Rereading German History: From Unification to Reunification, 1800-1996

By Richard J. Evans | Go to book overview

15

CLAUS VON STAUFFENBERG AND THE BOMB THAT FAILED

When Count Claus von Stauffenberg placed the briefcase containing his bomb in Hitler’s field headquarters on 20 July 1944, he and those associated with him knew that their chances of success were slim. Ever since 1938, they had been plotting, on and off, to remove Hitler by one means or another. But until now, nobody had been found who was both willing to do the deed and had the necessary access to Hitler’s person. Stauffenberg himself was hardly a promising candidate. Badly maimed in the North African campaign, he had only one eye, was missing half an arm, and had only two fingers left on his remaining hand. Under these circumstances, priming a bomb under the watchful eyes of Hitler’s entourage cannot have been easy, and it is not surprising that he only managed to set half the charge before people began to cast suspicious glances at him. Unable to leave his briefcase too close to the Führer without attracting even more attention, he placed it on the other side of a massive table, made his excuses, and left.

When the bomb went off, the force of the blast was dissipated as the flimsy walls of the wooden hut blew out, and deflected from Hitler’s body by the bulk of the table. However, convinced that Hitler could not have survived the explosion, Stauffenberg bluffed his way on to a plane to Berlin and set the coup in motion. It was already doomed to failure. Too few generals were willing to support it; Goebbels was able to secure command of the airways and bring on a shaken but still recognizable Hitler to prove that the plot had miscarried; the SS and Gestapo swung rapidly into action; loyal army leaders moved quickly to arrest the conspirators; and within a few hours the plot had fizzled out. Stauffenberg was summarily shot; and in the following months, hundreds of the plotters, their families and associates, sympathizers and waverers, were arrested, and brought before Nazi courts. Large numbers of them were executed, often with great cruelty. A few survived to tell the tale after the war.

Such is the story of the German Resistance, told innumerable times since the early post-war narratives of Hans Rothfels and Gerhard Ritter. In essence, it is a simple story. But it has been the source of seemingly endless fascination and controversy ever since. The four books under review supply

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