Today in History: The Man Who Was Minutes Away From Killing Hitler

Today in History: The Man Who Was Minutes Away From Killing Hitler

M.C. Millman

Today marks the birthday of the carpenter and would-be assassin Georg Elser, who was close to achieving worldwide fame if only his plan had succeeded. 

The German Resistance Memorial Center recounts the story of Elser, a skilled carpenter and cabinet maker born on January 4, 1903. Politically, Elser wanted independence and freedom. Until 1933, he voted for the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), believing that it best represented the interests of the working class. Georg rejected National Socialism and refused to perform the "Hitler Salute." He also avoided communal gatherings that joined to listen to Hitler's speeches on the radio.

Elser began planning Hitler's assassination over a year before the event. He planned to kill not only Hitler but also Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels. The carpenter hoped that the assassination would prevent the impending war. 

Hitler gave an annual speech in the Munich Bürgerbräukeller on November 8. The hall was left open without guards, giving Elser easy access to the venue. The would-be assassin painstakingly constructed a detonator machine and obtained explosives. He then spent the nights over several weeks preparing a supporting pillar in the event hall to conceal the explosives, placing it near the podium where Hitler was to give his speech. According to David Irving's revolutionary biography "Hitler's War," The mechanism was soundproofed in cork to prevent the ticking from being heard.

There was a constant risk of discovery. "Every sound had to be muffled, every speck of sawdust collected and disposed of," writes the historian Roger Moorhouse in his book titled "Killing Hitler." Elser told the Gestapo he carried out his loudest work, timing it to coincide with "every 10 minutes (when) the hall toilets flushed automatically".

Unfortunately, on November 8, 1939, Hitler left the assembly room unexpectedly 13 minutes shy of the explosion, evading the assassination attempt. The blast killed eight people and injured 62 others. 

According to David Irving, Elser was caught trying to cross illegally into Switzerland, along with sketches of grenade and fuse designs, pieces of a fuse, a picture postcard of the Bürgerbräukeller hall's interior, and additional incriminating evidence. Elser was tortured and questioned since the Gestapo assumed he was linked to a larger group like the British secret service, but Elser never admitted to that.

Elser was held as a prisoner for more than five years until he was executed at the Dachau concentration camp on April 9, 1945, just a few weeks before the surrender of Nazi Germany.

A memorial in Berlin commemorates Georg Elser and contains a 55-foot-high statue, quotes on the pavement, and an information sign.

Photo Credit: Flickr

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