Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg
From autumn 1943 on,
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 Goerdeler. 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 on Bendlerstrasse. 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 conspirators. 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 communication. 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 to Hitler. 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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