This week marks the 60th anniversary of one of the most famous failed assassinations in history -- the plot to kill German dictator Adolf Hitler. After coming to power through elections in 1933, Hitler established a totalitarian regime, taking increasingly brutal steps to stamp out opposition to Nazi party rule in Germany. Beginning in 1939, the Nazi regime invaded much of Europe and in the process enslaved millions of people in concentration camps, where many were killed, including six-million European Jews. In the face of such ruthless repression, open organized resistance collapsed. But underground, individuals and small groups continued to resist the Nazi regime.
One group of anti-Nazis committed to Hitler’s overthrow included Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, diplomat Ulrich von Hassel, and Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. Colonel Count Claus von Stauffenberg, a decorated combat veteran, was entrusted with the task of killing Hitler. “We have tested ourselves before God and it must be done,” said Stauffenberg, “for that man is evil incarnate.”
On July 20th, 1944, Stauffenberg met with Hitler and his advisers at army headquarters. In his briefcase he carried a time bomb. The bomb killed four men, but not the dictator. Stauffenberg was arrested and shot the same day. Thousands of Germans were executed in reprisal for the plot. The principal leaders were subjected to a show trial, and, on Hitler’s orders, hanged with piano wire from meat hooks.
Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist was a twenty-two-year-old army lieutenant and part of the conspiracy to kill Hitler. He was arrested and interned in a concentration camp. Speaking of the failed assassination attempt, Kleist said, “We had to try something. The things being done by those criminals in Germany’s name were simply appalling.”
In a recent church service in Berlin, Germany’s leading Protestant bishop, Wolfgang Huber, said, “Our society, and also our church, struggled for a long time to honor the plans and the daring” of the Nazi resistance. “Those who sacrificed their lives during those days did not die in vain. Their example lives on.”
Bishop Huber said that Germans should be proud of the “men and women of July 20th because they stood up for universal values. They saw [that] where remaining idle would result in complicity, resistance is an ethical duty. All of them, in their own way, took a stand in the cause of human dignity.”