Home Editions Rudolf-Christoph von Gersdorff, the Nazi officer who tried to kill Hitler 80 years ago

Rudolf-Christoph von Gersdorff, the Nazi officer who tried to kill Hitler 80 years ago

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Exactly 80 years ago on March 21, 1943, Rudolf-Christoph von Gersdorff, a German army officer willing to die to free his country from the shadow of Nazism, tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Between 1943 and 1944, there were at least five assassination attempts against him. This was the second. Although his plan failed – as did others – his plan is a testament to the resistance to Nazism within German military lines and the courage of those who tried to change Germany’s future.

Gersdorff began his military career In Germany in 1925, became a regimental adjutant in the 7th Cavalry Regiment and in 1933 in Breslau. , Later, in 1939, his unit was deployed during the invasion of Poland and he served as a staff officer in the offensive against France.

From 1941, he became a counterintelligence officer of Heeresgruppe Mitte (Army Group Center), where he joined a group of conspirators who were informed of war crimes against Soviet prisoners of war and the mass murder of people . Jews by Einsatzgruppe B (one of the paramilitary executions in Nazi Germany).

Among the conspirators was Henning von Tresckow, a prominent figure in the resistance to the German army, recruited by Friedrich Olbricht, head of the Office, who was also involved in the plan to overthrow Hitler and organize a coup d’état, which defied the formal structure. Was. What will the government look like after his death?

Originally, plan to kill hitler This was to be done by Tresco from Berlin under the direction of Olbrich. On March 13, the dictator would visit troops on the Eastern Front in Smolensk. There, a group of officers would fire at him at the same time after a signal. However, Günther von Kluge, a commander in the center, asked Tresco to cancel the plan, pointing out that it was too soon and since Heinrich Himmler (a prominent figure of the SS and one of Hitler’s closest men) was present. Were not there, so they also demanded cancellation of the plan. Kiel), there was a danger of a civil war between the SS and the German army.

Having failed, Tresco made another assassination attempt by planting a bomb on the plane carrying Hitler. However, it did not explode.

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March 21 plan

After Treskov’s plan failed, Gersdorff indicated that he was willing to give up his life for Germany in another assassination attempt. On March 21, 1943, Hitler visited Berlin’s Zeughaus, an old armory where Soviet weapons were kept. The march was part of the Heldendenktag, a public celebration commemorating those killed in military conflicts. Being so important, the dictator was expected to spend a great deal of time in that location, making it ideal for carrying out another’s plan.

Adolf Hitler visiting a special display of weapons stolen from Russia at the Zeughaus in Berlin, where Rudolf Christoph von Gersdorff tried to assassinate him.
Adolf Hitler visiting a special display of weapons stolen from Russia at the Zeughaus in Berlin, where Rudolf Christoph von Gersdorff tried to assassinate him.Ulstein Build DTL. (via Getty Images)

Gersdorff was Hitler’s guide for his visit to Zeughaus. First, the officer had obtained the explosives, which he placed in his coat pocket and set off to detonate within 10 minutes. his plan was to throw himself about Hitler in the embrace This would result in an explosion that would kill them both, and possibly others in attendance, including Heinrich Himmer, Hermann Göring, Wilhelm Keitel, and Karl Dönitz, all close to Hitler.

However, the Nazi leader quickly passed through the museum in less than 10 minutes, which prevented the attack from being carried out. Gersdorff placed the bombs, and managed to defuse them at the last moment. After this, he was sent to the Eastern Front to avoid suspicion.

Gersdorff also obtained explosives that would later be used for another assassination attempt by another conspirator, Claus Schenk Graf von Sauffenberg.

The officer was one of the few conspirators to survive the battle. Others were imprisoned and tortured. Thanks to his silence, Gersdorff escaped being arrested and executed.

After the war

After the war, Gersdorff served in the US Army’s Historical Division, where German generals wrote operational studies of World War II.

Considered a traitor by some officers, he was dismissed from the Bundeswehr, the West German armed forces, which prevented him from continuing his military career.

Rudolf-Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff.
Rudolf-Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff.Ulstein Pictures (via Getty Images)

He dedicated his life to charity in the Order of Saint John, a branch of the Catholic military order, establishing a humanitarian organization that as of 2017 had 37,000 active volunteers and over 1.3 million registered members.

Although Gersdorff’s views have been positive because of his involvement in the anti-Hitler movement, his image has been reevaluated in recent years. historian Joannes Huerter, of Munich Institute for Contemporary History, points out that many of the conspirators were initially informed about the mass killings earlier, cooperating in them, because those crimes would seem less terrible if they were weighed against the chance of defeating the Soviet Union. He reconsidered his position once he realized that the military risk was not worth it and the killings turned into massacres.

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