Nigel Jones

The shadow of the Valkyrie plot to kill Hitler still haunts Germany

A memorial in Berlin to the officers and other officials involved in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1944 (Credit: Getty images)

Seventy-nine years ago today, 20 July 1944, Colonel Count Claus von Stauffenberg, a much-wounded young Wehrmacht officer, packed a briefcase in a broiling Berlin and flew to the ‘Wolf’s Lair’ the headquarters of Adolf Hitler deep in a Polish forest 100 miles behind the eastern front. 

Stauffenberg – who had lost an eye, a hand, and all but two fingers on his remaining hand in North Africa – packed a deadly load wrapped in a spare shirt: two lumps of captured British-made plastic explosives along with their detonators. Summoned to attend a military conference with the Fuhrer, his true aim was to assassinate the dictator who was leading his beloved Germany to disaster.

Stauffenberg succeeded in planting his bomb and bluffed his way out of the tight security screen surrounding the Wolf’s Lair to return to Berlin and launch Operation Valkyrie: a military putsch to depose the Nazis and end the Second World War. But crucially, Hitler had survived the blast that killed four other officers around the conference table.

Valkyrie has left a complex legacy that has marked and even distorted German politics down to the present day

As soon as the news spread that Hitler was still alive, Stauffenberg’s coup collapsed. In Paris, where the plotters had arrested their Nazi SS colleagues, they were forced to release their captives with embarrassed excuses; in Berlin, loyal troops surrounded the Bendlerblock – the building where the putsch was hatched. Stauffenberg and three of his lieutenants were taken out and shot by a firing squad: the first victims of Nazi vengeance on the plotters that would finally take hundreds more lives. Only a handful survived the war.

Today, the leaders of Germany will gather at the Bendlerblock as they do every year to solemnly commemorate Stauffenberg and his colleagues in an annual ceremony representing Germany’s official attitude: that the plotters were true heroes embodying  the ‘real’ Germany in resisting Hitler and all his evil works.

Beneath the homage, however, Valkyrie has left a more complex legacy that has marked and even distorted German politics down to the present day.

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