Sunday, October 27, 2013

Saved by a table leg: "Operation Valkyrie" and the bomb meant for Hitler

"We took this challenge before our Lord and our conscience, and 
it must be done, because this man, Hitler, he is the ultimate evil."
—Claus von Stauffenberg
Think how many lives would have been saved if even one of the more than 40 plots to kill Adolf Hitler had succeeded. Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist (below left), who died last March at the age of 90, volunteered for two of them. In the first, the 22-year-old army lieutenant, who had been chosen to model a new army uniform for Hitler, volunteered to wear a suicide vest underneath it and to detonate a bomb while he stood next to the dictator. "Yes, you have to do that. A man who doesn’t take such a chance will never be happy again in his life,” his father told him when he heard of the scheme.
It fell through, however, because Hitler changed his plans, as he frequently did. Von Kleist's co-conspirator in this and a follow-up attempt was fellow officer and Hitler-loather Claus von Stauffenberg (above right), whom he met while recovering from injuries suffered in 1943 on the Eastern Front. The second, more famous plan almost worked—except for a simple twist of fate. Conceived by von Stauffenberg, it is documented thoroughly and fascinatingly in the DVD Operation Valkyrie: The Stauffenberg Plot to Kill Hitler. Although von Kleist volunteered to carry a briefcase packed with explosives to a meeting at Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair in occupied Poland, von Stauffenberg ended up bringing it in himself. On July 20th, 1944, he placed it under a table in the conference room where Hitler was meeting with aides and made an excuse to leave the room. The daring plot unravelled when someone at the table moved the briefcase next to a heavy oak table leg. Although four people were killed and virtually everyone in the room was injured, Hitler was shielded by the table leg and escaped the full force of the blast (you can see the rubble in this photo of the aftermath).
Von Stauffenberg was later tracked down to his offices in Berlin and executed (as were ~7,000 others thought to have been involved in the complete Operation Valkyrie plot to re-take control of Germany from the Nazis). Von Kleist was also arrested and interrogated at length, but for some reason he was sent back to the front.
Von Stauffenberg's offices were in the Bendlerblock, a complex of buildings taking up most of a city block that housed the main military offices in Berlin. In 1955, the street name was changed to Stauffenbergstrasse, and a plaque and statue were put up in the square to commemorate the heroic sacrifice of the German officers who tried to rid the world of Hitler.
A look at the museum there and in Lautlingen (the von Stauffenberg family estate in the country) are but two of the many extras in the Valkyrie DVD documentary, which also includes a discussion of other key assassination attempts on the Fuhrer; an interview with Baron von Boeselager (the last surviving member of the July 20 conspiracy—we also have his memoirs); and an hour of Eva Braun's color home movies showing visitors to and activities at Hitler's alpine retreat in Bavaria (where were the drones when we needed them?).

For much more on World War II intrigue, see our current Forum: Hidden in Plain Sight: Espionage and Conspiracy from the American Revolution to the Cold War.


  1. I'm deeply impressed by the bravery of these men, who could have merely gone along, and been rewarded for it. Instead they obeyed the better angels of their consciences, all the way to the ultimate sacrifice.
    Their example damns the plea of "only following orders" with the greatest cowardice, and teaches us all to follow the right road, however difficult it seems.

    1. You are so right. Contemplating what one would have done in various situations re the exigencies of WWII is quite sobering.
      BTW, I was so excited to see your entry among those in the new Caption Contest for the Public Domain Review. Well done! I want to see if I can feature some of them after it gets going because it is such a worthy enterprise (the website). I could spend all day on it!