Sat, Jul 17, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Germany to honor participants in Hitler plot

PUTSCH In 1944, hundreds of conspirators attempted to kill the Fuehrer. They failed, and many paid with their lives, but now their country is ready at last to give them thanks

BERLIN , DPA

Germany is gearing up for a major state ceremony next Tuesday to honor a group, led mainly by aristocratic army officers, which nearly succeeded in killing Nazi leader Adolf Hitler at his Wolf's Lair compound in 1944.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has ordered a high profile commemoration for the 60th anniversary of the bomb plot and will himself make a speech at Berlin's Bendlerblock defense ministry where anti-Hitler leaders were executed by firing squad after the putsch was put down.

The bomb in Hitler's East Prussian headquarters was planted by Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, the only member of the several hundred top people involved the coup attempt who had direct access to the Nazi Fuehrer.

Initially a supporter of Hitler like most officers, Stauffenberg was repulsed by Nazi atrocities and alarmed over the collapsing war effort.

Despite having lost an eye, his right hand and two fingers on his left hand in combat, the 36-year-old Stauffenberg managed to set a bomb timer and have the almost 1kg of Plastit W explosives placed in a briefcase close to Hitler during a war room briefing at the heavily guarded Wolf's Lair.

The bomb blast killed four of the 24 people in the room but Hitler was only lightly injured because the heavy oak table top and wide, massive legs, next to which the bomb was placed, deflected much of the blast.

Stauffenberg flew to Berlin to help lead the attempted military takeover of Nazi Germany -- but efforts swiftly collapsed after it was revealed that Hitler had survived.

Killing Hitler had been a key part of the plan because soldiers had been forced to swear an oath of allegiance to the Fueher since 1934.

"One could not lead the troops against Hitler," said the last living survivor of the putsch bid, Ewald Heinrich von Kleist, who is 82.

Von Kleist said that by killing Hitler it had been hoped to win over soldiers to break their oath and follow orders of the putsch leaders.

Stauffenberg along with three other officers were shot by firing squad in the huge courtyard of the Bendlerblock, which is now a memorial, while remaining the defense ministry headquarters in Berlin.

Hundreds of others involved in the plot were put on trial and executed by often barbaric methods.

As the news magazine Der Spiegel says, failure to kill Hitler and overthrow the Third Reich on July 20, 1944 "is one of the great tragedies of the 20th century."

The magazine argues that had the attempt succeeded it would have saved millions of lives given that between the failed plot and Nazi Germany's May 1945 defeat some 4 million Germans were killed, as were 1.5 soldiers in the Soviet Red Army, hundreds of thousands of US, British and other Allied soldiers and hundreds of thousands of concentration camp prisoners.

Although Stauffenberg and other members of the July 20 bomb plot have been elevated to hero status in Germany in recent years, this was far from the case in the first decades after the war.

In communist East Germany the aristocratic officers were termed "reactionary elements of U.S. imperialism" while in West Germany, many regard Stauffenberg as a traitor.

Some West German streets and schools might have been named after Stauffenberg and other executed members of the plot, but a poll in 1956 showed half the population opposed this.

Even West Germany's first chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, fueled such feelings by seeking to thwart the reappointment of a diplomat who had been involved in the anti-Hitler plot, Erich Kordt.

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