Larry Slawson received his Masters Degree at UNC Charlotte. He specializes in Russian and Ukrainian History.
Claus von Stauffenberg: Biographical Facts
- Birth Name: Claus Phillip Maria Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg
- Date of Birth: 15 November 1907
- Place of Birth: Jettingen, German Empire
- Date of Death: 21 July 1944 (36 Years of Age)
- Cause of Death: Execution
- Place of Death: Berlin, Nazi Germany
- Burial Location: Alter Saint Matthaus-Kirchhof, Berlin, Germany
- Spouse(s): Nina Schenk Grfain von Stauffenberg
- Children: Berthold, Franz-Ludwig, Konstanze
- Father: Alfred Klemens Philipp Friedrich Justinian
- Mother: Caroline Schenk Grafin von Stauffenberg
- Siblings: Berthold (brother), Alexander (brother); Konrad Maria (brother)
- Occupation(s): Officer in the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany
- Highest Rank Achieved: Lieutenant Colonel
- Major Military Operations Involved In: Invasion of Poland; Battle of France; Operation Barbarossa; Tunisia Campaign.
- Years in Military: 1926–1944
- Best Known For: Central figure in the German resistance movement of World War Two. Also a key player in the failed assassination of Adolf Hitler, codenamed “Operation Valkyrie.”
Quick Facts About Stauffenberg
- Claus von Stauffenberg was born to Alfred and Caroline von Stauffenberg on 15 November 1907. He was one of four sons (one of which died shortly after birth). Stauffenberg’s family came from a long line of nobles, and was recognized as one of the oldest and most distinguished families in Southern Germany. He was also directly related to the famous Prussian, Field Marshal August von Gneisenau.
- Stauffenberg was well-educated as a child, and continued his family’s tradition of joining the military in 1926 (during the era of the Weimar Republic). Stauffenberg became part of the 17th Cavalry Regiment located in Bamberg, and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1930. Stauffenberg’s regiment later became part of Germany’s 1st Light Division under General Erich Hoepner.
- Despite early support for the Nazi Party in the 1930s, Stauffenberg never “officially” joined the party. By 1934, following the “Night of the Long Knives,” Stauffenberg’s sense of loyalty to Hitler was completely destroyed, as the Nazi persecution of Jews and the suppression of religion across Germany greatly offended Stauffenberg (who was a devout Catholic).
- Despite his resentment of Hitler and the Nazi Party, Stauffenberg remained in the German military and took part in the invasion of Poland in 1939. Shortly after the Polish campaign, Stauffenberg was approached by his uncle, Nikolaus Graf von Uxkull-Gyllenband, about joining the growing resistance movement in Germany. Stauffenberg quietly declined the invitation, however, as he felt that the timing was not right for a coup due to the immense support that Hitler maintained across Germany. Shortly after, Stauffenberg’s unit was reorganized into the Sixth Panzer Division, where he fought bravely in the Battle for France. For his efforts in the campaign, Stauffenberg was even awarded the Iron Cross First Class. Stauffenberg briefly served in Operation Barbarossa (the campaign against the Soviet Union), before finally being sent to North Africa in 1943, as part of the Afrika Korps.
- In North Africa, Stauffenberg was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of the General Staff, and fought alongside General Rommel in his campaign against British forces. During a battle on 7 April 1943, however, Stauffenberg was seriously wounded by a strafing run from the Royal Australian Air Force. For the next three months, Stauffenberg was forced to recover in a military hospital in Munich; losing his left eye, his right hand, and two fingers on his left hand. For his bravery, he was awarded the “Wound Badge in Gold” as well as the German Cross in Gold.
Quick Facts Continued
- As Stauffenberg grew completely disillusioned with Hitler and the Nazi regime, following events in Africa, Claus began open talks with the German resistance in 1943. Following deployments to the Eastern Front of many of the Resistance’s key members, Stauffenberg quickly found himself in command of the Resistance. By altering a contingency measure known as “Operation Valkyrie,” which was originally designed to secure the Nazi regime in case of civil disorder, the Resistance was able to secretly create a plan-of-action for a coup against Hitler and his Party. The new “Operation Valkyrie,” once implemented, would order German troops to arrest all Nazi Party officials, in the event of Hitler’s death, and to secure Berlin as well as the military headquarters of the German Army and Hitler.
- Following D-Day on 6 June 1944, Stauffenberg and his Resistance allies were well aware that the war was lost. Thus, less than two months later (20 July 1944), Stauffenberg and the Resistance put their plan to assassinate Hitler into motion. The plan called for Stauffenberg to enter the “Wolf’s Lair” during a military meeting with Hitler and his officers, carrying a briefcase with two small bombs. After some difficulties, Stauffenberg managed to place the briefcase near Hitler under one of the conference tables before exiting the conference. Moments later, the bomb exploded, killing four people and injuring the remainder. Convinced that Hitler was dead, Stauffenberg immediately ordered for “Operation Valkyrie” to be put into effect.
- As the Resistance moved to arrest Nazi Party officials and Hitler loyalists in their coup attempt, it quickly became clear that the plot to kill Hitler had failed. After Stauffenberg had left his bomb at the conference room, it was promptly moved by one of the senior military officers present; thus, preventing the bomb from hitting Hitler directly. During a radio announcement later that afternoon (by Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Hitler himself) that described the failed assassination attempt, Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators knew that their plot was over.
- After a brief shootout with German police and soldiers at the Bendlestrasse office, Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators were arrested and subjected to an informal court-martial, where they were sentenced to death. Most of the conspirators were executed within hours, with Stauffenberg being third in line to be shot by firing squad. In his last words, Stauffenberg turned toward his execution squad and shouted, “Long live our sacred Germany.” His body was later stripped of his medals and military insignia, and was cremated by the SS. In total, nearly 20,000 Germans were killed or sent to concentration camps across Germany for their participation or support of the July Plot.
- Stauffenberg’s plot to kill Hitler may have succeeded, if not for the last-minute decision to move the location of Hitler’s meeting from his bunker to a wooden hut outside (due to the heat that day). Had the bomb exploded within the bunker, which was made from reinforced concrete, the blast would have likely killed all of the military officers present at the conference, including Hitler.
- Following the death of Stauffenberg, his children were forced to change their last names for their own safety, and because the name “Stauffenberg” was considered taboo after the assassination attempt on Hitler.
- In total, there have been eight movies done on Stauffenberg and “Operation Valkyrie” in recent years. The most recent is the movie “Valkyrie,” with Tom Cruise playing the part of Stauffenberg.
- Following the failure of “Operation Valkyrie,” Stauffenberg was arrested by one of his own co-conspirators, General Friedrich Fromm, who attempted to save face by being the arresting officer. After promptly having each of the conspirators executed, Fromm hoped that his connection with the Resistance would be covered. This did not occur, however, as Fromm was later executed for his part in the plot on 19 March 1945.
- Had Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators succeeded in their coup, many historians believe that their calls for peace with the Allies would have remained in vain, due to the fact that the Allies were only interested in the unconditional surrender of Germany (something the conspirators weren’t likely to accept).
“It is now time that something was done. But the man who has the courage to do something must do it in the knowledge that he will go down in German history as a traitor. If he does not do it, however, he will be a traitor to his own conscience.”
— Claus von Stauffenberg
Quotes by Stauffenberg
- “We took this challenge before our Lord and our conscience, and it must be done, because this man, Hitler, he is the ultimate evil.”
- “If our most highly qualified General Staff officers had been told to work out the most nonsensical high level organization for war which they could think of, they could not have produced anything more stupid than that which we have at the present.” [In reference to the Nazi Regime]
- “It is now time that something was done. But the man who has the courage to do something must do it in the knowledge that he will go down in German history as a traitor. If he does not do it, however, he will be a traitor to his own conscience.”
- “Long live our sacred Germany!”
- “Fate has offered us this opportunity, and I would not refuse it for anything in the world.”
- “Can the church grant absolution to a murderer who has taken the life of a tyrant?”
- “The point is to kill him, and I am prepared to do that.”
- “Is there no officer over there in the Fuhrer’s headquarters capable of shooting that beast!”
In closing, Claus von Stauffenberg remains a key figure of German history to the present day. Although his plot to assassinate Hitler and to end persecution across Nazi Germany was foiled (and likely doomed from the very beginning), his actions symbolize a true sense of heroism. Even when faced with the prospect of death (and only a small chance of success with the plot), Stauffenberg pushed forward with his plans due to the fact that it was the morally right thing to do for his country and people. He will be forever remembered for his actions on 20 July 1944.
Images / Photographs:
Wikipedia contributors, "Claus von Stauffenberg," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Claus_von_Stauffenberg&oldid=885965802 (accessed March 22, 2019).
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Larry Slawson
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 23, 2019:
Stauffenberg certainl suffered with his injuries, then after the failure of the bomb plot. I learned several things I did not know about him. This article is so well done, and it is very interesting. I like the quotes and fun facts,