July 20th Bombing

Courtesy of Warfare History Network

This picture is the aftermath of the 20th July bombing of a conference room in Wolfsschanze, that was intended to kill Hitler. However, when the bomb went off, the table protected him from most of the blast, as is shown above. This table led to the failure of not just Hitler’s assassination attempt, but the entire 20th July plot to overthrow the Nazi party.

“Stauffenberg: A Family History, 1905-1944”

Hoffmann, Peter. Stauffenberg: A Family History, 1905-1944. 3rd ed. . Montréal [Québec] ; Ithaca [N.Y.]: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008.

Peter Hoffman, a historian who works at McGill University in Montreal, specializes in German resistance against National Socialism, and Claus Stauffenberg in particular. His various works on Stauffenberg and the German resistance is very helpful in understanding Germany within itself, amid the time right before World War II and during the war.

Hoffman’s book Stauffenberg follows Claus von Stauffenberg, the man at the head of Operation Valkyrie, and his family. Starting with the Stauffenberg brothers in their childhood, the work traces Claus’s life up to the aftermath of his execution. The beginning of the book reveals that the Stauffenburgs were one of the oldest and most distinguished aristocratic families in Germany. Thus it is unsurprising that Claus and his brothers received a high education and that Claus joined and rose quickly through the military. What is slightly less expected is that Claus seemed to display misgivings about Hitler’s polices and an extreme dislike of the ill-treatment of the Jews and religious suppression, even before the war. He never became a member of the Nazi party and found many ideals of the party detestable. However, when approached by his uncle to resist Hitler’s regime, Claus declined. He felt that German soldiers were bound by their oaths to pledge their allegiance not just to the Reich, but to Hitler himself, despite his many misgivings. It wasn’t until witnessing the Polish campaign and the mass executions of the Jews in the invasion of the Soviet Union, that Claus began to change his mind about rebellion. After being severely injured in North Africa and sent home to rehabilitate, Claus had his first actual opportunity to join the coup that planned to take down the Reich.

From 1943 to 1944, Claus became the driving force behind the operation. He decided that he must personally kill Hitler, and attempt to take Germany from Berlin. Since he was the one who had the best access to Hitler, out of all those involved in the conspiracy, he knew that he had to be the one to attempt it. The attempt to assassinate Hitler at the Wolf’s Lair on July 20 1944, is very well recorded and detailed by Hoffman. As is the launch and then failure of the operation, and Stauffenberg’s execution. Hoffman even includes translated documents in the back of his book, as well as a detailed index and bibliography.

Ludwig Beck’s Addendum

Ludwig Beck. Addendum. July 19, 1938. In Behind Valkyrie, 326. By  Peter Hoffman. London: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011

This primary source is an addendum written by Lieutenant-General Ludwig Beck within his own personal briefing notes. In this addendum, Beck, who was Chief General of the Army of Germany in the late 1930s, wrote about his belief that the conflict in Germany’s foreign policy during Hitler’s early years in power was in fact due to the corruption of the Nazi party leaders, rather than Hitler himself. As time went on Beck realized that Hitler was truly the root of the conflict, and that he needed to be removed from power; so Beck resigned his post and joined the 20th July plot to assassinate him. This plot was also known as Operation Valkyrie.

Ludwig Beck was Chief of the General Staff of the Army of Germany from 1935 to 1938 when he resigned due to foreign policy disagreements with Hitler. It was with this resignation that Beck joined Claus von Stauffenberg and many others in the July 20th conspiracy plot to assassinate Hitler and overthrow the Nazi party. He was a main figure in the plot, and had the plot succeeded he would have taken over as the provisional head of state. As it was, the operation failed and Beck was arrested and killed.[1]

Written on the 19th of July in 1938, Beck describes his desire to keep Germany from going to war with Britain and France; and for Germany and Hitler himself to be free from the corrupt politics of the party bosses. Beck’s unhappiness with the SS and SA party is clearly stated within the addendum, along with his desire to avoid war. Beck was never a member of the Nazi party and originally, throughout most of the 30s, Beck supported Hitler and believed that Germany needed a strong government.[2] It was the Nazi party and its leaders that he felt were the real problem and source of the policies he disagreed with. However, as years went by it became more evident to Beck that the problem did not lie solely with the party leaders. He became more and more disillusioned with the choices Hitler and the rest of the government were making, and came to believe that both Hitler and Nazi party needed to be removed from government. This information gives depth to one of the many characters that were involved in the plot. It showcases how complicated and confusing the time was, and how what the members of the German government perceived of what was happening was constantly changing, and not always so clear for them to make decisions about.

On the 5th of Novemeber in 1937 Hitler convened a meeting of the War Minister about his plans to conquer Czechoslovakia, annex Austria, and to generally expand Germany’s reach.[3] Though Beck wasn’t at the meeting personally, he was informed of it by Colonel Friedrich Hossbach. As stated in his briefing notes, Beck believed these plans to be an “ignorant misjudgment”, considering Britain and France’s obvious objection to Germany’s expansion.[4] Beck worried that this would bring all-out war, and believed peaceful negotiations had not been exhausted.  When Hitler ordered an attack on Czechoslovakia on the 13th of December, Beck noted that France, as an ally, would probably respond, along with Great Britain. He also noted that the German army would not be prepared to take on all three countries until at least 1942.[5] He tried to demonstrate, through General Staff exercises, that Germany could not possibly win against these combined forces. He felt that such a war would result in “a war to the death against Germany.”[6] Beck’s addendum expresses all of these beliefs and opinions. It shows that during this time in 1938 he is still supportive of the Fuhrer, just not the foreign policy decisions being made. In a series of exclamations that are presumably to emphasize his main points, he states, “For the Fuhrer! Against the War! Against the tyranny of the Party bosses!..”[7] This addendum provides proof and explanation of Beck’s beliefs that led him to resign his position and join the 20th July plot against Hitler.

This source can help answer questions about Beck’s allegiance and motivation to join the plot. With context, it displays the journey Beck took that led to his arrest and death, and the reasons he took such a big risk in committing treason and switching sides against his own government.

Some important things in the source would be that Beck wasn’t actually against Hitler at first, which this document shows, and that he didn’t blame Hitler for the foreign policy issues, but the party leaders instead. Another is that he was more or less open about his opinion that the way things were in Germany were not going in a good direction. Beck’s dissent was noticed by foreign diplomatic envoys such as British Military Attache, Colonel F. Noel Mason-Macfarlane, who remarked on an “outspoken criticism of Nazi Party by General Beck at a small dinner party…He spoke in general terms, but made no effort to disguise the fact that he views many of the activities of the Government with profound mistrust and disapproval.”[8] These elements are particularly thought-provoking considering the danger of openly expressing dissent with the party at this time. It is also intriguing to learn that Beck blamed the party and not Hitler for the foreign policy plans in the beginning considering that Beck ended up being a part of the operation to remove him in the end.

Some things that would require further investigation are researching some of the other people that Beck mentions must be spoken to and made to understand how serious and dangerous the situation could become for Germany; this along with more research into the Cheka and other policies that the party was trying to instrument at this time. Another question that needs some examination is why Beck didn’t blame Hitler in the beginning. Why did he think that it was only the party leaders at fault? And what specifically made him change his mind later?

[1] Muller, General Ludwig Beck, 549 (doc. No. 49)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Hoffmann Peter, Behind Valkyrie (London, McGill-Queen’s University Press) 322-323.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Beck, Ludwig. Addendum (July 19, 1938).