A 1944 Assassination Plot Nearly Killed One of History’s Most Evil Leaders

NBC News

On July 20, 1944, a group of conspirators, led by Claus von Stauffenberg, failed in their attempt to kill Adolf Hitler at his Wolf’s Lair headquarters near Rastenburg. The apparent purpose of the plot was to assume command of the Nazi Party armed forces and bring an end to World War II. While four people died and another 13 were injured, Hitler survived with minor injuries.

Over 7,000 people were arrested, and almost 5,000 of them were executed in the immediate aftermath of the plot. The intricately planned Operation Valkyrie should have succeeded and changed the course of history.

Claus von Stauffenberg. Wikipedia

Background to Operation Valkyrie

There had been numerous attempts and plans by different German groups to kill Hitler since the late 1930s. As World War II raged on, members of the Nazi Party started to turn against their leader as they believed he was leading them to disaster. As early as September 1942, Claus von Stauffenberg, a colonel in the German Army, wanted to kill the Nazi leader and replace him with Hans-Georg Schmidt von Altenstadt.

However, the leader of the main conspiratorial group against Hitler was Colonel Henning von Tresckow, and he built an effective army resistance from 1942. He knew that an assassination attempt was impossible at that time because the paranoid Fuhrer had increased his level of security after previous failed plots.

By the middle of 1943, it was clear that the tide of WWII was going against Germany and the plotters became convinced that the only option was to kill Hitler and form a government that was acceptable to the Allies. Tresckow met von Stauffenberg at this time and the young colonel, who was injured in North Africa and lost an eye, his right hand and two fingers on his left hand, was a fervent supporter of the plot to assassination Hitler. When Tresckow was assigned to the Eastern Front, von Stauffenberg became the new leader of the conspirators and began planning the assassination.

Von Stauffenberg and his children. BBC

Constant Changes of Plan

Perhaps ironically, Operation Valkyrie was a modification of a plan Hitler had concocted to deal with a breakdown in law and order caused by Allied destruction or an uprising of forced laborers. Along with members of the Reserve Army, von Stauffenberg planned not only to kill Hitler but also to occupy important telephone centers, buildings and signal centers in Berlin. The hope was that the death of the Nazi leader would persuade most soldiers to lay down their arms and allow a new government to make peace with the Allies.

However, the conspirators were finding it next to impossible to get close enough to Hitler to carry out the plan. There were multiple failed attempts to get near enough to the Fuhrer to either shoot him or blow him up with grenades. As the situation got worse for the Nazis in WWII, Hitler was hardly seen in public and spent the majority of his time at Wolf’s Lair. He was heavily guarded at all times and seldom saw anyone he didn’t trust implicitly.

With the Gestapo seemingly closing in on the conspirators, it appeared as if time was running out. Von Stauffenberg became chief of staff to General Fromm on July 1, 1944, which meant he would be in attendance at Hitler’s military conferences. Finally, there was a potential opportunity to take action. Operation Valkyrie was fully prepared by July 7, and on this day, General Helmut Stieff was supposed to assassinate the Nazi leader in Salzburg at a display of new uniforms. However, Stieff announced that he couldn’t follow through with the plan, so von Stauffenberg decided to take matters into his own hands.

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