July 21st in German History: Claus von Stauffenberg Dies

Claus von Stauffenberg (1907-1944).jpg
Klaus von Stauffenberg.

Nazi Germany attempted to create a German people unified against its enemies. The idea of one nation united behind the supreme leader was integral to fascism, and so the existence of a resistance within Germany undermined the viability of the Nazi ideology. The greatest example of resistance is the 20th July plot, which saw German officers, led by Klaus von Stauffenberg, attempt to kill Adolf Hitler. In doing so, he undermined the unity of Nazi Germany at a time when it was already losing the Second World War. For this, he was executed on July 21st, 1944.

On November 15th, 1907, Klaus von Stauffenberg was born in Bavaria. He was born into one of the most prestigious Catholic noble families of Imperial Germany. In 1926 he joined a cavalry regiment and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1930. His unit was commanded by one of the leaders of the planned 1938 coup, and he was involved in the Georgekris circle, which would produce many resistance members. He initially supported Hitler’s policies, but following the Night of the Long Knives and Kristallnacht, and also because of the persistent oppression of Catholics in Germany, he turned against the regime. Stauffenberg took part in the invasions of Poland and France, for his role in the latter operation he earned an Iron Cross. During the North Africa campaign, in 1943, he was wounded severely. He lost an eye and his right hand, along with two fingers on his left. He was transferred to the Replacement Army, which was charged with training soldiers, and there began seriously plotting the overthrow of Hitler’s government. His plan called for the assassination of Hitler, peace with the Western allies, and the use of regular army units to dismantle the SS and the Gestapo. On July 20th, 1944, he was to take part in a briefing which Hitler would attend. He carried with him a briefcase within which were two bombs. His injuries prevented him from arming both bombs in time, and he was forced to place the briefcase next to Hitler with only one bomb armed. The briefcase was moved such that a heavy wooden table leg was between it and Hitler. Thus, when it exploded Hitler received only minor injuries, although four other people in the room were killed. Stauffenberg returned to Berlin and attempted to initiate the military uprising. However, Hitler’s survival stopped any large-scale action from being taken, and Stauffenberg was arrested and executed by firing squad after he was exposed by co-conspirator Friederich Fromm.

Regardless of Stauffenberg’s motivations, his attempt to kill Adolf Hitler was still an important act of resistance. It showed that the German people were not behind their Furher, and it further destabilized the German government. Over 20,000 people would be killed in the purges that followed the plot. The deaths of so many people, many of whom had no involvement in the plot whatsoever, further weakened Germany’s military efforts and extended the length of the war. Resistance from within, even when unsuccessful, can still weaken a tyrannical regime such that it can be toppled from without.

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