When Hitler missed death by thirteen minutes: The story of the man who almost killed Hitler

Fareeha Arshad

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On 8th November 1939, the annual event commemorating Beer Hall Putsch was organized at Munich Beer Hall. Like every year, Adolf Hitler made his speech paying tribute to the early Nazi struggles of the 1920s. That day, the Führer also mocked his international enemies. While he boasted about Germany’s successful start at World War II, a thirty-six-year-old carpenter stood a few feet away from the Nazi leader with a bomb —patiently waiting for it to go off.

Hailing from a small town in southern Germany, Georg Elser was one of the many unsung heroes who came very close to assassinating Adolf Hitler in the early days of World War II. Elser had been planning his attack for over a year. After realizing that under Hitler’s regime, war was inevitable, he started assembling the required equipment. He was finally successfully creating a bomb — which he carefully muffled in a cork casing that day.

Like every year, Hitler began his speech at the same time. Everything went according to Elser’s plan until the Nazi leader left the event a little earlier than usual. To reach Berlin on time and get started with his military planning, Hitler left the gathering immediately after his speech.

Precisely thirteen minutes after Hitler left, the bomb went off. The explosion caused eight deaths and massive damage to the area, especially where the Führer stood earlier. For Elser’s plan to be executed precisely as he had planned, all Hitler had to do was visit the washroom and freshen up.

History bears the testimony that Hilter survived only to push Germany into five more years of genocide and brutal war. Regardless, with the conditions prevailing in the country, the Nazi regime would have continued with or without Hitler. But it doesn't take a genius to figure out that Hitler’s death in 1939 could have significantly shortened the war and could have prevented the suffering of the Holocaust.

Behind the scenes of the assassination attempt that could have changed history

Elser was caught shortly after the blast. The Gestapo officials found him with explosives near the Swiss border. He was attempting to escape to Switzerland, and the suspicious items he carried, gave him away.

In the interrogation transcript discovered in the 1960s, Elser is recorded explaining the details behind his plan. He worked for an armaments firm in Swabia, where he often experimented with explosives. Later, he found work at the same beer hall — the Bürgerbräukeller— where Hitler gave his customary speech every November.

After Elser realized that he had ended Hitler and the Nazis’ tyranny, he put his carpentry skills to work. Elser started staying late at work. He would arrive late at the hall, hide, and stay at the place overnight. After everybody left, he would get to work — cutting out the pillar nearest to the stage to fit the bomb. Before leaving, he would conceal the area on the pillar to avoid being caught. He patiently carried out his planned work for over thirty days.

Elser’s confession tape

During his interrogation, Elser told the German officers about every detail behind his failed attempt at assassination. He confessed how he kept track of automatic toilet flushes, which triggered every ten minutes. He carried out his loudest works coinciding with such noises. Even as he meticulously carried out his work, the constant worry of being discovered never left him.

In his book, Killing Hitler, the historian Roger Moorhouse mentioned the thought process of Elser as he worked one day at a time, ensuring that “every sound had to be muffled, every speck of sawdust collected and disposed of.”

After his capture, the German officials were especially concerned about whether or not Elser acted alone. Hitler could not believe that a German could attempt to assassinate him. He was convinced that Elser was involved with the British Secret Intelligence Service or another association. Despite the digging and investigations for years, no other link with the attack or Elser was discovered. Elser operated alone.

Even as an ordinary German citizen and a man of the working class, he did not deviate from the solo plan he had laid. His concern for the problems faced by ordinary workers did not leave him. More importantly, Hitler’s drive towards war loomed before Elser’s eyes like impending doom.

In his confession, Elser stated, “I wanted through my act to prevent even greater bloodshed.”

The death of the anti-Nazi hero

Interestingly, Elser was not killed immediately after his capture. Because of the ongoing speculation of his loyalty, he was jailed temporarily. Later, he was transferred to a concentration camp where he stayed during the war. Elser was finally executed only in 1945.

Recently the German Chancellor Angela Merkel acknowledged Elser as a hero of anti-Nazi resistance. She described him as “the one who struggled on his own… to try to prevent the war”.

During the dark days for Germany, Georg Elser was the man who showed the world that not all Germans were Nazis.

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I am a scientist by profession and a historian by passion. I mostly write about history and science.

Texas State
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