Assassination Attempts on Adolf Hitler (2)

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The first known assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler was made on February 9th, 1932 by one Ludwig Assner – a German politician (he started as a Communist but ultimately joined the far-right Völkischer Block – not an uncommon flip those days) and an ex-member of the Bavarian State Parliament.

Being not exactly of sound mind himself, Assner declared that Hitler was a complete madman who was leading the country into misery (which ultimately proved to be a correct assessment).

To save Germany from inevitable ruin, Assner decided to assassinate the would-be Führer. Interestingly enough, he chose a very “feminine” way to kill his prey – he sent a poisoned letter to Hitler from France. An acquaintance of Assner warned Hitler and the letter is intercepted by the SD.

The ultimate fate of the failed assassin is not known; there is speculation that sometime in 1933 he was lured back to Germany by the Gestapo and summarily executed without trial.

The second (this time only suspected) suspected attempt on Hitler’s life took place sometime later in 1932 – even before he became Reich Chancellor. Nazi leader and some of his staff had dinner in Hotel Kaiserhof – a luxury hotel in Wilhelmplatz in Berlin, Germany. The hotel was located next to then Reich Chancellery in what was at the time the city’s “government quarter”.

A few hours later everyone fell seriously ill, apparently from food poisoning. Heydrich’s SD (NSDAP security service) strongly suspected deliberate tampering with the food – in other words, an attempt on Hitler’s life.

However, both investigations – by SD and by the Weimar political police – went nowhere so no arrests were ever made. Hitler himself seemed least affected by the alleged poisoning, possibly due to his vegetarian diet (apparently, the unknown assassins were not aware of that crucial fact and poisoned mostly meat).

The first conspiracy (i.e. plot that involved several individuals) was launched two years later. It was put together by two colorful individuals (even by the standards of the insane 1920s) – Nikolaus von Halem and Josef “Beppo” Römer.

The former was a lawyer (during his studies at the University of Heidelberg, he was expelled from the prestigious student fraternity for heavy drinking) and subsequently a politician (happens all the time).

Initially he joined far-right Black Reichswehr paramilitary troops (a very much illegal extension of the official Reichswehr) and an ardent supporter of the Nazis. He even became involved in Adolf Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch.

Later, however, he got disillusioned in the Nazis (and in Hitler and particular) and started looking elsewhere. From about 1930, he became active in the conservative Catholic circles (although he was a Protestant) centered around prominent scholar Carl von Jordans in Berlin, whose stated goal was to keep the Nazi movement from power.

Through these groups and his law practice he established close contacts with other opponents of the Nazis like and Henning von Tresckow (one of the “founding fathers” of July 20th plot).

Being a classical lawyer by training, he was horrified by the extrajudicial executions of Hitler’s political opponents and personal enemies. So he joined forces with “Beppo” Römer and began working on a plot to assassinate Der Führer (like his target, von Halem always advocated the most radical solution to the problem at hand).

Römer was sort of a “mirror image” of another failed assassin – Ludwig Assner. An lieutenant in 1914 when the Great War broke out, the colorful and charismatic Römer became a popular figure in the army, though ended the war as a mere Captain.

After the war, he naturally emerged as a Freikorps leader becoming one the founders of Bund Oberland, the largest and most significant of the Bavarian Freikorps.

Oberland was instrumental in crushing the Bavarian Soviet Republic in April 1919, fought against the Ruhr workers in March and April 1920, and was a critical factor at the battle of Annaberg which drove the Poles from Upper Silesia in 1921 during the Silesian Uprisings.

By this time, however, Römer made a quantum leap to the far left, establishing close contacts with the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) – and taking some other Oberland commanders with him. When called upon to break a strike in the Silesian city of Ratibor in mid-1921, the leaders of Oberland refused to undertake the task.

However, most of Oberland leaders and members sided with the Nazis (it subsequently became the core of the Bavarian SA) so Römer was ultimately expelled from the Freikorps.

For some reason, he decided to get a law degree – and got one (this is how he got acquainted with von Halem). He hated the Nazis as much (if not more) than his fellow lawyer so it is not surprising that they joined forces in developing the plan for assassination attempt on Reich Chancellor (apparently, he was also in favor of the most radical solution).

However, their security system left much to be desired (to put it mildly) so their plan was promptly uncovered by Gestapo. The latter apparently decided that his plan (they were apparently unaware of von Halem’s participation) was too childish to deserve capital punishment (or even a long prison term) so Römer spent only five years in KL Dachau.

Big mistake on Gestapo part. Römer emerged from Dachau even more committed to fighting the Nazi regime (and Adolf Hitler personally) with all resources available to him. And immediately re-connected with von Halem.

After the outbreak of the Second Great War, both conspirators agreed that it was a “sheer madness” on the part of Germany and made the decision to end Hitler, the war and to eliminate Nazi governance. Halem offered Römer money to find and hire an assassin who could eliminate Hitler by shooting him or using a grenade.

Unfortunately for the conspirators, Römer did not deliver. Worse, the latter got himself involved with another venue for fighting the Nazi regime – publishing a bulletin for the resistance, Informationsdienst (Information Service), creating a network of opposition workplace cells.

Which ultimately led to the downfall of both as these cells were in no time infiltrated by the (almost) omnipresent Gestapo. In early 1942, the latter arrested Römer for “activities related to abetting the enemy and subversion of military readiness”.

Wartime Gestapo was very different from the pre-war organization. Use of torture was allowed (and widespread) and investigators had far less time for cracking the case. So Römer was unceremoniously tortured until he revealed the whole assassination plot (including von Halem’s role).

Von Halem was arrested on 26 February 1942, but incredibly was not immediately  tried (and executed). Only shortly before the 20 July 1944 coup attempt, the infamous Volksgerichtshof (People’s Court) indicted both him and Römer for “conspiracy to commit treason and undermining the war effort” (both charges were true, of course).

Both were predictably sentenced to death and executed in September and October correspondingly at Brandenburg-Görden Prison in Brandenburg an der Havel.

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