The carpenter who almost killed Hitler
13 Minutes, the new film from the director of Downfall, shows how close a lowly carpenter came to assassinating the Führer in 1939. Who was Georg Elser, and why did he fail?
By the summer of 1944, the British and Americans had dropped all plans to assassinate Hitler. They had realised that the Führer had become their secret weapon; such was his irrational behaviour and general incompetence as a military strategist.
There was also a growing understanding, gleaned from bugging the prison cells of captured German officers, that the Nazis were so fanatical they would have to be defeated unambiguously. An assassination, such as the one attempted by Colonel von Stauffenberg on July 20 1944, could have been interpreted as a stab in the back by treacherous officers and a version of the Nazi Party may have remained in power for decades after the war.
As it was, their unconditional surrender in 1945 was followed by a programme of denazification, as well as the Nuremburg trials.
Everyone has heard of the July 20 plot, thanks, not least, to the 2008 film Valkyrie, which starred Tom Cruise as von Stauffenberg. But how many of us are aware that that was the second dramatic attempt on Hitler’s life by one of his own people?
The first came on November 8, 1939, two months after the war began, and the story behind it has now been made into 13 Minutes, a gripping and thought-provoking film by Oliver Hirschbiegel, best known as the award-winning director of Downfall (2004).
The assassination attempt involved a huge time bomb. The idea was that it would be detonated in Munich’s Bürgerbräukeller in a column immediately behind the lectern where Hitler would be making the speech he made every year, in the same place, at the same time, to mark the anniversary of the 1923 “Beer Hall Putsch”. Unfortunately the Nazi leader left the Bürgerbräukeller earlier than scheduled that night, 13 minutes before the bomb went off.
Had that attempt on his life succeeded it would, unlike the July 20 plot, have been an unequivocally good thing. Indeed it might well have saved the lives of 40 million people, because Hitler’s senior henchmen — including Himmler, Goebbels, Hess, and Reinhard Heydrich, the architect of the Holocaust — were also there, sitting in the front row, and they would have been killed along with him. As it was, they left with him, and the bomb brought down the ceiling and the walls, leaving a pile of rubble. Eight members of the audience, including a waitress, were killed instead.
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