Was the assassination attempt orchestrated by the S.S.?
The man who almost killed Hitler,
Adolf Hitler was the target of numerous assassination attempts. The two that probably got closest were the ones by Claus von Stauffenberg, an aristocratic Army officer, and Georg Elser (1903-1945), an ordinary carpenter.
Elser spent most of his adult life at a variety of woodworking-related jobs. Despite a brief affiliation with a communist paramilitary group as a young man and being a member of the left-leaning woodworkers’ union, he wasn’t particularly political. He only voted for the communists at elections because he thought they fought for the working man. He was, however, anti-Nazi, even if in a quiet way. After Hitler’s rise to power, he refused to use the Nazi salute or listen to his radio broadcasts.
By the late 1930s, this quiet man gradually came to the conviction that Germany and its common citizens could only be saved from war and the Nazi abuse of power if Hitler, along with the rest of the Nazi elite, was killed. On November 8, 1938, he travelled to Munich to witness Hitler’s annual speech on the anniversary of the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, always delivered at the Bürgerbräukeller, the beer hall where the would-be Nazi coup started. He only got in late in the evening after the crowd dispersed, but he realized that security was lax and that it was one of the few places where Hitler was guaranteed to show up regularly each year.
He decided to build a bomb and hide it inside the pillar that was right behind the speaker’s podium. At the time, Elser had a job at an armaments factory and he started stealing explosives for his device. He lost the job after an argument with a supervisor in April 1939, but got a new one at a quarry where explosives were also used. In the end, he stole a total of 105 blasting cartridges and 125 detonators. Elser was living as a lodger with a family in southern Germany; he told them he was an inventor to allay any suspicions about his various sketches of explosive devices. The final design incorporated a car indicator “winker” and clock parts he received in lieu of wages at an old job.
Elser moved to Munich on August 5, 1939. He became a regular at the Bürgerbräukellerand started sneaking into the adjacent hall just before closing time at around 10:30 p.m. Over two months, he stayed at the beer hall overnight some 30-35 times. Working in absolute silence, he hollowed out the pillar, installed a secret door, lined the compartment with sound insulation to muffle the noise of the ticking clock and built his bomb, smuggling out the created debris in the morning in his suitcase. Starting from the beginning of September and the outbreak of the war, air raid wardens and two dogs were inside the building at night, but Elser continued his work.
The explosives were placed inside the pillar on the night of November 1-2, 1939 and the clock mechanism on November 4-5. After a final check on November 6, Elser headed for the Swiss border. The bomb was set to explode at 9:20 p.m. on November 8.
Not paying attention to daily news, Elser was not aware that Hitler had originally cancelled his annual speech due to the war and only changed his mind again in the last minute. His plane was grounded due to bad weather, so his speech was brought forward by half an hour and cut from two hours to just one, so he could return to Berlin by train.
Thirteen minutes after he ended his speech in front of 3,000 Nazi party members, the bomb exploded. The ceiling and the roof partially collapsed; the gallery and an external wall came completely down; 8 people died and 62 were injured. Hitler and other Nazi leaders such as Göbbels, Heydrich, Hess and Himmler, however, had already gotten on the train.
Unknown to them, Elser was already in the Gestapo’s hands by this time, as he was caught trying to cross over into Switzerland at 8:45 p.m. that evening. He was found carrying wire cutters, notes on explosive devices and a blank postcard of the interior of the Bürgerbräukeller. Once news of the assassination attempt reached the local authorities, it didn’t take much to connect the dots and Elser was transported to Gestapo Headquarters in Munich.
The Nazis were hell-bent on fabricating evidence that would suggest Elser was aided by British Intelligence, especially two British agents who were caught in an unrelated case the following day, and that the plan was hatched by Otto Strasser, a Nazi Party veteran who split with Hitler back in the 1920s. To prove he was working alone, Elser not only drew detailed blueprints of his bomb, but also recreated it in full. The Gestapo found it so impressive they included it in their training manuals.
After a hellish year in the hands of the Gestapo, Elser was transported to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, where he was given preferential treatment as a protected prisoner. He had three cells joined together, had his own guards and was allowed to make furniture and other items. He was allowed extra food rations and probably regular visits to the camp brothel. His preferential treatment gave rise to the rumor that the assassination attempt might have been orchestrated by the SS, but no solid evidence of this ever surfaced. In 1945 he was transported to Dachau, where he was supposedly killed during an Allied bombing raid.
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