The myth of providence protecting Hitler was cultivated by the Nazis. One interesting episode where 'providence' was very publicly given the credit for saving Hitler's life was the assassination attempt by Johan Georg Elser. Yet all may not be as it seems, or as the Nazis claimed, when it came to Elser's attempted assassination.
On the 9th of October 1939 Georg Elser hid in the toilets of the Burgerbraukeller in Munich. After the bierhall closed, Elser emerged from his hiding place and began work on his assassination attempt; his attempt to kill Adolf Hitler. Elser worked in secret for nearly a month. When he had finished a time bomb lay planted in a hollow he had carved and scraped behind the wood panelling that covered the lower part of the pillar in front of which Hitler would address the annual meeting of die Alte Kampfe (the old fighters) prior to the commemorations of Die Neunte Elfte (the Ninth of the Eleventh) when Nazi-Germany remembered the Munich Putsch.
Rather they remembered the Nazi rewriting of that particular incident. They did not commemorate the Munich policemen who were killed defending against the Putsch but a temple, the Ehrentempel, had been erected to house and ennoble the Nazis who fell that day. The rituals attached to commemorating this most holy of days in the Nazi calendar were well established and provided any would be assassin with the one thing Hitler could not otherwise be accused of possessing: a routine. Hitler never missed these commemorations. That being said Hitler cancelled his attendance at the 1939 event “due to the pressures of the international situation." It was only on the day before, the 7th of November, that Hitler decided to attend.
Adolf Hitler entered the Burgerbraukeller and began his address at 20.00hrs on the evening of the 8th November 1939. Precisely one hour before he was due to start his oration. Customarily he addressed the meeting for about 3 hours based on past performances. On that evening in 1939 he spoke for slightly over an hour.
At precisely 21.07hrs 8th of November 1939. Adolf Hitler left the Burgerbraukeller in order to catch the Fuhrersonderzug, his personal train, which had refused to wait on his standing order that the wartime railway schedules not be disrupted.
At 21.31hrs 8th of November 1939. The Fuhrersonderzug departed from Munich bound for Berlin precisely one minute late.
Eleven minutes earlier at 21.20hrs 8th of November 1939. Fifty kilos of explosives detonated in the pillar directly behind the podium from which Adolf Hitler had addressed the meeting. As the pillar shattered, the overhead balcony came clattering down, dragging the building’s ceiling and roof with it. The stage, front row seating and podium were splintered to matchwood. Eight people died and sixty-three were injured, sixteen of them seriously. If Hitler had still been speaking he would have been ripped to shreds.
The Nazis very publicly claimed this as proof that 'providence' protected the Fuhrer. Was it though?
No other world leader had the amount of protection Hitler did. How had they missed the efforts of the this one little man in Munich?
Elser himself was captured on the Swiss border on the night of the attempt. He was taken to Munich and then Berlin for interrogation. After this, unlike so many others (including other would be assassins) in Germany, Elser was not executed. He was imprisoned without trial in Orienberg-Sachsenhausen before being transferred to Dachau. It was in Dachau on the 9th April 1945, just a few weeks before the end of
war, that Johan Georg Elser was killed by a single gunshot to the head. The order had been relayed by Heinrich "Gestapo" Muller (though we cannot be certain where it emanated) and Elser was included in the list of deaths blamed on Allied air-raids.
All well and good but then the plot takes a twist. Whilst Elser worked in the Burgerbrauhaus, the SS cannibalised a small but successful misinformation intelligence operation in the Netherlands for the purpose of contacting, indirectly, the British government. Hitler's direct appeals for peace at the beginning of October 1939 had been denounced by the British and French. Ribbentrop's secret third party attempt using Swedish businessman Birger Dahlerus had been rebuffed as both Chamberlain and Halifax feared the backlash of public opinion should they accept peace terms following the fall of Poland.
Now it was the SS' turn. Using this cannibalised misinformation operation, SS agents pretending to be disaffected members of the Wehrmacht made contact with British agents in Holland and through them, the British government. This cannot be denied as Chamberlain himself was intimately acquainted with the operation and even informed the cabinet on the 1st November 1939. It was just what he hoped for, a military cabal capable of mounting a coup. He sent his own man to assess the situation. Major Haddon Hall of MI6 believed that the Germans were not from the Wehrmacht but from the SS, though he also accepted they genuinely were looking to negotiate a peace settlement and were capable and possibly willing to overthrow Hitler.
That is just about as far as these negotiations got when Elser's bomb went off in Munich. The next time the British agents met the Germans was at Venlo on the Dutch border. Outside the Cafe
Backus in Venlo, Major Stevens and Captain Payne Best were taken prisoner by Walter Schellenberg, Alfred Naujocks and 5 SHD agents. The pair were transported to Berlin for interrogation where they were accused of acting in conjunction with Georg Elser in attempting to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
Stevens and Payne-Best, like Elser, never faced a trial. Unlike Elser both survived the war. They did meet Elser though, behind the gates of Sachsenhausen. It was there that special prisoner Eller related the strange tale of how he planted the bomb to Sigismund
Payne-Best. The same tale Elser would tell to fellow prisoner Pastor Martin Niemöller.
Georg, a member of the terrorist Rotfrontkämpferbund organisation, built a bomb with 50 kilos of Donarit high explosive that he stole from a quarry at which he had worked. He built a timing and detonation device using the cordite and black powder taken from a stolen anti-aircraft shell and two Westminster type clocks.He encased the mechanism within the confines of a cork lined wooden box in order to muffle the ticking of the two clocks.
Elser hid himself in the toilets of the Burgerbraukeller each night for30 days prior to planting the bomb. During this time, when the place was empty; he would come out of his hiding place and remove the wooden panelling that covered the pillar standing directly behind the podium from which the Fuhrer would speak. Then he would chip away at the concrete in order to make a space big enough to take his home-made bomb. At the end of each night he would clean away his mess, replace the panelling and return to his hiding place. When the beer-hall opened Georg would exit and dispose of the rubble he had removed from the pillar. On the 5th of November, his work done, Georg Elser planted the bomb and set the timer.
So runs the official story of Elser's plot.
Then Elser started to make mistakes. He went home to sleep and waited until the day the bomb was supposed to explode to make his escape. At the border when he was stopped for acting strangely, he had wire cutters, a postcard from the Burgerbrau and even the bloody blue-prints of the bomb in his bag.
Now here's the story Elser told Payne-Best and Niemöller.
According to Elser, he was arrested as a communist activist in Munich during the summer of 1939 and sent to Dachau for re-education training. He’s listed as being admitted to the camp but not released. One day during his stay at Dachau Georg was summoned to the commandant's office, where he was questioned about his carpentry and electrical skills. His interrogators
confided to him that several high-ranking Party officials were suspected of plotting to kill Hitler, but despite sufficient evidence the Gestapo was reluctant to arrest them because of the chaos it would cause in the upper echelons of government while the country was at war. Elser was asked if he would build and plant a bomb timed to explode shortly after Hitler completed his speech at the annual Munich celebration. In return for his co-operation he would be released from the camp, given a large sum of money, and allowed to escape to Switzerland.
Elser's visitor that day? An unnamed high ranking SS officer.
Many have claimed this story is true and was all part of a plot to prove the existence of Hitler's providential protection. That the SS set Elser up to fail. The result of this would be to increase the Fuhrer's stature in the minds of the German public. Others have claimed it was an attempt to turn world opinion against Great Britain. If this was so then why no public show trial? They had the two British agents, they had Elser, why no trial to prove Britain was a rogue nation?
There is another possibility. That the SS were genuinely negotiating with Chamberlain's government and Elser's plot was there attempted coup. Once it failed because of a railway timetable the SS had no choice but to make the best of things and produced the suspects and the plot with 24 hours.
It's all supposition of course. The evidence is there. Interpretation is the thing. Was Hitler protected by providence?
Regardless of what any of us choose to believe, Georg Elser remains one of a select band of Germans in whose name stands a memorial to their actions in the Second World War. The man did try to kill Hitler after all.