Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg
From autumn 1943 on, Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg
becomes a decisive factor in the struggle against Hitler.
In 1933, he initially feels that National Socialist policy
offers Germany favorable opportunities but is soon
alienated by the regime's racial ideology. Yet Stauffenberg
only assumes an active role in opposing the regime once he
realizes the consequences of German policy in eastern
Europe and can estimate the full extent of the damage that
Hitler's war has brought upon Germany and Europe.
Under the influence of Henning von Tresckow, General
Friedrich Olbricht, and First Lieutenant Fritz-Dietlof Graf
von der Schulenburg of the army reserve, Stauffenberg
becomes a focal point of the military conspiracy. He
establishes important links to civilian resistance groups
and coordinates his assassination plans with Carl Friedrich
Goerdeler and Ludwig Beck, and with the conspirators
waiting in readiness in Paris, Vienna, Berlin, and at Army
Stauffenberg's Way to the Assassination Attempt of July 20,
In early April 1943, Stauffenberg is severely wounded in
Tunisia, barely escaping death. During the months of his
convalescence, he gradually comes to realize he must take
an active part in resistance.
Even in earlier years, the church's struggle, the
persecution of the Jews, and the crimes in eastern Europe
have alienated Stauffenberg from the National Socialist
state. His closest confidant is his brother Berthold, who
has had contacts to the opposition for a long time. After
an extended period of convalescence, Colonel Claus Schenk
Graf von Stauffenberg is appointed to the post of chief of
staff of the General Army Office in October 1943. From June
1944 on, he also serves as chief of staff for the
commanding officer of the Ersatzheer (Reserve Army),
General Friedrich Olbricht, at Olbricht's request. In this
position he has clearance to attend briefings at Hitler's
headquarters in the so-called "Wolf's Lair" near Rastenburg
in East Prussia. Olbricht informs Stauffenberg of his plans
for a coup and introduces him to members of the resistance
groups around Ludwig Beck and Carl Friedrich Goerdeler.
Stauffenberg has a great deal of charisma and is valued for
his professional expertise. He brings many opponents of the
regime together and makes close friends among them not only
military officers but also Social Democrats like Julius
Leber, members of the Kreisau Circle like Adam von Trott zu
Solz, and representatives of the labor union movement like
Jakob Kaiser and Wilhelm Leuschner.
The Planning of Operation "Valkyrie"
The conspirators from the civilian and military resistance
groups realize that the military leadership cannot be
induced to act in concert. They concentrate their efforts
on eliminating Hitler, gaining control of the military
chain of command, and assuming the responsibilities of
government in Germany.
They make use of plans developed for putting down civil
disturbances and insurrections by the foreign slave
laborers. These plans provide for entrusting executive
power and military authority to the commander of the
Reserve Army in such cases.
The conspirators alter these plans, code-named "Valkyrie,"
several times, adapting them to the respective applicable
conditions. With the aid of the "Valkyrie" orders, they
intend to gain control of key government, Party, and
Wehrmacht offices in Berlin so they can pave the way for
the coup throughout Germany and at the front.
Hitler's Headquarters "Wolf's Lair" near Rastenburg in East
In the winter of 1940-41 immediately before the invasion of
the Soviet Union in June 1941, Hitler establishes his new
headquarters near Rastenburg. During the following years,
extensive bunker systems are built, which are sealed off
from the rest of the world by restricted areas. The
extensive forests of East Prussia, the moors of the
surrounding countryside, and the location of the
headquarters beyond the range of Allied bombers appear to
offer the greatest possible measure of protection. As
German troops advance far into the Soviet Union, a second
Fhrer's headquarters is established at Vinnitsa in the
Ukraine. The importance of the "Wolf's Lair" in Prussia
increases as the Wehrmacht retreats, and the site becomes
Hitler's preferred location. When several attempts to
eliminate Hitler by assassination fail in 1943, the
conspirators decide to kill him here in the central bastion
of his power.
The Assassination Attempt of July 20, 1944
Despite great difficulties, Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von
Stauffenberg succeeds in arming a bomb and planting it
under a map table in Hitler's vicinity a few minutes before
a briefing in the "Wolf's Lair." Stauffenberg is able to
leave the room without being noticed and observes the
detonation from a safe distance. Unfortunate coincidences
prevent the attempt from succeeding, and Hitler survives.
The heavy oak table he is leaning over when the bomb
explodes shields his body.
Yet Stauffenberg is convinced that his assassination
attempt has been successful. Together with his adjutant and
fellow conspirator Werner von Haeften, he succeeds in
leaving the headquarters for Berlin within minutes of the
explosion immediately before the area is sealed off.
July 20, 1944, in the Bendler Block
After the assassination attempt, valuable hours are lost in
Berlin before the "Valkyrie" orders can be issued.
Executive power is to be transferred to the commander of
the Reserve Army. Key command centers and communication
facilities must be occupied, and the SS units stationed in
Berlin must be kept away from the center of the conspiracy
The conspirators rely on Berlin's city commandant, a few
friends in important positions, and Berlin's chief of
police. A few members of civilian resistance groups come to
the Bendler Block. Even a few younger officers stationed in
Potsdam assume functions here. They are joined by some
other officers who have purposely not been informed about
the coup during its initial phases but who follow the
orders of the conspirators.
The Failure of the Coup Attempt of July 20, 1944
The conspirators hope to be able to mobilize formations in
Berlin and throughout Germany against the National
Socialist leaders through normal command channels. To do
so, they require intact lines of communication.
Since Hitler has survived the bombing, the conspirators'
helpers at Hitler's headquarters are not able to interrupt
telephone and radio communications with the outside world
for long. This puts Hitler, Himmler, Bormann, and Keitel in
a position to issue countermanding orders late in the
afternoon that frustrate all the conspirators' efforts.
Many officers in key positions on Bendlerstrasse and in the
military districts now cite their oath of allegiance and
remain loyal to Hitler.
Friedrich Fromm, commander of the Reserve Army, refuses to
join the conspirators. Late that evening he orders the
execution of the four main conspirators by a firing squad.
After the Assassination Attempt
After the unsuccessful assassination attempt, Hitler
addresses the German public in a radio speech. He depicts
himself as an instrument of "providence," accusing "a small
clique" of ambitious officers of having committed treason
in their hunger for power.
The following days bring with them a profusion of speeches
avowing loyalty. Appeals, newspaper articles, and speeches
are staged to stir up public sentiment throughout Germany.
The aim is to irreversibly transform the Wehrmacht into a
mainstay of National Socialist ideology while neutralizing
the influence of the officer corps. The propaganda soon
begins to take effect. Accounts of public morale give the
impression that Hitler is again able to kindle renewed
enthusiasm among the German people. While many bulletins
are exaggerated, many Germans undoubtedly disapprove of the