I watched with interest as a “breaking news” item crawled across the bottom of the TV screen during a cable news program, announcing the death in Germany, of Phillip von Boeselager at age 91. Except for possibly one other, former Wehrmacht Major von Boeselager was the last surviving member of the plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler at his headquarters at Wolfshanze in 1944.
Born into an old family with roots in Germany’s nobility, von Boeselager followed his brother Georg into service in the Cavalry, eventually winning his country’s highest military awards for heroism against the Soviets on World War II’s Eastern Front. In 1942, he began to learn of the Nazis’ murder of ethnic populations, and along with Georg and his own commander, Field Marshal Gṻnther von Kluge, joined a budding conspiracy to eliminate the Nazi tyranny, beginning with the assassination of Hitler and Himmler.
While the much-publicized bomb attempt of 1944 - in which Phillip was an active but secret participant - is well-known, few historians have noted the fact that as early as 1935, there existed an active Resistance movement inside Germany itself, among whose ranks were numbered some of Germany’s most notable military officers and their families. In fact, by 1938 when it became clear Hitler was planning military action, the plots to remove him from power were already taking shape. In all, it is believed that between 17 and 20 assassination attempts were planned, with several coming close to success. Everything from bullets and bombs to poison and plane crashes would be considered and tried, each against the background of immediate retaliation by Hitler’s ever-present Gestapo guardians a threat to the planners. (Von Boeselager himself was positioned so as to shoot both Hitler and Himmler with a pistol as he sat opposite them at a dinner table in March, 1943, only to have his mission called off when Himmler was called away.)
What is almost never mentioned by today’s politically-correct observers is the extent to which the absence of encouragement and support from the United States and England dampened the resistance efforts at the very time when they had the greatest possibility of success. Hitler was still being lionized as a rising “savior” in Europe by much of the U.S. Media, while Britain’s Lord Halifax was depicting the Nazi Fuhrer as a guy “with whom we can do business”. Secret contacts between the Resistance leaders and Western agents were not only rebuffed but often actually compromised outright.
The most well-known assassination attempt took place on July 20th, 1944, as Hitler met with his military leaders at Wolfshanze (Wolf’s Lair), his remote headquarters in East Prussia. Named“Operation Valkerie” its planners had already appointed and put in place a “government-in-waiting” to take over immediately upon Hitler’s anticipated demise. Colonel Count Claus von Stauffenberg, a wounded veteran of the Eastern Front and long-time member of the conspiracy movement was chosen to be the bomb “messenger”. In the end, the powerful bomb hidden in the brief case Stauffenberg had left beneath the table and next to Hitler killed four and wounded twenty, but failed to kill the Fuhrer – thanks probably to the deflection of the blast by a table leg.
The courageous Stauffenberg was quickly apprehended and summarily shot, and before the aftermath had run its course, 5,000 German officers and officials were arrested, and 200 executed. Even those who had played no part in the plot, but were thought to have had knowledge of it were eliminated, including the revered Field Marshal Erwin Rommel who died by “cyanide suicide” to protect his family from retribution.
Writing about the “Hitler Era” after the war, former Wehrmacht General Heinz Guderian and other one-time German commanders would say that had the Allies given encouragement to the German Resistance early on, and had they not imposed the “Unconditional Surrender” policy following the Casablanca Conference, World War II could have ended much sooner, with millions of lives saved, and the eventual spread of Soviet Communism avoided altogether.
From a distance of 66 years and 6000 miles, I take my hat off to a former enemy soldier named Phillip von Boeselager who, along with other virtues, knew how to keep a secret.
Hitler is seen meeting with some of his military commanders against the
forested background of “Wolf’s Lair”, his East Prussia headquarters.
A photo taken immediately following the “Operation Valkyrie” assassination attempt in July, 1944 showing the table around which the Fuhrer and his staff were gathered.