Monday, 15 April, 2024
08November 1939

Assassin misses killing Hitler by 13 minutes

On this day, an elaborate and painstakingly-planned assassination attempt of Adolf Hitler failed when the Nazi leader left 13 minutes earlier than planned.

Georg Elser, a carpenter, had decided to kill Hitler in 1938. He had begun experimenting with explosives while working for an armaments firm near his home town in Swabia. Elser wasn’t particularly political, but he felt that Hitler would lead Germany into war. When World War Two started in September 1939, it was clear to Elser he needed to act.

Elser knew Hitler was due to give a speech at the Munich Bürgerbräukeller, the beer hall where, in 1923, the Nazi leader had launched an attempt to overthrow the Munich government. The coup attempt had failed, and Hitler was imprisoned, but since then Hitler had returned every year to the hall to give a speech marking the occasion. Elser, knowing Hitler’s annual speech occurred on 8th November each year, started a plan that would ultimately come incredibly close to killing the Führer.

Every evening for 30 days prior to the speech, Elser arrived at the hall for a late meal and then hid when the building was locked up. Emerging into the dark and empty building, he would then use his carpentry skills to hollow out a space in a pillar near the stage. Aware that any noise, no matter how soft, would echo around the empty hall and alert anyone nearby, Elser timed his hammering to coincide with the automatic flushing of nearby toilets every 10 minutes. Eventually, he had hollowed out the pillar to make space for the bomb. Encasing it in cork to muffle the ticking of the bomb, Elser sealed it up and made his escape.

On 8th November, Hitler gave his annual speech as expected. Unexpectedly, however, Hitler left the hall early, eager to return to Berlin. 13 minutes after leaving, the bomb detonated, causing massive damage, bringing the ceiling down, and killing eight people. But Hitler was not among them. The Nazi newspaper, the Voelkischer Beobachter, called the event “the miraculous salvation of the Führer”.

Later, the Gestapo stopped Elser as he attempted to cross into Switzerland. During his interrogation, he repeatedly stated he was working alone. The Gestapo, convinced the British secret service had helped him, were astonished that one many could have come so close to killed Hitler. It would be decades before Elser’s true story was believed.

Georg Elser was murdered in Dachau concentration camp on April 9, 1945, only weeks before the end of the war.

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