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The July Plot
At the end of 1943 the Schutz Staffeinel (SS) and the Gestapo managed to arrest several Germans involved in plotting to overthrow Adolf Hitler. This included Dietrich Bonhoffer, Klaus Bonhoffer, Josef Muller and Hans Dohnanyi. Others under suspicion like Wilhelm Canaris and Hans Oster were dismissed from office in January, 1944.
Major Claus von Stauffenberg now emerged as the leader of the group opposed to Nazi rule. In 1942 he decided to kill Adolf Hitler. He was joined by Wilhelm Canaris, Carl Goerdeler, Julius Leber, Ulrich Hassell, Hans Oster, Peter von Wartenburg, Henning von Tresckow, Friedrich Olbricht, Werner von Haeften, Fabian Schlabrendorff, Ludwig Beck and Erwin von Witzleben.
At least six attempts were aborted before Claus von Stauffenberg decided on trying again during a conference attended by Hitler on 20th July, 1944. It was decided to drop plans to kill Goering and Himmler at the same time. Stauffenberg, who had never met Hitler before, carried the bomb in a briefcase and placed it on the floor while he left to make a phone-call. The bomb exploded killing four men in the hut. Hitler's right arm was badly injured but he survived the bomb blast.
The plan was for Ludwig Beck, Erwin von Witzleben and Erich Fromm to take control of the German Army. This idea was abandoned when it became known that Adolf Hitler had survived the assassination attempt. In an attempt to protect himself, Fromm organized the execution of Claus von Stauffenberg along with two other conspirators, Friedrich Olbricht and Werner von Haeften, in the courtyard of the War Ministry. It was later reported the Stauffenberg died shouting "Long live free Germany".
As a result of the July Plot, the new chief of staff, Heinz Guderian demanded the resignation of any officer who did not fully support the ideals of the Nazi Party. Over the next few months Guderian sat with Gerd von Rundstedt and Wilhelm Keitel on the Army Court of Honour that expelled hundreds of officers suspected of being opposed to the policies of Adolf Hitler. This removed them from court martial jurisdiction and turned them over to Roland Freisler and his People Court.
Over the next few months most of the group including Wilhelm Canaris, Carl Goerdeler, Julius Leber, Ulrich Hassell, Hans Oster, Peter von Wartenburg, Henning von Tresckow, Ludwig Beck, Erwin von Witzleben and Erich Fromm were either executed or committed suicide.
It is etimated that around 4,980 Germans were executed after the July Plot. Hitler decided that the leaders should have a slow death. They were hung with piano wire from meat-hooks. Their executions were filmed and later shown to senior members of both the NSDAP and the armed forces.
(1) Ulrich Hassell, recorded in his diary a meeting he had with Ernst Weiszacker, the State Secretary in the Foreign Ministry (April, 1942)
He carefully closed the windows and doors, and announced with some emphasis that he had a very serious matter to discuss with me. He brusquely waved aside my joking rejoinder. For the time being he had to ask me to spare him the embarrassment of my presence. When I started to remonstrate he interrupted me harshly. He then proceeded to heap reproaches on me as he paced excitedly up and down. I had been unbelievably indiscreet, quite unheard-of; as a matter of fact, "with all due deference", so had my wife. This was all known in certain places (the Gestapo), and they claimed even to have documents. He mist demand, more emphatically, that I correct this behaviour. I had no idea, he said, how people were after me (the Gestapo). every step I took was observed. I should certainly burn everything I had in the way of notes which covered conversations in which one or other had said this or that.
(2) Otto John, Twice Through the Lines (1972)
Roeder in his investigations used methods which we at the time used to call Gestapo methods. I knew that not only from what Frau Dohnanyi and Frau Muller told me after their release. He put them under great mental pressure by threatening to persecute their wives if they did not make statements. I also remember the notes smuggled out of prison by Dohnanyi stating that Roeder would stop at nothing to get his way.
Dohnanyi lived under constant threat that Roeder would hand him over to the Gestapo. I remember this very clearly because that would have led to Dohnanyi being tortured. None of us was under any illusion that subject to such appalling duress he might well be forced to make statements which could jeopardize the entire conspiracy against Hitler.
(3) Henning von Tresckow, message to Claus von Stauffenberg (July, 1944)
The assassination must be attempted, at any cost. Even should that fail, the attempt to seize power in the capital must be undertaken. We must prove to the world and to future generations that the men of the German Resistance movement dared to take the decisive step and to hazard their lives upon it. Compared with this, nothing else matters.
(4) Erich Fromm talking to Wilhelm Keitel by telephone after the explosion on 20th June, 1944.
Erich Fromm: "What's been happening at General Headquarters?"
Wilhelm Keitel: "What do they say's happening?" Everything is normal here.
Erich Fromm: "I've had a report the Führer's been assassinated.
Wilhelm Keitel: "Nonsense. It's true an attempt's been made on his life. Fortunately, it failed. The Führer's alive and was only slightly injured. But where's your Chief of staff, Stauffenberg?
Erich Fromm: "Stauffenberg's not back yet."
(5) Guenther Blumentritt was interviewed by Basil Liddell Hart about the July Plot in his book The Other Side of the Hill (1948)
Field-Marshal von Kluge had just returned there. When I went into his room I saw that he had in front of him an extract from the German Radio to the effect that an attempt had been made on the life of the Fuhrer, but
that it had failed. Von Kluge told me that he had previously had two telephone messages from Germany, but without any indication of the sender's identity, which said: "The Fuhrer is dead and you must make a decision."
Kluge went on to say that, about a year before, Witzleben, Beck and others had come to his home to sound him about an approach to the Führer and how it should be conducted. He also said that he had made notes of these discussions.
While we were talking a telephone message from St. Germain was brought in. It said that an anonymous telegram had arrived there stating that Hitler was dead. Kluge was puzzled as to which of the statements were
true, and wondered whether the Radio was merely putting out a false report. After some further discussion I put
a telephone call in to General Warlimont, Jodl's deputy, at O.K.W. It was a long time before the call came through. Then the reply was merely that Warlimont was not available, as he was engaged with Keitel.
So von Kluge and I put our heads together, and discussed whom we could try next. We telephoned the Chief
of the S.S. in Paris. He replied that he did not know anything beyond the radio announcement. We then telephoned General Stieff - the Chief of the Organization Department - at O.K.H. I knew Stieff well, but had no
idea that he was in the inner circle of the conspiracy, as later emerged. Stieff at once asked: "Where did you get the news that the Führer was dead?" He added: The Führer is quite well, and in good spirits" - and then rang off. We felt very uneasy about this telephone call afterwards, realizing how suspicious it must have appeared in the circumstances.
Stieff's answer and manner were so curious as to suggest a likely explanation, and I remarked to von Kluge:
"This is an attempt that failed." Von Kluge then said to me that, if it had succeeded, his first step would have been to order the discharge of the V I's against England to be stopped, and that his second step would have been to get in touch with the Allied Commanders.
(6) Theodor Morrel, Hitler's personal physician, report on his condition after the bomb exploded on 20th July 1944.
Right forearm badly swollen, prescribed acid aluminum acetate compress. Effusion of blood on right shinbone has subsided. On back of third and fourth finger of left hand there is a large blister. Bandage. Occiput partly and hair completely singed, a palm-sized second-degree bum on the middle of the calf and a number of contusions and open flesh wounds. Left forearm has effusion of blood on interior aspects and is badly swollen; he can move it only with difficulty. He is to take Optalidons at once, and two tablespoons of Brom-Nervacit before going to sleep.
(7) Anne Frank, diary (21st July, 1944)
I'm finally getting optimistic. Now, at last, things are going well! They really are! Great News! An assassination attempt has been made on Hitler's life, and for once not by Jewish Communists or British capitalists, but by a German general who's not only a count, but young as well. The Fuhrer owes his life to 'Divine Providence': he
escaped, unfortunately, with only a few minor burns and scratches. A number of officers and Generals who were nearby were killed or wounded. The head of the conspiracy has been shot.
This is the best proof we've had so far that many officers and generals are fed up with the war and would like to see Hitler sink into a bottomless pit, so they can establish a military dictatorship, make peace with the Allies, rearm themselves and, after a few decades, start a new war. Perhaps Providence is deliberately biding its time getting rid of Hitler, since it's much easier, and cheaper, for the Allies to let the impeccable Germans kill each other off. It's less work for the Russians and British, and it allows them to start rebuilding their own cities that much sooner. But we haven't reached that point yet, and I'd hate to anticipate the glorious event
(8) Adolf Hitler to Joachim von Ribbentrop (20th July, 1944)
I will crush and destroy the criminals who have dared to oppose themselves to Providence and to me. These traitors to their own people deserve ignominious death, and this is what they shall have. This time the full price will be paid by all those who are involved, and by their families, and by all those who have helped them. This nest of vipers who have tried to sabotage the grandeur of my Germany will be exterminated once and for all.
(9) Henning von Tresckow to Fabian Schlabrendorff after the failure of the July Plot (21st July, 1944)
I shall shoot myself. Probably only a few can imagine what fate would have befallen Germany if the plot had succeeded. I thank Providence and my Creator, but not because he has preserved me. My life is solely devoted to worry, to working for my people. I thank Him, rather, because He had made it possible for me to continue to shoulder these worries, and to pursue my work to the best of my abilities and according to my conscience.
(10) Speech by Adolf Hitler on German radio (21st July, 1944)
To create order, I have appointed Himmler Commander of the Reserve Army. I am convinced that with the disappearance of this very small clique of traitors and conspirators we are finally creating in the homeland the atmosphere which the fighters at the front need.
It is unthinkable that at the front, hundreds of thousands, no millions, of good men should be giving their all while a small gang of ambitious and miserable creatures here at home tries perpetually to sabotage them. This time we are going to settle accounts with them in the way we National Socialists are used to doing.
(11) Gunther von Kluge, suicide letter to Adolf Hitler (19th August, 1944)
When you receive these lines I shall be no more. I cannot bear the reproach that I have sealed the fate of the West through faulty measures, and I have no means of defending myself. I draw a conclusion from that and am dispatching myself where already thousands of my comrades are. I have never feared death. Life has no more meaning for me, and I also figure on the list of war criminals who are to be delivered up.
Our applications were not dictated by pessimism but by sober knowledge of the facts. I do not know if Field-Marshal Model, who has been proved in every sphere, will still master the situation. From my heart I hope so. Should it not be so, however, and your cherished new weapons not succeed, then, my Fuhrer, make up your mind to end the war. The German people have borne such untold suffering that it is time to put an end to this fnghtfulness. There must be ways to attain this end, and above all to prevent the Reich from falling under the Bolshevist heel.
(12) Fabian Schlabrendorff was tortured by the Gestapo but managed to survive and wrote about his experiences in his book, The Secret War Against Hitler (1982)
We all made the discovery that a man can endure far more pain that he would have deemed possible. Those of us who had never learned to pray did so now, and found that prayer, and only prayer, can bring comfort in such terrible straits, and that it gives a more than human endurance. We learned also that the prayers of our friends and relatives could transmit currents and strength to us.
(13) An eye-witness to the executions of some of the conspirators at Ploetzwnsee Prison on 8th August, 1944 later described what he saw.
Imagine a room with a low ceiling and whitewashed walls. Below the ceiling a rail was fixed. From it hung six big hooks, like those butchers use to hang their meat. In one corner stood a movie camera. Reflectors cast a dazzling, blinding light. At the wall there was a small table with a bottle of cognac and glasses for the witnesses of the execution. The hangman wore a permanent leer, and made jokes unceasingly. The camera worked uninterruptedly, for Hitler wanted to see and hear how his enemies died. He had the executioner come to him, and had personally arranged the details of the procedure. "I want them to be hanged, hung up like carcasses of meat." Those were his words.
(14) Samuel W. Mitcham, Hitler's Field Marshals (1988)
Field Marshal Witzleben freely admitted his part in the assassination attempt. He and the others were found guilty the next day and sentenced to hang that afternoon. Hitler had ordered that they be hung like cattle. "I want to see them hanging like carcasses in a slaughterhouse!" he commanded. The entire event was filmed by the Reich Film Corporation. Witzleben was first. Despite his poor showing at the trial, Witzleben met his death with courage and with as much dignity as was possible under the circumstances. A thin wire noose was placed around his neck, and the other end was secured to a meat hook. The executioner and his assistant then picked up the sixty-four-year-old soldier and dropped him so that his entire weight fell on his neck. They then pulled off his trousers so that he hung naked and twisted in agony as he slowly strangled. It took him almost five minutes to die, but he never once cried out. The other seven condemned men were executed in the same manner within an hour. They were followed over the next eight months by hundreds of others.