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12 July 20, 1944    

The attempted coup of July 20, 1944, is the pivotal event in the resistance against National Socialism. After extensive preparations by civilian and military circles, Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg decides to attempt the assassination of Hitler himself in early July 1944, despite his key role in Berlin and a severe disability as a result of his war wounds. On July 20, 1944, he succeeds in smuggling a bomb into Hitler’s heavily guarded headquarters in the ”Wolf's Lair” near Rastenburg in East Prussia and detonating it during a briefing.

Stauffenberg is able to leave Hitler’s headquarters and fly to Berlin-Rangsdorf. In Berlin, he works with his friend Albrecht Ritter Mertz von Quirnheim and with General Friedrich Olbricht to set the coup attempt in motion throughout Germany.

Late in the evening it becomes clear that the assassination attempt has failed. The Bendler Block, the conspirators’ Berlin command center, is occupied by troops loyal to the regime. That same night, Stauffenberg, his adjutant Werner von Haeften, Mertz von Quirnheim, and Olbricht are executed in the courtyard by a firing squad on orders from Colonel-General Friedrich Fromm as the main culprits in the assassination.

The attempted coup of July 20, 1944, also marks the last major turning point in the domestic policy of the National Socialist regime. The terror in Germany is further intensified. On July 30, 1944, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler and Chief of Armed Forces High Command Wilhelm Keitel report for a meeting with Hitler at his headquarters in the ”Wolf's Lair.” They coordinate further actions against the participants in the attempted coup and establish a ”court of honor” of army generals and field marshals. Between August 4 and September 14, 1944, a total of 55 army officers are forcibly removed from the Wehrmacht and another 29 are discharged at the request of the ”court of honor.” Their forcible removal from the Wehrmacht is required so that they can be sentenced by the ”People’s Court” and not the Reich Military Court, which would otherwise have jurisdiction.

A few days later on August 7 and 8, 1944, the first trial is held against Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben, First Lieutenant Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg, Colonel-General Erich Hoepner, Lieutenant General Paul von Hase, Major General Hellmuth Stieff, Captain Karl Friedrich Klausing, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bernardis, and First Lieutenant Albrecht von Hagen. All of the defendants are sentenced to death. They are murdered that same day in Plötzensee. Some of them are able to receive spiritual comfort from prison chaplains Harald Poelchau and Peter Buchholz.

This marks the beginning of a series of over 50 trials that end with over 110 death sentences. From October 1944 on, these trials also include persons aiding fugitives and persons providing support to those involved in the attempted coup. Roland Freisler, the president of the ”People’s Court” presides over most of these trials himself. Surviving films, photographs, and sound recordings provide an impression of the hate-filled manner in which he conducted these proceedings. The defendants are not allowed to choose their own legal counsel; they and the public defender are permitted to review the charges and specifications only shortly before the proceedings. The first trial is given extensive coverage in the government-controlled press, and passages of the proceedings are quoted in full.

The second trial on August 10, 1944, ends with death sentences against officers Erich Fellgiebel, Fritz-Dietlof Graf von der Schulenburg, Berthold Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, Alfred Kranzfelder, and Georg Hansen, who are murdered that same day in Plötzensee. This trial and the two that follow are also highly publicized.

On August 15, 1944, the ”People’s Court” sentences Bernhard and Johannes Georg Klamroth, Egbert Hayessen, Wolf Heinrich Graf von Helldorf, Adam von Trott zu Solz, and Hans Bernd von Haeften to death.

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