Plot to Assassinate Hitler Failed 74 Years Ago Today

Seventy-four years ago Friday, Adolph Hitler was nearly killed in a complicated assassination plot. It was stopped by a stroke of bad fortune and a conference-room table.

Vox politics reporter Jane Coaston noted the important fact on Twitter Friday. The 1944 plot was called Operation Valkyrie—if that sounds familiar, it might be because of the 2008 Tom Cruise movie about the assassination attempt.

There had been previous attempts on the German dictator's life as he ordered the deaths of millions, but none so famous as Operation Valkyrie—and perhaps none that came as close to being successful.

As the Cambridge University Library points out in detail, the attempt was led by German army officer Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg. Other key figures included General Friedrich Olbricht and General Ludwig Beck.

The basic idea was this: Stauffenberg would carry a briefcase with a bomb into a meeting where Hitler was present, Stauffenberg would take a pre-planned phone call outside the room, the bomb would go off and kill Hitler, which would then be followed by a planned military coup that would retake power from the Nazis.

But, obviously, it didn't work out that way. After Stauffenberg left the room, the briefcase was moved farther away from Hitler. When it went off, a solid oak leg largely protected the dictator from the blast, leaving him with just minor injuries while four others died. Stauffenberg and many of his conspirators were summarily captured and executed. It would be nearly a year before Hitler himself died, taking his own life on April 30, 1945.

A picture dated 1939 shows German Nazi Chancellor and dictator Adolf Hitler consulting a geographical survey map with his general staff including Heinrich Himmler, left, and Martin Bormann, right, at an undisclosed place during World War II. Hitler was nearly killed in an assassination attempt 74 years ago. AFP/Getty Images

The last surviving member of the assassination attempt died about five years ago, according to Time magazine. His name was Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist. When he was just 22, he volunteered for his first plot to kill Hitler—saying he would don a suicide vest in a scheduled meeting with Hitler to showcase a new German uniform. Hitler changed his plans and the meeting never happened. Kleist later joined in on the Valkyrie plot—and was initially going to carry the briefcase before Stauffenberg stepped in to do it himself. After the attempt failed, Kleist was interrogated for weeks but, for unexplained reasons, eventually released.

In Germany, the failed attempt is still recognized annually. There was a military ceremony on Friday in Berlin in the spot where Stauffenberg was executed. Berlin Mayor Michael Müller used the ceremony to deliver a speech railing against rising populist sentiments in the country in 2018. He spoke of "the duty of vigilance for the creeping establishment of intolerance and prejudices, of anti-Semitism and right-wing populism," according to the German outlet Deutsche Welle.