People present at the 20 July conference
On 20 July 1944,
Claus von Stauffenberg
Claus von Stauffenberg and other conspirators
attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler,
Führer of Nazi Germany, inside
Wolf's Lair field headquarters near Rastenburg, East Prussia. The
name Operation Valkyrie, originally referring to part of the
conspiracy, has become associated with the entire event. The apparent
aim of the assassination attempt was to wrest political control of
Germany and its armed forces from the
Nazi Party (including the SS)
and to make peace with the western Allies as soon as possible. The
underlying desire of many of the high-ranking
involved was apparently to show the world that not all Germans were
Hitler and the Nazi Party. The details of the conspirators' peace
initiatives remain unknown, but they likely would have
included unrealistic demands for the confirmation of Germany's
extensive annexations of European territory.
The plot was the culmination of efforts by several groups in the
German resistance to overthrow the Nazi German government. The failure
of the assassination attempt and the intended military coup d'état
that was to follow led to the arrest of at least 7,000 people by
the Gestapo, of whom 4,980 were executed.
1.1 Motivation and goals of the plot
2 Planning a coup
2.1 Von Stauffenberg joins the conspirators
2.2 A new plan
2.3 Previous failed attempts
3 Countdown to Stauffenberg's attempt
3.1 1–6 July 1944
3.2 Aborted attempts on 7, 14 and 15 July
4 20 July 1944
4.1 Beginning of Operation Valkyrie
4.2 Escape from the
Wolf's Lair and flight to Berlin
4.3 Failure of the coup
5 Alternative possibilities
6 Participants at the meeting
8 Planned government
9 Rommel and the 20 July plot
10 Criticism of members of the plot
10.1 Involvement in war crimes and atrocities
10.2 Attitude towards Poland
11 Commemoration and collective memory
12 In popular culture
13 See also
15 External links
Map of WW II battle fronts in Europe as of 15 July 1944
Since 1938, there had been groups plotting an overthrow of some kind
within the German Army and in the German Military Intelligence
Organization (Abwehr). Early leaders of these plots included Major
General Hans Oster, Colonel General
Ludwig Beck and Field Marshal
Erwin von Witzleben. Oster was the deputy head of the Military
Intelligence Office. Beck was a former Chief-of-Staff of the German
Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres, OKH). Von Witzleben was
the former commander of the German 1st Army and the former
Commander-in-Chief of the German Army Command in the West
(Oberbefehlshaber West, or OB West). They soon established contacts
with several prominent civilians, including Carl Goerdeler, the former
mayor of Leipzig, and Helmuth James Graf von Moltke, the
great-grandnephew of the hero of the Franco-Prussian War.
Groups of military plotters exchanged ideas with civilian, political,
and intellectual resistance groups in the Kreisauer Kreis (which met
at the von Moltke estate in Kreisau) and in other secret circles.
Moltke was against killing Hitler; instead, he wanted him placed on
trial. Moltke said, "we are all amateurs and would only bungle it".
Moltke also believed killing
Hitler would be hypocritical.
National Socialism had turned "wrong-doing" into a system, something
which the resistance should avoid.
Plans to stage an overthrow and prevent
Hitler from launching a new
world war were developed in 1938 and 1939, but were aborted because of
the indecision of Army Generals
Franz Halder and Walther von
Brauchitsch, and the failure of the Western powers to oppose Hitler's
aggression until 1939. This first military resistance group delayed
their plans after Hitler's extreme popularity following the
unexpectedly rapid success in the battle for France.
In 1942, a new conspiratorial group formed, led by Colonel Henning von
Tresckow, a member of
Field Marshal Fedor von Bock's staff, who
commanded Army Group Centre in Operation Barbarossa. Tresckow
systematically recruited oppositionists to the Group's staff, making
it the nerve centre of the army resistance. Little could be done
Hitler as he was heavily guarded, and none of the plotters
could get near enough to him.
During 1942, Oster and Tresckow nevertheless succeeded in rebuilding
an effective resistance network. Their most important recruit was
General Friedrich Olbricht, head of the General Army Office
headquarters at the
Bendlerblock in central Berlin, who controlled an
independent system of communications to reserve units throughout
Germany. Linking this asset to Tresckow's resistance group in Army
Group Centre created a viable coup apparatus.
In late 1942, Tresckow and Olbricht formulated a plan to assassinate
Hitler and stage an overthrow during Hitler's visit to the
headquarters of Army Group Centre at
Smolensk in March 1943, by
placing a bomb on his plane (Operation Spark). The bomb failed to
detonate, and a second attempt a week later with
Hitler at an
exhibition of captured Soviet weaponry in Berlin also failed. These
failures demoralised the conspirators. During 1943 Tresckow tried
without success to recruit senior army field commanders such as Field
Erich von Manstein
Erich von Manstein and
Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, to
support a seizure of power. Tresckow in particular worked on his
Commander-in-Chief of Army Group Centre,
Field Marshal Günther von
Kluge, to persuade him to move against
Hitler and at times succeeded
in gaining his consent, only to find him indecisive at the last
minute. However, despite their refusals, none of the Field
Marshals reported their treasonous activities to the
Motivation and goals of the plot
While the main goal of the plotters was to remove
Hitler from power,
they did so for various reasons. The majority of the group behind the
20 July plot
20 July plot were conservative nationalists and did not necessarily
believe in democratic ideas. Martin Borschat writes that the
plot was mainly done by conservative elites who were initially
integrated by the Nazi government but during the war lost their
influence and were concerned about regaining it.
Planning a coup
Main article: Operation Valkyrie
Von Stauffenberg joins the conspirators
By mid-1943, the tide of war was turning decisively against Germany.
The army plotters and their civilian allies became convinced that
Hitler should be assassinated, so that a government acceptable to the
western Allies could be formed, and a separate peace negotiated in
time to prevent a Soviet invasion of Germany. In August 1943, Tresckow
met, for the first time, a young staff officer named Lieutenant
Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg. Badly wounded in North
Claus von Stauffenberg
Claus von Stauffenberg was a political conservative, a zealous
German nationalist, and a Roman Catholic. From early 1942, he had come
to share two basic convictions with many military officers: that
Germany was being led to disaster, and that Hitler's removal from
power was necessary. After the
Battle of Stalingrad
Battle of Stalingrad in December 1942,
despite his religious scruples, he concluded that the Führer's
assassination was a lesser moral evil than Hitler's remaining in
power. Stauffenberg brought a new tone of decisiveness to the
ranks of the resistance movement. When Tresckow was assigned to the
Eastern Front, Stauffenberg took charge of planning and executing the
A new plan
Olbricht now put forward a new strategy for staging a coup against
Replacement Army (Ersatzheer) had an operational plan
called Operation Valkyrie, which was to be used in the event that the
disruption caused by the Allied bombing of German cities caused a
breakdown in law and order, or an uprising by the millions of forced
labourers from occupied countries now being used in German factories.
Olbricht suggested that this plan could be used to mobilise the
Reserve Army for the purpose of the coup. In August and September
1943, Tresckow drafted the "revised" Valkyrie plan and new
supplementary orders. A secret declaration began with these words:
Adolf Hitler is dead! A treacherous group of party
leaders has attempted to exploit the situation by attacking our
embattled soldiers from the rear in order to seize power for
themselves." Detailed instructions were written for occupation of
government ministries in Berlin, Heinrich Himmler's headquarters in
East Prussia, radio stations and telephone offices, and other Nazi
apparatus through military districts, and concentration camps.
Previously, it was believed that Stauffenberg was mainly responsible
for the Valkyrie plan, but documents recovered by the Soviet Union
after the war and released in 2007 suggest that the plan was developed
by Tresckow by autumn of 1943. All written information was handled
by Tresckow's wife, Erika, and by Margarethe von Oven, his secretary.
Both women wore gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints. On at least
two other occasions Tresckow had tried to assassinate the Führer. The
first plan was to shoot him during dinner at the army base camp, but
this plan was aborted because it was widely believed that
a bullet-proof vest. The conspirators also considered poisoning him,
but this was not possible because his food was specially prepared and
tasted. They concluded that a time bomb was the only option.
Operation Valkyrie could only be put into effect by General Friedrich
Fromm, commander of the Reserve Army, so he must either be won over to
the conspiracy or in some way neutralised if the plan was to succeed.
Fromm, like many senior officers, knew in general about the military
Hitler but neither supported them nor reported
them to the Gestapo.
Previous failed attempts
Operation Spark (1940) and List of assassination
attempts on Adolf Hitler
During 1943 and early 1944 von Tresckow and von Stauffenberg organised
at least five attempts to get one of the military conspirators near
enough to Hitler, for long enough to kill him with hand grenades,
bombs, or a revolver:
on 13 March 1943 by von Tresckow himself
on 21 March 1943 by Rudolf Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff
in late November 1943 by Axel Freiherr von dem Bussche-Streithorst
in February 1944 by Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist-Schmenzin
on 11 March 1944 by Eberhard Freiherr von Breitenbuch
As the war situation deteriorated,
Hitler no longer appeared in public
and rarely visited Berlin. He spent most of his time at his
headquarters at the
Wolfsschanze (Wolf's Lair) near
Rastenburg in East
Prussia, with occasional breaks at his Bavarian mountain retreat
Obersalzberg near Berchtesgaden. In both places he was heavily guarded
and rarely saw people he did not know or trust.
Himmler and the
Gestapo were increasingly suspicious of plots against
rightly suspected the officers of the General Staff, which was indeed
the source of many conspiracies against Hitler.
By the summer of 1944, the
Gestapo was closing in on the conspirators.
There was a sense that time was running out, both on the battlefield,
where the Eastern front was in full retreat and where the Allies had
landed in France on 6 June, and in Germany, where the resistance's
room for manoeuvre was rapidly contracting.
When Stauffenberg sent Tresckow a message through Lieutenant Heinrich
Graf von Lehndorff-Steinort asking whether there was any reason for
trying to assassinate
Hitler given that no political purpose would be
served, Tresckow's response was: "The assassination must be attempted,
coûte que coûte [whatever the cost]. Even if it fails, we must take
action in Berlin. For the practical purpose no longer matters; what
matters now is that the
German resistance movement must take the
plunge before the eyes of the world and of history. Compared to that,
nothing else matters."
Himmler had at least one conversation with a known oppositionist when,
in August 1943, the Prussian Finance Minister Johannes Popitz, who was
involved in Goerdeler's network, came to see him and offered him the
support of the opposition if he would make a move to displace Hitler
and secure a negotiated end to the war. Nothing came of this
meeting, but Popitz was not immediately arrested (although he was
later executed towards the end of the war), and
Himmler apparently did
nothing to track down the resistance network which he knew was
operating within the state bureaucracy. It is possible that Himmler,
who by late 1943 knew that the war was unwinnable, allowed the plot to
go ahead in the knowledge that if it succeeded he would be Hitler's
successor, and could then bring about a peace settlement.
Popitz was not alone in seeing in
Himmler a potential ally. General
von Bock advised Tresckow to seek his support, but there is no
evidence that he did so. Goerdeler was apparently also in indirect
Himmler via a mutual acquaintance, Carl Langbehn. Wilhelm
Heinz Höhne suggests that Canaris and
working together to bring about a change of regime, but this remains
Tresckow and the inner circle of plotters had no intention of removing
Hitler just to see him replaced by the dreaded and ruthless SS chief,
and the plan was to kill them both if possible – to the extent that
Stauffenberg's first attempt on 11 July was aborted because Himmler
was not present.
Participants in the plot
Erwin von Witzleben
Carl Friedrich Goerdeler
Henning von Tresckow
Claus von Stauffenberg
Werner von Haeften
Countdown to Stauffenberg's attempt
Rastenburg on 15 July 1944. Stauffenberg at left,
Keitel on right. The person shaking hands with
Hitler is General Karl
Bodenschatz, who was seriously wounded five days later by
1–6 July 1944
On Saturday, 1 July 1944 Stauffenberg was appointed chief of staff to
General Fromm at the Reserve Army headquarters on Bendlerstraße in
central Berlin. This position enabled Stauffenberg to attend Hitler's
military conferences, either at the
East Prussia or at
Berchtesgaden, and would thus give him an opportunity, perhaps the
last that would present itself, to kill
Hitler with a bomb or a
pistol. Meanwhile, new key allies had been gained. These included
General Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel, the German military commander
in France, who would take control in Paris when
Hitler was killed and,
it was hoped, negotiate an immediate armistice with the invading
Aborted attempts on 7, 14 and 15 July
The plot was now fully prepared. On 7 July 1944 General Stieff was to
Hitler at a display of new uniforms at Klessheim castle near
Salzburg. However, Stieff felt unable to kill Hitler. Stauffenberg now
decided to do both: to assassinate Hitler, wherever he was, and to
manage the plot in Berlin.
On 14 July Stauffenberg attended Hitler's conferences carrying a bomb
in his briefcase, but because the conspirators had decided that
Heinrich Himmler and
Hermann Göring should be killed simultaneously
if the planned mobilisation of
Operation Valkyrie was to have a chance
to succeed, he held back at the last minute because
Himmler was not
present. In fact, it was unusual for
Himmler to attend military
By 15 July, when Stauffenberg again flew to the Wolfsschanze, this
condition had been dropped. The plan was for Stauffenberg to plant the
briefcase with the bomb in Hitler's conference room with a timer
running, excuse himself from the meeting, wait for the explosion, then
fly back to Berlin and join the other plotters at the Bendlerblock.
Operation Valkyrie would be mobilised, the Reserve Army would take
control of Germany and the other Nazi leaders would be arrested. Beck
would be appointed provisional head of state, Goerdeler would be
chancellor, and Witzleben would be commander-in-chief of the armed
Again on 15 July the attempt was called off at the last minute.
Himmler and Göring were present, but
Hitler was called out of the
room at the last moment. Stauffenberg was able to intercept the bomb
and prevent its discovery.
20 July 1944
Beginning of Operation Valkyrie
The conference room after the bomb exploded
Floor plan showing distribution of casualties
On 18 July rumours reached Stauffenberg that the
Gestapo had knowledge
of the conspiracy and that he might be arrested at any time—this was
apparently not true, but there was a sense that the net was closing in
and that the next opportunity to kill
Hitler must be taken because
there might not be another. At 10:00 on 20 July
Stauffenberg flew back to the
Wolfsschanze for another
conference, once again with a bomb in his briefcase.
The conference took place in the main room of
Wolf's Lair instead of
the underground bunker due to the toasty weather.
At around 12:30 pm as the conference began, Stauffenberg made an
excuse to use a washroom in Wilhelm Keitel's office where he used
pliers to crush the end of a pencil detonator inserted into a 1
kilogram (2.2 lb) block of plastic explosive wrapped in brown
paper, that was prepared by Wessel von Freytag-Loringhoven.[citation
needed] The detonator consisted of a thin copper tube containing
copper chloride that would take about ten minutes to silently eat
through wire holding back the firing pin from the percussion cap. It
was slow going due to war wounds that had cost Stauffenberg an eye,
his right hand, and two fingers on his left hand. Interrupted by a
guard knocking on the door advising him that the meeting was about to
begin, he was not able to prime the second bomb, which he gave to his
aide-de-camp, Werner von Haeften.
Stauffenberg placed the single primed bomb inside his briefcase and,
with the unwitting assistance of Major Ernst John von Freyend, entered
the conference room containing
Hitler and 20 officers, positioning the
briefcase under the table near Hitler. After a few minutes,
Stauffenberg received a planned telephone call and left the room. It
is presumed that Colonel Heinz Brandt, who was standing next to
Hitler, used his foot to move the briefcase aside by pushing it behind
the leg of the conference table, thus unwittingly deflecting the
Hitler but causing his own demise and the loss of one of
his legs when the bomb detonated.
At 12:42 the bomb detonated, demolishing the conference room and
killing a stenographer. More than 20 people were injured with three
officers later perishing.
Hitler survived, as did everyone else who
was shielded from the blast by the conference table leg. His trousers
were singed and tattered (see photograph below) and he suffered from a
perforated eardrum, as did most of the other 24 people in the
room. Had the second block of explosive been used, it is probable
that everyone present would have been killed.
Escape from the
Wolf's Lair and flight to Berlin
Stauffenberg was seen leaving the conference building by Kurt
Salterberg, a soldier on guard duty who did not consider this out of
the ordinary as attendees sometimes left to collect documents. He then
saw a "massive" cloud of smoke, wood splinters and paper and men being
hurled through a window and door. Stauffenberg, upon witnessing
the explosion and smoke, erroneously assumed that
Hitler was truly
dead. He then climbed into a staff car with his aide Werner von
Haeften and managed to bluff his way past three checkpoints to exit
Werner von Haeften
Werner von Haeften then tossed the second
unprimed bomb into the forest as they made a dash for Rastenburg
airfield, reaching it before it could be realised that Stauffenberg
could be responsible for the explosion. By 13:00 he was airborne in a
Heinkel He 111 arranged by General Eduard Wagner.
A soldier holding the trousers
Hitler wore during the failed
By the time Stauffenberg's aircraft reached Berlin about
16:00, General Erich Fellgiebel, an officer at the
Wolfsschanze who was in on the plot, had phoned the
told the plotters that
Hitler had survived the explosion. As a result,
the plot to mobilise
Operation Valkyrie would have no chance of
succeeding once the officers of the Reserve Army knew that
alive. There was more confusion when Stauffenberg's aircraft landed
and he phoned from the airport to say that
Hitler was in fact
Bendlerblock plotters did not know whom to believe.
Finally at 16:00 Olbricht issued the orders for
Operation Valkyrie to
be mobilised. The vacillating General Fromm, however, phoned Field
Wilhelm Keitel at the
Wolf's Lair and was assured that Hitler
was alive. Keitel demanded to know Stauffenberg's whereabouts. This
told Fromm that the plot had been traced to his headquarters, and that
he was in mortal danger. Fromm replied that he thought Stauffenberg
was with Hitler.
Meanwhile, Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel, military governor of
occupied France, managed to disarm the SD and SS, and captured most of
their leadership. He travelled to Günther von Kluge's headquarters
and asked him to contact the Allies, only to be informed that Hitler
was alive. At 16:40 Stauffenberg and Haeften arrived at the
Bendlerblock. Fromm, presumably to protect himself, changed sides and
attempted to have Stauffenberg arrested. Olbricht and Stauffenberg
restrained him at gunpoint and Olbricht then appointed General Erich
Hoepner to take over his duties. By this time
Himmler had taken charge
of the situation and had issued orders countermanding Olbricht's
mobilisation of Operation Valkyrie. In many places the coup was going
ahead, led by officers who believed that
Hitler was dead. City
Commandant, and conspirator, General
Paul von Hase
Paul von Hase ordered the
Wachbataillon Großdeutschland, under the command of Major Otto Ernst
Remer, to secure the
Wilhelmstraße and arrest Propaganda Minister
Joseph Goebbels. In Vienna, Prague, and many other places troops
Nazi Party offices and arrested Gauleiters and SS officers.
Failure of the coup
At around 18:00 the commander of Military District (Wehrkreis) III
(Berlin), General Joachim von Kortzfleisch, was summoned to the
Bendlerblock; he angrily refused Olbricht's orders, kept shouting "the
Führer is alive", was arrested and was held under guard. General
Karl Freiherr von Thüngen
Karl Freiherr von Thüngen was appointed in his place, but proved to
be of little help. General Fritz Lindemann, who was supposed to make a
proclamation to the German people over the radio, failed to appear and
as he held the only copy, Beck had to work on a new one.
Waffen SS at the Bendlerblock
Hitler was sufficiently recovered to make phone calls. He
called Goebbels at the Propaganda Ministry. Goebbels arranged for
Hitler to speak to Major Remer, commander of the troops surrounding
the Ministry. After assuring him that he was still alive, Hitler
ordered Remer to regain control of the situation in Berlin. Major
Remer ordered his troops to surround and seal off the Bendlerblock,
but not to enter the buildings. At 20:00 a furious Witzleben
arrived at the
Bendlerblock and had a bitter argument with
Stauffenberg, who was still insisting that the coup could go ahead.
Witzleben left shortly afterwards. At around this time the planned
seizure of power in Paris was aborted when
Field Marshal Günther von
Kluge, who had recently been appointed commander-in-chief in the west,
Hitler was alive.
As Remer regained control of the city and word spread that
still alive, the less resolute members of the conspiracy in Berlin
began to change sides. Fighting broke out in the
officers supporting and opposing the coup, and Stauffenberg was
wounded. By 23:00 Fromm had regained control, hoping by a show of
zealous loyalty to save himself. Beck, realising the situation was
hopeless, shot himself—the first of many attempted suicides in the
coming days. At first Beck only seriously wounded himself—he was
then shot in the neck and killed by soldiers. Fromm convened an
impromptu court martial consisting of himself, and sentenced Olbricht,
Stauffenberg, Haeften and another officer, Albrecht Mertz von
Quirnheim, to death. At 00:10 on 21 July they were executed in the
courtyard outside, possibly to prevent them from revealing Fromm's
involvement. Others would have been executed as well, but at 00:30
SS personnel led by
Otto Skorzeny arrived and further executions were
forbidden. The original order given from
Hitler to Remer was to
capture alive the members of the conspiracy.
In 2005, the Military Channel's show
Unsolved History aired an episode
Hitler in which each scenario was re-created using live
explosives and test dummies. The results supported the conclusion that
Hitler would have been killed had any of three other scenarios
both bombs detonated;
the meeting was held inside Hitler's bunker;
the briefcase was not moved.
Hitler in fact been killed by the plotters, some historians argue
that the plot would have unfolded (and failed) in relatively the same
fashion, but with
Hermann Göring taking Hitler's place, and in turn
ordering Major Remer to switch sides and arrest the plotters. A Nazi
state under Göring, however, would have differed from a
in being more receptive to peace with the Allies, and might also have
"cleaned house" of several fanatical Nazis, including many senior SS
Nazi Party leaders.
Participants at the meeting
Main article: List of people killed or wounded in the 20 July plot
The courtyard at the Bendlerblock, where Stauffenberg, Olbricht and
others were executed.
Hitler visits Admiral
Karl-Jesko von Puttkamer
Karl-Jesko von Puttkamer in the hospital
Funeral of General
Günther Korten at the Tannenberg Memorial
Over the following weeks, Himmler's Gestapo, driven by a furious
Hitler, rounded up nearly everyone who had the remotest connection
with the plot. The discovery of letters and diaries in the homes and
offices of those arrested revealed the plots of 1938, 1939, and 1943,
and this led to further rounds of arrests, including that of Franz
Halder, who finished the war in a concentration camp. Under Himmler's
Sippenhaft (blood guilt) laws, all the relatives of the principal
plotters were also arrested.
More than 7,000 people were arrested and 4,980 were executed.
Not all of them were connected with the plot, since the
the occasion to settle scores with many other people suspected of
opposition sympathies. Alfons Heck, former
Hitler Youth member and
later a historian, describes the reaction many Germans felt to the
punishments of the conspirators:
When I heard that German officers had tried to kill
Adolf Hitler ... I
was enraged. I fully concurred with the sentences imposed on them,
strangling I felt was too good for them; this was the time, precisely,
when we were at a very ... precarious military situation. And the only
man who could possibly stave off disaster ... was Adolf Hitler. That
opinion was shared by many Germans, Germans who did not adore Hitler,
who did not belong to the [Nazi] Party.
The British radio also named possible suspects who had not yet been
implicated but then were arrested.
Very few of the plotters tried to escape or to deny their guilt when
arrested. Those who survived interrogation were given perfunctory
trials before the People's Court (Volksgerichtshof), a kangaroo court
that always decided in favour of the prosecution. The court's
president, Roland Freisler, was a fanatical Nazi seen shouting
furiously and insulting the accused in the trial, which was filmed for
propaganda purposes. The plotters were stripped of their uniforms and
given old, shabby clothing to humiliate them for the cameras. The
officers involved in the plot were "tried" before the Court of
Military Honour, a drumhead court-martial that merely considered the
evidence furnished to it by the
Gestapo before expelling the accused
from the Army in disgrace and handing them over to the People's
The first trials were held on 7 and 8 August 1944.
Hitler had ordered
that those found guilty should be "hanged like cattle". Many
people took their own lives prior to either their trial or their
execution, including Kluge, who was accused of having knowledge of the
plot beforehand and not revealing it to Hitler. Stülpnagel tried to
commit suicide, but survived and was hanged.
Tresckow killed himself the day after the failed plot by use of a hand
grenade in no man's land between Russian and German lines. According
to post-war recollections of Fabian von Schlabrendorff, Tresckow said
the following before his death:
The whole world will vilify us now, but I am still totally convinced
that we did the right thing.
Hitler is the archenemy not only of
Germany but of the world. When, in few hours' time, I go before God to
account for what I have done and left undone, I know I will be able to
justify what I did in the struggle against Hitler. None of us can
bewail his own death; those who consented to join our circle put on
the robe of Nessus. A human being's moral integrity begins when he is
prepared to sacrifice his life for his convictions.
Fromm's attempt to win favour by executing Stauffenberg and others on
the night of 20 July had merely exposed his own previous lack of
action and apparent failure to report the plot. Having been arrested
on 21 July, Fromm was later convicted and sentenced to death by the
People's Court. Despite his knowledge of the conspiracy, his formal
sentence charged him with poor performance in his duties. He was
executed in Brandenburg an der Havel.
Hitler personally commuted his
death sentence from hanging to the "more honourable" firing squad.
Erwin Planck, the son of the famous physicist Max Planck, was executed
for his involvement.
The Kaltenbrunner Report to
Adolf Hitler dated 29 November 1944 on the
background of the plot, states that the Pope was somehow a
conspirator, specifically naming Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII, as
being a party in the attempt. Evidence indicates that 20 July
plotters Colonel Wessel von Freytag-Loringhoven, Colonel Erwin von
Lahousen, and Admiral
Wilhelm Canaris were involved in the foiling of
Hitler's alleged plot to kidnap or murder
Pope Pius XII
Pope Pius XII in 1943, when
Canaris reported the plot to Italian counterintelligence officer
General Cesare Amè, who passed on the information.
A member of the SA convicted of participating in the plot was
Wolf-Heinrich Graf von Helldorf, who was the Orpo Police Chief of
Berlin and had been in contact with members of the resistance since
before the war. Collaborating closely with Arthur Nebe, he was
supposed to direct all police forces in Berlin to stand down and not
interfere in the military actions to seize the government. However,
his actions on 20 July had little influence on the events. For his
involvement in the conspiracy, he was later arrested, convicted of
treason and executed.
After 3 February 1945, when Freisler was killed in an American air
raid, there were no more formal trials, but as late as April, with the
war weeks away from its end, Canaris' diary was found, and many more
people were implicated. Executions continued to the last days of the
Hitler took his survival to be a "divine moment in history", and
commissioned a special decoration to be made for each person wounded
or killed in the blast. The result was the
Wound Badge of 20 July
1944. The badges were struck in three values: gold, silver, and black
(the colors denoted the severity of the wounds received by each
recipient). A total of 100 badges were manufactured, and 47 are
believed to have actually been awarded. Each badge was accompanied by
an ornate award document personally signed by Hitler. The badges
themselves bore a facsimile of his signature, making them among the
rarest decorations to have been awarded by Nazi Germany.
For his role in stopping the coup, Major Remer was promoted to colonel
and ended the war as a major general. After the war, he co-founded the
Socialist Reich Party
Socialist Reich Party and remained a prominent
Neo-Nazi and advocate
Holocaust Denial until his death in 1997.
Philipp von Boeselager, the German officer who provided the plastic
explosives used in the bomb, escaped detection and survived the war.
He was the second-to-last survivor of those involved in the plot and
died on 1 May 2008, aged 90. The last survivor of the 20 July Plot
was Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist-Schmenzin, the thwarted plotter of just
a few months before. He died on 8 March 2013, aged 90.
As a result of the failed coup, every member of the
required to reswear his loyalty oath, by name, to
Hitler and, on 24
July 1944, the military salute was replaced throughout the armed
forces with the
Hitler Salute in which the arm was outstretched and
the salutation Heil
Hitler was given.
The conspirators were earlier designated positions in secret to form a
government that would take office after the assassination of Hitler
were it to prove successful. Because of the plot's failure, such a
government never rose to power and most of its members were executed.
The following were slated for these roles as of July 1944:
Ludwig Beck (Army) – President
Carl Friedrich Goerdeler
Carl Friedrich Goerdeler (DNVP) – Chancellor
Wilhelm Leuschner (SPD) – Vice-Chancellor
Paul Löbe (SPD) – President of the Reichstag
Julius Leber (SPD) or
Eugen Bolz (Centre Party) – Minister of the
Friedrich Werner von der Schulenburg
Friedrich Werner von der Schulenburg or
Ulrich von Hassell
Ulrich von Hassell (DNVP) –
Ewald Loeser (DNVP) – Minister of Finance
Friedrich Olbricht (Army) – Minister of War (With von Stauffenberg
as a possible State Secretary)
Erwin von Witzleben
Erwin von Witzleben (Army) – Minister of
Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht
Hans Oster (Army) – President of the Reichskriegsgericht (military
Hans Koch (Confessing Church) – President of the Reichsgericht
Bernhard Letterhaus (Catholic trade unionist) – Reconstruction
Minister (Minister without portfolio if not appointed)
Karl Blessing – Minister of Economics or President of the Reichsbank
Paul Lejeune-Jung (DNVP) – Minister of Economics
Andreas Hermes (Centre Party) – Minister of Agriculture
Josef Wirmer (Centre Party) – Minister of Justice
Henning von Tresckow
Henning von Tresckow (Army) – Chief of Police
Note: Party allegiances as shown here indicate party membership before
the dissolution of all political parties apart from the NSDAP.
Albert Speer was listed in several notes of the conspirators as a
possible Minister of Armaments; however, most of these notes stated
Speer should not be approached until after
Hitler was dead and one
conjectural government chart had a question mark beside Speer's name.
This most likely saved Speer from arrest by the SS in addition to
Speer being one of Hitler's closest and most trusted friends.
Rommel and the 20 July plot
The extent of
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's involvement in the
military's resistance against
Hitler or the
20 July plot
20 July plot is difficult
to ascertain, as people most directly involved did not survive and
limited documentation on the conspirators' plans and preparations
exists. Thus, Rommel's participation remains ambiguous and the
perception of it largely has its source in the subsequent events
(especially Rommel's forced suicide) and the accounts by surviving
According to a post-war account by Karl Strölin, the
Oberbürgermeister of Stuttgart at that time, he and two other
Alexander von Falkenhausen
Alexander von Falkenhausen and Carl Heinrich von
Stülpnagel began efforts to bring Rommel into the anti-Hitler
conspiracy in early 1944. On 15 April 1944 Rommel's new chief of
staff, Hans Speidel, arrived in Normandy and reintroduced Rommel to
Stülpnagel. Speidel had previously been connected to Carl
Goerdeler, the civilian leader of the resistance, but not to the
plotters led by Stauffenberg, and only came to the attention of
Stauffenberg due to his appointment to Rommel's headquarters. The
conspirators felt they needed the support of a field marshal on active
duty. Witzelben was a field marshal, but had not been on active duty
since 1942. The conspirators gave instructions to Speidel to bring
Rommel into their circle.
Speidel met with former foreign minister
Konstantin von Neurath
Konstantin von Neurath and
Strölin on 27 May in Germany, ostensibly at Rommel's request,
although the latter was not present. Neurath and Strölin suggested
opening immediate surrender negotiations in the West, and, according
to Speidel, Rommel agreed to further discussions and preparations.
Around the same timeframe, however, the plotters in Berlin were not
aware that Rommel had reportedly decided to take part in the
conspiracy. On 16 May, they informed Allen Dulles, through whom they
hoped to negotiate with the Western Allies, that Rommel could not be
counted on for support. Three days before the assassination
attempt, on 17 July, Rommel's staff car was strafed by an Allied
aircraft in France; he was hospitalised with major injuries and
incapacitated on 20 July.
Rommel opposed assassinating Hitler. After the war, his widow
maintained that he believed an assassination attempt would spark a
civil war. According to journalist and author William L. Shirer,
Rommel knew about the conspiracy and advocated that
Hitler be arrested
and placed on trial. The historian Ian Becket argues that "there is no
credible evidence that Rommel had more than limited and superficial
knowledge of the plot" and concludes that he would not have acted to
aid the plotters in the aftermath of the attempt on 20 July, while
the historian Ralf Georg Reuth contends that "there was no indication
of any active participation of Rommel in the conspiracy."
Historian Richard Evans concluded that he knew of a plot, but was not
What is not debated are the results of the failed bomb plot of 20
July. Many conspirators were arrested and the dragnet expanded to
thousands. Consequently, it did not take long for Rommel to come
under suspicion. He was primarily implicated through his connection to
Kluge. Rommel's name also came up in forced confessions by
Stülpnagel and Hofacker, and was included in Goerdeler's papers on a
list of potential supporters.
Hitler knew it would cause a major scandal on the home front to have
the popular Rommel publicly branded as a traitor. With this in mind,
he opted to give Rommel the option of suicide via cyanide or a public
trial by Freisler's People's Court. Rommel was well aware that being
hauled before the People's Court was tantamount to a death sentence.
He also knew that if he chose to stand trial, his family would have
been severely punished even before the all-but-certain conviction and
execution. With this in mind, he committed suicide on 14 October 1944.
He was buried with full military honours and his family was spared
from persecution; his cause of death did not come to light until after
Criticism of members of the plot
Involvement in war crimes and atrocities
Involvement of the plotters in war crimes and atrocities has been
studied by historians such as Christian Gerlach. Gerlach proved
that plotters like Tresckow or Gersdorff were aware of mass murder
happening in the East from at least 1941. He writes: "Especially with
reference to the murder of the Jews, [it is said that] 'the SS' had
deceived the officers by killing in secret, filing incomplete reports
or none at all; if general staff offices protested, the SS threatened
them." Gerlach concludes: "This is, of course, nonsense."
Tresckow also "signed orders for the deportation of thousands of
orphaned children for forced labor in the Reich" (the so-called
Heu-Aktion). Such actions lead historians to question the motives of
the plotters, which seemed more concerned with the military situation
than with Nazi atrocities and German war crimes. However some others
assert that, in such actions, Tresckow had to act out of principle to
continue with his coup plans.
Gerlach pointed out that the plotters had "selective moral criteria"
and while they were concerned about Jews being exterminated in the
Holocaust, they were far less disturbed about mass murder of civilians
in the East. To Gerlach, the primary motivation of the plotters
was to ensure German victory in the war or at least prevent
defeat. Gerlach's arguments were later supported by historian Hans
Mommsen, who stated that the plotters were interested above all in
military victory. But Gerlach's arguments were also criticized
by some scholars, among them Peter Hoffmann from
McGill University and
Klaus Jochen Arnold (de) from the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung.
Attitude towards Poland
The overall goals towards
Poland were mixed within the plotters. Most
of the plotters found it desirable to restore the old German borders
from 1914, while others pointed out that the demands were unrealistic
and amendments had to be made. Some like Friedrich-Werner Graf von
der Schulenburg even saw all of
Poland annexed to Germany.
To Poland, which was fighting as an ally with both its army and
government in exile, the vast territorial demands and traditional
nationalistic visions of resistance made the plotters lose all
credibility, and Poles saw little difference between them and racist
policies of Hitler. Stauffenberg, as one of the leaders of the
plot, stated five years before the coup in 1939 during the Poland
campaign about Poles and Poland: "It is essential that we begin a
systemic colonisation in Poland. But I have no fear that this will not
Commemoration and collective memory
A 1951 survey by the
Allensbach Institute revealed that "Only a third
of respondents had a positive opinion about the men and women who had
tried unsuccessfully to overthrow the Nazi regime."
The "first official memorial service for the resistance fighters of
July 20" was held on the tenth anniversary in 1954. In his speech at
the event, Theodor Heuss, the first President of the Federal Republic
of Germany, said that "harsh words" were necessary, and that "There
have been cases of refusal to carry out orders that have achieved
historic greatness." After this speech, public opinion in Germany
began to shift.
Nonetheless, a 1956 proposal to name a school after Claus Schenk Graf
von Stauffenberg was opposed by a majority of citizens, and, according
to Deutsche Welle,
East Germany's communist leadership had ignored the assassination
attempt for decades, mainly because the conservative and aristocratic
conspirators around Stauffenberg did not match the socialist
The first all-German commemoration of the event did not take place
In 2013, the last surviving member of the plot, Ewald-Heinrich von
Kleist-Schmenzin, died in Munich.
As of 2014, the resistance fighters are generally considered heroes in
Germany, according to Deutsche Welle.
Memorial at the Bendlerblock: "Here died for Germany on 20 July 1944"
(followed by the names of the principal conspirators)
Memorial at the cemetery (Alter St.-Matthäus-Kirchhof, Berlin) where
the corpses were buried but afterwards removed to an unknown place
Memorial statue at the
Bendlerblock by Richard Scheibe
In popular culture
Films and television
1951:The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel, a black-and-white
biographical film with
James Mason in the title role of Field Marshal
1955: Es geschah am 20. Juli, a docudrama, with
Bernhard Wicki as
1955: The Plot to Assassinate Hitler, with
Wolfgang Preiss as
1964: The Wednesday Play: The July Plot, directed by Rudolph Cartier,
with John Carson as Stauffenberg, and
Joseph Furst as Fromm.
1967: The Night of the Generals, directed by Anatole Litvak
1970: Claus Graf Stauffenberg, German TV docudrama
1970: Liberation (film series)
1988: War and Remembrance, Part 10, a television version of the novel
by Herman Wouk
1990: Stauffenberg – Verschwörung gegen Hitler
1990: The Plot to Kill Hitler, with Brad Davis as Stauffenberg
1992: The Restless Conscience
2004: Die Stunde der Offiziere, a semi-documentary movie
2004: Stauffenberg, by Jo Baier, with
Sebastian Koch as
Days That Shook the World – Conspiracy to kill (Season 2,
Episode 5), a BBC2 documentary
2004: Heroes of World War II – The Man Who Stood Up To Hitler, a
documentary, narrated by Robert Powell
2007: Ruins of the Reich (DVD), 4-part series directed by R.J. Adams
(attempted assassination and ruins of Wolfsschanze)
2008: Valkyrie, with
Tom Cruise as Stauffenberg
2008: Operation Valkyrie: The Stauffenberg Plot to Kill Hitler, a
2009: Stauffenberg - Die wahre Geschichte, German TV docudrama
2010: Mythbusters-Operation Valkyrie
1984: Beyond Castle Wolfenstein, a computer game developed and
published by Muse Software.
Assassination attempts on Adolf Hitler
List of members of the 20 July plot
List of people killed or wounded in the 20 July plot
Operation Foxley – British plot to assassinate
Hitler using a sniper
Operation Spark (1940) – plans generated in the early 1940s by
German anti-Nazis to assassinate Hitler
^ Hans Helmut Kirst "20th of July"
^ Winston Churchill,war annual books, "1944"
William L. Shirer
William L. Shirer The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, part IV,
chapter "20th July"
^ Klemens von Klemperer, German Resistance against Hitler: The Search
for Allies Abroad 1938–1945
^ Peter Hoffmann, History of the German Resistance, 1933–1945 pp.
^ According to Shirer,
Führer Conferences on Naval Affairs, 1960,
^ Kurtz, Harold. July Plot in Taylor 1974, p. 224.
^ a b c Kurtz, Harold, July Plot in Taylor 1974, p. 226.
^ Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death, p. 188.
^ von Schlabrendorff, Fabian, They Almost Killed Hitler, p. 39.
^ Encyclopedia of Contemporary German Culture, "The heroes of West
German accounts at this time were the men involved in the largely
conservative, nationalist resistance of the July Plot of 1944. It was
not until much later that a new generation of left-liberal historians
pointed out just how little many of those involved in the July Plot
actually sympathized with or understood democratic ideas. John
^ "Faith and Democracy: Political Transformations at the German
Protestant Kirchentag", 1949—1969 Benjamin Carl Pearson 2007 In a
similar way, one could argue that the conservative, nationalist
resistance circles that grew up during the war years, whose activity
culminated in the July 1944 Officers Plot
^ Rereading German History: From Unification to Reunification
1800–1996 Richard Evans page 198
^ Kaminski, Joseph. "The Plots to Kill Hitler". Archived from the
original on 7 April 2015.
^ Fest, Joachim. Plotting Hitler's Death: The German Resistance to
Hitler, 1933–1945, 1996, p. 219.
^ Hoffmann, Peter. "Oberst i. G.
Henning von Tresckow
Henning von Tresckow und die
Staatsstreichpläne im Jahr 1943"[permanent dead link].
^ Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death: The German Resistance to Hitler,
1933–1945, 1996, p. 220.
^ Moorhouse, Roger. Killing Hitler. New York: Bantam Books, 2006.
^ Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death, p. 236.
^ Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death, p. 228.
^ Himmler's contacts with the opposition and his possible motives are
discussed by Padfield, Himmler, pp. 419–424.
^ Hoffman, Peter (1996). The History of the German Resistance,
1933–1945. McGill-Queen's Press. ISBN 0-7735-1531-3.
^ Thomsett, Michael C. (1997). The German Opposition to Hitler: The
Resistance, the Underground, and Assassination Plots, 1938–1945.
McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-0372-1.
^ a b c Spiegel.de (in German)
^ Germany remembers the plot to kill hitler at dw. Retrieved 22 July
^ Gitta Sereny (9 August 1996).
Albert Speer His Battle With The
Truth. Picador. ISBN 0330346970.
^ Martin A. Allen (2005). Himmler's Secret War: The Covert Peace
Negotiations of Heinrich Himmler. Robson Books.
^ Galante, Pierre. Operation Valkyrie. Harper and Row, 1981,
ISBN 0-06-038002-0. Photo insert section.
^ German radio broadcast 10 July 2010[permanent dead link] on
Deutschlandfunk (MP3; in German)
^ German radio broadcast 10 July 2010 Archived 5 June 2011 at the
Wayback Machine. on Bayern1 (written version; in German)
^ a b Kutrz, Harold, July Plot in Taylor 1974, p. 227.
^ Galante, pp. 11–12
^ a b Galante, p. 209
^ Hoffman, Peter. The History of the German Resistance, 1933–1945,
^ Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death, pp. 270, 272.
^ Taylor 1974, p. 227.
^ Showalter, D. E., Deutsch, H. C., & Forstchen, W. R. (2010). If
the Allies Had Fallen: Sixty Alternate Scenarios of World War II,
Gestapo claimed 7,000 arrests. This can be found in William L.
Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, ch. 29.
^ Kershaw, Ian.
Hitler 1936–1945: Nemesis, p. 693.
^ Metternich, Tatiana (1976). Purgatory of Fools. Quadrangle.
p. 202. ISBN 0-8129-0691-8.
^ a b See Shirer 1070–1071.
^ William Shirer, The
Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Touchstone
Edition) (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990)
^ Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death, pp. 289–290.
^ "Alleged July Plot Conspirators Executed in Plötzensee Prison".
Archived from the original on 14 May 2009. Retrieved 19 April
^ Heideking, Jürgen; Mauch, Christof (1998). American Intelligence
and the German Resistance to Hitler: A Documentary History.
Widerstand: Dissent and Resistance in the Third Reich Series (revised
ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press. ISBN 978-0-8133-3636-7.
^ Pave the Way Foundation Reveals Evidence of Pope Pius XII's Active
Opposition to Hitler, 29 June 2009. Accessed 4 September 2009.
Archived 6 September 2009.
^ More proof of Hitler's plan to kill Pius XII: Son of German
Intelligence Officer Comes Forward Archived 21 April 2010 at the
Wayback Machine., Zenit News 16 June 2009
^ Italian newspaper reveals details behind Hitler’s plan to kill
Pius XII CBCP News 17 June 2009
^ Ted Harrison: "Alter Kämpfer" im Widerstand. Graf Helldorff, die
NS-Bewegung und die Opposition gegen Hitler. Vierteljahrshefte für
Zeitgeschichte 45(1997) (PDF, 6,5 MB), p. 385-423.
^ Forman, Adrian (1993). Guide to Third Reich German Awards...And
Their Values (2nd Ed.) San Jose, CA: R. James Bender.
^ Angolia, John R. (1976). For
Führer and Fatherland: Military Awards
of the Third Reich (1st Ed.) San Jose, CA: R. James Bender.
Holocaust Denial on Trial: Using History to Confront Distortions
Archived 18 September 2009 at the Wayback Machine.. "Biographies: Otto
Remer," (retrieved on 10 April 2009).
Hitler plot survivor dies aged 90". London:
BBC News Online. 2 May
Hitler assassination plotter Von Kleist dies". London:
Online. 12 March 2013.
^ Büchner, Alex (1991). German Infantry Handbook, 1939–1945:
Organization, Uniforms, Weapons, Equipment, Operations. Schipper
Publishing. ISBN 978-0-88740-284-5
^ The list of proposed appointments from The History of German
Resistance 1933–1945 p. 367.
^ Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich.
^ a b c Beckett 2014, p. 6.
^ Shirer 1960, pp. 1031, 1177.
^ Hart 2014, pp. 142–150.
^ Hart 2014, pp. 139–142.
^ Hart 2014, p. 146.
^ Hart 2014, pp. 145–146.
^ Hart 2014, p. 140: Sourced to Speidel (1950) Invasion 1944: We
Defended Normandy, pp. 68, 73.
^ Reuth 2005, p. tbd.
^ a b Evans 2009, p. 642.
^ Hart 2014, pp. 152.
^ Hart 2014, pp. 141, 152.
^ Reuth 2005, p. 183.
^ Men of 20 July and the war in the Soviet Union. Hannes Heer, Klaus
Naumann (eds.): War Of Extermination: The German Military In World War
II, Berghahn Books; New york, Oxford, 2004, 127–145
^ The Routledge Companion to
Nazi Germany Roderick Stackelberg page
^ a b Christianity and Resistance in the 20th Century: From Kaj Munk
and Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Desmond Tutu (International Studies in
Religion and Society Series) page 134 and 135, 2008
^ Christianity and Resistance in the 20th Century: From Kaj Munk and
Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Desmond Tutu (International Studies in Religion
and Society Series) page 135, 2008
^ Germany: 1933–1990 – Page 96 Heinrich August Winkler – 2007
^ Peter Hoffmann,
Carl Goerdeler and the Jewish question, 1933-1942,
Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2011,
Klaus Jochen Arnold, Verbrecher aus eigener Initiative? Der 20. Juli
1944 und die Thesen Christian Gerlachs
^ German Foreign Policy. By Klaus Hilderbrand page 185-188
^ Alternatives to Hitler: German Resistance Under the Third Reich Hans
Mommsen p. 161
^ German Foreign Policy Klaus Hilderbrand, page 188
^ Peter Hoffman Stauffenberg: A Family History, 1905–1944; page 116;
2003 McGill-Queen's Press
^ War of extermination page 137.
^ a b c d Dittrich, Monika (2014-07-20). "How traitors became heroes".
Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 2014-07-20.
Operation Valkyrie - The "July Plot" to Assassinate
Virtual Library". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved
^ de:20. Juli 1944
^ Der 20. Juli on IMDb
The Night of the Generals
The Night of the Generals on IMDb
^ Claus Graf Stauffenberg on IMDb
^ War and Remembrance part 10 on IMDb
^ The Plot to Kill
Hitler on IMDb
The Restless Conscience on IMDb
Die Stunde der Offiziere on IMDb
^ Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF). "ZDF.de - Startseite - ZDF.de".
Archived from the original on 21 October 2007.
^ Stauffenberg on IMDb
^ "Stauffenberg". www.new-video.de - Das Filmlexikon.
Days That Shook the World on IMDb
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^ Valkyrie on IMDb
^ Operation Valkyrie: The Stauffenberg Plot to Kill
Hitler on IMDb
^ Stauffenberg – Die wahre Geschichte on IMDb
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to 20 July plot.
Grafik – Lagebesprechung Wolfsschanze, 20. Juli 1944
German Opposition to
Hitler and the Assassination Attempt of July 20,