peace offer to the Allies which included primary demands to accept wide-reaching territorial annexations by Germany in Europe.
On the other hand, according to contributions of the assassins themselves, humanitarian reasons and the fight against Hitlerism were predominant.
The plot was the culmination of the efforts of several groups in the German Resistance to overthrow the Nazi-led German government. The failure of both the assassination and the military coup d'état which was planned to follow it, led to the arrest of at least 7,000 people by the Gestapo. According to records of the Führer Conferences on Naval Affairs, 4,980 of these were executed.
- 1 Background
- 2 Planning a coup
- 3 Countdown to Stauffenberg's attempt
- 4 20 July
- 5 Alternative possibilities
- 6 Participants at the meeting
- 7 Aftermath
- 8 Planned government
- 9 Commemoration and collective memory
- 10 Films and television
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 External links
Since 1938, conspiratorial groups planning an overthrow of some kind had existed in the German Army (Wehrmacht Heer) and in the German Military Intelligence Organization (Abwehr). Early leaders of these plots included Brigadier-General Hans Oster, General Ludwig Beck and Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben. Oster was the deputy head of the Military Intelligence Office. Beck was a former Chief-of-Staff of the German Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres, OKH). Von Witzleben was the former commander of the German 1st Army and the former Commander-in-Chief of the German Army Command in the West (Oberbefehlshaber West, or OB West). They soon established contacts with several prominent civilians, including Carl Goerdeler, the former mayor of Leipzig, and Helmuth James Graf von Moltke, the great-grandnephew of the hero of the Franco-Prussian War.
Military conspiratorial groups exchanged ideas with civilian, political, and intellectual resistance groups in the Kreisauer Kreis (which met at the von Moltke estate in Kreisau) and in other secret circles. Moltke was against killing Hitler; instead, he wanted him placed on trial. Moltke said, "we are all amateurs and would only bungle it". Moltke also believed killing Hitler would be hypocritical. Hitler and National Socialism had turned "wrong-doing" into a system, something which the resistance should avoid.
Plans to stage an overthrow and prevent Hitler from launching a new world war were developed in 1938 and 1939, but were aborted because of the indecision of Army Generals Franz Halder and Walther von Brauchitsch, and the failure of the Western powers to oppose Hitler's aggressions until 1939. This first military resistance group delayed their plans after Hitler's extreme popularity following the unexpectedly rapid success in the battle for France.
In 1942, a new conspiratorial group formed, led by Colonel Henning von Tresckow, a member of Field Marshal Fedor von Bock's staff, who commanded Army Group Centre in Operation Barbarossa. Tresckow systematically recruited oppositionists to the Group's staff, making it the nerve centre of the Army resistance. Little could be done against Hitler as he was heavily guarded, and none of the plotters could get near enough to him.
During 1942, Oster and Tresckow nevertheless succeeded in rebuilding an effective resistance network. Their most important recruit was General Friedrich Olbricht, head of the General Army Office headquarters at the Bendlerblock in central Berlin, who controlled an independent system of communications to reserve units throughout Germany. Linking this asset to Tresckow's resistance group in Army Group Centre created a viable coup apparatus.
In late 1942, Tresckow and Olbricht formulated a plan to assassinate Hitler and stage an overthrow during Hitler's visit to the headquarters of Army Group Centre at Smolensk in March 1943, by placing a bomb on his plane. The bomb failed to detonate, and a second attempt a week later with Hitler at an exhibition of captured Soviet weaponry in Berlin also failed. These failures demoralised the conspirators. During 1943 Tresckow tried without success to recruit senior Army field commanders such as Field Marshal Erich von Manstein and Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, to support a seizure of power. Tresckow in particular worked on his Commander-in-Chief of Army Group Centre, Field Marshal Günther von Kluge to persuade him to move against Hitler and at times succeeded in gaining his consent, only to find him indecisive at the last minute. However, despite their refusals, none of the Field Marshals reported their treasonous activities to the Gestapo or Hitler.
Motivation and goals of the plot
While the main goal of the plotters was to remove Hitler from power, they did so for various reasons. The majority of the group behind the July Plot were conservative nationalists who shared many goals with Hitler and didn't believe in or understand democratic ideas. Martin Borschat writes that the plot was mainly done by conservative elites who were initially integrated by the Nazi government but during the war lost their influence and were concerned about regaining it.
Territorial demands towards the Allies
Among demands issued by the plotters towards the Allies were such points as re-establishment of Germany's 1914 boundaries with Belgium, France, and Poland and no reparations. Plotters' demands meant annexation to pre-1939 Germany of 70,000 square kilometers of non-German territory, especially the disputed Polish areas; as such the proposals couldn't have been agreed to.  Like most of the rest of German resistance, the July 20th plotters believed in the idea of Greater Germany and as a condition for peace demanded that western allies recognize at minimum the Nazi annexations of Austria, Alsace-Sudetenland, and Polish territories, and even restoration of some of the overseas colonies. They believed that Europe should be controlled under German hegemony.
Political vision of post-Hitler Germany
Many members of the plot had helped the Nazis gain power and shared revisionist foreign policy goals pursued by Hitler, and even at the time of the plot were anti-democratic, hoping to replace Hitler with a conservative-authoritarian government, which would be ruled by elites. They opposed popular legitimation or mass participation in governance of the state
Attitude towards Poland
While overall goals of the plotters were modified, their attitude towards Poland remained constant, and they continued to demand from Western Allies that Germany be allowed to annex and occupy Polish inhabited territories up to the old 1914 border of Germany Others like Friedrich-Werner Graf von der Schulenburg saw all of Poland annexed to Germany
To Poland, which was fighting as an Ally with both its army and government in exile, the vast territorial demands and traditional nationalistic visions of resistance made the plotters lose all credibility, and Poles saw little difference between them and racist policies of Hitler The iconic symbol of the July 20th Plot, Stauffenberg, stated about Poles and Poland, "It is essential that we begin a systemic colonization in Poland. But I have no fear that this will not occur." 
Involvement in war crimes and atrocities
Involvement of the plotters in war crimes and atrocities has been studied by historians such as Christian Gerlach. Gerlach proved that plotters like Tresckow or Gersdorff were aware of mass murder happening in the East from at least 1941. Furthermore, the number of people being fought against as so-called "partisans", which included civilians and women and children, actually increased under Tresckow, not diminished, and his opposition to the Commissar Order was less decisive than later reported by his fellow plotters. Tresckow additionally created so-called "dead zones" in the East and authorized kidnapping of children for slave labor, which after the war was classified a part of Nazi genocide by Nuremberg Trials.
Gerlach pointed out that the plotters had "selective moral criteria" and while they were concerned about Jews being exterminated in the Holocaust, they were far less disturbed about mass murder of civilians in the East. To Gerlach, the primary motivation of the plotters was to ensure German victory in the war or least not to lose it.
Planning a coup
Stauffenberg joins the conspirators
By mid-1943 the tide of war was turning decisively against Germany. The Army plotters and their civilian allies became convinced that Hitler should be assassinated, so that a government acceptable to the western Allies could be formed, and a separate peace negotiated in time to prevent a Soviet invasion of Germany. In August 1943 Tresckow met, for the first time, a young staff officer named Lieutenant Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg. Badly wounded in North Africa, Count von Stauffenberg was a political conservative, a zealous German nationalist, and a Roman Catholic. From early in 1942, he had come to share two basic convictions with many military officers: that Germany was being led to disaster, and that Hitler's removal from power was necessary. After the Battle of Stalingrad in December 1942, despite his religious scruples, he concluded that the Führer's assassination was a lesser moral evil than Hitler's remaining in power. Stauffenberg brought a new tone of decisiveness to the ranks of the resistance movement. When Tresckow was assigned to the Eastern Front, Stauffenberg took charge of planning and executing the assassination attempt.
A new plan
Olbricht now put forward a new strategy for staging a coup against Hitler. The Reserve Army (Ersatzheer) had an operational plan called Operation Walküre (Valkyrie), which was to be used in the event that the disruption caused by the Allied bombing of German cities caused a breakdown in law and order, or an uprising by the millions of forced labourers from occupied countries now being used in German factories. Olbricht suggested that this plan could be used to mobilise the Reserve Army for the purpose of the coup. In August and September 1943, Tresckow drafted the "revised" Valkyrie plan and new supplementary orders. A secret declaration began with these words: "The Führer Adolf Hitler is dead! A treacherous group of party leaders has attempted to exploit the situation by attacking our embattled soldiers from the rear in order to seize power for themselves." Detailed instructions were written for occupation of government ministries in Berlin, Himmler's headquarters in East Prussia, radio stations and telephone offices, and other Nazi apparatus through military districts, and concentration camps. Previously, it was believed that Stauffenberg was mainly responsible for the Valkyrie plan, but documents recovered by the Soviet Union after the war and released in 2007 suggest that the plan was developed by Tresckow by autumn of 1943. All written information was handled by Tresckow's wife, Erika, and by Margarethe von Oven, his secretary. Both women wore gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints. On at least two other occasions Tresckow had tried to assassinate the Fuhrer. The first plan was to shoot him during dinner at the army base camp, but this plan was aborted because it was widely believed that Hitler wore a bullet-proof vest. The conspirators also considered poisoning him, but this wasn't possible because his food was specially prepared and tasted. This left a time bomb as the only option. Operation Valkyrie could only be put into effect by General Friedrich Fromm, commander of the Reserve Army, so he must either be won over to the conspiracy or in some way neutralised if the plan was to succeed. Fromm, like many senior officers, knew in general about the military conspiracies against Hitler but neither supported them nor reported them to the Gestapo.
Previous failed attempts
During 1943 and early 1944 von Tresckow and von Stauffenberg organised at least four attempts to get one of the military conspirators near enough to Hitler, for long enough to kill him with hand grenades, bombs, or a revolver:
- in March 1943 by Rudolf Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff
- in late November 1943 by Axel Freiherr von dem Bussche-Streithorst
- in February 1944 by Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist-Schmenzin
- on 11 March 1944 by Eberhard Freiherr von Breitenbuch
As the war situation deteriorated, Hitler no longer appeared in public and rarely visited Berlin. He spent most of his time at his headquarters at the Wolfsschanze (Wolf's Lair) near Rastenburg in East Prussia, with occasional breaks at his Bavarian mountain retreat Obersalzberg near Berchtesgaden. In both places he was heavily guarded and rarely saw people he did not know or trust. Himmler and the Gestapo were increasingly suspicious of plots against Hitler and rightly suspected the officers of the General Staff, which was indeed the source of many conspiracies against Hitler.
Now or never, "whatever the cost"
By the summer of 1944, the Gestapo was closing in on the conspirators. There was a sense that time was running out, both on the battlefield, where the Eastern front was in full retreat and where the Allies had landed in France on 6 June, and in Germany, where the resistance's room for manoeuvre was rapidly contracting. The belief that this was the last chance for action seized the conspirators. By this time, the core of the conspirators had begun to think of themselves as doomed men, whose actions were more symbolic than real. The purpose of the conspiracy came to be seen by some of them as saving the honour of themselves, their families, the army, and Germany through a grand, if futile gesture, rather than actually altering the course of history.
The conspirators scored a major coup in early July when they managed to initiate Erwin Rommel, the famed "Desert Fox", into their ranks. Rommel was by far the most popular officer in Germany and was also the first active-duty field marshal to lend support to the plot. (Witzleben had been inactive since 1942.) Although Rommel felt he had to, as he put it, "come to the rescue of Germany," he thought killing Hitler would make him a martyr. Like some others, he wanted Hitler arrested and hauled before a court-martial for his many crimes.
When Stauffenberg sent Tresckow a message through Lieutenant Heinrich Graf von Lehndorff-Steinort asking whether there was any reason for trying to assassinate Hitler given that no political purpose would be served, Tresckow's response was: "The assassination must be attempted, coûte que coûte [whatever the cost]. Even if it fails, we must take action in Berlin. For the practical purpose no longer matters; what matters now is that the German resistance movement must take the plunge before the eyes of the world and of history. Compared to that, nothing else matters."
Himmler had at least one conversation with a known oppositionist when, in August 1943, the Prussian Finance Minister Johannes Popitz, who was involved in Goerdeler's network, came to see him and offered him the support of the opposition if he would make a move to displace Hitler and secure a negotiated end to the war. Nothing came of this meeting, but Popitz was not immediately arrested (although he was later executed towards the end of the war), and Himmler apparently did nothing to track down the resistance network which he knew was operating within the state bureaucracy. It is possible that Himmler, who by late 1943 knew that the war was unwinnable, allowed the plot to go ahead in the knowledge that if it succeeded he would be Hitler's successor, and could then bring about a peace settlement.
Popitz was not alone in seeing in Himmler a potential ally. General von Bock advised Tresckow to seek his support, but there is no evidence that he did so. Goerdeler was apparently also in indirect contact with Himmler via a mutual acquaintance, Carl Langbehn. Wilhelm Canaris biographer Heinz Höhne suggests that Canaris and Himmler were working together to bring about a change of regime, but this remains speculation.
Tresckow and the inner circle of plotters had no intention of removing Hitler just to see him replaced by the dreaded and ruthless SS chief, and the plan was to kill them both if possible – to the extent that Stauffenberg's first attempt on 11 July was aborted because Himmler was not present.
Countdown to Stauffenberg's attempt
On Saturday, 1 July 1944 Stauffenberg was appointed chief of staff to General Fromm at the Reserve Army headquarters on Bendlerstraße in central Berlin. This position enabled Stauffenberg to attend Hitler's military conferences, either at the Wolfsschanze in East Prussia or at Berchtesgaden, and would thus give him an opportunity, perhaps the last that would present itself, to kill Hitler with a bomb or a pistol. Meanwhile new key allies had been gained. These included General Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel, the German military commander in France, who would take control in Paris when Hitler was killed and, it was hoped, negotiate an immediate armistice with the invading Allied armies.
The plot was now fully prepared. On 7 July 1944 General Stieff was to kill Hitler at a display of new uniforms at Klessheim castle near Salzburg. However, Stieff felt unable to kill Hitler. Stauffenberg now decided to do both: to assassinate Hitler, wherever he was, and to manage the plot in Berlin. On 15 July Stauffenberg attended Hitler's conferences carrying a bomb in his briefcase, but because the conspirators had decided that Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Göring should be killed simultaneously if the planned mobilisation of Operation Valkyrie was to have a chance to succeed, he held back at the last minute because Himmler was not present. In fact, it was unusual for Himmler to attend military conferences.
15 July: Aborted attempt
By 15 July, when Stauffenberg again flew to the Wolfsschanze, this condition had been dropped. The plan was for Stauffenberg to plant the briefcase with the bomb in Hitler's conference room with a timer running, excuse himself from the meeting, wait for the explosion, then fly back to Berlin and join the other plotters at the Bendlerblock. Operation Valkyrie would be mobilised, the Reserve Army would take control of Germany and the other Nazi leaders would be arrested. Beck would be appointed provisional head of state, Goerdeler would be chancellor, and Witzleben would be commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
Again on 15 July the attempt was called off at the last minute. Himmler and Göring were present, but Hitler was called out of the room at the last moment. Stauffenberg was able to intercept the bomb and prevent its discovery.
17 July: Erwin Rommel strafed and forced to suicide
On 17 July, Erwin Rommel's staffcar was strafed by a Spitfire in France. The Field Marshal was hospitalized with major head injuries. After that hospitalization he returned home to meet his wife. Meanwhile Hitler had discovered that Rommel had known the assassination plans and had accepted them. But since Rommel was extremely popular, Hitler did not dare to persecute him by his court, and forced him instead to perform suicide by poisoned pills (14 Oct. 1944).
Operation Valkyrie initiated
On 18 July rumours reached Stauffenberg that the Gestapo had wind of the conspiracy and that he might be arrested at any time—this was apparently not true, but there was a sense that the net was closing in and that the next opportunity to kill Hitler must be taken because there might not be another. At 10:00 on 20 July Stauffenberg flew back to the Wolfsschanze for another Hitler military conference, once again with a bomb in his briefcase.
The conference took place in the main room of Wolf's Lair instead of the underground bunker due to the hot weather.
At around 12:30 as the conference began, Stauffenberg made an excuse to use a washroom in Wilhelm Keitel's office where he used pliers to crush the end of a pencil detonator inserted into a 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) block of plastic explosive wrapped in brown paper, that was prepared by Wessel von Freytag-Loringhoven. The detonator consisted of a thin copper tube containing copper chloride that would take about ten minutes to silently eat through wire holding back the firing pin from the percussion cap. He then placed the primed bomb quickly inside his briefcase, having been told his presence was required. A second block of explosive was retained by the pair rather than put into the suitcase. He entered the conference room and with the unwitting assistance of Major Ernst John von Freyend placed his briefcase under the table around which Hitler and more than 20 officers had gathered. After a few minutes, Stauffenberg received a planned telephone call and left the room. It is presumed that Colonel Heinz Brandt, who was standing next to Hitler, used his foot to move the briefcase aside by pushing it behind the leg of the conference table, thus unwittingly deflecting the blast from Hitler but causing his own death with the loss of one of his legs when the bomb detonated. Between 12:40 and 12:50 the bomb detonated, demolishing the conference room. Three officers and the stenographer were seriously injured and died soon after. Hitler survived, as did everyone else who was shielded from the blast by the conference table leg. Hitler's trousers were singed and tattered (see photograph below) and he suffered from a perforated eardrum, as did most of the other 24 people in the room. Had the second block of explosive been used, it is probable that everyone present would have been killed.
Escape from the Wolf's Lair and flight to Berlin
Stauffenberg, hearing the explosion and seeing the smoke issuing from the broken windows of the concrete dispatch barracks, assumed that Hitler was dead, climbed into his staff car with his aide Werner von Haeften and managed to bluff his way past three checkpoints to exit the Wolfsschanze complex. Werner von Haeften then tossed the second unprimed bomb into the forest as they made a dash for Rastenburg airfield, reaching it before it could be realised that Stauffenberg could be responsible for the explosion. By 13:00 he was airborne in a Heinkel He 111 arranged by General Eduard Wagner.
By the time Stauffenberg's aircraft reached Berlin about 16:00, General Erich Fellgiebel, an officer at the Wolfsschanze who was in on the plot, had phoned the Bendlerblock and told the plotters that Hitler had survived the explosion. As a result, the Berlin cohort to mobilise Operation Valkyrie would have no chance of succeeding once the officers of the Reserve Army knew that Hitler was alive. There was more confusion when Stauffenberg's aircraft landed and he phoned from the airport to say that Hitler was in fact dead. The Bendlerblock plotters did not know whom to believe. Finally at 16:00 Olbricht issued the orders for Operation Valkyrie to be mobilised. The vacillating General Fromm, however, phoned Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel at the Wolf's Lair and was assured that Hitler was alive. Keitel demanded to know Stauffenberg's whereabouts. This told Fromm that the plot had been traced to his headquarters, and that he was in mortal danger. Fromm replied that he thought Stauffenberg was with Hitler.
Meanwhile, Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel, military governor of occupied France, managed to disarm the SD and SS, and captured most of their leadership. He travelled to Günther von Kluge's headquarters and asked him to contact the Allies, only to be informed that Hitler was alive. At 16:40 Stauffenberg and Haeften arrived at the Bendlerblock. Fromm, presumably to protect himself, changed sides and attempted to have Stauffenberg arrested. Olbricht and Stauffenberg restrained him at gunpoint and Olbricht then appointed General Erich Hoepner to take over his duties. By this time Himmler had taken charge of the situation and had issued orders countermanding Olbricht's mobilisation of Operation Valkyrie. In many places the coup was going ahead, led by officers who believed that Hitler was dead. City Commandant, and conspirator, General Paul von Hase ordered the Wachbataillon Großdeutschland, under the command of Major Otto Ernst Remer, to secure the Wilhelmstraße and arrest Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. In Vienna, Prague, and many other places troops occupied Nazi Party offices and arrested Gauleiters and SS officers.
The coup fails
At around 18:00 the commander of Military District (Wehrkreis) III (Berlin) General Joachim von Kortzfleisch was summoned to the Bendlerblock; he angrily refused Olbricht's orders, kept shouting "the Führer is alive", was arrested and held under guard. General Karl Freiherr von Thüngen was appointed in his place, but proved to be of little help. General Fritz Lindemann, who was supposed to make a proclamation to the German people over the radio, failed to appear and as he held the only copy, Beck had to work on a new one.
The decisive moment came at 19:00, when Hitler was sufficiently recovered to make phone calls. He called Goebbels at the Propaganda Ministry. Goebbels arranged for Hitler to speak to Major Remer, commander of the troops surrounding the Ministry. After assuring him that he was still alive, Hitler ordered Remer to regain control of the situation in Berlin. Major Remer ordered his troops to surround and seal off the Bendlerblock, but not to enter the buildings. At 20:00 a furious Witzleben arrived at the Bendlerblock and had a bitter argument with Stauffenberg, who was still insisting that the coup could go ahead. Witzleben left shortly afterwards. At around this time the planned seizure of power in Paris was aborted when Field Marshal Günther von Kluge, who had recently been appointed commander-in-chief in the west, learned that Hitler was alive.
As Remer regained control of the city and word spread that Hitler was still alive, the less resolute members of the conspiracy in Berlin began to change sides. Fighting broke out in the Bendlerblock between officers supporting and opposing the coup, and Stauffenberg was wounded. By 23:00 Fromm had regained control, hoping by a show of zealous loyalty to save himself. Beck, realising the situation was hopeless, shot himself—the first of many suicides in the coming days. Although at first Beck only just managed to seriously wound himself, he was shot in the neck by soldiers. Fromm convened an impromptu court martial consisting of himself, and sentenced Olbricht, Stauffenberg, Haeften and another officer, Albrecht Mertz von Quirnheim, to death. At 00:10 on 21 July they were executed in the courtyard outside, possibly to prevent them from revealing Fromm's involvement. Others would have been executed as well, but at 00:30 SS personnel led by Otto Skorzeny arrived and further executions were forbidden.
In 2005, the Military Channel's show Unsolved History aired an episode titled Killing Hitler in which each scenario was re-created using live explosives and test dummies. The results supported the conclusion that Hitler would have been killed had any of three other scenarios occurred:
- both bombs detonated;
- the meeting was held inside Hitler's bunker;
- the briefcase was not moved.
Had Hitler in fact been killed by the plotters, some historians argue that the plot would have unfolded (and failed) in relatively the same fashion, but with Hermann Göring taking Hitler's place, and in turn ordering Major Remer to switch sides and arrest the plotters. A Nazi State under Göring would have been more receptive to peace with the allies and might also have "cleaned house" of several fanatical Nazis, including many senior SS and Nazi Party leaders.
Participants at the meeting
Over the following weeks Himmler's Gestapo, driven by a furious Hitler, rounded up nearly everyone who had the remotest connection with the plot. The discovery of letters and diaries in the homes and offices of those arrested revealed the plots of 1938, 1939, and 1943, and this led to further rounds of arrests, including that of Franz Halder, who finished the war in a concentration camp. Under Himmler's new Sippenhaft (blood guilt) laws, all the relatives of the principal plotters were also arrested.
More than 7,000 people were arrested and 4,980 were executed. Not all of them were connected with the plot, since the Gestapo used the occasion to settle scores with many other people suspected of opposition sympathies. Alfons Heck, former Hitler Youth member and later historian, describes the reaction many Germans felt to the punishments imposed onto the conspirators:
When I heard that German officers had tried to kill Adolf Hitler ... I was enraged. I fully concurred with the sentences imposed on them, strangling I felt was too good for them; this was the time, precisely, when we were at a very ... precarious military situation. And the only man who could possibly stave off disaster ... was Adolf Hitler. That opinion was shared by many Germans, Germans who did not adore Hitler, who did not belong to the [Nazi] Party.
— Alfons Heck
The British radio also named possible suspects who had not yet been implicated but then were arrested.
Very few of the plotters tried to escape or to deny their guilt when arrested. Those who survived interrogation were given perfunctory trials before the People's Court (Volksgerichtshof), a kangaroo court that always decided in favour of the prosecution. The court's president, Roland Freisler, was a fanatical Nazi seen shouting furiously and insulting the accused in the trial, which was filmed for propaganda purposes. The officers involved in the plot were "tried" before the Court of Military Honour, a drumhead court-martial that merely considered the evidence furnished to it by the Gestapo before expelling the accused from the Army in disgrace and handing them over to the People's Court.
The first trials were held on 7 and 8 August 1944. Hitler had ordered that those found guilty should be "hanged like cattle". Many people took their own lives prior to either their trial or their execution, including Kluge, who was accused of having knowledge of the plot beforehand and not revealing it to Hitler. Stülpnagel also tried to commit suicide, but survived and was hanged.
While Stülpnagel was being treated, he blurted out Rommel's name. A few days later, Stülpnagel's personal adviser, Caesar von Hofacker, admitted under gruesome torture that Rommel was an active member of the conspiracy. The extent to which Rommel had been involved has been debated, but many historians have concluded that he at least knew of the plot even if he wasn't involved directly. Hitler, however, knew it would cause a major scandal to have the popular Rommel branded as a traitor. With this in mind, he opted to give Rommel the option of suicide via cyanide or a public trial by Freisler's People's Court. Had Rommel chosen to stand trial, his family would have been severely punished even before the all-but-certain conviction, and they would have been executed along with his staff. Knowing that being hauled before the People's Court was tantamount to a death sentence, Rommel committed suicide on 14 October 1944. He was buried with full military honours; his role in the conspiracy didn't come to light until after the war.
Tresckow also killed himself the day after the failed plot by use of a hand grenade in no man's land between Russian and German lines. Before his death, Tresckow said to Fabian von Schlabrendorff:
- The whole world will vilify us now, but I am still totally convinced that we did the right thing. Hitler is the archenemy not only of Germany but of the world. When, in few hours' time, I go before God to account for what I have done and left undone, I know I will be able to justify what I did in the struggle against Hitler. None of us can bewail his own death; those who consented to join our circle put on the robe of Nessus. A human being's moral integrity begins when he is prepared to sacrifice his life for his convictions.
Fromm's attempt to win favour by executing Stauffenberg and others on the night of 20 July had merely exposed his own previous lack of action and apparent failure to report the plot. Having been arrested on 21 July, Fromm was later convicted and sentenced to death by the People's Court. Despite his knowledge of the conspiracy, his formal sentence charged him with poor performance in his duties. He was executed in Brandenburg an der Havel. Hitler personally commuted his death sentence from hanging to the "more honourable" firing squad. Erwin Planck, the son of the famous physicist Max Planck, was executed for his involvement.
The Kaltenbrunner Report to Adolf Hitler dated 29 November 1944 on the background of the plot, states that the Pope was somehow a conspirator, specifically naming Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII, as being a party in the attempt. Evidence indicates that 20 July plotters Colonel Wessel von Freytag-Loringhoven, Colonel Erwin von Lahousen, and Admiral Wilhelm Canaris were involved in the foiling of Hitler's alleged plot to kidnap or murder Pope Pius XII in 1943, when Canaris reported the plot to Italian counterintelligence officer General Cesare Amè, who passed on the information.
Arthur Nebe was implicated in the plot due to his anti-Nazi feelings, even though he was a full member of the SS and had even commanded an Einsatzgruppe. Nebe's "fall from grace" was considered due to his many years as a civilian police detective and how he saw most SS security police as incompetent. Nebe himself was quoted, upon investigating the death of Reinhard Heydrich, that the Gestapo seemed more concerned with reprisals than actually investigating the crime.
A member of the SA convicted of participating in the plot was Wolf-Heinrich Graf von Helldorf, who was the Orpo Police Chief of Berlin and had been in contact with members of the resistance since before the war. Collaborating closely with Nebe, he was supposed to direct all police forces in Berlin to stand down and not interfere in the military actions to seize the government. However, his actions on 20 July had little influence on the events. For his involvement in the conspiracy, he was later arrested, convicted of treason and executed.
After 3 February 1945, when Freisler was killed in an American air raid, there were no more formal trials, but as late as April, with the war weeks away from its end, Canaris' diary was found, and many more people were implicated. Executions continued to the last days of the war.
Hitler took his survival to be a "divine moment in history", and commissioned a special decoration to be made. The result was the Wound Badge of 20 July 1944, which Hitler awarded to those who were with him in the conference room at the time. This badge was struck in three values; Gold, Silver and Black, a total of 100 badges, and 47 are believed to have been awarded, along with an ornate award document for each recipient personally signed by Hitler, making them among the rarest decorations to have been awarded by the Third Reich.
For his role in stopping the coup, Major Remer was promoted to Colonel and ended the war as a Major General. After the war he co-founded the Socialist Reich Party and remained a prominent Neo-Nazi and advocate of Holocaust Denial until his death in 1997.
Philipp von Boeselager, the German officer who provided the plastic explosives used in the bomb, escaped detection and survived the war. He was the second-to-last survivor of those involved in the plot and died on 1 May 2008 aged 90. The last survivor of the 20 July Plot was Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist-Schmenzin, the thwarted plotter of just a few months before. He died on 8 March 2013 aged 90.
As a result of the failed coup, every member of the Wehrmacht was required to reswear his loyalty oath, by name, to Hitler and, on 24 July 1944, the military salute was replaced throughout the armed forces with the Hitler Salute in which the arm was outstretched and the salutation Heil Hitler was given.
The conspirators were earlier designated positions in secret to form a government that would take office after the assassination of Hitler were it to prove successful. Because of the plot's failure, such a government never rose to power and most of its members were executed. The following were slated for these roles as of July 1944:
- Generaloberst Ludwig Beck (Army) – President
- Carl Friedrich Goerdeler (DNVP) – Chancellor
- Wilhelm Leuschner (SPD) – Vice-Chancellor
- Paul Löbe (SPD) – President of the Reichstag
- Julius Leber (SPD) or Eugen Bolz (Centre Party) – Minister of the Interior
- Friedrich Werner von der Schulenburg or Ulrich von Hassell (DNVP) – Foreign Minister
- Ewald Loeser (DNVP) – Minister of Finance
- Friedrich Olbricht (Army) – Minister of War (With Von Stauffenberg as a possible State Secretary)
- Generalfeldmarschall Erwin von Witzleben (Army) – Minister of Defence and Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht
- Hans Oster (Army) – President of the Reichskriegsgericht (military supreme court)
- Hans Koch (Confessing Church) – President of the Reichsgericht (supreme court)
- Bernhard Letterhaus (Catholic trade unionist) – Reconstruction Minister (Minister without portfolio if not appointed)
- Karl Blessing – Minister of Economics or President of the Reichsbank
- Paul Lejeune-Jung (DNVP) – Minister of Economics
- Andreas Hermes (Centre Party) – Minister of Agriculture
- Josef Wirmer (Centre Party) – Minister of Justice
- Henning von Tresckow (Army) – Chief of Police
Note: Party allegiances as shown here indicate party membership before the dissolution of all political parties apart from the NSDAP.
Albert Speer was listed in several notes of the conspirators as a possible Minister of Armaments; however, most of these notes stated Speer should not be approached until after Hitler was dead and one conjectural government chart had a question mark beside Speer's name. This most likely saved Speer from arrest by the SS in addition to Speer being one of Hitler's closest and most trusted friends.
Commemoration and collective memory
The "first official memorial service for the resistance fighters of July 20" was held on the tenth anniversary in 1954. In his speech at the event, Theodor Heuss, the first President of the Federal Republic of Germany, said that "harsh words" were necessary, and that "There have been cases of refusal to carry out orders that have achieved historic greatness." After this speech, public opinion in Germany began to shift.
Nonetheless, a 1956 proposal to name a school after Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg was opposed by a majority of citizens, and, according to Deutsche Welle,
East Germany's communist leadership had ignored the assassination attempt for decades, mainly because the conservative and aristocratic conspirators around Stauffenberg did not match the socialist ideal.
The first all-German commemoration of the event did not take place until 1990.
As of 2014, the resistance fighters are generally considered heroes in Germany, according to Deutsche Welle.
Memorial at the Bendlerblock: "Here died for Germany on 20 July 1944" (followed by the names of the principal conspirators)
Memorial statue at the Bendlerblock by Richard Scheibe
Films and television
- 1951: The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel, with James Mason as Rommel
- 1955: Es geschah am 20. Juli, a docudrama, with Bernhard Wicki as Stauffenberg
- 1955: The Plot to Assassinate Hitler, with Wolfgang Preiss as Stauffenberg
- 1964: The Wednesday Play: The July Plot, directed by Rudolph Cartier, with John Carson as Stauffenberg, and Joseph Furst as Fromm.
- 1967: The Night of the Generals, directed by Anatole Litvak
- 1970: Claus Graf Stauffenberg, German TV docudrama
- 1988: War and Remembrance, Part 10, a television version of the novel by Herman Wouk
- 1990: Stauffenberg – Verschwörung gegen Hitler
- 1990: The Plot to Kill Hitler, with Brad Davis as Stauffenberg
- 1992: The Restless Conscience
- 2004: Die Stunde der Offiziere, a semi-documentary movie
- 2004: Stauffenberg, by Jo Baier, with Sebastian Koch as Stauffenberg
- 2004: Days That Shook the World – Conspiracy to kill (Season 2, Episode 5), a BBC2 documentary
- 2004: Heroes of World War II – The Man Who Stood Up To Hitler, a documentary, narrated by Robert Powell
- 2007: Ruins of the Reich (DVD), 4-part series directed by R.J. Adams (attempted assassination and ruins of Wolfsschanze)
- 2008: Valkyrie, with Tom Cruise as Stauffenberg
- 2008: Operation Valkyrie: The Stauffenberg Plot to Kill Hitler, a video documentary
- 2009: Stauffenberg - Die wahre Geschichte, German TV docudrama
- 2010: Mythbusters-Operation Valkyrie
- Assassination attempts on Adolf Hitler
- List of members of the 20 July plot
- Operation Foxley – British plot to assassinate Hitler using a sniper
- Operation Spark (1940) – plans generated in the early 1940s by German anti-Nazis to assassinate Hitler
- Boeselager, Philipp von. Valkyrie: the Plot to Kill Hitler. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 2008. A personal memoir by one of the conspirators.
- Büchner, Alex. German Infantry Handbook, 1939–1945: Organization, Uniforms, Weapons, Equipment and Operations. Schipper Publishing. 1991. ISBN 978-0-88740-284-5
- Fest, Joachim. Plotting Hitler's Death: The Story of German Resistance. Holt Paperbacks. 1997. ISBN 978-0-8050-5648-8
- Galante, Pierre. Operation Valkyrie. Harper and Row, 1981, ISBN 0-06-038002-0.
- Hoffmann, Peter. The History of the German Resistance, 1933–1945. McGill-Queen's University Press. ISBN 0-7735-1531-3
- Jones, Nigel. Countdown to Valkyrie: The July Plot to Assassinate Hitler. Frontline, 2009.
- Moorhouse, Roger. Killing Hitler, Jonathan Cape, 2006. ISBN 0-224-07121-1
- Schradar, Helena. Operation Valkyrie General Friedrich Olbricht and the plot against Hitler. Haynes, 2009. ISBN 978-1-84425-533-7
- Reitlinger, Gerald. The SS: Alibi of a Nation 1922–1945 Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. 1956.
- Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Simon & Schuster. 1960. ISBN 0-671-72868-7
- Taylor, A. J. P. and S. L. Mayer, eds. A History of World War Two. London: Octopus Books, 1974. ISBN 0-7064-0399-1.
- Cohen, B. (2005). La Resistencia Alemana contra Hitler, 1933-1945. Barcelona (Spain): Alianza Editorial. ISBN 84-206-4786-1.
- Goldhagen, D.J. (1997). Los Verdugos Voluntarios de Hitler. Madrid (Spain): Taurus Editorial. ISBN 84-306-0015-9.
- Berben, P. (2009). El Complot contra Hitler. Barcelona (Spain): Juventud.
- Alternatives to Hitler: German Resistance Under the Third Reich Hans Mommsen page 181
- Hans Helmut Kirst: 20th of July
- Winston Churchill, war annual books, 1944
- William L. Shirer: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, part IV, chapter 20th July
- German Resistance against Hitler: The Search for Allies abroad, 1938-1945, Klemens von Klemperer
- History of the German Resistance 1933-1945, Peter Hoffmann, page 608-609
- Shirer 1960, p. 1393.
- Kurtz, Harold. July Plot in Taylor 1974, p. 224.
- Kurtz, Harold, July Plot in Taylor 1974, p. 226.
- Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death, p. 188.
- von Schlabrendorff, Fabian, They Almost Killed Hitler, p. 39.
- Encyclopedia of Contemporary German Culture, "The heroes of West German accounts at this time were the men involved in the largely conservative, nationalist resistance of the July Plot of 1944. It was not until much later that a new generation of left-liberal historians pointed out just how little many of those involved in the July Plot actually sympathized with or understood democratic ideas. John Sandford. 2013.
- "Faith and Democracy: Political Transformations at the German Protestant Kirchentag", 1949--1969 Benjamin Carl Pearson 2007 In a similar way, one could argue that the conservative, nationalist resistance circles that grew up during the war years, whose activity culminated in the July 1944 Officers Plot
- Rereading German History: From Unification to Reunification 1800-1996 Richard Evans page 198
- Resistance and Conformity in the Third Reich Martyn Housden
- Rereading German History: From Unification to Reunification 1800-1996 Richard Evan pages 198-199
- A Concise History of Germany page 200 Mary Fulbrook
- German Foreign Policy By Klaus Hilderbran page 188
- Alternatives to Hitler: German Resistance Under the Third Reich Hans Mommsen page 161
- German Foreign Policy Klaus Hilderbrand, page 188
- Peter Hoffman Stauffenberg: A Family History, 1905–1944; page 116; 2003 McGill-Queen's Press
- War of extermination page 137.
- Men of 20 July and the War in the Soviet Union.Hannes Heer, Klaus Naumann War Of Extermination: The German Military In World War II Berghahn Books; New york, Oxford, 2004, 127-145
- The Routledge Companion to Nazi Germany Roderick Stackelberg page 250
- Christianity and Resistance in the 20th Century: From Kaj Munk and Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Desmond Tutu (International Studies in Religion and Society Series) page 134 and 135, 2008
- Christianity and Resistance in the 20th Century: From Kaj Munk and Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Desmond Tutu (International Studies in Religion and Society Series) page 135, 2008
- Germany: 1933-1990 - Page 96 Heinrich August Winkler - 2007
- Fest, Joachim. Plotting Hitler's Death: The German Resistance to Hitler, 1933–1945, 1996, p. 219.
- Hoffmann, Peter. "Oberst i. G. Henning von Tresckow und die Staatsstreichpläne im Jahr 1943".
- Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death: The German Resistance to Hitler, 1933–1945, 1996, p. 220.
- Moorhouse, Roger. Killing Hitler. New York: Bantam Books, 2006. p. 241.
- William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Touchstone Edition) (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990)
- Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death, p. 236.
- Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death, p. 228.
- Himmler's contacts with the opposition and his possible motives are discussed by Padfield, Himmler, pp. 419–424.
- Hoffman, Peter (1996). The History of the German Resistance, 1933–1945. McGill-Queen's Press. ISBN 0-7735-1531-3.
- Thomsett, Michael C. (1997). The German Opposition to Hitler: The Resistance, the Underground, and Assassination Plots, 1938–1945. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-0372-1.
- Spiegel.de (German)
- Gitta Sereny (9 August 1996). Albert Speer His Battle With The Truth. Picador. ISBN 0330346970.
- Martin A. Allen (2005). Himmler's Secret War: The Covert Peace Negotiations of Heinrich Himmler. Robson Books. ISBN 1861058896.
- Galante, Pierre. Operation Valkyrie. Harper and Row, 1981, ISBN 0-06-038002-0. Photo insert section.
- German radio broadcast 10 July 2010 on Deutschlandfunk (MP3; in German)
- German radio broadcast 10 July 2010 on Bayern1 (written version; in German)
- Kutrz, Harold, July Plot in Taylor 1974, p. 227.
- Galante, pp. 11–12
- Galante, p. 209
- Hoffman, Peter. The History of the German Resistance, 1933–1945, p. 426.
- Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death, pp. 270, 272.
- Taylor 1974, p. 227.
- Showalter, D. E., Deutsch, H. C., & Forstchen, W. R. (2010). If the Allies Had Fallen: Sixty Alternate Scenarios of World War II, Skyhorse Publishing
- Linge, Heinz; Moorehouse, Roger (2009). With Hitler to the End: The Memoir of Hitler's Valet. Skyhorse Publishing. ISBN 1-60239-804-6.
- The Gestapo claimed 7,000 arrests. This can be found in William L. Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, ch. 29.
- Kershaw, Ian. Hitler 1936–1945: Nemesis, p. 693.
- Metternich, Tatiana (1976). Purgatory of Fools. Quadrangle. p. 202. ISBN 0-8129-0691-8.
- See Shirer 1070–1071.
- Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death, pp. 289–290.
- "Alleged July Plot Conspirators Executed in Plötzensee Prison". Archived from the original on 14 May 2009. Retrieved 19 April 2009.
- Heideking, Jürgen; Mauch, Christof (1998). American Intelligence and the German Resistance to Hitler: A Documentary History. Widerstand: Dissent and Resistance in the Third Reich Series (revised ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press. ISBN 978-0-8133-3636-7.
- Pave the Way Foundation Reveals Evidence of Pope Pius XII's Active Opposition to Hitler, 29 June 2009. Accessed 4 September 2009. Archived 6 September 2009.
- More proof of Hitler's plan to kill Pius XII: Son of German Intelligence Officer Comes Forward, Zenit News 16 June 2009
- Italian newspaper reveals details behind Hitler’s plan to kill Pius XII CBCP News 17 June 2009
- Ted Harrison: "Alter Kämpfer" im Widerstand. Graf Helldorff, die NS-Bewegung und die Opposition gegen Hitler. Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 45(1997) (PDF, 6,5 MB), p. 385-423.
- Forman, Adrian (1993). Guide to Third Reich German Awards...And Their Values (2nd Ed.) San Jose, CA: R. James Bender. ISBN 978-0-912138-39-8
- Angolia, John R. (1976). For Führer and Fatherland: Military Awards of the Third Reich (1st Ed.) San Jose, CA: R. James Bender. OCLC 2853647
- Holocaust Denial on Trial: Using History to Confront Distortions. "Biographies: Otto Remer," (retrieved on 10 April 2009).
- "Hitler plot survivor dies aged 90". London: BBC News Online. 2 May 2008.
- "Hitler assassination plotter Von Kleist dies". London: BBC News Online. 12 March 2013.
- Büchner, Alex (1991). German Infantry Handbook, 1939–1945: Organization, Uniforms, Weapons, Equipment, Operations. Schipper Publishing. ISBN 978-0-88740-284-5
- The list of proposed appointments from The History of German Resistance 1933–1945 p. 367.
- Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich.
- Dittrich, Monika (2014-07-20). "How traitors became heroes". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 2014-07-20.
- The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel at the Internet Movie Database
- de:20. Juli 1944
- Der 20. Juli at the Internet Movie Database
- The Night of the Generals at the Internet Movie Database
- Claus Graf Stauffenberg at the Internet Movie Database
- War and Remembrance part 10 at the Internet Movie Database
- The Plot to Kill Hitler at the Internet Movie Database
- The Restless Conscience at the Internet Movie Database
- Die Stunde der Offiziere at the Internet Movie Database|
- Stauffenberg at the Internet Movie Database
- Days That Shook the World at the Internet Movie Database
- Heroes of World War II at the Internet Movie Database
- Valkyrie at the Internet Movie Database
- Operation Valkyrie: The Stauffenberg Plot to Kill Hitler at the Internet Movie Database
- Stauffenberg – Die wahre Geschichte at the Internet Movie Database
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