Today (a bit belatedly) I feel the need to reflect on one of history’s horrific calamities, a never-to-come-back opportunity for humanity to save millions of lives. What I am talking about is what went wrong 70 years ago to date (almost); the failed attempt to kill Adolf Hitler and end WWII. I don’t believe it is an exaggeration to say we’d be living in an entirely different world today if the war in Europe had ended in July 1944, rather than May 1945. Not only that millions would be saved unnecessary death, but most likely, there would likely be no post-war East/West division of Europe. It is even possible that millions wouldn’t be starving under the Kim deities today.
Only if it had gone according to plan.
On 20 July 1944, a 36-year-old German army officer, Col Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, arrived at a heavily guarded complex hidden in a forest in East Prussia. His mission was to kill Adolf Hitler.
The Wolfsschanze, or Wolf’s Lair, was Hitler’s secret headquarters on the Eastern Front. Stauffenberg was attending the daily briefing between the Fuhrer and Germany’s high command – but in his briefcase, he carried a bomb.
Though not overtly political, Stauffenberg was a conservative and a nationalist. At times, he had supported Nazi policies, but as the war progressed, his opposition to the regime grew – he was horrified by German atrocities in the east and the realisation that Germany was losing the war.
Stauffenberg was approached by a group of conspirators led by Gen Henning von Tresckow, who wanted to kill Hitler and overthrow the Nazi regime. Stauffenberg became a leading member of the plot.
Stauffenberg became chief of staff for the commander of the German Replacement Army. The post gave him access to Hitler and an opportunity to carry out the assassination.
The conspirators’ plan was fraught with risk. Stauffenberg would carry explosives in his briefcase, through the security checks surrounding the Wolf’s Lair, prime the bomb and place his briefcase near Hitler during the daily briefing. He would then make his excuses and leave the room. After the explosion, Stauffenberg would dash back to Berlin where the conspirators would use the Replacement Army to take control.
“We were standing around and Hitler came in, and then the conference began,” recalled German army officer Gen Walter Warlimont in a BBC interview in 1967.
On Thursday 20 July, Stauffenberg arrived at the Wolf’s Lair – the briefing was set for 12:30. But he was interrupted as he tried to set the bomb, so he put only one of two explosive devices in his briefcase before he entered the meeting.
“I remember that Stauffenberg had a big black briefcase under his good arm,” said Warlimont in 1967.
“But then I didn’t look at him anymore, so I didn’t see him putting it under the table, or leaving the room shortly afterwards. About five to 10 minutes passed – I had forgotten about him when the explosion happened.”
Stauffenberg saw the explosion as he left the compound to head back to Berlin. He was sure that Hitler was dead.
But just before the explosion, Stauffenberg’s briefcase had been moved behind a table leg away from Hitler. The bomb was not as powerful as intended and Hitler was leaning over the thick oak table looking at maps when it went off which shielded him from the blast. Four died in the explosion and many were injured, but Hitler survived.
The rest, as they say, is history. While Hitler lived 10 more months, Stauffenberg did not-he was arrested and shot soon after the failed assassination attempt. The wreckage of the war in the Europe and Asia/Pacific and the spread of Stalinism marched on.
And while I rarely blog about personal matters, I remembering reading about this history when I was young. It made a profound impression on me, and changed who I was. As a matter of fact I wrote about the experience in the chapter I contributed to Beyond an Absence of Faith, a book edited by my friend and co-blogger Jonathan MS Pearce. This is an excerpt of what I wrote.
I had never doubted my own faithfulness—until the first hit. That was when I read William Shirer’s “the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” The part that shook my faith was learning about how Hitler extremely narrowly survived the assassination attempt against him (dramatized in the 2008 movie “Valkyrie”) ten months prior to the end of the War, which would have saved millions of lives (not to mention, quite likely, averting the suffering of millions more as a result of the division of Europe during the Cold War). I remember his radio address after its failure: “I see the Hand of the Providence in my survival”. Now, this carried an extremely familiar tone, since in my living environment, attribution of the mundane to the miraculous was a dime a dozen. Hitler’s survival, if anything, was even more improbable and dramatic than many of the “miracle” stories I heard every day. So, was I supposed to believe Hitler was wrong? And if so, how would I know which survival miracle claims where “true” and which were mere accidents?
Long ago as this was, my faith in miracles would never come back. And the miracle claims I’ve heard since have only convinced me that I was right. Look, for instance, at this silly claim by the odious pastor-turned-politician-turned-pundit Mike Huckabee.
I know the pundits and I know what they say. “Well, the math doesn’t work out.” Folks, I didn’t major in math. I majored in miracles, and I still believe in those too.
A few nights ago, when the tornadoes tore through the South, one of those tornadoes hit the community of Brandenburg, Kentucky. I got an e-mail yesterday from a lady named Lisa Young in Brandenburg, Kentucky. It’s a pretty remarkable story, because that tornado didn’t just hit her town. It hit her house. But she e-mailed to say that despite the damage to her home, she said there was one thing that was pretty remarkable, and she wanted to make sure that I heard about it, and I did.
She said she had a yard sign, a Mike Huckabee yard sign, up in her yard. And she said when the tornado had gone through, she said what was amazing to her was, standing pristine, without a hint of damage or even leaning, she said was that yard sign still standing in her yard. She said, “Mike, I don’t know what that means, but all I know is that in Brandenburg, Kentucky, you’re still standing.”
Well I am glad God looks out for math-dismissing-politicians’ yard signs and genocidal tyrants’ lives, at least.