Obit of the Day: Last Surviving Member of the Plot to Kill Hitler
It was called “The July 20 Plot,” because it was set for July 20, 1944. Led by a small group of disgruntled German officers unhappy with the direction the war was taking, the plan was to kill Hitler, take over the military, and sue for peace.
Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg had agreed to plant a bomb under the table at Hitler’s eastern front headquarters, “The Wolf’s Lair.” While Col. von Stauffenberg handled the bomb, several other members of the conspiracy including Lt. Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist were to wait in Berlin and stage a coup against the Nazi leadership after Hitler was killed.
In one of those moments of chance that litters history, someone at the meeting moved the bomb next to a table leg which re-directed the explosion, failing the kill The Führer. (Four others were killed the room was half destroyed.)
The Berlin coup never came to pass once it was made known that Hitler was still alive. The conspirators including Col. Stauffenberg were rounded up and executed. But Lt. von Kleist was not.
Mr. von Kleist was questioned by the Gestapo, placed in a concentration camp for a time and then returned to service. He never understood why.
Mr. von Kleist had deep roots in the plot against Hitler. His father, who disliked Hitler from the moment the man took power in 1933, tried to convince other western European countries to support a coup. The elder von Kleist was arrested on numerous occasions by the Gestapo.
Note: Mr. von Kleist’s father was one of the conspirators executed after the July 20 plot failed.
Which made Ewald-Heinrich’s enlistment in the German Army in 1940 surprising. Lt. von Kleist served on the front until he was injured in 1943. While in the hospital he was first approached about trying to remove Hitler from power. He agreed.
Earlier in 1944, Lt. von Kleist and his men were invited to model new uniforms for the Führer. Col. von Stauffenberg asked the 22-year-old officer to wear a vest lined with explosives to the meeting and then detonate it killing himself, and presumably Hitler. Although the lieutenant agreed, and his father told him “you have to do this,” the bombing never happened.
After the war Mr. von Kleist opened a publishing company, but his lasting contribution to diplomacy was the creation of the Munich Security Conference which has met yearly since 1962 and discusses military issues that impact NATO countries.
Mr. von Kleist, the last member of the conspiracy to kill Adolf Hitler, died on March 8, 2013 at the age of 90.
Sources: NY Times, Toronto Globe and Mail, britannica.com
(Image of Lt. Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist circa 1944 is courtesy of http://www.sueddeutsche.de)