| It is difficult to say, how many attempts had Adolf
Hitler survived. Historians name as many as 60 of them, ranging from
very serious to completely anecdotal ones. As early as in 1920s Hitler
several times narrowly escaped death in usual at that time brawls and
malees among feuding German parties, or even national socialist
factions. More qualified attempts, specifically targeting Hitler,
occurred as he climbed to the power. One of them,
staged yet before his becoming the chancellor, took place in the
beginning of January 1932 in the restaurant of the hotel Kaiserhof in Berlin, where Hitler
dined with members of his staff. Within an hour after the dinner, all
its guests felt symptoms of poisoning. Nobody died though, and the Führer was affected the least - its
is being said that due to his vegetarianism.
After Hitler became the chancellor, assassination attempts not only
persisted, but in fact increased. The first one had to take place on 4
March 1933, during Hitler's appearance on a political rally in
There, local communists led by with a ship carpenter Kurt Lutter
plotted to blow up the speaker's platform as Hitler spoke for his slate
of candidates in the coming parliamentary elections. Yet, the day
before police arrested the conspirators; the investigation that
followed failed to uncover the explosives though, and since nobody
confessed to such a sinister criminal offense, which carried the death
penalty, the court dismissed charges seven months later. In the same
1934 a group of Dr. Helmut Mylius planned another attempt, which never
In 1935 David Frankfurter, a son of rabbi, who escaped from Nazi
and settled in Switzerland, for few days strolled the streets of Berlin
in hope to catch the moment and assassinate Hitler. As he realised the
futility of his plan, he returned to Switzerland, and there, on 4
February 1936, killed Wilhelm Gustloff, a Nazi activist, who
promoted distribution of the highly anti-Semitic book The Protocols of the Elders of Zion
in Switzerland. A Swiss court sentenced Frankfurter to 18 years in
prison. In 1945 he was pardoned, and left for Palestine.
Also very anecdotal is the history of another attempt. A 20 years old
Swiss student of Catholic theology, Maurice Bavaud, arrived in Germany
on 9 October 1938 in order to assassinate the Führer. He spoke no other language
but French and never shot in his life, yet he bought a pistol in Basel
before he left for Berlin.
The history of that attempt is a travesty of the way the Nazi régime is
portrayed in Hollywood movies: twice Bavaud was reported to the police
as a suspicious foreigner, and twice reports wee totally ignored. What
is more - he had easily got acquainted with the chief of security of
Hitler's residence in Berchtesgaden, Karl Deckert, whom he asked to
arrange a meeting with the Führer.
Deckert in fact refused, claiming that Hitler was very busy, but then
he advised Bavaud to travel to Munich in the beginning of November for
celebrations of the anniversary of the 1923 putsch, which Hitler duly
attended every year.
Bavaud indeed went to Munich, where he posed as a Swiss reporter and
easily obtained a pass to the VIP tribune. Not only nobody asked him,
which newspaper he represented and whether he had an accreditation, but
also nobody seemed surprised that a reporter travelling to Germany did
not speak German. During the traditional parade led by Hitler, Maurice
Bavaud abandoned this attempt when it turned out that the distance was
too big and security too strong.
What happened next, was completely bizarre. The poor student purchased
expensive stationery and forged a letter of introduction in the name of
ex-French prime-minister Pierre-Étienne Flandin, with which he tried in
vain to access Hitler. Then he forged another letter signed in name of
the French nationalist politician Pierre-Charles Taittinger, the leader
of the right-wing party Jeunesses
Patriotes (Patriotic Youth).
Again in vain. He had got only as far as to the chief of Hitler's
As Bavaud exhausted his money, he decided to go back to Switzerland.
And that is when he, so long circling with impunity around Hitler, was
caught by the service that traditionally has been maintaining perfect
order. He was arrested... for ticketless travel on the a German train!
The railway police searched the foreign suspect, found a loaded pistol,
and sent him to the court that sentenced Bavaud to... two months
detention for unlawful possession of firearms. Yet, since all cases of
possession of firearms had to be reported to the Secret State Police (Gestapo), the case against Bavaud
was re-opened, he was easily exposed, and sentenced to death. Swiss
diplomacy made no effort to save Bavaud; Hans Fröhlicher, the Swiss
ambassador to Germany even publicly condemned Bavaud's assassination
attempt. An offer from the Germans to exchange Bavaud for a German spy
was turned down, and Bavaud was sentenced to death. He was executed by
guillotine in Plötzensee prison on 14 May 1941.
As odd as it seems, the most serious, and the closest to succeed, was
the forgotten attempt to kill the Führer undertaken by a lone amateur
on 9 November 1939 in Bürgerbräukeller
pub in Munich.
For years the name Georg Elser did not mean anything even to the
Germans. The respectable encyclopedia Meyers
Großes Handlexikon among
50,000 entries posts the name of a certain Fanny Elsser, an Austrian
ballerina - even with her photograph - but nothing about the would-be
Hitler's assassin. Silence!
It was not until the 50th anniversary of the explosion of the time-bomb
at Bürgerbräukeller that the
German (West at that time yet) television aired a documentary on that
event, and a small book was published. A local committee had to
overcome enormous obstacles to have a memorial plaque unveiled in
Elser's native town. Yet, the 60th anniversary of his death, and the
65th anniversary of his attempt were totally ignored.
The reason of that mysterious silence is as simple as it takes - Elser
was a communist, although his engagement in communist activities were
rather less then modest. After seven elementary school grades he had to
forget about further education and seek some job. Eventually he became
a carpenter, but it was hard to find any work amidst the severe
economic crisis. That brought him to the communist movement. Elser was
a consequent enemy of the Nazi movement since its beginnings; even when
the Nazis came to power in Germany, he consequently refused to use the
Nazi greeting Heil Hitler!
and to participate in public events, like collective listening to
Hitler's speeches on radio. As early as in the autumn of 1938 he
started to collect explosives, which he pilfered in quarries. In the
beginning of 1939 he got a job at a munitions factory, which produced
grenades and fuses for artillery shells. An illiterate person he was,
he self-taught himself to gain an elementary knowledge as how to devise
a time-bomb. He made first tries in his parents' garden. He concealed
explosives and other materials in a special chest with double bottom,
which he made by himself.
Like everybody in Germany, Elser knew that on 8 November Hitler would
come to Munich. On that day members of the Nazi movement were gathering
in the colossal pub Bürgerbräukeller
for observance of anniversary of so-called "beer putsch" - an abortive
attempt to seize power in Bavaria in 1923. The putsch ended in a
bloodshed, and Hitler and his closest comrades landed in prison. After
the release, every year Hitler addressed to the Nazis gathered at Bürgerbräukeller.
The routine was always the same: Hitler's speech used to start at 21:30
and last about an hour and a half. Elser decided to plant a time-bomb
that would go off just after the beginning of the speech.
In the spring of 1939 Elser for the first time travelled to Munich and
tried to get employed at Bürgerbräukeller.
In August 1939 he rented a
room in Munich. As a frequent guest of the pub, he quickly gained trust
of the employees, and collected all necessary information about the
Nazi gatherings and the exact spot where a platform used to be erected
for Hitler. He made friends with a waitress serving the Nazis, and
inquired her about all the details of such gatherings.
Shortly before the closing of the pub, Elser was hiding in the
janitor's storeroom. After the closing, using only an electrical torch
and a set of tools that were not making noise, Elser, for 30 nights,
furrowing a 70x90 cm cavity in a pillar. In the morning Elser was
leaving through a back-door, carrying a suitcase filled with the
rubble. He used to empty the suitcase outside the city.
Simultaneously, Elser devised two identical time-fuses in case if one
of them malfunctioned. He stored about 10kg of explosives in the
cavity, and masked it with a cleverly designed door in the panelling.
Dim light in that spot made it practically invisible. And what is the
most amazing - for 30 days and nights nobody has noticed that bustle.
At night from 7 to 8 November, Elser double-checked everything once
again, and boarded a train taking him to Constance. Elser had planned
everything to cross the Swiss border before the explosion.
Yet, the fate saved Hitler once again. The time-bomb was set to go off
at 21:21. The pillar with the explosives was decorated wit a swastika
flag, concealing the door to the cavity. However, poor weather
conditions made it impossible to Hitler to fly a plane, and he had to
catch a train to Berlin. Since the train was departing at 21:31, Hitler
had to shorten the meeting with the veterans of the Nazi movement.
Therefore, he started the speech about eight o'clock, and left Bürgerbräukeller
Thirteen minutes later went off an explosion so powerful that the
ceiling collapsed, killing 8 and injuring 63. As Hitler and his closest
aides narrowly escaped death, it was easy to launch a propaganda slogan
that "again the Providence watched over the Führer". A reward of 60,000 marks
was offered to anybody, who would help in apprehending the assassins.
When Elser was merely 200m away from the Swiss border, he was stopped
by two German customs officers. He tried to persuade them that he had
got lost, but the officers transferred him to the border guards. The
border guards searched Elser and found on him a post-card with an image
and elements of a fuse. Since the news about the explosion had already
been radio-broadcast, the border guards got alerted, and when they
found a badge of the communist organization Red Front Fighters
League (Rotkämpferbund), they arrested
Elser and transferred him to the State Secret Police (Gestapo).
Why Elser carried on him such incriminating evidence? Most likely he
needed it to prove before the Swiss that he was the author of the
attempt, and claim political asylum. But he was taken to Berlin instead.
In Berlin Elser was submitted to brutal interrogations interspersed
with tortures. Gestapo had also interrogated half of inhabitants of
Elser's native town, Konigsbronn; all his relatives were transported to
Berlin for interrogations, and some of his former employers were
arrested. At once Elser denied any involvement in the plot, but after
several days of vicious tortures he broke down and made a detailed
confession. Eventually those were swollen and mattery knees that
betrayed him; he had to do his work on his knees. Reconstruction of the
scene of explosion had confirmed that furrowing the cavity and filling
it with explosives was possible only while kneeling.
Asked about the motives of the attempt, Elser explained: I considered that the situation in Germany
could only be changed by the elimination of the current leadership.
A simpleton he was, Elser believed that conditions in Germany could
changed by eliminating its current leadership - by which he meant
Hitler, Göbbels and Hermann Göring. Elser is also said to have
hoped that after elimination of these "top
men" more moderate figures would
come forward, improving the lot of the working class rather than
conquering other countries. He started thinking about the bomb-blast as
early as during the Munich accord; the invasion of Poland dismissed his
last objections and hesitations - he believed that
assassination of the "top leadership"
would prevent greater blood-letting. [Moorhouse R. (2006).]
When investigation officer triumphantly reported to the head of Gestapo, SS-Gruppenführer Heinrich Müller,
that Elser eventually had confessed, Müller asked who was behind the
plot. When he heard that nobody, that Elser had been acting alone, he
proposed to explain that to the head of the German police and SS, SS-Reichsführer
Heinrich Himmler. His sarcasm was justified. Himmler
was just incredulous about the findings, and commented them with one,
angry phrase: What idiot conducted
R. (2006).] Himmler took over the case, and personally interrogated
and tortured Elser, but did not get anything more.
The Nazi élite was deeply convinced that the British intelligence was
behind Elser's action. The minister for propaganda, Josef Göbbels,
launched swingeing attacks against London as soon as he heard news
about the assassination attempt. The
moral guilt is clearly entirely theirs, he wrote in his diaries
as soon as next day after the attempt. [Goebbels J. (1982).] That
claim had quickly expanded to the theory of a plot between the British
intelligence and German emigrants, especially the break-away national
socialist Otto Strasser, who, after the assassination of his brother
Gregor, fled Germany and organized the anti-Nazi Black Front (Schwarze Front), operating first
from Czechoslovakia, and later from Canada. To produce any semblance of
evidence, next day after the explosion at Bürgerbräukeller, a group of
13 SS-men, acting by orders of the head of the Reich's Main Security
Reinhardt Heydrich, captured two British intelligence officers -
Captain Sigismund Payne Best and Major Richard Henry Stevens - from a
border Dutch town Venlo. Once the British were brought to Berlin, they
were charged with plotting a terrorist attack in Munich.
Elser's name did not emerge in public until 22 November, as it was
expected that a bigger conspiracy would be unveiled. The Nazis just
could not believe that Elser acted alone, without introducing anybody
into his plans, and without seeking help from other people. The same
was suspected in the groups of army and civilian opposition. Both the
West and the East speculated about the background of the attempt.
British, American and Soviet columnists typically supposed that the
very national socialists had staged the bomb-blast, just like they had
set fire to the Reichstag, to have a pretext to crack down on opponents
of the régime.
If there had been indeed any foreign plot behind Elser's action, he
would not have to have tinkered with a makeshift bomb - he would have
got a quality device. This fact alone suffices to dismiss any
speculations about Elser's foreign superiors. But at the peak of the
Third Reich's triumph it was unthinkable to admit that a German on his
own will rose against the Führer.
For five years Elser, under the name Eller, was kept incarcerated in
concentration camps, completely isolated from other inmates, first in
Sachsenhausen, and later in Dachau. Two SS-men had been always watching
him day and night. Apparently, the Nazis till the end considered him a
person more important than he was - he had a separate cell, a luxury in
concentration-camp conditions, and access to a carpenter's workshop,
where he was making petty furniture for SS guards; he also had made a
kind of zither to play.
It was not until 9 April 1945 that the orders to kill the inmate came
from Gestapo. That was done
the same evening, although Müller suggested to wait for the next air
raid and announce in the press that Elser fell a victim of
Anglo-American bombings. However, at that time the concentration-camp
staff was already preoccupied with more urgent problems, and they were
in hurry to get rid of witnesses as soon as possible. Elser was
executed among other prominent opponents of the Nazi régime like
ex-head of the German intelligence, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, or
Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhöffer. They were kept alive till the end
of the war, because it was expected that after the final victory they
would be put on show trials.
There were more plans to assassinate Hitler, concocted after the
outbreak of the Second World War either in Germany or abroad, but those
were indeed merely plans. Elser's attempt remained the only one till 20
July 1944. Yet, in 1944, the plot was made by professional militarymen
surrounding Hitler, and the defeat of the Third Reich was closing very
quickly. At Bürgerbräukeller
were gathered the top figures of the Nazi government, since next to the
fateful pillar apart from Hitler sat also Göring,
Himmler, Göbbels, Robert Ley, Alfred Rosenberg, Julius Streicher and
Hans Frank. Their sudden death at the outset of the Second World War
would certainly have changed the History.