Erwin von Witzleben : Nazi Germany

Erwin von Witzleben : Nazi Germany

Erwin von Witzleben was born in Breslau, Germany on 4th December, 1881. He joined the German Army in March 1901 as a second lieutenant in the 7th Grenadier Regiment.

On the outbreak of the First World War Witzleben he was appointed Adjutant of the 19th Reserve Brigade. He served on the Western Front where he won the Iron Cross. In April 1917, Witzleben assumed command of a battalion in the 6th Infantry. The following year he became General Staff Officer to the 108th Infantry Division.

Witzleben remained in the army and in January 1921 was given command of the 8th Machine Gun Company. He was on the General Staff of the Wehrkries IV (1922-25), 12th Cavalry Regiment (1925-26) and Infantry Command III (1926-28). W became Chief of Staff of Wehrkries IV (1929-31) and commander of the 8th Infantry Regiment (1931-33).

In 1934 Witzleben was promoted to major general and appointed commander of Wehrkries III, replacing General Werner von Fitsch, who was named Commander in Chief of the Army.

An opponent of Adolf Hitler and his government in Nazi Germany, Witzleben joined with Erich von Manstein, Wilhelm Leeb and Gerd von Rundstedt to demand a military inquiry into the death of Kurt von Schleicher following the Night of the Long Knives. However, the Defence Minister, Werner von Blomberg, refused to allow it to take place.

Witzleben was furious when his friend, General Werner von Fitsch, was dismissed as Commander in Chief of the Army on a trumped up charge of homosexuality. He was now a staunch anti-Nazi who began considering the possibility of a military coup against Hitler. The Gestapo became aware of his criticisms of Hitler and in 1938 he was forced to take early retirement. Witzleben plotted with anti-Nazis such as Ludwig Beck, Franz Halder, Wilhelm Canaris, Hans Oster, Wolf von Helldorf, Kurt Hammerstein-Equord and Erich Hoepner and they considered the possibility of a military coup.

On the outbreak of the Second World War Witzleben was recalled to the German Army. In the invasion of France Witzleben commanded the 1st Army. His troops broke through the Maginot Line in June, 1940 and then occupied Alsace-Lorraine. As a result of this action Witzleben was promoted to the rank of field marshal.

Witzleben remained in France and after the failure of the Operation Barbarossa he once again began plotting against Adolf Hitler. The Gestapo was informed that he was once again being critical of the government and in 1942 Witzleben was called back to Germany and retired.

Witzleben spent the next two years at his country estate. He kept in touch with anti-Nazis and in 1944 became involved in the July Plot. After Claus von Stauffenberg planted the bomb the conspirators thought that Hitler had been killed and Witzleben was installed as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and Erich Hoepner as Commander of the Home Army.

On 21st July, 1944 Witzleben was arrested and during his trial he was humiliated by being forced to appear in court without his belt and false teeth. Erwin von Witzleben was found guilty of treason and on 8th August, 1944 was executed by being hung by piano wire from a meat hook.

I will crush and destroy the criminals who have dared to oppose themselves to Providence and to me. These traitors to their own people deserve ignominious death, and this is what they shall have. This time the full price will be paid by all those who are involved, and by their families, and by all those who have helped them. This nest of vipers who have tried to sabotage the grandeur of my Germany will be exterminated once and for all.

To create order, I have appointed Himmler Commander of the Reserve Army. I am convinced that with the disappearance of this very small clique of traitors and conspirators we are finally creating in the homeland the atmosphere which the fighters at the front need.

It is unthinkable that at the front, hundreds of thousands, no millions, of good men should be giving their all while a small gang of ambitious and miserable creatures here at home tries perpetually to sabotage them. This time we are going to settle accounts with them in the way we National Socialists are used to doing.

Imagine a room with a low ceiling and whitewashed walls. Below the ceiling a rail was fixed. From it hung six big hooks, like those butchers use to hang their meat. In one corner stood a movie camera. Reflectors cast a dazzling, blinding light. At the wall there was a small table with a bottle of cognac and glasses for the witnesses of the execution. The hangman wore a permanent leer, and made jokes unceasingly. The camera worked uninterruptedly, for Hitler wanted to see and hear how his enemies died. He had the executioner come to him, and had personally arranged the details of the procedure. "I want them to be hanged, hung up like carcasses of meat." Those were his words.

Field Marshal Witzleben freely admitted his part in the assassination attempt. He and the others were found guilty the next day and sentenced to hang that afternoon. Hitler had ordered that they be hung like cattle. "I want to see them hanging like carcasses in a slaughterhouse!" he commanded. The entire event was filmed by the Reich Film Corporation. Witzleben was first. Despite his poor showing at the trial, Witzleben met his death with courage and with as much dignity as was possible under the circumstances. A thin wire noose was placed around his neck, and the other end was secured to a meat hook. The executioner and his assistant then picked up the sixty-four-year-old soldier and dropped him so that his entire weight fell on his neck. They then pulled off his trousers so that he hung naked and twisted in agony as he slowly strangled. It took him almost five minutes to die, but he never once cried out. The other seven condemned men were executed in the same manner within an hour. They were followed over the next eight months by hundreds of others.


Erwin von Witzleben

Erwin von Witzleben was born in Breslau, Germany on December 4, 1881. He joined the German Army in March 1901 as a second lieutenant in the 7th Grenadier Regiment.

On the outbreak of the First World War Witzleben he was appointed Adjutant of the 19th Reserve Brigade. He served on the Western Front where he won the Iron Cross. In April 1917, Witzleben assumed command of a battalion in the 6th Infantry. The following year he became General Staff Officer to the 108th Infantry Division.

Witzleben remained in the army and in January 1921 was given command of the 8th Machine Gun Company. He was on the General Staff of the Wehrkries IV (1922-25), 12th Cavalry Regiment (1925-26) and Infantry Command III (1926-28). W became Chief of Staff of Wehrkries IV (1929-31) and commander of the 8th Infantry Regiment (1931-33).

In 1934 Witzleben was promoted to major general and appointed commander of Wehrkries III, replacing General Werner von Fitsch, who was named Commander in Chief of the Army.

An opponent of Adolf Hitler and his government in Nazi Germany, Witzleben joined with Erich von Manstein, Wilhelm Leeb and Gerd von Rundstedt to demand a military inquiry into the death of Kurt von Schleicher following the Night of the Long Knives. However, the Defence Minister, Werner von Blomberg, refused to allow it to take place.

Witzleben was furious when his friend, General Werner von Fitsch, was dismissed as Commander in Chief of the Army on a trumped up charge of homosexuality. He was now a staunch anti-Nazi who began considering the possibility of a military coup against Hitler. The Gestapo became aware of his criticisms of Hitler and in 1938 he was forced to take early retirement. Witzleben plotted with anti-Nazis such as Ludwig Beck, Franz Halder, Wilhelm Canaris, Hans Oster, Wolf von Helldorf, Kurt Hammerstein-Equord and Erich Hoepner and they considered the possibility of a military coup.

On the outbreak of the Second World War, Witzleben was recalled to the German Army. In the invasion of France Witzleben commanded the 1st Army. His troops broke through the Maginot Line in June 1940 and then occupied Alsace-Lorraine. As a result of this action, Witzleben was promoted to the rank of field marshal.

Witzleben remained in France and after the failure of the Operation Barbarossa he once again began plotting against Adolf Hitler. The Gestapo was informed that he was once again being critical of the government and, in 1942, Witzleben was called back to Germany and retired.

Witzleben spent the next two years at his country estate. He kept in touch with anti-Nazis and, in 1944, became involved in the July Plot. After Claus von Stauffenberg planted the bomb, the conspirators thought that Hitler had been killed, and Witzleben was installed as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and Erich Hoepner as Commander of the Home Army.

On July 21, 1944, Witzleben was arrested and during his trial he was humiliated by being forced to appear in court without his belt and false teeth. Erwin von Witzleben was found guilty of treason and on August 8, 1944, was executed by being hung by piano wire from a meat hook.


Field Marshals and Generals who were executed

Post by wolfguy » 03 Oct 2007, 22:21

Can anyone provide the names of all the Field Marshals and Generals of all services who were either executed or forced to commit suicide by the regime?

Post by Kingfish » 04 Oct 2007, 02:42

I can't name all of them, but three suicides that come to mind would be Rommel, von Kluge and Dollman, although I've read accounts that the latter died of a heart attack instead.

Interestingly enough, all held top level commands in the Normandy front, and all died within a span of a month and a half.

Talk about job related stress!

Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben
General Erich Fellgiebel
General Erich Hoepner
General Karl Paul Immanuel von Hase

Post by Ryan81 » 04 Oct 2007, 19:46

Post by Ryan81 » 05 Oct 2007, 09:21

Post by wolfguy » 05 Oct 2007, 10:01

That's the info I am looking for. 84 Generals executed by Hitler's regime. That's a lot. I guess he didn't trust his commanders. Is it possible to have a Master List with the names of all these Generals and the dates they were executed.

Post by Phil Nix » 05 Oct 2007, 12:41

Post by mulisch » 05 Oct 2007, 17:14

Could you tell me the reason why the generals Bernhard Waber and Bernhard Waber where executed on 06.02.1945 ?

Post by Alecci » 05 Oct 2007, 23:03

BECK, Ludwig
Generaloberst a.D. (01.Nov.1938), former Chief of Army General Staff
Born 29.Jun.1880 in Biebrich
Dismissed from the Armed Forces
Committed suicide 20.Jul.1944 in Berlin

CANARIS, Wilhelm
Admiral a.D. (01.Jan.1940), former Chief of Military Counter-Intelligence Agency
Born 01.Jan.1887 in Aplerbeck
Murdered 09.Apr.1945 in KZ Flossenbürg

GRAF zu DOHNA-TOLKSDORF, Heinrich
Generalmajor a.D. (01.Jun.1942), former Chief of General Staff in 20th Deputy Corps Command (Danzig)
Born 15.Feb.1882 in Waldburg
Sentenced to death 14.Sep.1944 by order of the People’s Court
Executed 14.Sep.1944 in Berlin-Plötzensee

FELLGIEBEL, Erich
General der Nachrichtentruppe (01.Aug.1940), Chief of Armed Forces Communications
Born 04.Oct.1886 in Pöpelwitz
Arrested 20.Jul.1944 at Wolfsschanze
Expelled from the Armed Forces at recommendation of the Army Court of Honor 04.Aug.1944
Sentenced to death 10.Aug.1944 by order of the People’s Court
Executed 4.Sep.1944 in Berlin-Plötzensee

von HASE, Paul
Generalleutnant (01.Apr.1940), Commandant of Berlin
Bearer of the German Cross in Silver (30.Dec.1943)
Born 14.Jul.1885 in Hannover
Arrested 20.Jul.1944 in Berlin
Expelled from the Armed Forces at recommendation of the Army Court of Honor 04.Aug.1944
Sentenced to death 08.Aug.1944 by order of the People’s Court
Executed 08.Aug.1944 in Berlin-Plötzensee

HEISTERMANN von ZIEHLBERG, Gustav
Generalleutnant (01.Jun.1944), Commanding General of 28th Jäger Division
Bearer of the Knight’s Cross (27.Jul.1944)
Born 10.Dec.1898 in Hohensalza
Arrested 19.Nov.1944 in ?
Executed 02.Feb.1945 in Spandau

HERFURTH, Otto
Generalmajor (10.Oct.1943), Chief of General Staff in 3rd Deputy Corps Command (Berlin)
Bearer of the Knight’s Cross (18.Sep.1942)
Born 22.Jan.1893 in Hasserode
Arrested 14.Aug.1944 in Berlin
Sentenced to death 09.Sep.1944 by order of the People’s Court
Executed 09.Sep.1944 in Berlin-Plötzensee

HOEPNER, Erich
Generaloberst a.D. (19.Jul.1940), former Commander-in-Chief of 4th Panzer Army
Bearer of the Knight’s Cross (27.Oct.1939)
Born 14.Sep.1886 in Frankfurt an der Oder
Arrested 20.Jul.1944 in Berlin
Sentenced to death 07.Aug.1944 by order of the People’s Court
Executed 08.Aug.1944 in Berlin-Plötzensee

von KLUGE, Hans-Günther
Generalfeldmarschall (19.Jul.1940), Commander-in-Chief West
Bearer of the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (29.Oct.1943)
Born 30.Oct.1882 in Posen
Committed suicide 19.Aug.1944 near Verdun

LINDEMANN, Fritz
General der Artillerie (01.Dec.1943), Chief of Artillery with Army Weapons Inspectorate
Bearer of the Knight’s Cross (04.Sep.1941) and the German Cross in Gold (23.Aug.1942)
Born 11.Apr.1894 in Berlin-Charlottenburg
Expelled from the Armed Forces at recommendation of the Army Court of Honor 05.Aug.1944
Arrested 03.Sep.1944 in Dresden, mortally wounded during arrest
Died 22.Sep.1944 in Berlin

OLBRICHT, Friedrich
General der Infanterie (01.Jun.1940), Chief of General Army Office
Bearer of the Knight’s Cross (27.Oct.1939) and the German Cross in Silver (01.Aug.1943)
Born 04.Oct.1888 in Leisnig
Sentenced to death 20.Jul.1944 by order of court-martial
Executed 20.Jul.1944 in Berlin

OSTER, Hans
Generalmajor a.D. (01.12.1942), former Chief of Z Branch in Military Counter-Intelligence Agency
Murdered 09.Apr.1945 in KZ Flossenbürg

von RABENAU, Friedrich
General der Artillerie (01.09.1940, dismissed 31.08.1943), Chief of Army Archives
Born 10.Oct.1884 in ?
Executed 15.Apr.1945 in KZ Flossenbürg

ROMMEL, Erwin
Generalfeldmarschall (21.Jun.1942), Commander-in-Chief of Army Group B
Born 15.Nov.1891 in Heidenheim
Bearer of the Pour le Mérite (10.Dec.1917) and the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds (11.Mar.1943)
Forced suicide 14.Oct.1944 in Herrlingen bei Ulm

SACK, Karl
Generalstabsrichter (01.05.1944), Chief Judge of the Army
Born 09.Jun.1896 in Bosenheim
Murdered 09.Apr.1945 in KZ Flossenbürg

STIEFF, Helmuth
Generalmajor (30.Jan.1944), Chief of Organization Branch in Army General Staff
Born 06.Jun.1901 in Deutsch-Eylau
Arrested 21.Jul.1944 at Wolfsschanze
Sentenced to death 08.Aug.1945 by order of the People’s Court
Executed 08.Aug.1944 in Berlin-Plötzensee

von STÜLPNAGEL, Karl-Heinrich
General der Infanterie (01.Mar.1939), Military Governor of France
Bearer of the Knight’s Cross (21.Aug.1941) and the German Cross in Silver (14.Feb.1944)
Born 02.Jan.1886 in Berlin
Arrested 21.Jul.1944 in Paris
Sentenced to death 30.Aug.1944 by order of the People’s Court
Executed 30.Aug.1944 in Berlin-Plötzensee

THIELE, Fritz
Generalleutnant (01.Jan.1944), Chief Staff with Chief of Armed Forces Communications
Born 14.Apr.1894 in Berlin
Arrested 11.Aug.1944 in Berlin
Sentenced to death 21.Aug.1944 by order of the People’s Court
Executed 4.Sep.1944 in Berlin-Plötzensee

FREIHERR von THÜNGEN-ROSSBACH, Karl
Generalleutnant (01.Jan.1943), Inspector-General of Replacement Troops
Bearer of the Knight’s Cross (06.Apr.1943) and German Cross in Gold (18.Oct.1941)
Born 26.Jun.1893 in ?
Executed 24.Oct.1944 in Brandenburg

von TRESCKOW, Henning
Generalmajor (30.Jan.1944), Chief of General Staff in 2nd Army
Bearer of the German Cross in Gold (20.Nov.1943)
Born 10.Jan.1901 in Magdeburg
Committed suicide 21.Jul.1944 at Ostrow

WAGNER, Eduard
General der Artillerie (01.Aug.1943), Army Quartermaster-General
Born 01.Apr.1894 in Kirchenlamitz
Committed suicide 23.Jul.1944 in Zossen

von WITZLEBEN, Erwin
Generalfeldmarschall a.D. (19.Jul.1940), former Commander-in-Chief West
Bearer of the Knight’s Cross (24.Jun.1940)
Born 04.Dec.1881 in Breslau
Dismissed from the Armed Forces 15.Mar.1942
Sentenced to death 08.Aug.1944 by order of the People’s Court
Executed 08.Aug.1944 in Berlin-Plötzensee

These are the persons of Generalmajor rank or higher that were in varying degrees involved in the resistance to Hitler and payed for it with their lives. More persons of general rank were involved, but managed to escape the consequences of their involvement and they are not listed here. Some generals were executed/murdered in connection with those involved, without being involved themselves (for example GRAF von SPONECK), they are also not included here.

Regrettably some personal data and/or dates are missing since I have not yet completed gathering of all information for my 'Conspirators Master List'.


Contents

There was no presumption of innocence nor could the defendants adequately represent themselves or consult counsel. A proceeding at the People's Court would follow an initial indictment in which a state or city prosecutor would forward the names of the accused to the Volksgerichtshof for charges of a political nature. Defendants were hardly ever allowed to speak to their attorneys beforehand and when they did the defense lawyer would usually simply answer questions about how the trial would proceed and refrain from any legal advice. In at least one documented case (the trial of the "White Rose" conspirators), the defense lawyer assigned to Sophie Scholl chastised her the day before the trial, stating that she would pay for her crimes. [ citation needed ]

The People's Court proceedings began when the accused were led to a prisoner's dock under armed police escort. The presiding judge would read the charges and then call the accused forward for "examination". Although the court had a prosecutor, it was usually the judge who asked the questions. Defendants were often berated during the examination and never allowed to respond with any sort of lengthy reply. After a barrage of insults and condemnation, the accused would be ordered back to the dock with the order "examination concluded". [ citation needed ]

After examination, the defense attorney would be asked if they had any statements or questions. Defense lawyers were present simply as a formality and hardly ever rose to speak. The judge would then ask the defendants for a statement during which time more insults and berating comments would be shouted at the accused. The verdict, which was almost always "guilty", would then be announced and the sentence handed down at the same time. In all, an appearance before the People's Court could take as little as fifteen minutes. [ citation needed ]

From 1934 to 1945, the court sentenced 10,980 people to prison and imposed the death penalty on 5,179 more who were convicted of high treason. [2] About 1,000 were acquitted. [3] Prior to the Battle of Stalingrad, there was a higher percentage of cases in which not guilty verdicts were handed down on indictments. In some cases, this was due to defense lawyers presenting the accused as naive or the defendant adequately explaining the nature of the political charges against them. However, in nearly two-thirds of such cases, the defendants would be re-arrested by the Gestapo following the trial and sent to a concentration camp. After the defeat at Stalingrad, and with a growing fear in the German government regarding defeatism amongst the population, the People's Court became far more ruthless and hardly anyone brought before the tribunal escaped a guilty verdict. [4]

The best-known trials in the People's Court began on 7 August 1944, in the aftermath of the 20 July plot that year. The first eight men accused were Erwin von Witzleben, Erich Hoepner, Paul von Hase, Peter Yorck von Wartenburg, Helmuth Stieff, Robert Bernardis, Friedrich Klausing, and Albrecht von Hagen. The trials were held in the imposing Great Hall of the Berlin Chamber Court on Elßholzstrasse, [5] which was bedecked with swastikas for the occasion. There were around 300 spectators, including Ernst Kaltenbrunner and selected civil servants, party functionaries, military officers and journalists. A film camera ran behind the red-robed Roland Freisler so that Hitler could view the proceedings, and to provide footage for newsreels and a documentary entitled Traitors Before the People's Court. [6] Intended to be used in The German Weekly Review, it was not shown at the time, and turned out to be the last documentary made for the newsreel. [6]

The accused were forced to wear shabby clothes, denied neck ties and belts or suspenders for their pants, and were marched into the courtroom handcuffed to policemen. The proceedings began with Freisler announcing he would rule on ". the most horrific charges ever brought in the history of the German people." Freisler was an admirer of Andrey Vyshinsky, the chief prosecutor of the Soviet purge trials, and copied Vyshinsky's practice of heaping loud and violent abuse on defendants.

The 62-year-old Field Marshal von Witzleben was the first to stand before Freisler and he was immediately castigated for giving a brief Nazi salute. He faced further humiliating insults while holding onto his trouser waistband. Next, former Colonel-General Erich Hoepner, dressed in a cardigan, faced Freisler, who addressed him as "Schweinehund". When he said that he was not a Schweinehund, Freisler asked him what zoological category he thought he fitted into.

The accused were unable to consult their lawyers, who were not seated near them. None of them were allowed to address the court at length, and Freisler interrupted any attempts to do so. However, Major General Helmuth Stieff attempted to raise the issue of his motives before being shouted down, and Witzleben managed to call out "You may hand us over to the executioner, but in three months' time, the disgusted and harried people will bring you to book and drag you alive through the dirt in the streets!" All were condemned to death by hanging, and the sentences were carried out shortly afterwards in Plötzensee Prison.

On 21 August, the accused were Fritz Thiele, Friedrich Gustav Jaeger, and Ulrich Wilhelm Graf Schwerin von Schwanenfeld who was able to mention the ". many murders committed at home and abroad" as a motivation for his actions.

On 30 August, Colonel-General Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel, who had blinded himself in a suicide attempt, was led into the court and condemned to death along with Caesar von Hofacker, Hans Otfried von Linstow, and Eberhard Finckh.

Field Marshal von Witzleben's prediction of Roland Freisler's fate proved slightly incorrect, as he died in a bombing raid in February 1945, approximately half a year later. [7] [8]

On 3 February 1945, Freisler was conducting a Saturday session of the People's Court, when USAAF Eighth Air Force bombers attacked Berlin. [9] Government and Nazi Party buildings were hit, including the Reich Chancellery, the Gestapo headquarters, the Party Chancellery and the People's Court. According to one report, Freisler hastily adjourned court and had ordered that day's prisoners to be taken to a shelter, but paused to gather that day's files. Freisler was killed when an almost direct hit on the building caused him to be struck down by a beam in his own courtroom. [10] His body was reportedly found crushed beneath a fallen masonry column, clutching the files that he had tried to retrieve. [11] Among those files was that of Fabian von Schlabrendorff, a 20 July Plot member who was on trial that day and was facing execution. [12] According to a different report, Freisler "was killed by a bomb fragment while trying to escape from his law court to the air-raid shelter", and he "bled to death on the pavement outside the People's Court at Bellevuestrasse 15 in Berlin". Fabian von Schlabrendorff was "standing near his judge when the latter met his end." [11] Freisler's death saved Schlabrendorff, [13] who after the war became a judge of the Federal Constitutional Court of West Germany. [14] Schlabrendorff was later re-tried and, in a rare instance for the court's last nine months in existence, possibly motivated by fear of later reprisals, acquitted by its new acting president, Wilhelm Crohne.

Yet another version of Freisler's death states that he was killed by a British bomb that came through the ceiling of his courtroom as he was trying two women, who survived the explosion. [15]

A foreign correspondent reported, "Apparently nobody regretted his death." [10] Luise Jodl, the wife of General Alfred Jodl, recounted more than 25 years later that she had been working at the Lützow Hospital when Freisler's body was brought in, and that a worker commented, "It is God's verdict." According to Mrs Jodl, "Not one person said a word in reply." [16]

Freisler is interred in the plot of his wife's family at the Waldfriedhof Dahlem cemetery in Berlin. His name is not shown on the gravestone. [17]


ExecutedToday.com

On this date in 1944, Nazi Germany’s juridical vengeance against Hitler’s near-assassins commenced.

Barely two weeks after Col. Stauffenberg‘s bomb had barely missed slaying the Fuhrer, eight of his principal co-conspirators stood show trials at the Volksgerichtshof (People’s Court) before hectoring prig Roland Freisler.

The outcome, of course, was foreordained.

Apparently orders had come down from on high to make the deaths as degrading as possible this batch, convicted August 7-8, was hanged naked this day at Berlin’s Plotzensee Prison on thin cord (piano wire, say some sources, although it’s not clear to me whether this is literally true) suspended from meathooks while cameras rolled. Video and stills from the ghastly scene were shipped back to Hitler’s bomb-damaged Polish outpost for the edification of the powers that be.

The eight fitted for those nooses were:

  • Robert Bernardis (English Wikipedia entry | German)
  • Albrecht von Hagen (English Wikipedia entry | German)
  • Paul von Hase (English Wikipedia entry | German)
  • Erich Hoepner (English Wikipedia entry | German)
  • Friedrich Karl Klausing (English Wikipedia entry | German)
  • Helmuth Stieff (English Wikipedia entry | German)
  • Erwin von Witzleben (English Wikipedia entry | German)
  • Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg (English Wikipedia entry | German)

Many hundreds more would follow, both at Plotzensee and throughout the Reich where persons distantly connected to the plotters and various miscellaneous resistance figures were swept up in the purge.


Death of the Führer. What If. Hitler was assassinated in July 1944?

What would have happened if Adolf Hitler had been assassinated in July 1944? Well, there was an attempt on his life, but the plot failed. Here, Nick Tingley looks at the story behind the plot – and how the twentieth century could have looked very different if it had succeeded.

You can read Nick’s first article on what would have happened if

“The Führer, Adolf Hitler, is dead. An unscrupulous clique of non-combatant party leaders have used this situation and attempted to stab our fighting forcers in the back and seize power for their own purpose.”

The front-page of The Stars and Stripes, the US Army magazine on May 2, 1945. However, Hitler was nearly killed in 1944.

At 7:30PM on July 20, 1944, Field Marshal von Witzleben sent out this directive as head of the Wehrmacht, effectively marking the start of a new era in Nazi Germany. Early that afternoon, at 12:42PM, a British made bomb had exploded inside a conference hut at the Wolfsschanze, Hitler’s primary Eastern Front Headquarters located near the small East Prussian town of Rastenburg. The explosion killed the Nazi dictator and several others who had attended the briefing, including Field Marshal Keital. Whilst the feeling on the ground was that the laborers who had built the conference barracks had built the bomb inside the structure, Berlin was beginning to send out reports that the SS and leading Party officials were behind the mysterious blast.

What followed next was a well-executed military take-over of Berlin, Paris and Vienna in which high profile Nazis and military leaders were arrested. The operation, under the command of a well-organized German officer, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, saw the chief of the General Army Office, General Friedrich Olbricht, rise to the role of de facto leader of Germany in what many saw as a return to the pre-Nazi Weimar politics that had effectively crippled Germany during the early 1930s. Although the German population didn’t know it at the time, Stauffenberg and Olbricht had just enacted a coup d’état, completely overthrowing the Nazi Party.

The war, which had begun to turn against Germany with the invasion of Normandy only a month earlier, was placed under the command of a group of ambitious officers who had effectively seized power in the Reich. German troops were immediately pulled out of France and back to the German Frontier and the new German government began sending messages to the Western Allies in an effort to sue for peace and prevent the inevitable occupation of Germany by Soviet troops. By September 1944, the war was effectively over and the Nazi regime had all but been eliminated.

But none of this came to pass.

There was an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944 and there was an attempt to seize control of the Reich by a group of German conspirators. But Hitler survived the explosion, escaping without so much as a scratch, and over the next few hours the German High Command worked diligently to bring the coup to a swift end. By the early morning of July 21, Stauffenberg, Olbricht and several other important members of the conspiracy had been shot dead and hundreds of others would commit suicide or be tried by kangaroo courts in the months that followed.

But when the question of assassinating Hitler had first been discussed by the conspirators, known widely as the German Resistance or “Secret Germany”, there was a feeling that the removal of Hitler and subsequent take over of Germany was a very real possibility. With the tide of war turning against Germany, many high ranking members of the army, including some of the most famous Germany military commanders, like Erwin Rommel, were willing to explore the option of a peaceful resolution to what was undoubtedly a vicious war. The disastrous Battle of Kursk on the Eastern Front in 1943 had already demonstrated that Germany could not hope to win the glorious war that Hitler had envisaged and many believed that defeat under the Führer’s command was inevitable.

From September 1943, the resistance movement made several attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler. The belief had been that, with Hitler gone, the way would be paved for Goering or Himmler to take control of Nazi Germany. Hitler had made many enemies in the Wehrmacht as he enforced a policy of refusing to allow the army to make tactical withdrawals from battles that they couldn’t hope to win. With Hitler removed from power, it was hoped that his replacement would be more tactful with his use of German resources and, as such, the war might be fought more wisely.

After various failed attempts to kill Hitler, Stauffenberg joined the conspirators and, by the end of 1943, had managed to persuade most of the resistance that the assassination of Hitler would not be enough. He reasoned that Hitler was, by all accounts, a moderate Nazi and that Himmler, one of the next in line to replace him, was far more extreme in his ideals of Nazism. The atrocities that took place under Hitler’s reign would almost have certainly been made worse by the rise of Himmler. Thus, he convinced the other members of the resistance that if they were to save Germany from annihilation, they had to not only kill Hitler, but also follow it up with a well-planned military take-over that would remove any possibility of Nazism surviving.

By June 1, 1944, the operation was ready to be launched. Its name was Operation Valkyrie.

Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben in 1939. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1971-069-87 / CC-BY-SA

Operation Valkyrie

Operation Valkyrie was already an established military plan. It was designed to ensure the continuity of government in the event of a general breakdown in civil order of the nation. The idea had been that, in the event of an uprising by foreign forced laborers or civil unrest as a result of Allied aerial bombing of German cities, the Territorial Reserve Army could be implemented to bring order back to the Fatherland without the need to interfere with or divert troops that were fighting on the front.

Stauffenberg, Olbricht and Major General Henning von Tresckow, another of the conspirators, modified the plan so that it could be used to take control of key cities, disarm the SS and arrest members of the Nazi leadership in the event of Hitler’s death. The operation was only to be activated in the instance of Hitler’s death on the grounds that every German soldier was required to swear an oath of loyalty to the Führer and it was believed that many would refuse to obey the orders as long as he was still alive.

The assassination was to take place at the Wolfsschanze. Stauffenberg himself, as chief of staff to the commander of the General Army Office in Berlin, was called on to give several briefings to Hitler and it was he who was to plant the bomb that would kill him. Stauffenberg’s superior, Reserve Army General Friedrich Fromm was flirting with the idea of joining the resistance movement and was aware of Stauffenberg’s plan. Whilst preparing for the assassination, the Resistance attempted to get Fromm on side as Operation Valkyrie could not be launched without his authority. But Fromm carefully refused to reveal his hand until he could confirm that Hitler was dead.

On two separate occasions, Stauffenberg prepared to plant the explosives but had to call off the mission at the last minute. On the first occasion, July 11, 1944, Himmler, who was now also considered a target, had not arrived at the briefing. When Stauffenberg phoned Olbricht for orders on how to proceed, the general decided not to go ahead with the operation.

Four days later Stauffenberg got his second chance and, to ensure that no one could back out, Olbricht issued orders for Operation Valkyrie using Fromm’s authority two hours before the scheduled meeting. As German troops advanced on Berlin and readied to take control, Stauffenberg prepared to set off the explosive. When he returned to plan the bomb, he discovered that Hitler had left early. With the Führer still alive, the operation had to be cancelled and Olbricht was forced to order the Territorial Army to quickly and inconspicuously retreat.

Finally, on July 20 1944, the operation was given the go ahead. Stauffenberg planted the bomb, in a brown briefcase, under the table right next to Hitler and made his excuses to leave. After insuring that a fellow conspirator, General Fellgiebel, would radio Olbricht with the news that the assassination had succeeded, Stauffenberg waited for the explosion before driving for the airfield to make a speedy return to Berlin.

Secret Germany Fails

The operation was doomed from the start. During the briefing, one of Hitler’s aides found that a brown briefcase was getting in his way. He picked up the briefcase and moved it to the other side of the heavy oak table beside a table leg. When the bomb exploded, the table leg shielded Hitler from the blast leaving the Führer with little more than tattered trousers.

Back in Berlin, the conspirators received mixed reports about the explosion. On the one hand, Fellgiebel had left a garbled message saying Hitler was dead. On the other hand, official sources were reporting that Hitler had survived. By the time Stauffenberg had arrived back in Berlin, Valkyrie had still not been launched. After hasty discussions, Olbricht implemented the plan under General Fromm’s authority. On discovering this, Fromm telephoned the Wolfsschanze and received the personal assurances from Keital that Hitler was very much alive and well. To prevent Fromm from exposing the plot, Stauffenberg had him arrested.

But it was already too late. The Resistance had already lost the initiative and, after a few small successes, it became evident that Hitler had the advantage. By the time of Stauffenberg and Olbricht’s impromptu execution in the early hours of the following morning on Fromm’s orders, Operation Valkyrie had failed.

Secret Germany Succeeds

But what would have happened if the operation had been a success? Would the new government of Germany have been able to reach a peace settlement? And what impact may there have been on the Cold War that came to dominate the world throughout the second half of the twentieth century?

In the first instance, we must look to the policies of the Allies at that time. The Western Allies were only just beginning to break out of Normandy and the Russians were making steady advances in the East. The Americans had committed to defeating Germany before turning their attention to the Japanese threat and the British were likewise attempting to protect their interests in that arena. It seems plausible that these two powers may have been willing to at least negotiate with the new German government for no other reason than it would allow them to focus their attention on the Japanese threat.

The Soviets, however, had lost a great deal in the fight with Germany and it seems highly unlikely that, regardless of any ideological change, Stalin would have allowed Germany to surrender so easily. Likewise the French, who had been living under Nazi occupation since 1940, would have been unwilling to allow the Western Allies to simply allow Germany to leave France without any serious ramifications. With the Russians refusing to allow peace, the war in Europe would almost have certainly dragged on.

However, such an event may have had a lasting impact on the history of the latter part of the twentieth century.

As the thought of Russian occupation was a lot harder for the Germans to stomach than an Anglo-American one, it seems likely that Olbricht would have gone ahead with his idea of pulling out of France to allow for a speedy advance by the Western Allies. If this had happened, the Western Allies would have gained solid control of Germany within a few months of Valkyrie’s success.

This scenario of a German occupied exclusively by the Western Allies would have predated the Yalta conference, in which the Allies carved up Europe for the post-war agreements, by a matter of months. One can imagine that the strenuous negotiations over the future of Europe may have swung in an entirely different direction had Roosevelt and Churchill been able to use the occupation of Germany as ammunition against Stalin’s desires for Eastern Europe.

The single act of assassinating Hitler could have prevented the Cold War from occurring or, just as likely, it may have caused a bitter feud that turned it very hot…

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Hitler's Assassination

After becoming close friends with leading Army Group Center conspirator Colonel (later Major-General) Henning von Tresckow, Generalmajor Gersdorff agreed to join the conspiracy to kill Hitler in order to save Germany. After Tresckow's elaborate plan to assassinate Hitler on 13 March 1943 failed, Gersdorff declared himself ready to participate in an assassination attempt that would entail his own death.

On 21 March 1943, Hitler visited the Zeughaus Berlin, the old armory on Unter den Linden, to inspect captured Soviet weapons. A group of top Nazi and leading military officials — among them Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, and Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz — were present as well. As an expert, Gersdorff was to guide Hitler on a tour of the exhibition. While Gersdorff toured Hiter around the museum, a contingent of Reserve Army officers assembled outside. Moments after Hitler entered the museum, Gersdorff set off two ten-minute delayed fuses on explosive devices hidden in his coat pockets. Just as Hitler was about to leave the museum, Gersdorff threw himself around Hitler and activated the explosives, killing them both. At that moment, Reserve Army officers entered the building and detained Göring, Himmler, Keitel and Dönitz.


Erwin von Witzleben

Job Wilhelm Georg Erdmann Erwin von Witzleben (4 December 1881 – 8 August 1944) was a German field marshal in the Wehrmacht during the Second World War. A leading conspirator in the 20 July plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, [1] he was designated to become Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht in a post-Nazi regime had the plot succeeded.

Early years

Erwin von Witzleben was born in Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland) in the Prussian province of Silesia, the son of Georg von Witzleben (1838–1898), a Hauptmann (captain) in the Prussian Army, and his wife, Therese née Brandenburg. The Witzleben dynasty was an Uradel family of old nobility and many officers, descending from Witzleben in Thuringia.

He completed the Prussian Cadet Corps program in Wahlstatt, Silesia and in Lichterfelde near Berlin, and on 22 June 1901 joined the Grenadier Regiment König Wilhelm I No. 7 in Liegnitz, Silesia (now Legnica, Poland) as a Leutnant (lieutenant). In 1910, he was promoted to Oberleutnant (first lieutenant).

He was married to Else Kleeberg from Chemnitz, Saxony. The couple had a son and a daughter.

First World War

At the beginning of the First World War, Witzleben served as brigade adjutant in the 19th Reserve Infantry Brigade before being promoted to Hauptmann and company chief in the Reserve Infantry Regiment No.6 in October 1914. Later, in the same regiment, he became battalion commander. His unit fought in Verdun, the Champagne region and Flanders, among other places. He was seriously wounded and was awarded the Iron Cross, both first and second classes. Afterwards, he was sent to General Staff training and witnessed the war end as First General Staff Officer of the 121st Division.

Between the wars

In the Reichswehr of the Weimar Republic, Witzleben was promoted to company commander. In 1923, he found himself on the Fourth Division staff in Dresden as a Major. In 1928, he became battalion commander in Infantry Regiment No. 6 and retained that position as Oberstleutnant (lieutenant colonel) the following year. After being promoted to full Oberst (colonel) in 1931, he took over as commanding officer of the (Prussian) Infantry Regiment No. 8 in Frankfurt on the Oder.

Early in 1933, shortly before Adolf Hitler seized autocratic control of the German state via a paramilitary backed revolution with the passage in the Reichstag of the Enabling Act of 1933, Witzleben was transferred to the post of Infantry Leader VI in Hanover. He was promoted to Generalmajor (major general) on 1 February 1934 and moved to Potsdam as the new commander of the 3rd Infantry Division. He succeeded General Werner von Fritsch as commander of Military District (Wehrkreis) III - Berlin (including Brandenburg and part of Neumark). In this position, he was promoted to Generalleutnant (lieutenant general) and in the newly established Wehrmacht forces became commanding general of Army Corps III in Berlin in September 1935. In 1936, he was promoted to a General of the Infantry (General der Infanterie).

As early as 1934, Witzleben indicated opposition against the Nazi regime when he and Manstein, Leeb, and Rundstedt demanded an inquiry into Schleicher's and Bredow's deaths in the Night of the Long Knives. As a result of that and his criticism of Hitler's persecution of Fritsch in the Blomberg–Fritsch Affair, Witzleben was temporarily forced into early retirement. His "retirement" did not last, however, as Hitler soon needed him in the preparations for the Second World War.

By 1938, Witzleben was a member of the Oster Conspiracy, a group of plotters including Generaloberst (Colonel General) Ludwig Beck, Generals Erich Hoepner and Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel, Admiral and Chief of the Abwehr Wilhelm Canaris and Abwehr Oberstleutnant (lieutenant colonel) Hans Oster. The men planned to overthrow Hitler in a military coup d'état, which seemed feasible at the time of the 1938 Sudeten Crisis, until the Munich Agreement defused the crisis, temporarily averting war. Witzleben's command, including the key Berlin Defense District, was to have played a decisive role in the planned coup.

In November 1938, Witzleben had been installed as commander-in-chief of Army Group 2 in Frankfurt. He was also involved in Generaloberst Hammerstein-Equord's conspiracy plans of 1939. The latter planned to seize Hitler outright in a kind of frontal assault while the former would shut down the Nazi headquarters, but the plan also fell through.

Second World War

In September 1939, Witzleben, then a Generaloberst (Colonel General), took command of the 1st Army, stationed at the Western Front. When Germany attacked France on 10 May 1940, the First Army was part of Army Group C. On 14 June it broke through the Maginot line, and within three days had forced several French divisions to surrender. For this, Witzleben was decorated with the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and on 19 July, he was promoted to Generalfeldmarschall (General Field Marshal) during the 1940 Field Marshal Ceremony.

In 1941 he was even appointed Commander-in-Chief OB West, succeeding Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt, but only a year later, he took leave from that position for health reasons. Some sources, however, claim that he was again forcibly retired at this time after he had criticised the regime for its invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941 in Operation Barbarossa.

20 July 1944

In 1944, the conspirators around Stauffenberg saw Witzleben as the key man in their plans. Whereas Generaloberst (Colonel General) Beck was seen as a prospective provisional head of state, and Generaloberst Hoepner was in line to command the inner Ersatzheer ("Replacement Army") forces, Witzleben was to take over supreme command of the whole Wehrmacht as the highest-ranking German officer.

However, on 20 July 1944, the day of Stauffenberg's attempt on Hitler's life at the Wolf's Lair in East Prussia, Witzleben did not arrive at the Bendlerblock in Berlin from the OKH-HQ (Oberkommando des Heeres Headquarters) at Zossen to assume command of the coup forces until 8 p.m., when it was already clear that the coup attempt had failed. He then protested angrily that it had been bungled and left after 45 minutes to return to Zossen, where he reported the situation to General of the Artillery (General der Artillerie) Eduard Wagner and then drove back to his country estate, 30 mi away, where he was arrested the next day by Generalleutnant (Lieutenant General) Viktor Linnarz of the OKH personnel office.

He was then cast out of the Wehrmacht by the so-called Ehrenhof der Wehrmacht ("The Regular Army's Court of Honor"), a conclave of officers set up after the attempted assassination to remove officers from the Wehrmacht who had been involved in the plot, mainly so that they were no longer subject to German military law and could be arraigned to a show trial before the infamous Nazi "People's Court" (Volksgerichtshof).

Trial and death

On 7 August 1944, Witzleben was in the first group of accused conspirators to be brought before the Volksgerichtshof. Ravaged by the conditions of his Gestapo arrest, he surprisingly approached the bench giving the Nazi salute, [2] for which he was rebuked by the presiding judge Roland Freisler.

Witzleben was sentenced to death on the same day. Witzleben's gave these closing words in court, addressed to Freisler:

You can turn us over to the executioner. In three months the outraged and tormented people will call you to account and drag you through the filth in the streets alive.

Much of the Volksgerichtshof, including scenes of Witzleben's show trial, was filmed for the German weekly newsreel Die Deutsche Wochenschau however, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels decided against releasing the footage, firstly because Freisler's abusive ranting in the courtroom might draw sympathy for the accused and secondly because the regime wanted to quell public discussion of the event. The material was classified as secret (Geheime Reichssache).

Witzleben was put to death the same day at Plötzensee Prison in Berlin. By Hitler's direct orders, he was hanged with a thin hemp rope, [3] which people who were not from the prison staff called a piano wire, wound around a meat hook, and the execution was filmed. [4] [5] The footage has since been lost. [6]


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Olympia 1936 Im Rahmen des modernen Fünfkampfes kam heute im Olympia-Schwimmstadion in Anwesenheit des Führers das 300m Freistilschwimmen zum Austrag.