Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin


At around 7AM on July 20, 1944 Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg took off in a plane which was to take him from the military airfield in Rangsdorf to Hitler´s East Prussian HQ near Rastenburg (today Polish Ketrzyn). Wolfschanze (Wolf´s Lair) was one of eight such facilities – not counting Berlin´s Neue Reichskanzlei and the Bavarian Obersalzberg – which the Nazi Führer had built for himself and his staff around Europe.
Together with several other high-rank members of the German military, who were also representatives of the old German conservative elite (an important fact as many of them actually shared Hilter´s views and were aware of the genocide taking place in Eastern Europe), von Stauffenberg decided to make another attempt on Hitler´s life after several other assassination plans had failed to work out. Most of the details of the plot, like of several others before that, were drawn up by General Major Henning von Tresckow (from the Treskows whose other line owned the estate Berlin-Friedrichsfelde were Berlin´s Tierpark is today).
As we all know, the plot failed: the bomb placed in Hitler´s bunker in the Wolfschanze failed to kill the Nazi leader (although it took the lives of four other members of Hitler´s staff who participated in the meeting). By the end of the day most of the plot participants were arrested and ten minutes past midnight, on July 21, the chief actors – like Stauffenberg, Werner von Haeften (who together with Stauffenberg carried out the attack in East Prussia), General Friedrich Olbricht and another officer, Colonel Albrecht Mertz von Quirnheim were executed upon the orders of their fellow conspirator, Colonel-General Friedrich Fromm, who having learnt about Hitler´s survival, tried to destroy the evidence of his treason for fear of the backlash (he was stripped of his honours, discharged and sentenced to death as a civilian; Fromm died executed in one of the last prison purges before the end of the war). The execution took place in Bendlerblock, the seat of the Ministry of the Reichswehr at Landwehrkanal in the locality of Tiergarten.
The failed assassination caused a massive wave of persecution: 7,000 people were arrested and almost 5,000 executed as embroiled in the attempted coup. Many committed suicide to escape the consequences, which had to be born by their families punished as a result of the Sippenhaft (blood guilt) laws (the wives were imprisoned, their children taken away and placed in orphanages or given up for adoption).
Bendlerblock on July 21, 1944 (image through Bundesarchiv).

Bendlerblock on July 21, 1944 (image through Bundesarchiv).

One of the first plotters to take his own life was the man who had spent several years trying to get rid of Hitler, Henning von Tresckow. Although by no means a pure soul himself – in June 1944 von Tresckow carried out what came to be known as “Heu-Aktion” (Hay Campaign), where some 50,000 Polish and Ukrainian children were abducted for forced labour on German farms and fields – he left a goodbye letter that suggests a deep sense of decency after all.
Before on July 21, 1944 near Bialystok (Poland) he blew himself up with a hand grenade – he became aware of the failure of the attempted assassination almost immediately and wished to protect the others and act as a sole perpetrator – von Tresckow wrote a letter to a friend. Here´s what it said:
“The whole world will vilify us now, but I am still totally convinced that we did the right thing. Hitler is the archenemy not only of Germany but of the world. When, in few hours’ time, I go before God to account for what I have done and left undone, I know I will be able to justify what I did in the struggle against Hitler. God promised Abraham that He would not destroy Sodom if only ten righteous men could be found in the city, and so I hope for our sake God will not destroy Germany. No one among us can complain about dying, for whoever joined our ranks put on the shirt of Nessus. A man’s moral worth is established only at the point where he is ready to give his life in defence of his convictions.”
And this is what he and the others, whatever their motives on that day in July 1944, should be remembered by.
You will find the main perpetrator´s grave at the Alter St.-Matthäus-Kirchhof in Berlin-Schöneberg. It contains no bodies – the Nazis had them removed and the remains were destroyed.
Bendlerblock on July 21, 1944 (image through Bundesarchiv).

Bendlerblock on July 21, 1944 (image through Bundesarchiv).


  1. Andrea Murphy
    July 20, 2016

    Dramatic story.

    P.S. Third para “it too the loves” should be “It took the lives”.

    • notmsparker
      July 20, 2016

      Thank you, Andrea! My word editor seems to have gained a life of its own by now;)


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