Many attempts were made to take Adolf Hitler’s life, and those that got closest were part of his inner circle. One such attempt was Operation Valkyrie, undertaken in 1944 by a group of high-ranking Nazi officials.
On July 20th, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg hid a a small suitcase under a conference table in the “Fuehrerhauptquartier” in East Prussia, aka “The Wolf’s Lair.” The suitcase held two bombs, meant to kill Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Hermann Goering along with other Nazi leaders. The plan was the conspirators would take control of Germany, concede to the Allies, and end the war.
This plan did not pan out. Stauffenberg had only been able to activate one bomb due to war injuries, and the explosion, though it did kill four of those at the meeting, only broke the Führer’s eardrum. Stauffenberg had returned to the Berlin to meet with his fellow conspirators, where they learned that Hitler had survived. From here the coup fell to pieces and violent, confused pandemonium broke out at the Bendlerblock building.
General Ludwig Beck immediately attempted suicide with a rifle. He survived, but was soon shot in the neck by Nazi soldiers. Some of the resistance switched sides and named their fellow conspirators so that they themselves might survive. One of these was Gerneral Friedrich Fromm, who formed a one man court martial and ordered Stauffenberg, General Friedrich Oberlicht, Oberleutnant Werner von Haefter, and Colonel Albrecht Mertz von Quirnheim put to death. They were executed by firing squad in the Bendlerblock courtyard that night.
One day later Major General Henning von Tresckow killed himself with a hand grenade, knowing the torture that awaited him. Two days later Fromm arrested and dishonorably discharged himself when his connection to the plot was bubbling to the surface. This only revealed his own vacillation between the Nazis and the Resistance. He was tried, charged with cowardice before the enemy, and shot to death as well.
Berthold von Stauffenberg, Claus’ older brother and co-conspirator, was tried in August 1944 and sentenced to death. Before he finally was hanged to death he was repeatedly strangled and then revived. The proceedings were filmed for Hitler so he could view them later.
Hitler and Himmler were both furious and paranoid following the assassination attempt. They enacted the Sippenhaft, or “blood guilt”, laws. If the families of the Operation Valkyrie conspirators were unable to flee in time, they were arrested, tortured, and sent to concentration camps. The children of the conspirators were taken out of their homes, their names changed, and they were relocated in homes with true Nazi families. All in all, some 7,000 people were arrested in connection with the assassination attempt (many of whom had absolutely nothing to do with it). Nearly 5,000 of them were executed.
In 1953 a monument was erected in the courtyard of the Bendlerblock. It is dedicated to the men who lost their lives during the coup on July 20th 1944. In 1960 a plaque was added. It reads: “Here died for Germany on July 20th 1944 Generaloberst Ludwig Beck – General der Infanterie Friedrich Olbricht – Oberst Claus Graf Schenk von Stauffenberg – Oberst Albrecht Ritter Mertz von Quirnheim – Oberleutnant Werner von Haeften.”
Part of the Bendlerblock houses a memorial and museum to the German Resistance. The historical site provides a comprehensive history of organized resistance to the Nazi party and the July 20 assassination attempt. As the site of executions, the courtyard and its statue, “Young Man With Hands Tied”, serve as a chilling memorial to those who died in an attempt to overthrow Hitler.
Know Before You Go
Every Sunday at 3:00 there is a guided tour in German. Reservation not necessary. Audiotours in German, English, French, Italian, Spanish, Polish and Turkish can be given during any open hours. Entrance and all tours are free of charge.