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Major General Herrmann Karl Robert Henning von Tresckow (January 10, 1901 – July 21, 1944) was a Major General in the Germanmarker Wehrmacht who organized German resistance against Adolf Hitler. He attempted to assassinate Hitler in March 1943 and drafted the Valkyrie plan for a coup against the Nazi regime. He was described by the Gestapomarker as the "prime mover" and the "evil spirit" behind the July 20 plot to assassinate Hitler.

Early life

Tresckow was born on January 10, 1901 in Magdeburgmarker into a Pomeranian noble family with 300 years of military tradition that provided the Prussian army with 21 generals. His father, later a cavalry general, had been present at Kaiser Wilhelm I's coronation as the emperor of new German Empiremarker at Versaillesmarker in 1871. His mother was the daughter of Count Robert Zedlitz-Truetzschler, a Prussian Minister of Education.

He received most of his early education from tutors on his family's remote rural estate; from 1913–1917 he was a student at the Gymnasium in the town of Goslarmarker. He joined the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards as an officer cadet at age of 16 and became the youngest lieutenant in the Army in June 1918. In the Second Battle of the Marne, he earned the Iron Cross 1st class for outstanding courage and independent action against the enemy. At that time Count Siegfried von Eulenberg, the commander of the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards, predicted that "You, Tresckow, will either become chief of the General Staff or die on the scaffold as a rebel."


After World War I, Tresckow stayed with the famed Infantry Regiment 9 Potsdam and took part in the suppression of the Spartacist movement in January 1919, but resigned from the Weimar Republicmarker Reichswehr Army in 1920 in order to study law and economics. He worked in a Jewish banking house and embarked on a world journey visiting Britain, France, Brazilmarker and the eastern United Statesmarker in 1924 before he had to abandon it to take care of family possessions back home. Like members of many prominent Prussian families, Tresckow married into another family with long-standing military traditions. In 1926, he married Erika von Falkenhayn, only daughter of Erich von Falkenhayn, the chief of the General Staff 1914–16, and returned to military service, being sponsored by Field Marshall Paul von Hindenburg. Nevertheless, he was not a typical Prussian officer. He wore his uniform only when it was absolutely required and disliked the regimentation of army life. He was lyrical, recited Rainer Maria Rilke, and spoke several languages.

In 1934, Tresckow began General Staff training at the War Academymarker and graduated as the best of the class of 1936. He was assigned to the General Staff's 1st Department (Operations), where he worked in close contact with Generals Ludwig Beck, Werner von Fritsch, Adolf Heusinger, and Erich von Manstein. Studying the possible scenarios of war, he recognized the risks and weaknesses in Hitler's desire to prepare for war in 1940.

Although he supported the revision of the Polish Corridor, he opposed many of Hitler's military and foreign policies including the Anschluss and the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Nonetheless, Tresckow did spade-work for the invasion plan of Czechoslovakia and after the outbreak of World War II served as chief of staff of the 228th Infantry Division during the invasion of Poland, earning the Iron Cross first class. He was shocked that Colonel-General Johannes Blaskowitz should have been the only general to protest to Hitler about the atrocities committed by the SS in Poland and that the protest should have been dismissed as 'childish'.

Later in 1939 and into 1940, he served as the second general staff officer of Army Group A under Gerd von Rundstedt and Erich von Manstein, culminating in the invasion of France in the spring of 1940. Ironically, Tresckow played a role in the adoption of the Manstein Plan, which proved to be so successful in the French campaign. Tresckow's former regimental comrade Rudolf Schmundt was Hitler's chief military aide, and it was through the Tresckow-Schmundt channel that Manstein's plan, after being rejected by Army High Command, was brought to Hitler's attention. He is also said to have worked on developing the Manstein Plan itself as Günther Blumentritt's deputy.After the fall of France, he did not share the euphoria that swept Germany and brought Hitler to the peak of his popularity. In October he said in Paris to a secretary (the future wife of Alfred Jodl), "If Churchill can induce America to join in the war, we shall slowly but surely be crushed by material superiority. The most that will be left to us then will be the Electorate of Brandenburg."

From 1941-1943, he served under Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, his uncle, and later Field Marshal Günther von Kluge as chief operations officer of the German Army Group Center in Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Soviet Union. Subsequently in October 1943, he served in combat as the commanding officer of Grenadier Regiment 442, defending the western bank of the Dnieper River in Ukraine. From December 1943 till his death, he served as Chief of Staff of the 2nd Army, in areas which are now Belarus and eastern Poland. During his World War II service, he was awarded the German Cross in Gold and other decorations. Tresckow was thus very well connected with the Prussian aristocracy and high-ranking generals, highly accomplished and independent-minded, and as such well-positioned for his effort to overthrow the Nazi regime.

Opposition to Hitler

Although he was initially an enthusiastic supporter of Nazism due to their opposition to the Treaty of Versailles, he was quickly disillusioned by 1934 when Schutzstaffelmarker (SS) murdered extrajudicially many SA leaders and political opponents including two generals in the Night of the Long Knives. The events of the 1930s such as the 1938 Blomberg-Fritsch Affair further strengthened his antipathy against the Nazis. He regarded the Kristallnacht (state-sanctioned, nationwide pogrom of Jews) as personal humiliation and degradation of civilization.He thus sought out civilians and officers who opposed Hitler, such as Erwin von Witzleben. Witzleben dissuaded Tresckow from resigning from the Army arguing that they would be needed when day of reckoning comes. By the summer of 1939, he was saying to Fabian von Schlabrendorff, his cousin by marriage, that "both duty and honor demand from us that we should do our best to bring about the downfall of Hitler and National-Socialism in order to save Germany and Europe from barbarism."

It was in the campaign against the Soviet Union that Tresckow started to resume his resistance activities with urgency. He was appalled by the Commissar Order, the treatment of Russian prisoners of war, and in particular the mass shootings of Jewish women and children by the Einsatzgruppenmarker behind the lines. When he learned about the massacre of thousands of Jews at Borisovmarker, Tresckow appealed passionately to Field Marshall Fedor von Bock: "Never may such a thing happen again! Therefore we must act now. We have the power in Russia!" (Although Bock personally detested Nazism, he remained loyal to Hitler.) As the chief operations officer(1a) of Army Group Center, he systematically placed officers who shared his views in key positions. They included Lieutenant Colonel Georg Schulze-Büttger, Colonel Rudolf Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff, Major Carl-Hans Graf von Hardenberg, Lieutenant Heinrich Graf von Lehndorff-Steinort, Lieutenant Fabian von Schlabrendorff, Lieutenant Philipp von Boeselager and his brother Georg von Boeselager, Lieutenant Colonel Hans-Alexander von Voss and Lieutenant Colonel Berndt von Kleist among others, many of them from Tresckow's old Infantry Regiment 9. The headquarters of Army Group Center thus emerged as the new nerve center of Army resistance. At the end of September 1941, Tresckow sent his special operations officer Schlabrendorff to Berlin to contact opposition groups and declare that the staff of Army Group Center was "prepared to do anything." This approach, made at the height of German expansion and nadir of anti-Hitler opposition, represented the first initiative to come from the front and from Army at all as Ulrich von Hassell noted in his diary. Schlabrendorff continued to serve as liaison between Army Group Center and oppostion circle around General Ludwig Beck, Carl Friedrich Goerdeler and Colonel Hans Oster, the deputy head of Abwehr (German military intelligence) who was involved in 1938 coup attempt against Hitler (Oster Conspiracy).When Oster recruited General Friedrich Olbricht, head of the General Army Office headquarter in 1942, linking this asset to Tresckow's resistance group in Army Group Centre created a viable coup apparatus.

Plots against Hitler

It was decided that Tresckow's group would assassinate Hitler and thereby provide the 'spark' for the coup, which Olbricht would direct from Berlin. In late 1942, Olbricht indicated that he still needed about eight weeks to complete preparations for the coup. Shortly thereafter Tresckow traveled to Berlin to discuss the few remaining questions and to emphasize that time was running short. In the winter of 1942, Olbricht declared: "We are ready. The spark can now be set off." Tresckow assured the conspirators that he would act on the first available opportunity.

It came on March 13 1943 when Hitler finally visited troops on the Eastern Front at Smolenskmarker after few cancellations and postponements. Under the initial plan, a group of officers were to shoot Hitler collectively at a signal in the officers' mess during lunch but Kluge, Commander of Army Group Center who was informed about the plot, urged Tresckow not to carry it out saying, "For heaven's sake, don't do anything today! It's still too soon for that!" He argued that the German army and people were not ready to accept the coup and would not understand such an act. He also feared a civil war between the Army and SS since Heinrich Himmler canceled his visit and could not be killed at the same time.

Tresckow however had a backup plan. During the said lunch, he asked Lieutenant Colonel Heinz Brandt who was traveling with Hitler if he would oblige to take a bottle of Cointreau to Colonel Helmuth Stieff (who was then not yet a conspirator) at Hitler's headquarters in East Prussia as a payment for a lost bet. Brandt readily agreed. It was in fact a British clam bomb disguised as the square-bottled liqueur. Before Hitler's Condor plane was to take off, Schlabrendorff activated the 30-minute fuse and handed the package to Brandt, who boarded Hitler's plane. After takeoff, a message was sent to the other Berlin conspirators by code that Operation Flash was underway, which they expected to take place around Minskmarker. Yet when Hitler landed safely at his East Prussian headquarters, it became obvious that the bomb had failed to detonate (probably due to the extremely low temperature in the unheated luggage compartment thereby preventing the fuse from working). The message of failure was quickly sent out and Schlabrendorff retrieved the package to prevent discovery of the plot.

A week later, on 21 March 1943, Army Group Center organized a display of Russian Army flags and weapons seized at the Eastern Front. It was exhibited at Zeughaus, military museum in Berlin, which Hitler was to visit on the Heroes's Memorial Day with Himmler and Hermann Göring. Colonel Gersdorff volunteered to be the suicide bomber, intending to explode bomb on his person near Hitler while serving as a tour guide. He had with him bombs with ten-minute fuses, knowing that Hitler was scheduled to be in the museum for 30 minutes. However, at the last minute just before Hitler was to appear, the duration of his stay was reduced to just eight minutes as a security precaution. Hitler breezed through in two minutes. As a result Gersdorff could not accomplish his mission, and the assassination plan failed again, but he barely managed to get out and defuse the bombs.

Other plots similarly failed because of Hitler's irregular habits and pure ill luck. Most importantly, they had no access to Hitler since he no longer visited the front. The elimination of Oster's group in April 1943 (His deputy Hans von Dohnanyi and Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer were arrested, and Oster was placed under house arrest) was a further setback that demoralized the conspirators and disrupted their efforts.

Meanwhile, Tresckow also worked tirelessly to persuade army commanders such as Field Marshalls Fedor von Bock, Günther von Kluge, and Erich von Manstein to join in the conspiracy without much success. With unwitting help from Schmundt, he placed like-minded officers as their adjutants and staff officers to bring them closer to conspiracy. Kluge sympathized with the conspirators and at times seemed ready to act only to become indecisive at critical moments. Others outright refused, Manstein declaring "Prussian field marshalls do not mutiny." Nevertheless, no one reported their treasonable activities to Nazi regime.

Operation Valkyrie

Eventually the conspirators came to rely more on Reserve Army in Berlin and other districts to stage a coup against Nazi regime. Olbricht now put forward a new strategy for staging a coup against Hitler. The Reserve Army had an operational plan called Operation Walküre (Valkyrie), which was to be used in the event that the disruption caused by the Allied bombing of German cities caused a breakdown in law and order, or a rising by the millions of slave laborers from occupied countries now being used in German factories. Olbricht suggested that this plan could be used to mobilize the Reserve Army to take control of German cities, disarm the SS and arrest the Nazi leadership, once Hitler had been assassinated. During August and September 1943, Tresckow took long sick leave in Berlin to draft the "revised" Valkyrie plan with fine details and precise time tables. Revised orders and additional proclamations that would pin blame for the uprising on the Nazi party were typed by Tresckow's wife, Erika, and his secretary, Countess Margarete von Oven, who wore gloves so as not to leave fingerprints. These 1943 papers were recovered by the Soviets after the war and were finally published in 2007, which showed Tresckow's central role in the conspiracy and idealistic motivations of the resistance group at that time. Knowledge of Jewish Holocaust was a major impetus for many officers involved.

However, when Tresckow was assigned to command of a battalion at the Eastern Front in October 1943, he was no longer in position to actively plan or effect the coup. Colonel Count Claus von Stauffenberg, who met Tresckow in August 1943 and worked together on revising Valkyrie plan, took the responsibility for planning and executing Hitler's assassination. Even his promotion a month later to Chief of Staff of the Second Army did not bring him much closer. To gain access to Hitler, Tresckow proposed to his old comrade General Rudolf Schmundt, Hitler's Chief Adjutant and Chief of Army Personnel, to create new department of psychological and political warfare to evaluate data and make reports directly to the Führer. Schmundt, who was still well-disposed to his old friend but came to impression that Tresckow disapproved of Führer, quietly let the matter drop. Tresckow also applied to become General Adolf Heusinger's delegate in the Army High Command (OKH) during the latter's two month leave, which would also give him access to Hitler's meetings, but Heusinger, who was earlier approached by conspirators, rejected it apparently for the same reason.

By the time Stauffenberg was appointed Chief of Staff of Reserve Army and was ready to carry out the assassination attempt, the Allies had already landed in Normandy. When Stauffenberg sent a message to Tresckow through Lehndorff to ask whether there was any point in making attempt since there was no practical purpose to be served, Tresckow urged him not only to attempt the assassination but to go ahead with the coup in Berlin even if assassination were to fail. He argued that there must be an overt act of German opposition to Hitler regardless of consequences. He also told Philipp von Boeselager and Margarite von Oven that 16,000 people were being killed daily not as casualties of war but as result of murders perpetrated by the Germans. Hitler had to be killed to put an end to it. A few days before the coup attempt, Tresckow confided to a friend that "in all likelihood everything will go wrong"; asked if the action was necessary nevertheless, he replied, "Yes, even so."


When the assassination attempt on Hitler and the following coup in Berlinmarker (July 20 Plot) had failed, Tresckow decided to commit suicide at the front in Królowy Mostmarker near Białystokmarker on July 21. His parting words to Schlabrendorff were: "The whole world will vilify us now, but I am still totally convinced that we did the right thing. Hitler is the archenemy not only of Germany but of the world. When, in few hours' time, I go before God to account for what I have done and left undone, I know I will be able to justify what I did in the struggle against Hitler. God promised Abraham that He would not destroy Sodom if just ten righteous men could be found in the city, and so I hope that for our sake God will not destroy Germany. No one among us can complain about his death, for whoever joined our ranks put on the shirt of Nessus. A man's moral worth is established only at the point where he is ready to give up his life in defense of his convictions." To protect other conspirators, he staged an appearance of partisan attack by firing his pistols and then dispatched himself by holding a hand grenade below his chin. He was buried in the family home in Wartenberg. When the Nazis learned about his connections in late August, his coffin was excavated and taken to the crematorium of Sachsenhausen concentration campmarker. His wife was arrested on August 15 and her children were taken away under Nazi policy of Sippenhaft, but early in October she was released again and survived the war.


  • "The assassination must be attempted at all costs. Even if it should not succeed, an attempt to seize power in Berlinmarker must be made. What matters now is no longer the practical purpose of the coup, but to prove to the world and for the records of history that the men of the resistance dared to take the decisive step. Compared to this objective, nothing else is of consequence." (1944)
  • "Remember this moment. If we don't convince the field marshal (Fedor von Bock) to fly to Hitler at once and have these orders (Commissar Order) canceled, the German people will be burdened with a guilt the world will not forget in a hundred years. This guilt will fall not only on Hitler, Himmler, Göring, and their comrades but on you and me, your wife and mine, your children and mine, that woman crossing the street, and those children over there playing ball." (1941)
  • "Isn't it dreadful? Here we are, two officers of the German General Staff, discussing how best to murder our commander in chief. It must be done. This is our only chance... Hitler must be cut down like a rabid dog." (1943)
  • "I cannot understand how people can still call themselves Christians and not be furious adversaries of Hitler's regime." (April 1943)
  • "It is almost certain that we will fail. But how will future history judge the German people, if not even a handful of men had the courage to put an end to that criminal?" (June 1944)
  • "The idea of freedom can never be disassociated from real Prussia. The real Prussian spirit means a synthesis between restraint and freedom, between voluntary subordination and conscientious leadership, between pride in oneself and consideration for others, between rigor and compassion. Unless a balance is kept between these qualities, the Prussian spirit is in danger of degenerating into soulless routine and narrow-minded dogmatism." (1943, at his sons' confirmation at Potsdam Garrison Church)
  • "I would like to show the German people a film with the title 'Germany at the end of the war.' Then perhaps people would be alarmed and would realize where we are heading. People would agree with me that the superior warlord (Hitler) must disappear. But since we cannot show this movie people will create the legend of the 'stab in the back' whenever we will act against Hitler." (December 1941)
  • "Every day, we are assassinating nearly 16,000 additional victims."
  • "Hitler is a dancing dervish. He must be shot down." (1938)
  • "Bans are laws for the stupid." (1942)
  • "The Allies must be stupid, if they don't see that the German military is stronger without Hitler than with him."

Portrayal in the media

Henning von Tresckow has been portrayed by the following actors in film:

See also



Further reading

External links

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