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Claus von Stauffenberg

(1907 - 1944)

Claus von Stauffenberg was born in Jettingen, Germany on November 15, 1907. In his youth, he belonged to Stefan George's circle and remained a disciple of the great poet for the rest of his life. He would quote George's The Anti-Christ when recruiting friends and trusted colleagues into the conspiracy.

A bright student, at nineteen he became an officer cadet. He attended the War Academy in Berlin and joined the General Staff in 1938 as a quartermaster officer in General Erich Hoepner's 1st Light Division, which was renamed 6th Panzer Division in November 1939.

Stauffenberg served combat positions in all of Hitler's major campaigns from the Sudetenland to Poland, France and Tunisia. During Operation Barbarossa, Stauffenberg became appalled by the atrocities committed by the Schutzstaffel (SS), SD and “Security Police” units, particularly the mass murder of the Jews in Russia. He was equally appalled by the atrocities committed by the German Army against Soviet prisoners-of-war and by the treatment of the civil population in Russia at the hands of the German occupation administration and forces. Stauffenberg cited these matters to Major Joachim Kuhn in August 1942.

From the end of May 1940 to the end of January 1943, Stauffenberg served in the Army High Command/General Staff Headquarters.

In early 1943, Stauffenberg served with the 10th Panzer Division in Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps. On April 7, 1943, he was seriously wounded at Sebkhet en Noual, south of Mezzouna in the North African desert, when Allied fighters strafed his vehicle. He lost his left eye, right hand, and last two fingers of his left hand after surgery.

Stauffenberg had decided earlier in 1942 that he must try to help overthrow Hitler. He had attempted throughout the summer of 1942 to persuade senior commanders to move against Hitler, and he had declared in September 1942 that he himself was prepared to kill Hitler. In 1943, he only agreed to join in conspiracy with the civilian side of the German Resistance, including Wilhelm Canaris, Carl Goerdeler, Julius Leber, Ulrich Hassell, Hans Oster, Henning von Tresckow, Fabian von Schlabrendorff , Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg, Ludwig Beck, and Erwin von Witzleben in what became known as the July Plot.

According to the plan, after Hitler, Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler were assassinated, Ludwig Beck, Erwin von Witzleben and Friedrich Fromm would take control of the German Army and seize key government buildings, telephone and signal centres, and radio stations. Stauffenberg was to become State Secretary of the War Ministry in the post-coup government.

In June 1944, Stauffenberg was promoted to Colonel and appointed Chief of Staff to Home Army Commander General Friedrich Fromm. This gave him direct access to Hitler's briefing sessions.

On July 11, Stauffenberg brought a bomb concealed in a briefcase with him to a briefing at Hitler's Berghof residence. He planned to assassinate Hitler that day, but circumstances beyond his control prevented him from doing so.

Four days later, Stauffenberg flew to the Fuehrer's "Wolf's Lair" headquarters with aide and co-conspirator Captain Friedrich Karl Klausing with intent to leave a bomb in a briefing meeting with Hitler. However, Stauffenberg reported the absence of Himmler and Luftwaffe Air Marshal Hermann Goering from the briefing session and was subseuqently ordered by senior conspirators in Berlin to abort the assassination attempt.  Nevertheless, he secretly agreed with close friend and co-conspirator Colonel Albrecht von Mertz to try to kill Hitler anyway, but when he returned to the briefing room, he discovered the session had ended after only five minutes.

On July 20, Stauffenberg flew to the Wolf's Lair again, this time with aide and co-conspirator Lt. Werner von Haeften. Stauffenberg, who had never met Hitler before, carried the bomb in a briefcase and placed it on the floor of the briefing room while he left to make a phone call. Shortly thereafter the bomb exploded.

Four men died from the attack - one outright while three others succumbed to their wounds later - but Hitler survived the blast with only a badly injured right arm. Stauffenberg returned to Berlin with Haeften and arrived at Army High Command Headquarters at 4:30 P.M. to launch the planned coup. The plot unraveled, however, for several reasons: co-conspirator General Friedrich Olbricht neglected to set the coup in motion during the first two hours after the assassination attempt; the conspirators failed to seize any radio stations or retain authority over reserve army troops in Berlin; and, most notably, Hitler survived the attack.

In an attempt to protect himself, Fromm organized the execution of Stauffenberg along with three other conspirators - Olbricht, von Haeften, and von Mertz - in the courtyard of the War Ministry.

On July 21, 1944, at 12:30 A.M., Stauffenberg was executed by firing squad. It was later reported that Stauffenberg died shouting, "Long live free Germany."

Sources: Spartacus Educational and; Hoffmann, Peter. Stauffenberg. A Family History, 1905-1944.  Second Edition (Revised). (Montreal & Kingston, London, Ithaca:  McGill-Queen´s University Press) 2003.