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German Resistance Memorial

Updated: Jul 4

German Resistance Memorial in Berlin at the Bendlerblock

Memorial at the Bendler Block; Wikipedia


The July 20th Plot

The July 20th plot, also known as Operation Valkyrie, is the most well known attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler - though there were others. Orchestrated by a group of high-ranking military officers and civilians, the plan was to kill Hitler and use the Reserve Army to seize control of Berlin, dismantle the Nazi regime, and negotiate peace with the (western) Allies. Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg was a key figure in this plot, tasked with placing a bomb in Hitler's briefing room at the Wolf's Lair, his East Prussian headquarters.

On July 20th 1944, Stauffenberg carried out this plot by flying to the Wolf's Lair for a briefing with Hitler among others. The briefing ended up being moved forward by half an hour because Hitler was expecting a visit from Benito Mussolini that afternoon and the assassination was threatened to fail, as it seemed there would be no opportunity to activate the timers on the two explosive devices Stauffenberg carried in his briefcase.

Before delivering his report to Hitler, Stauffenberg pretended he needed to change his shirt and sought out a side room where, he began to arm the explosives. This proved difficult due to an injury he had sustained in Northern Africa leaving him with essentially one hand. Additionally. Stauffenberg was interrupted by a Staff Sergeant, who urged him to hurry for the briefing. As a result, he was only able to activate one of the two packs containing a kilogram of explosives and also made the mistake handing the unarmed second package to a fellow conspirator instead of packing it with the armed first explosive. This thus reduced the effectiveness of the later explosion.

Stauffenberg managed to enter the conference room, placed the briefcase near Hitler, and as planned, exited the room after receiving a scheduled call. At 12:42 PM, the bomb exploded. Three of the twelve severely injured individuals eventually died, while the remaining eleven attendees, including Hitler, suffered minor injuries. In the lightly constructed barrack where the meeting occurred, the blast wave from the explosion was able to escape primarily through the wooden floor and the wide-open windows.

The destroyed room where the July 20th bomb exploded

The briefing room after the explosion; DHM


Moreover, two factors worked in Hitler's favor: after Stauffenberg left the briefing room, another attendee moved the briefcase to the side of the heavy table leg away from Hitler to get closer to the table. Additionally, Heusinger was presenting the situation in the far north of the Soviet Union to Hitler; thus, both men were nearly leaning over the large map on the thick tabletop when the detonation happened. The table leg and the massive oak tabletop largely protected Hitler from the direct impact of the explosion. He only sustained minor injuries such as bruises, abrasions, and ruptured eardrums.

Meanwhile elsewhere events unfolded swiftly. The conspirators quickly enacted Operation Valkyrie, a contingency plan designed to mobilize the Reserve Army in Berlin under the guise of protecting the government from a coup. Claus von Stauffenberg, General Friedrich Olbricht, and Colonel Albrecht Mertz von Quirnheim, attempted to seize control of key government buildings and communication centers, arrest key Nazi officials and secure the city. However, confusion, delayed orders, and lack of broader support undermined their efforts. News of Hitler's survival reached Berlin quickly, and the coup attempt lost momentum.

As the reality of the failed assassination became apparent, loyalist forces, led by General Friedrich Fromm and Heinrich Himmler, acted decisively against the conspirators. Stauffenberg, Olbricht, Mertz von Quirnheim, and other key figures were arrested and executed by firing squad that very night. Others involved were hunted down in the following days. The Nazis responded to the plot with brutal repression. Hitler and the SS initiated a massive purge, targeting not only those directly involved but also suspected sympathizers. Over 7,000 people were arrested, and approximately 4,980 were executed. The executions were often carried out in a particularly gruesome manner to serve as a deterrent, including hangings with piano wire and other forms of torture.


The Memorial Sight

Today at the location where the July 20th Conspirators were executed stands the German Resistance Memorial Center and a solemn memorial, with a plaque commemorating the fallen conspirators and a statue of a lone figure, representing the resistance fighters' solitary struggle against tyranny. The plaque is inscribed with the names of those who participated in the resistance, ensuring their legacy endures.


Faces of the various conspirators involved in the July 20th plot; German Resistance Museum


The museum offers a comprehensive overview of the various resistance efforts against the Nazis and has since its opening in 1980 become an invaluable resource for understanding the complexities and courage of the resistance movements. Exhibits include personal letters, photographs, and artifacts from various people who defied the Nazi regime, providing a deeply personal glimpse into their lives and sacrifices.

The museum is divided into several sections, each highlighting different aspects of the resistance. From military conspiracies to civilian efforts, it covers a broad spectrum of resistance activities. Notably, the museum includes detailed accounts of the planning and execution of the July 20th plot, offering visitors a profound understanding of the risks these individuals took in their fight against tyranny.


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