Germany to honour anti-Hitler conspirators

Germany is set to honour resistance members who plotted to assassinate Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
Germany is set to honour resistance members who plotted to assassinate Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

Germany is marking the 75th anniversary of the most famous plot to kill Adolf Hitler, honouring those who resisted the Nazis - who were stigmatised for decades as traitors - as pillars of the country's modern democracy amid growing concerns about the resurgence of the far-right.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will speak Saturday at an annual swearing-in ceremony for some 400 troops before addressing a memorial event, paid tribute ahead of the anniversary to executed plot leader Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and his fellow conspirators and highlighted their importance to modern Germany.

"Only if we understand our past can we build a good future," she said.

Von Stauffenberg tried to kill Hitler with a briefcase bomb on July 20, 1944, during a meeting at his headquarters in East Prussia

Hitler escaped the full force of the blast when someone moved the briefcase next to a table leg, deflecting much of the explosive force.

The plot crumbled when news spread that Hitler had survived. Von Stauffenberg and his fellow plotters were executed within hours.

The story had little resonance in the immediate post-World War II years, when many still viewed the July 20 plotters as traitors, as they had been painted by the Nazis in the aftermath of the failed assassination.

The resistance against the Nazis only came to be "laboriously accepted" over subsequent decades, said Johannes Tuchel, director of the German Resistance Memorial Center, and even in the 1980s many believed its memory would fade away.

Only in 2004 did a survey show that a majority of Germans believe the resistance to the Nazis is "important for our political culture", he added.

"Those who acted on July 20 are an example to us, because they showed that they followed their conscience and set their stamp on a part of German history that otherwise was defined by the darkness of Nazism," Merkel said last week in her weekly video message.

Tuchel said von Stauffenberg is a "symbolic figure" of the resistance, an officer who evolved from supporting Nazi policies to becoming a ferocious opponent of the regime after Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.

He acknowledged that the resistance within the German military was, in overall terms, tiny: 200 to 300 people were involved in the July 20 plot.

The German military had some eight million men under arms at the time, and only "a handful or two" of its more than 1000 generals and admirals participated.

Students in Munich formed the White Rose movement, distributing pamphlets urging "passive resistance" starting in 1942.

Its leaders included siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl, who were executed in 1943 and also have become resistance icons.

Helmuth James von Moltke's so-called Kreisau Circle started working in secret to end the dictatorship in 1940.

And in 1938, carpenter Georg Elser attempted to kill Hitler and other senior Nazi leaders at an event in Munich, but was thwarted as the Nazi leader unexpectedly left the room minutes before a bomb exploded.

Australian Associated Press