Lots of people like to play a mind game that centers around one moral quandary: Would you kill baby Hitler? Yeah, it’s Hitler, but it’s also a baby… Hell, this same question was even jokingly debated during an episode of Superstore, where the crew tries to decide whether you should help a celebrity steal baby Hitler. Apparently, “killing” Hitler was a step too far for NBC.
But it wasn’t for Germans living under the Third Reich, who actually tried to kill adult Hitler multiple times. In fact, if you add in assassination attempts from the Allies, there were at least 15 attempts on Hitler’s life, with more planned but never executed. Here are four of the best assassination attempts by German citizens:
The remains of a beer hall in Munich after Johann Georg Elser destroyed a support pillar with a bomb in an attempt to kill Hitler.
1. A random carpenter misses Hitler by 13 minutes
If it weren’t for the rise of Hitler, Johann Georg Elser would’ve been entirely forgettable. He was a skilled laborer, mostly in carpentry, who was once employed in an armaments factory. He combined the explosive knowledge he gained there with his carpentry skills to form a daring plan to kill Hitler during a planned speech.
Hitler gave a speech every year at a beer hall in Munich. Elser started going there late every night in 1939, eating and then hiding so he could emerge after it closed. In the empty beer hall, he clandestinely hollowed out a section of pillar and filled it with explosives. He set the timer for halfway through Hitler’s approximately hour-long speech.
But the attack was set after the invasion of Poland, and Hitler was eager to complete his November speech and get back to Berlin. He delivered his speech an hour early on November 8, 1939. Hitler left the podium 13 minutes before the bomb went off, killing eight and wounding 60. Elser was later captured while attempting to escape the country. He lived through most of the war in a concentration camp before his execution in 1945.
Capt. Rudolf Freiherr von Gersdorff, an officer who attempted a suicide bombing of Adolf Hitler.
2. A weapons expert tried to use two suicide bombs
In 1943, Capt. Rudolf Freiherr von Gersdorff was assigned to give Hitler a tour of captured Soviet weaponry. The tour was supposed to last 10 minutes, so von Gersdoff decided to carry two bombs in his pockets during the tour, set to go off five minutes from when they were set.
But Hitler, again, was impatient and rushed through the tour. Von Gersdorff had planned to embrace Hitler as the bombs ticked down to zero, but was instead forced to rush to a bathroom and defuse his ordnance as Hitler walked away.
Lt. Col. Henning von Tresckow, the mind behind multiple assassination attempts against Hitler.
3. A German officer used a dud fuse
German Lt. Col. Henning von Tresckow was a career officer quietly serving on the staff of his uncle when Germany invaded Poland. He took part in the invasion and later operations, but was quickly disgusted by the actions of the SS, especially the executions of surrendering or captive Soviet Soldiers.
He decided that the execution of Hitler was the best thing for Germany. To that end, he tried to recruit other senior officers to his plots, but was largely unsuccessful. So, instead, he convinced another officer to carry a package of brandy to friends in Berlin while flying with Hitler in 1943 — but the brandy was actually a bomb.
Unfortunately, the fuse on the bomb was a dud, and von Tresckow was forced to go to Berlin and recover the failed bomb. He didn’t give up, and was eventually able to recruit Col. Claus von Stauffenerg to his plans, leading to the “July Plot.”
Hitler and Mussolini survey the aftermath of the “July Plot” in 1944.
4. The “July Plot” is foiled by a thick table leg
The “July Plot” in 1944 is probably the most famous of the assassination attempts against Hitler. As hinted above, von Tresckow and von Stauffenerg were key to the efforts. The plan was to smuggle a briefcase bomb into the “Wolf’s Lair,” an underground bunker in Germany, and set it off. This would kill Hitler and some of his closest aides and top officers.
The senior leaders involved in the assassination attempt, including the former chief of the army general staff and the chief of staff of the reserve army, would then take control of what levers of government they could while pressuring the remaining powers in Berlin to make peace before it was too late.
And it very nearly worked. This time, Hitler didn’t leave early, the bomb did go off, and Hitler was even injured. So, why didn’t Hitler die? Well, an officer needed to get closer to him to make a point, and he moved the briefcase behind the leg of a thick, oak table. When the bomb went off, the table absorbed and redirected a lot of the blast.
Most of those involved were caught and killed or, in the case of von Tresckow, committed suicide.