“Do you hear me? So I’m alive! The attempt has failed.” – Adolf Hitler to Major Otto-Ernst Remer
Adolf Hitler spoke these words by telephone to Major Remer hours after walking out of a conference room that had been blown to bits by a would-be-assassin. It was an almost incredibly fail safe plot. Hitler had been bent over a heavy oak table, propped up on his elbow, studying air reconnaissance positions on a map, when the bomb went off. Windows and doors blew out. Clouds of thick smoke billowed up. Flying glass splinters, pieces of wood, and showers of paper and other debris flew in all directions. Parts of the wrecked dwelling were aflame.
For a time there was pandemonium. Twenty four people had been in the briefing room at the time of the explosion. Some were hurled to the floor or blown across the room. Others had hair or clothes in flames. There were cries of help. Human shapes stumbled around – concussed, part-blinded, ear-drums shattered – in the smoke and debris, desperately seeking to get out of the ruins of the room. Some were now without limbs. The less fortunate lay in the wreckage, some very seriously injured. Hitler would get up and walk out on his own with very minor injuries. It would be one of 42 assassination attempts he would survive.
5. Berghof (1935)
Otto Strasser, in his book Flight from Terror, describes an assassination attempt on Hitler by a disgruntled SA man named Heinrich Grunow. Grunow planned to kill Hitler while the Führer was driven to his beloved Berchtesgarten retreat. Grunow was a member of the close guard protecting Hitler at Berchtesgarten and knew that at some spot on the road the car had to slow down to less than 15 mph and considered it an ideal location to shoot at Hitler. Unfortunately, according to Strasser, Hitler had taken the wheel on this day and Grunow shot the passenger in the back seat while Hitler escaped alive. The irony is that Grunow, persuaded that he had succeeded in his attack, committed suicide on the spot while Hitler-the-driver, scared to death, jumped out of the car and brought the car to a sudden stop. Hitler’s chauffeur, Julius Schreck, was hit in the chest, the jaw and his right temple. Officially he died of a tooth infection.
4. Maurice Bavaud’s Plot (1938)
Maurice Bavaud decided he must kill Hitler because the German dictator had reneged on his promise to destroy the communists. Bavaud was a Swiss citizen attending a French Catholic seminary in Brittany when he came under the influence of Marcel Gerbohay.
Gerbohay portrayed himself as a descendant of the Romanov dynasty that had ruled Russia for over three hundred years. He prophesied they would rule again when the communists were overthrown. Hitler, whom many thought would be the instrument for the destruction of the Russian communists, was now showing every indication that he intended to co-exist peacefully with the Soviet Communist regime.
At Gerbohay’s bidding, Bavaud set off to assassinate Hitler. On October 9th, he went to Berlin with a 6.35-millimeter Schmeisser automatic pistol to find Hitler. In Berlin, Bavaud learned that the Führer was at his mountain retreat near Berchtesgaden. Determined to kill his quarry, Bavaud immediately went to the resort three hundred miles to the south. Arriving in Berchtesgaden on October 25, he discovered Hitler had left Berchtesgaden shortly after he arrived. Bavaud later found out Hitler would be leading a parade through the city streets of Munich on November 9, 1923.
Bavaud plotted the route of the march during the days preceding the celebration, looking for a vantage point from which to shoot Hitler. A series of grandstands had been constructed along the route, and for one of them he was able to obtain a ticket by impersonating a reporter for a Swiss newspaper. On November 9th, with his pistol inside his coat pocket, Bavaud made his way through the thousands who thronged the streets of Munich and arrived at the grandstand near the Marienplatz with time to spare. He found a front-row seat and sat quietly, hoping to remain inconspicuous while he waited for Hitler. The street in front of him, as well as along the entire march route, was flanked on both sides with two rows of burly SA men who stood shoulder to shoulder to keep the crowd from rushing into the streets. He knew he would have to shoot Hitler from the grandstand because it would be impossible for him to push his way through the brown-shirted guards. Suddenly the cry went up, “The Führer is coming!”
Inside his pocket his hand gripped the pistol tightly, ready to remove it quickly when Hitler came within range. With his heart pounding, the young man stood poised to act as the line of marchers approached. When the parade drew abreast of Bavaud, disappointment gripped him as he realized that Hitler was marching on the opposite side of the street, not in the center as he had expected. This placed his target more than fifty feet away, twice his confidence range with his weapon. Bavaud released his hold on the Schmeisser and could do nothing except watch Hitler and his entourage turn a corner and disappear from view.
Hearing erroneously that Hitler had returned to his retreat, Bavaud again boarded a train for Berchtesgaden. At the station he hired a taxi to take him to the Berghof, but he was prevented from entering the grounds by the armed guards who told him Hitler was not there, but still in Munich. Bavaud rushed back to the railroad station and took the next train to Munich, arriving there about the same time Hitler’s private train left on its way to Berchtesgaden.
Frustrated and nearly out of money, Bavaud gave up his quest to kill Hitler and decided to leave the country. He did not have enough money to travel to Switzerland, so he hid aboard a train bound for Paris where he hoped to obtain from the Swiss embassy sufficient funds to return to his parents’ home. When he was discovered by a railroad conductor he was turned over to the police at Augsburg, who handed him to the Gestapo because he was a foreigner and because he was carrying a gun and letter addressed to Hitler. For some insane reason Bavaud had failed to dispose of the incriminating letters and the weapon he intended to use against Hitler. Under interrogation, Bavaud eventually confessed his plan to the Gestapo. He was put on trial, found guilty, and on May 14, 1941, was beheaded.
3. Rudolf von Gersdorff’s Suicide Mission (1943)
Rudolf Christoph Freiherr (Baron) von Gersdorff was an officer in the German Army. In April 1943 he discovered the mass graves of the Soviet-perpetrated Katyn massacre. After becoming close friends with leading Army Group Center conspirator Colonel (later Major-General) Henning von Tresckow, von Gersdorff agreed to join the conspiracy to kill Adolf Hitler.
On March 21, 1943, Hitler visited the Zeughaus Berlin, the old armory on Unter den Linden, to inspect captured Soviet weapons. A group of top Nazi and leading military officials—among them Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, and Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz—were present as well. As an expert, von Gersdorff was to guide Hitler on a tour of the exhibition. Gersdorff and Tresckow concluded that the only way to kill Hitler during the tour was through a suicide mission. Gersdorff would have to set off a bomb hidden on his person, then wrap his arms around the Führer tightly until the explosion killed them both.
Hitler was scheduled to be at the exhibit for 10 minutes. To everyone’s amazement, Hitler ignored Gersdorff and walked into the exhibit hall at an ever quickening pace. Gersdorff rushed to catch up with him, attempting to draw his special attention to certain exhibits in an effort to slow him down, but Hitler continued to ignore him and also paid no attention to others, including Göring, who tried to point out interesting aspects of certain exhibits. Hitler was in and out of the exhibition hall in two minutes, not the ten minutes that had been scheduled.
Gersdorff watched helplessly as Hitler raced from the hall. Regaining his thoughts, he remembered the live bomb in his pocket. Locating a nearby men’s room, he quickly went inside and locked himself in a stall. Removing the bomb from his pocket, he pulled off the striker, making the bomb inoperative. Gersdorff collapsed onto the toilet seat and dropped his head into his hands, panting heavily from the tension.
2. Georg Elser’s Beer Hall Bomb (1939)
Johann Georg Elser was a German worker who planned and carried out an elaborate assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler and other high-ranking Nazi leaders on November 8, 1939 at the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich. He had watched the brutal rise of the Nazis decided that something had to be done to stop them. Hitler always made a speech here every year, in the same place, at the same time, to mark the anniversary of the 1923 “Beer Hall Putsch”.
Elser spent an entire year planning his assassination attempt. He studied the column behind the lectern and decided that would be the best place to hide a bomb the following year. He then spent months collecting cartridges of gunpowder, as well as fuses, from the quarry where he worked, and then, without any training in bomb making, he began work on the design for his improvised detonation device, using a car indicator and the mechanism of a clock. What he created was one of the world’s first time bombs. It was so sophisticated it even had a back up timer in case the first failed.
Elser returned to the Bürgerbräukeller in April 1939 and took exact measurements of the column where he intended to hide his device. He tested a prototype of his bomb that summer in an orchard, then returned to Munich in the autumn and, having tried and failed to get a job at the beer hall, he broke in one night and began working on his hands and knees to hollow out a space in the column where he could install his bomb. He had to work in the dark, with a flashlight held between his teeth. It took him thirty nights to complete his work installing the bomb in the column. On November 5, he set his two-timer fuses to go off at 9:20 pm in the middle of Hitler’s speech three nights later. He then disguised where the bomb was hidden with a false wall.
On November 8, 1939, Hitler made his annual speech at the Munich beer hall. The event commemorated early Nazi struggles in the 1920’s and Hitler used it to mock his international enemies and boast about Germany’s successful start to the war. He cut his normal two-hour speech down to one because fog was forecast, meaning he would have to return to Berlin by train that night rather than plane. Thirteen minutes later, the bomb exploded, causing eight deaths and massive damage. The ceiling collapsed just above where Hitler had been standing. When he was told of the bombing, he said: “My leaving the Bürgerbräukeller earlier than usual is proof to me that Providence wants me to reach my goal.”
Elser remained a mysterious and controversial figure for several decades. Instead of being killed immediately, he was kept alive in a concentration camp during the war and finally executed in 1945. This prompted speculation about who he might have been working for, and whether he might in fact have been a Nazi stooge, his failed plot designed to boost Hitler’s popularity.
1. Operation Valkyrie (1944)
On July 20, 1944, Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, an aristocratic colonel in the Nazi army, took the fate of the German people into his own hands. Increasingly disillusioned with Hitler’s campaign in the war, Stauffenberg and numerous other co-conspirators within the German military, including Friedrich Olbricht and Henning von Tresckow, plotted to assassinate the dictator and seize control of Germany.
Shortly after noon on a hot summer day, Stauffenberg smuggled an explosives-filled briefcase into a meeting at Hitler’s “Wolf’s Lair” hideaway (in what is today Poland), where the dictator was seated around a large wooden table with 22 other Nazi officials.
Stauffenberg placed the briefcase under the table, made an excuse to leave, and watched the explosion from afar as he raced towards his getaway car. Confident he had completed his mission and an impending coup would soon place him and like-minded co-conspirators in power, Stauffenberg made haste to return to Berlin.
But, in what is largely viewed as one of the greatest tragedies in history, things did not work out that way. Eleven of those who had suffered the worst injuries were rushed to the field hospital, just over two miles away. The stenographer, Dr Heinrich Berger, who had taken the full blast of the bomb, had both legs blown off and died later that afternoon. Colonel Heinz Brandt, lost a leg and died the next day, as did General Günther Korten, chief of the Luftwaffe’s general staff, stabbed by a spear of wood. Hitler’s Wehrmacht adjutant, Major-General Rudolf Schmundt, lost an eye and a leg, and suffered serious facial burns, eventually succumbing in hospital some weeks later. Of those in the barrack-hut, only Keitel and Hitler avoided concussion.
Hitler miraculously survived with no more than superficial injuries. After the initial shock of the blast, he established that he was all in one piece and could move. Then he made for the door through the wreckage, beating flames from his trousers and putting out the singed hair on the back of his head as he went. He bumped into Keitel, who embraced him, weeping and crying out: ‘My Führer, you are alive, you are alive.’ Keitel helped Hitler, his uniform jacket torn, his black trousers and beneath them long white underwear in shreds, out of the building. But he was able to walk without difficulty. Hitler had a swollen and painful right arm, which he could barely lift, swellings and abrasions on his left arm, burns and blisters on his hands and legs (which were also full of wood-splinters), and cuts to his forehead. But those, alongside the burst ear-drums, were the worst injuries he had suffered.
By midnight Hitler had regained the upper hand and squashed the rebellion. Stauffenberg and three others were executed by firing squad in Berlin. In the coming weeks, an additional 140 people implicated in the plot were killed and more than 5,000 conspirators and political opponents were arrested.