Elser wanted to prevent another world war.
The article was originally published on the website Aktuálně.cz
All it took was for Nazi leader Adolf Hitler to stay in Munich’s Bürgerbräukeller for 13 minutes longer and he would have died. But the German dictator was extremely lucky exactly 84 years ago. Like other assassinations, he also survived this one.
Hitler was preparing for his traditional speech on November 8, 1939. The annual commemoration in Munich commemorated the failed Nazi coup attempt in Germany, also known as the Beer Hall Putsch.
Neither the chairman of the Nazi party NSDAP nor the people from his immediate surroundings had the slightest idea that a time bomb would explode in a column near the lectern. Its manufacturer was the South German carpenter Georg Elser.
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“He came to the conclusion that Hitler was an evil that needed to be eliminated,” says the book History of Modern Germany about Elser, an otherwise ordinary craftsman from a peasant family. Author Mary Fulbrook calls him a courageous man who acted without political support.
The fact that Elser attempted the assassination himself is perhaps one of the most remarkable things about the whole story, something even Hitler himself later refused to believe. Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel described Elser as a hero of the anti-Nazi resistance who defied ideology himself in an effort to prevent another world conflict.
Elser was 36 years old when he tried to remove the dictator. The father of the young son prepared everything with the utmost care and did not tell anyone about his plan.
He wanted to prevent another war
The trained carpenter and untrained caster had been planning the assassination for a long time. The idea of assassinating a German politician occurred to him as early as 1938. It was then that he became convinced that World War II was inevitable under Hitler’s rule. It later turned out that these were legitimate concerns.
Bust of Georg Elser in Berlin. (source: Kay Winkler)
Elser had a strong aversion to Nazism. For a time he was a member of the Communist Party, but was never significantly politically active. However, he followed Hitler’s political actions from a distance. “According to his later statements, he states that one of the key motivations for the assassination was the Munich Agreement of 1938,” according to British historian Roger Moorhouse’s book The Assassination of Hitler.
“I was considering how to improve conditions for the workers and avoid war. No one encouraged me to do so,” Elser himself later said during interrogation by the Gestapo. A file containing his statements, recorded by the German secret police, was discovered in the 1960s.
Georg Elser decided to plant a bomb on Hitler, the production of which he worked intensively. Between 1925 and 1929 he was employed in a watch factory, where he learned to make timers.
In addition to the way to get rid of Hitler, the choice of a suitable place and time was also questionable. After much thought, Elser decided that the memory of the failed beer coup of the early 1920s would serve him best. Hitler could not miss this celebration with his speech.
He worked day and night
The “lone assassin” Elser did not want to underestimate anything and came to the event, which was held annually, in 1938 as a spectator. The celebration was traditionally hosted by the Munich brewery Bürgerbräukeller.
Czech writer and expert on German history Josef Petr Stern describes in his book Hitler – leader and people how Elser noticed security deficiencies in the beer hall, as well as imperfections at the lectern or in the general layout of the hall.
After a thorough search of the entire hall, he decided to place the bomb in a support column that rose directly behind the lectern. Because of the planned operation, he began to visit Munich regularly, and in August 1939 he moved to the city permanently.
At first he tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to get a job in a brewery. However, after being rebuffed several times, Elser activated his plan B. It consisted of sneaking into a beer hall every night for dinner, then sneaking into a warehouse and waiting until it closed. When the building finally looked at least empty, he set to work – diligently digging holes in the column, which he had measured carefully at the start, all night long.
He cut the wooden paneling that covered the column so that, like an experienced carpenter, he could completely cover it again.
These careful preparations took him a month. On the fifth of November, he placed a bomb with a very sophisticated time mechanism for that time in a metal box, which he then inserted into a hole dug in the pillar. With an explosion time of November 8 at 9:20 p.m.
When the man had thoroughly prepared everything, he left for Constance. From there, he planned to flee to Switzerland, where he had worked in the past.
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Hitler cut his speech short
Well, while Elser spent days and nights thinking about how to prepare everything as best as possible, Hitler thought that he would not make a speech at all. He was fully occupied during the Second World War, which was then entering its third month.
But he considered the ceremony in a Munich beer hall really important, so he finally compromised. He was about to give a speech in which he wanted to highlight Germany’s successful role in the war and denigrate enemy countries, but he cut it short. He wanted to return to Berlin as soon as possible and devote himself to his military plans.
In the end, the Nazi leader spoke for just over an hour, which is an unexpectedly short time compared to previous years. Although Elser’s bomb exploded for exactly one second, Hitler had already been outside the halls for thirteen minutes at the time of the explosion.
The massive explosion completely destroyed the interior of the brewery, killing eight and injuring sixty.
Elser was detained by border control in Switzerland. The man was revealed by the contents of his pockets, which seemed suspicious to the inspectors. He hid screws, rivets or addresses of ammunition factories.
Elser was harshly interrogated by the Gestapo and eventually confessed to the crime. However, Hitler was convinced for a long time that an enemy power was involved in the assassination and Elser was only its tool.
Only his detailed description of the assassination convinced the secret police. In his book The Assassination of Hitler, historian Roger Moorhouse recounts how the Nazi politician was surprised by the type of man who tried to kill him.
“He wasn’t a Jew, he didn’t befriend Jews, he wasn’t a communist, he was a teetotaler… He was one of the honest German workers whom the Nazis believed to be the backbone of their party,” writes Moorhouse.
Georg Elser was subsequently transported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and later to Dachau, where he was supposed to survive the war, and then he was put on trial. However, at the end of the war, on April 9, 1945, he was shot on orders from above. His body was cremated in the crematorium at Dachau. In 2015, the German director Oliver Hirschbiegel made the film Thirteen Minutes about Elser’s failed operation.
The South German craftsman was not the only one who tried to kill the Nazi dictator. In November 1938, for example, the Swiss theology student Maurice Bavaud attempted to assassinate Hitler, and in July 1944, a group of opponents of the regime attempted the same in Operation Valkyrie.
However, not one of the assassination attempts was successful. The German leader eventually committed suicide. Just before the end of the Second World War, on April 30, 1945, he shot himself in his bunker.