It is said fortune favours the brave. But sometimes she smiles upon those whose breast is filled with vice. Like in a Macbethian saga, Goddess Fortuna stands on his side, who triggers much evil, but cannot eventually confront his own ghosts.
So was with the case of German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
It was his great escape. He gave death the slip by a few inches, as one of the most audacious assassination attempts in history went horribly wrong. He, the man who had scripted the manslaughter of thousands through the Holocaust, had cheated death.
Not once or twice but several times through his life. Even as a baby, he was one of the few children of his parents to survive. He would often think that he was special as he managed to live even when his other siblings, including his younger brother, had died. It was at this early stage of his boyhood that he developed what is known as the Messiah complex. It is feeling of being born special and for achieving a higher purpose. This syndrome was to stay with him for life; though not without reason.
Not only did the frail boy Hitler endure, but the adult and powerful Fuhrer too repeatedly escaped being consumed by the jaws of fatality. Much before the Second World War, his sheen was beginning to fade. Once seen as the saviour of Germans and the redeemer of their pride after the humiliation of the First World War, questions were being raised among some sections about his cruel modus operandi and his suicidal future plans.
Besides the Socialists; the aristocrats, several of whom were senior military officers and well-placed civilians with strong allegiance to their country, were the first to be perturbed by his maverick ways. This group of the disenchanted was known as the German Resistance. Initially, they hatched plans to overthrow Hitler and try him in court, but increasingly felt that this could trigger a civil war. Contrary to popular belief, these people then plotted to slay the Nazi leader since 1938, and not just after things started going wrong in the Second World War. They made at least six assassination bids from 1942 onwards, but all were unsuccessful.
On one instance, all the men who were determined to murder Hitler, dined with him harnessing the idea to shoot him there, but changed their minds despite the first class opportunity as they felt it was unethical to kill a man at dinner. Later, a bomb was planted on an airplane carrying Hitler, but it failed to ignite. Then, there was botched attempt to carry out a suicide bombing at an exhibition, which Hitler attended but rushed through at such a swift pace that no chance to get near him was afforded.
The final and seventh attempt to kill Hitler is probably the most well known. It also had the most likelihood of succeeding. It was called the July 20th plot of 1944 and code named Operation Valkyrie. The scheme was to first kill Hitler and then mobilize a coup.
Valkyrie is a goddess, who decides the ones to be slain in war. No other soubriquet would have been more suitable. Paradoxically, Operation Valkyrie was supposed to be an appellation given by Hitler to an arrangement that was to come into play in case of a national emergency.
Now, by 1942, out of the three cells that were working to end Hitler’s rule, only
General Friedrich Olbricht’s GAO was surviving. He, along with other conspirators Ludwig Beck and Hening von Tresckow, roped in a young Lieutenant Colonel of the General Staff, Claus Graf Schenk von Stauffenberg.
At Hitler’s Prussian headquarters, Stauffenberg activated a bomb in a washroom and then hid it in his briefcase. As luck would have it, during the meeting which Hitler was attending, he placed the briefcase under the table and then slipped out of the room. The explosion did take place, but Hitler survived. On the other hand, there was confusion among the conspirators about their success, as Stauffenberg felt the Fuhrer had indeed been killed, but there was no other confirmation. So, even though they initiated the coup d’état, it had to be aborted midway. The same night Hitler made a radio broadcast assuring Germans that he was alive and well, and more determined than ever before to fight on.
There were several reasons why Operation Valkyrie remained an unfulfilled mission.
One, the venue of meeting, which was a concrete underground bunker, was shifted at the last moment due to an impending visit of Mussolini. Had the meeting proceeded as scheduled in the trench, its cement roof would have caved in due to the impact of the explosion and killed Hitler instantly. But, it so happened that the meeting took place in a temporary shelter over ground, thus giving Hitler a lifeline.
Second, while Stauffenberg had planned to activate two explosive devices in the washroom, he could only prepare one, due to the impatience of officers waiting for him outside. A second explosive would not have given Hitler a chance.
Lastly, an unpretentious wooden partition saved the German Nazi. Stauffenberg had placed the briefcase containing the explosive on that side of the wooden parting beneath the table where Hitler was standing. Unwittingly, a Colonel in the meeting shifted it to the opposite side, thus blunting the full effect of the blast. At least three men standing on same side of the wooden fixture, where the briefcase bomb was moved, got killed.
All these were providential factors that worked in Hitler’s favour.
Hitler, who was already wary of attempts being devised to get him, used this as an ideal excuse to get rid of suspicious elements. As many as 7000 people were arrested and 4980 people were killed, several of them hung from meat hooks and then filmed for the Nazi leader to see.
Operation Valkyrie was the last and final attempt to snuff out Hitler. By 1944, all early gains of the Second World War had being squandered, and starting from Russia, Germany began facing reverses.
The Fuhrer, who was unchallenged so far, felt that the noose was beginning to tighten. The allies were making gains. As predicted by an intelligence research conducted by the US into Hitler’s personality and psychology, the Nazi was unable to cope with the pressure. His public appearances dwindled and he began withdrawing into a shell. As further predicted by the US study, Hitler’s suicidal tendencies began to play up. On 30th April, 1945, Hitler shot himself and also bit into cyanide along with his companion Eva Braun, whom he is believed to have married just two days before, in his infamous Fuhrerbunker.
The irony of the story cannot be missed. He who had bluffed destiny and survived so many assassination conspiracies, at the end himself played the part of the enemy. Such strange are the ways of justice, that with own hands and his Walther PPK pistol, Hitler terminated the life which so many sought to end but failed; a life that left an indelible impact on world events and will be remembered, in the annals of history, as one of the most psychotic, inhumane and brutal.
(April 20, is the 120 th birth anniversary of Hitler)