June 29th in German History: General Ludwig Beck is Born

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1980-033-04, Ludwig Beck.jpg
General Ludwig Beck.

Something often forgot when studying Nazi Germany is that many of its early supporters turned against the regime as it became more extreme. One such man was Ludwig Beck, a general who was the Chief of the German General Staff. He was born on June 29th, 1880.

Ludwig Beck was born in Biebrich in Hesse-Nassau. He was given a Prussian military education and was a staff officer during the First World War and served in staff roles after it. Initially, he supported Nazism, believing that it could strengthen Germany if Hitler was influenced by the traditional military class rather than the SS or the SA. He defended three officers charged with Nazi Party membership in 1930, at that point it was illegal to serve in the army and be a member o the Nazi Party. He served as Chief of Staff during the 1930s and supported the demilitarization of the Rhineland. However, he initially refused to support the invasion of Austria, but set about planning for it once it became clear that France and Britain would not oppose the Anschluss. However, Beck was staunchly opposed to war with Czechoslovakia, believing that it would draw in France and that Germany was not yet ready for conflict with that nation. Further, he thought that Hitler was giving too much power to the SS and that the SS was influencing the Fuhrer’s decisions. He sent Hitler several memorandums arguing against war and began campaigning for mass resignation of army officers in order to convince the government to postpone its plans. However Hitler was able to win most of the generals over and Beck resigned on the 18th of August, 1938. He soon began plotting to overthrow Hitler, and became one of the central figures in the group of officers who sought to end the Nazi regime. During the war he planned several attempts to kill Hitler and by 1944 had been chosen as the head of state if the plans to kill Hitler were successful. He was a key member of the 20 July Plot and when it failed was taken into custody by General Friedrich Fromm. He shot himself to avoid torture but succeeded only in inflicting a severe head wound, necessitating one of Fromm’s men finish him off. He was buried secretly in the night.

Ludwig Beck almost certainly helped Nazism gain acceptance within the German military during the early years of Hitler’s rule. However, he eventually saw the danger that Hitler posed to Germany and turned against him. He died attempting to overthrow Hitler, and he should be remembered for his noble, if in vain, sacrifice.

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