Exemplary Courage: Count von Stauffenberg

SEPT / OCT 2016: BY VERONICA LEIGH

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A devout Catholic nobleman and German patriot would be the least likely candidate to assassinate the world’s most evil dictator.

Born Claus Philipp Maria Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg in the eastern part of Swabia, his noble roots extended back many generations. Well educated, Claus adored literature, especially poetry. Poetry involving religious themes would later inspire him to act on his conscience. He followed his family’s tradition and entered the military. He married a loving woman named Nina, and they had five children. The future seemed bright for the young Stauffenberg family.

When the Nazi’s rose to power, like many of that age, Claus supported them. As a religious and conservative man, certain Nazi ideals appealed to him. Hitler promised to restore order, improve the economy, offer work for the unemployed, and resurrect their beloved Fatherland. Claus overlooked the anti-Semitism and the onslaught of tyranny that accompanied such ideals. As time passed, he could no longer ignore others’ suffering.

In 1939, Germany invaded Poland. By 1940, the Nazis had conquered many major European countries. The Final Solution came into formation and began exterminating the Jews. As a career military man, Claus fought on various fronts. Word traveled back to him of the atrocities committed. Such evils contradicted his Christian faith and conscience. By 1942, he was searching for an avenue to assassinate Hitler. Since the war was successful, no military man wanted to help him.

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In 1943, Claus served under Rommel in Africa. He lost part of a hand and an eye and returned to Germany for recuperation. When approached to join a Hitler assassination conspiracy, he accepted. They needed to convince the Allies not all Germans were compliant under the Nazi regime, and act. A plan went into motion… Operation Valkyrie, involving thousands of members of the German resistance. Despite others’ 42 previous failed attempts on Hitler’s life, Claus believed he would not fail; it was his destiny to succeed.

Hitler attended a military meeting at the Wolf’s Lair in Eastern Prussia. Claus entered the building with a briefcase containing two bombs. The plan was to explode both, but he was interrupted and only able to set one charge. Claus put the live bomb back into the briefcase and went straight into the meeting, placing the briefcase as close to Hitler as he could. A minute later, he left on the pretense of a phone call and slipped out of the hut. When the explosion occurred, Claus believed no one could have survived the blast.

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Claus and his adjutant left and drove to an airfield. From there they went to Berlin. When they reached the Bendlerblock (the headquarters of the army), the second part of the plan went into motion. There would be a coup; Martial Law would be declared and all high-ranking Nazis arrested. New government officials would be put into place and every branch of the National Socialist government (including those in occupied territories) would be dismantled.

To Claus and the other conspirators’ dismay, Hitler survived the explosion unharmed. Someone in the meeting had moved the briefcase. When it went off, the large oak table worked as a shield to protect Hitler. Those still loyal to him court martialed Claus and the other conspirators. They arrested those involved in Operation Valkyrie and led them outside to be shot.

As Claus awaited his execution, one of the other conspirators, Lieutenant von Haeften, threw himself in front of Claus, dying in his place. When it was Claus’ turn, he shouted, “Long live our sacred Germany!” Seconds later, he was dead.

Claus von Stauffenberg may not have lived to see the end of the war or the downfall of Nazism, but he has gone down in history as a man who lived out Sir Edmund Burke’s quote: “All evil needs to triumph is for good men to sit and do nothing.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Veronica Leigh is an aspiring novelist, who lives in Indiana with her family and six furbabies. Her obsessions range from Jane Austen to the Holocaust to Once Upon a Time. She has published two short autobiographical pieces and hopes to see more in print. She also lurks on her blog.

4 thoughts on “Exemplary Courage: Count von Stauffenberg

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      1. I have, yes–although I haven’t read as much about them as I’d like! She was such a great person. There’s a German-language film about the White Rose, “Sophie Scholl: Die Letzten Tage,” that I really need to watch . . . it’s supposed to be super-good.

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