In July of 1944, Count Claus von Stauffenberg came within an eyelash of assassinating German dictator Adolf Hitler. His briefcase bomb was planted under the table around which Hitler and some of his military leaders were gathered, and it detonated just as planned. But Hitler’s position at the table meant he was shielded from much of the blast. Hitler was given another 9 months of life. Stauffenberg?…another 9 hours or so before a firing squad ended his.
But of course, the plotters behind Stauffenberg weren’t the only ones who wanted the hated head of state gone. Since 1921 (when Hitler’s ascendancy had barely begun), there had been plots and plans against him. Some had stayed just plans. Others had progressed further. A handful were actually attempted. And as we know, the attempt on July 20, 1944 gets the most face time because, of all the attempts, it came the closest to actually succeeding. It also had the biggest fallout.
But other attempts nearly succeeded as well. On November 8, 1939, Johann Georg Elser’s shot at Hitler came within minutes of success. This young man was dismayed by the increasing influence the Nazi Party was having in daily life. The restrictions placed on workers and businesses, the aggressive discrimination against Jewish people and others, and just the overall brutishness of the Party’s minions convinced Elser that the Nazi party was peopled largely by thugs. He also believed that if they were capable of this kind of violence, it would take little more to drive the nation into a war with catastrophic results.
He decided to take matters into his own hands.
Hitler returned to Munich each November to commemorate the Beer Hall Putsch. And each November Hitler gave a speech in the basement of the beer hall (the Bürgerbräukeller). Elser’s plan was to plant a bomb in a pillar behind the rostrum where Hitler would be speaking. For a month leading up to the celebration, Elser managed to sneak into the building and remained hidden until it closed. He would then come out and work on hollowing out the pillar. As the time for Hitler’s big speech neared, Elser planted the bomb in the pillar and set its timer for 9:20pm, when the Fuhrer would normally be at full rant.
But weather conditions would lay waste to all of Elser’s daring. Hitler wanted to head straight back to Berlin that evening. Normally he flew, but heavy fog caused him to take the train, which is much slower than an airplane. He wrapped up his speech early and left promptly at 9:07pm. At 9:20pm, Elser’s bomb went off exactly as planned, making a wreck of the place and causing eight deaths and dozens of injuries. But the primary target had left the building.
Elser was arrested later that evening as he tried to cross the border into Switzerland, and pictures of the Beer Hall were found on his person. He immediately fell under suspicion and eventually confessed to the Gestapo. Elser was sent to prison and very nearly survived the war. But with the Allies bearing down on Germany in 1945, the Nazis began tying up loose ends. One of those loose ends was Johann Georg Elser, who was shot in early April.
Recommended Reading: Valkyrie: An Insider’s Account of the Plot to Kill Hitler – Though this focuses mostly on the Stauffenberg plot, Elser’s story gets some discussion time as well.