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From autumn 1943 on, Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg becomes a
decisive factor in the struggle against Hitler. In 1933, he initially
feels that National Socialist policy offers Germany favorable
opportunities but is soon alienated by the regime’s racial ideology.
Yet Stauffenberg only assumes an active role in opposing the regime
once he realizes the consequences of German policy in eastern Europe
and can estimate the full extent of the damage that Hitler’s war has
brought upon Germany and Europe.
Under the influence of Henning von Tresckow, General Friedrich
Olbricht, and First Lieutenant Fritz-Dietlof Graf von der Schulenburg
of the army reserve, Stauffenberg becomes a focal point of the military
conspiracy. He establishes important links to civilian resistance
groups and coordinates his assassination plans with Carl Friedrich
Goerdeler and Ludwig Beck, and with the conspirators waiting in
readiness in Paris, Vienna, Berlin, and at Army Group Center.
Stauffenberg’s Way to the Assassination Attempt of July 20, 1944
In early April 1943, Stauffenberg is severely wounded in Tunisia,
barely escaping death. During the months of his convalescence, he
gradually comes to realize he must take an active part in resistance.
Even in earlier years, the church’s struggle, the persecution of the
Jews, and the crimes in eastern Europe have alienated Stauffenberg from
the National Socialist state. His closest confidant is his brother
Berthold, who has had contacts to the opposition for a long time. After
an extended period of convalescence, Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von
Stauffenberg is appointed to the post of chief of staff of the General
Army Office in October 1943. From June 1944 on, he also serves as chief
of staff for the commanding officer of the Ersatzheer (Reserve Army),
General Friedrich Olbricht, at Olbricht’s request. In this position he
has clearance to attend briefings at Hitler’s headquarters in the
so-called “Wolf’s Lair” near Rastenburg in East Prussia. Olbricht
informs Stauffenberg of his plans for a coup and introduces him to
members of the resistance groups around Ludwig Beck and Carl Friedrich
Stauffenberg has a great deal of charisma and is valued for his
professional expertise. He brings many opponents of the regime together
and makes close friends among them not only military officers but also
Social Democrats like Julius Leber, members of the Kreisau Circle like
Adam von Trott zu Solz, and representatives of the labor union movement
like Jakob Kaiser and Wilhelm Leuschner.
The Planning of Operation “Valkyrie”
The conspirators from the civilian and military resistance groups
realize that the military leadership cannot be induced to act in
concert. They concentrate their efforts on eliminating Hitler, gaining
control of the military chain of command, and assuming the
responsibilities of government in Germany.
They make use of plans developed for putting down civil disturbances
and insurrections by the foreign slave laborers. These plans provide
for entrusting executive power and military authority to the commander
of the Reserve Army in such cases.
The conspirators alter these plans, code-named “Valkyrie,” several
times, adapting them to the respective applicable conditions. With the
aid of the “Valkyrie” orders, they intend to gain control of key
government, Party, and Wehrmacht offices in Berlin so they can pave the
way for the coup throughout Germany and at the front.
Hitler’s Headquarters “Wolf’s Lair” near Rastenburg in East Prussia
In the winter of 1940-41 immediately before the invasion of the Soviet
Union in June 1941, Hitler establishes his new headquarters near
Rastenburg. During the following years, extensive bunker systems are
built, which are sealed off from the rest of the world by restricted
areas. The extensive forests of East Prussia, the moors of the
surrounding countryside, and the location of the headquarters beyond
the range of Allied bombers appear to offer the greatest possible
measure of protection. As German troops advance far into the Soviet
Union, a second Fhrer’s headquarters is established at Vinnitsa in the
Ukraine. The importance of the “Wolf’s Lair” in Prussia increases as
the Wehrmacht retreats, and the site becomes Hitler’s preferred
location. When several attempts to eliminate Hitler by assassination
fail in 1943, the conspirators decide to kill him here in the central
bastion of his power.
The Assassination Attempt of July 20, 1944
Despite great difficulties, Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg
succeeds in arming a bomb and planting it under a map table in Hitler’s
vicinity a few minutes before a briefing in the “Wolf’s Lair.”
Stauffenberg is able to leave the room without being noticed and
observes the detonation from a safe distance. Unfortunate coincidences
prevent the attempt from succeeding, and Hitler survives. The heavy oak
table he is leaning over when the bomb explodes shields his body.
Yet Stauffenberg is convinced that his assassination attempt has been
successful. Together with his adjutant and fellow conspirator Werner
von Haeften, he succeeds in leaving the headquarters for Berlin within
minutes of the explosion immediately before the area is sealed off.
July 20, 1944, in the Bendler Block
After the assassination attempt, valuable hours are lost in Berlin
before the “Valkyrie” orders can be issued. Executive power is to be
transferred to the commander of the Reserve Army. Key command centers
and communication facilities must be occupied, and the SS units
stationed in Berlin must be kept away from the center of the conspiracy
The conspirators rely on Berlin’s city commandant, a few friends in
important positions, and Berlin’s chief of police. A few members of
civilian resistance groups come to the Bendler Block. Even a few
younger officers stationed in Potsdam assume functions here. They are
joined by some other officers who have purposely not been informed
about the coup during its initial phases but who follow the orders of
The Failure of the Coup Attempt of July 20, 1944
The conspirators hope to be able to mobilize formations in Berlin and
throughout Germany against the National Socialist leaders through
normal command channels. To do so, they require intact lines of
Since Hitler has survived the bombing, the conspirators’ helpers at
Hitler’s headquarters are not able to interrupt telephone and radio
communications with the outside world for long. This puts Hitler,
Himmler, Bormann, and Keitel in a position to issue countermanding
orders late in the afternoon that frustrate all the conspirators’
efforts. Many officers in key positions on Bendlerstrasse and in the
military districts now cite their oath of allegiance and remain loyal
Friedrich Fromm, commander of the Reserve Army, refuses to join the
conspirators. Late that evening he orders the execution of the four
main conspirators by a firing squad.
After the Assassination Attempt
After the unsuccessful assassination attempt, Hitler addresses the
German public in a radio speech. He depicts himself as an instrument
of “providence,” accusing “a small clique” of ambitious officers of
having committed treason in their hunger for power.
The following days bring with them a profusion of speeches avowing
loyalty. Appeals, newspaper articles, and speeches are staged to stir
up public sentiment throughout Germany. The aim is to irreversibly
transform the Wehrmacht into a mainstay of National Socialist ideology
while neutralizing the influence of the officer corps. The propaganda
soon begins to take effect. Accounts of public morale give the
impression that Hitler is again able to kindle renewed enthusiasm among
the German people. While many bulletins are exaggerated, many Germans
undoubtedly disapprove of the assassination attempt.
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