Friday, July 20, 2018

July 20-This Date in History

Image result for nina von stauffenberg
Nina and Claus von Stauffenberg

Today marks the 74th anniversary of the failed attempt on the life of Adolf Hitler. Operation Valkyrie was the code name for the plan by which Colonel Claus Graf von Stauffenberg placed a briefcase containing a bomb at Hitler's field hqs near Rastenburg, East Prussia during a military briefing to which Stauffenberg had been summoned to give a report.

The plan was actually quite ingenious. Upon the death of Hitler, the plotters, who included military officers, would activate an operation (Valkyrie)  that would be called into action upon an attack against the government or breakdown in law and order due to Allied bombing of German cities. Upon Hitler's death, the SS, Gestapo and higher ranking officials would be accused of the assassination and placed under arrest by unwitting domestic military troops as a new government was formed.

Stauffenberg was able to leave the briefcase under the table where Hitler was going over the military situation with his generals. However, after he made his way out of the building, one of the officers moved the briefcase to the other side of a leg of the table, which saved Hitler from the full force of the blast. Stauffenberg flew back to Berlin believing Hitler was dead. The plan was put into effect once Stauffenberg passed the word that Hitler  had been killed. Hours later, the operation collapsed when it was learned that Hitler had survived. Stauffenberg and others were summarily executed in the courtyard of the military hqs (Bendlerblock) on Bendlerstrasse.What is known in Germany as the July 20 plot to kill Hitler was the subject of an American film a few years ago entitled, "Valkyrie" and starring Tom Cruise as Stauffenberg.

Monument in the Bendlerblock. "Here died for Germany on July 20, 1944...."

Aside from my overall interest in the Third Reich, I take specific interest in this incident because when I was stationed with the  US Army in Germany in the 1960s, the town where I was stationed, Erlangen, and the nearby town of Bamberg, have some connection to two of the players in the July 20 plot, Stauffenberg and General Karl von Bodenschatz, who was deputy to Hermann Goering and was wounded in the explosion.

At the time Stauffenberg was involved in the plot, his duty station was at Bamberg, a picturesque Franconian town north of Erlangen. His wife, Nina, and their children were living there, and after the plot collapsed, she was imprisoned and separated from her children under Germany's notorious Sippenhaft law, by which family members of "traitors" were also imprisoned. She survived the war, was reunited with her children and lived in the Bamberg area until her death just a few years ago. In her last years, she wrote a book on her experiences. I have had the opportunity to visit Bamberg several times. It was also the scene for the movie, Town Without Pity, starring Kirk Douglas. The story was based on the German book, Das Urteil by Georg Dorfmeister which revolved around a rape of a German girl by American troops in the post war period. The girl, who was scandalized by the inhabitants of the town, committed suicide. The actual film was shot in Bamberg and the town of Forchheim, located between Erlangen and Nuremberg. Back in the 1960s, soldiers stationed in Bamberg called it, "the town without pity".

Old town hall (Altes Rathaus) in Bamberg
Town Hall Bamberg

Bodenschatz, who flew with Goering as a fighter pilot in World War One in the famed Richthofen Brigade, had served a tour of duty in Erlangen during his long military career. He was seriously wounded in the July 20 explosion but survived. He died in Erlangen in 1979 after taking up residence there in his later years.

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