Georg Elser was a German hero. He wasn’t exactly viewed in this way for many years after WW2 but finally, 70 years later, Elser is getting the recognition he certainly deserves. He was murdered at 11pm on this day 70 years ago, April 9th 1945 at the Dachau Concentration Camp by SS Oberscharführer Theodor Bongartz. His crime was trying to assassinate Adolf Hitler 5 and half years beforehand.
At 9:20pm on the 8th of November 1939, just 2 months after the start of WW2, Elser’s bomb ripped through the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich. 13 minutes beforehand Adolf Hitler had been stood a metre or two away from the bomb. Unfortunately Hitler left 13 minutes early…
Elser was a German carpenter, born on the 4th of January 1903 in Hermaringen. As a member of the Deutscher Holzarbeiterverband (German Wood Workers Association) and the Roter Frontkämpferbund (Red Front Fighters Association) he had shown an interest in Politics. He was an early opponent of National Socialism, from 1933 refusing to make the Nazi Salute, and according to witnesses leaving the room whenever Hitler’s speeches were being broadcast on German radio.
On September 30th 1938 Hitler met Deladier, Chamberlain and Mussolini at the Führerbau in Munich and signed the Munich Agreement. After this point Elser was convinced that Hitler was planning a war, and he became determined to do the astonishing feat of attempting to assassinate him. He needed a place where Hitler would be guaranteed to attend, and the Bürgerbräukeller was perfect.
Every year Hitler would remake a famous speech he originally made on the 8th November 1923, where he declared a National Revolution was starting – he failed miserably the following morning attempting to overthrow the Bavarian government. Elser spent several months from the end of August 1939 designing and building a bomb, and hiding it in the pillar directly behind the podium where Hitler would be standing to make the 8th November 1939 anniversary speech. He set the timer to detonate the bomb at 9:20pm, about two thirds the way through Hitler’s 2 hour speech in front of 3000 people (including Joseph Goebbels, Reinhard Heydrich, Rudolf Hess & Heinrich Himmler).
Unfortunately that night a thick fog was settling on Munich as Hitler began his speech. Unable to fly back to Berlin afterwards due to the fog Hitler decided to finish the speech much earlier, and take a train back instead, cutting the speech from two hours to just one. He left the podium at 9:07pm. Elser’s bomb exploded perfectly on time at 9:20pm…
By this point most of the crowd had left leaving only about 120 people in the beer hall. 7 were killed with another person dying in hospital afterwards, and 63 others injured.
At 8:45pm that night Elser had been caught 25 metres from the Swiss border fence at Konstanz. As Elser was being interrogated by the local Gestapo in Konstanz news of the assassination attempt reached his interrogators. He was transferred to the infamous Munich Gestapo HQ in the Wittelsbach Palais, where after extensive torture and beatings he was taken to Berlin. 5 days of further torture between 19th-23rd November produced a report that stated Elser acted alone. Hitler was furious believing that British Intelligence must have played a role in it all, and started an enormous propaganda campaign to have Elser connected with a few British spys who happened to be caught on the 9th of November in an unrelated event in the Netherlands.
Elser was eventually moved to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp just north of Berlin where he stayed from early 1941 until early 1945, when he was transferred to the Bunker at Dachau. On the evening of the 9th of April 1945 Elser was taken by SS Unterscharführer Edgar Stiller to Barrack X at Dachau, where the Gas Chamber & two crematoriums still stand, and according to a testimony made by Stiller after the war, Elser was shot by SS Oberscharführer Theodor Bongartz. His body and clothes were then burned immediately in the ovens of Dachau Crematorium. This was sadly just 20 days before the US Army would liberate the Dachau Camp on April 29th 1945.
In an enormous contrast to the Claus von Stauffenberg plot of July 20th 1944, Georg Elser was rarely acknowledged or commemorated in Germany until the 1990’s when a biography by Haasis on Elser was published in 1999. Since 2001, every two years the Georg-Elser Prize is awarded for acts of courage, and for his 100th birthday the Deutsche Post issued a celebratory stamp honouring Elser.
As today is the 70th Anniversary of Elser’s murder, and I was working as a tour guide at Dachau, I decided to leave a simple gesture of a single red rose in his cell in the Bunker, and a single white rose at the Monument to an Unknown Prisoner close to where he lost his life at Barrack X. I was however happy to see that I was not the only person who had the same idea today, as there were already quite a few white roses already there as well as a small German flag.
70 years after his murder the great German hero Johann Georg Elser is not forgotten.
We are also very happy to make his story part of our InMunich Private German Resistance Tour where we visit the memorial at the site of his former workshop.