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Johann Georg Elser (4 January 1903 - 9 April 1945) was a German opponent of Nazism. He is remembered for his unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1939.

Vocational career and social life

Elser was born in Hermaringenmarker, W├╝rttembergmarker. His parents were Ludwig Elser and Maria M├╝ller, who married one year after Georg's birth. Georg attended elementary school in K├Ânigsbronnmarker from 1910 to 1917 and showed ability in drawing and handicrafts. His father was a farmer and lumber dealer, and expected his son to succeed him in this trade, but Georg, who had helped his father in his work, chose instead to pursue interests of his own. He began an apprenticeship as a lathe operator in a foundry, which, two years later, he had to cancel for health reasons. He began an apprenticeship as a carpenter, which he finished in 1922. Next, he worked as a carpenter in several joineries in K├Ânigsbronn, Aalenmarker and Heidenheimmarker. From 1925 to 1929, he worked in a watch factory in Konstanzmarker where he acquired the knowledge enabling him to build the timer for the bomb, which he was later to use in the assassination attempt. From 1929 to 1932 he worked, again, as a carpenter, in Switzerlandmarker.

After his return to K├Ânigsbronn, he worked with his parents. From 1936, he worked in a fitting factory in Heidenheim. While working here, he became familiar with the Nazis' rearmament program.

Elser was a quiet yet sociable man, joining in different cultural societies and clubs, amongst others, a Tracht club. He played the cithara and the double bass for the local choir. He also loved to hike together with his friends.

In 1930 his girlfriend, Mathilde Niedermann, gave birth to his son Manfred. This pregnancy was not planned and to some extent mirrors Elser's own birth, but, unlike his parents, Elser did not marry Mathilde and separated from her soon afterwards.

He became a member of the federation of wood workers union. He believed that one should join a union, and gave this as his explanation for his own membership. In 1928, a colleague persuaded him to join the Red Front Fighters' Association, the paramilitary organization of the Communist Party. Elser did not devote much time to these memberships. Though he was not a convinced Communist - he was a devoted church going Protestant - he voted for the Communist Party until 1933, as he considered them to be the best defenders of workers' interests.

Elser was opposed to Nazism from the beginning of the regime, and after 1933 refused to perform the Hitler salute, or to join others in listening to Hitler's speeches broadcast on the radio. Nor did he vote in the Third Reich's pseudo-elections or referendums.

His opposition was initially motivated by his concerns about working conditions, and the lowering of working wages. His understanding of politics was influenced strongly by his political associations. He detested the restrictions on civil rights. He especially despised Nazi restrictions on workers' freedoms, such as the choice of employment and the right to organize. Equally, he loathed the Nazis' propaganda and their total control of the educational system, as well as the curtailing of religious freedoms.

Regarding his religious beliefs, Elser was a Protestant of a simple, non-intellectual and traditional type. His only prayer was the Lord's Prayer, which he said daily, and which he said sustained him in the burdensome preparations for his assassination attempt .

The assassination attempt

B├╝rgerbr├Ąukeller after the 1939 assassination attempt.
In autumn of 1938, Europe was on the verge of war because of the Sudetenland Crisis. After the experience of World War I, the Germans were apprehensive about another war and Elser shared this anxiety. Though war was averted at the last minute, Elser mistrusted Hitler's peace proclamations and considered removing the Nazi leadership by assassination. Reflecting on how to implement his plan, Elser travelled to Munich on 8 November 1938, to attend Hitler's annual speech on the anniversary of the failed Hitler Putschmarker. The craftsman from K├Ânigsbronn not only judged the poorly-guarded event to be a favourable opportunity, but also witnessed the same night the outbursts of anti-Jewish violence during the Kristallnacht. This experience convinced Elser that a leadership capable of inciting such violence would plunge Germanymarker into a major war, and that only Hitler's death could stop this move into catastrophe.

Elser chose the next anniversary of the Hitler Putsch, when Hitler would return to Munich, and decided to kill him with a bomb during his speech. After he had constructed the bomb, Elser travelled to Munich again. He managed to stay inside the B├╝rgerbr├Ąukeller after closing hours each night for over a month, during which time he hollowed out the pillar behind the speaker's rostrum, and placed the bomb inside it.

While he was making these preparations, World War II broke out on 1 September 1939, proving his estimations correct. Elser, being focused on his work, hardly noticed this. Unbeknownst to Elser, Hitler had cancelled his planned speech at the B├╝rgerbraukeller because of the war, but then changed his mind, and agreed to attend the anniversary after all. This was on the condition that he could return to Berlin that same night. Since fog prevented a flight back to Berlinmarker, Hitler decided to take the train, which meant finishing his speech earlier than expected. On 8 November, 1939, the bomb exploded at 21:20, exactly as Elser had planned, but Hitler had already left the room thirteen minutes earlier. Eight people died and sixty-three were injured, sixteen of them seriously, and Elser's plot to assassinate Hitler had failed.

Arrest and custody

Elser was arrested by chance at 20:45, about 35 minutes before the bomb exploded, by the customs border police in Konstanz when he tried to cross the border into Switzerland. At first the officers did not suspect his involvement in the assassination attempt, but then they found picture postcards from the B├╝rgerbr├Ąukeller in Elser's coat. Elser was transferred to Munich, where he was interrogated by the Gestapomarker. Elser remained silent and denied any involvement in the explosion, but the evidence pointing to his complicity became increasingly clear. What finally pointed to Elser as the would-be assassin, were his bruised, scraped knees. As it turned out, the hollow space in the column where the explosives had been hidden, could only have been reached by an assassin crawling on his knees. Waitresses then identified Elser as a frequent patron of the B├╝rgerbr├Ąukeller, and he eventually confessed.

After his confession to the crime in Munich, Elser was taken to the headquarters of the German Reich's security agency in Berlin, where he was severely tortured by the Gestapo. The SS chief Heinrich Himmler was not satisfied that a diminutive Swabian, a craftsman with a grade-school education, could have almost managed to assassinate the F├╝hrer without accomplices. The protocol from the Gestapo was recovered at the end of the 1960s. These 203 pieces of paper are the most important sources of information about Georg Elser.

Elser was imprisoned in Sachsenhausenmarker and Dachau concentration campsmarker. Although he consistently claimed to have been acting on his own, the Nazis, especially Goebbels persisted in suspecting a Britishmarker-led conspiracy, and intended to stage a trial exposing this alleged plot after the war. Elser was kept in special custody. The mystery about the identity of this "special security prisoner" sometimes led to malicious rumours among his fellow inmates. Even after the war, Martin Niem├Âller, also in custody at Sachsenhausen, claimed that Elser had been a member of the SSmarker and that the whole assassination attempt had been staged by the Nazis to portray Hitler as being protected by Providence. However, historical research (Anton Hoch, 1969) has confirmed that Elser acted completely alone, and no evidence involving the regime, or any outside group has been found.

Death

In April 1945 German defeat became imminent and Allied troops were drawing nearer to Dachau. This meant that the Nazis' aim of staging a trial became futile, so Hitler ordered the killing of the "special security prisoner Eller", the name by which Elser was called in Dachau. The head of the Gestapo, SS-Gruppenf├╝hrer Heinrich M├╝ller delivered the order for this killing to the Commandant of the Dachau concentration campmarker, Obersturmbannf├╝hrer Eduard Weiter.
Following order has arrived: At one of the next terror attacks on Munich area of Dachau, "Eller" has a deadly accident.
I ask you to liquidate "Eller" without attracting attention after such a situation appears.
Also take special care that only a few people who are specially bound come to know of this.
The message for me then shall be something like...

On... caused by a terror attack (air raid) on.... security prisoner "Eller" fatally injured
Plaque in memory of George Elser in K├Ânigsbronn.
Elser was killed by gunshot on 9 April 1945, in the Dachau concentration campmarker, just a few weeks before the end of war. A plaque (see illustration) dedicated to his memory in K├Ânigsbronn says:.

I wanted to prevent even greater bloodshed through my deed

In remembrance of Johann Georg Elser, who spent his youth in K├Ânigsbronn. On 8 November 1939, he wanted to thwart genocide with his assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. On 9 April 1945, Johann Georg Elser was murdered at Dachau concentration camp.

A small square in the Maxvorstadt in downtown Munich is named Georg-Elser-Platz after him.A concert hall complex in Munichmarker - the Georg Elser Hallen - was named after him, but demolished in July 2008. In the town of Schnaitheim, where he lived and worked, there is a memorial dedicated to him.

References



Further reading

  • Roger Moorhouse, Killing Hitler: The Third Reich and the Plots against the F├╝hrer, Jonathan Cape, 2006, pp. 36-58. ISBN 0-224-07121-1
  • Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich At War, Penguin Press, 2008, pp. 109-111. ISBN 978-1-59420-206-3


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