Co-editors: Seán Mac Mathúna • John Heathcote
Consulting editor: Themistocles Hoetis
Field Correspondent: Allen Hougland


The first attempt to kill Hitler in 1938:
The story of Johann Elser
Nikos Raptis

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The Nizkor Project: Dedicated to the millions of Holocaust victims who suffered and died

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Johann Georg Elser (1903-1945): "I wanted through my act to prevent more bloodshed".

Johann Georg Elser was born in the German Village of Hermaringen in 1903. At the age of fourteen he was apprenticed as a (lathe) turner in a local iron factory. In 1922 he passed his journeyman's exam as a cabinet-maker and became a specialist in carpentry and metal work. For the next decade Elser lived as a wandering craftsman, sometimes working in clock factories or repairing furniture. In 1928-9 he joined the militant communist group "Rotfrontkaempferbund" (Red Front Fighters' Association). Except for playing in its brass band he did not engage in Communist party activities. After 1933 he was considered an ex-Communist.

In 1938 Elser was alarmed by the Munich agreements and terrified by the prospect of a second World War, having experienced the first World War as a teenager. Elser, a reserved, slow-spoken individual, in the autumn of the same year of 1938, decided to assassinate Hitler. He planned the assassination attempt meticulously, accumulating a stock of explosives, designing a special clock mechanism and hiding his apparatus in a wooden column behind the speaker's rostrum in the Munich "Buergerbraeukeller" where Hitler was due to speak on November 8, 1939, delivering his annual address before the "Old Fighters" in commemoration of the "Putsch" of 1923, which had started in the same "Buergerbraeukeller". (Note: The "Buergerbraeukeller" is a huge beer hall where the Germans down enormous quantities of beer in noisy camaraderie, while discharging the "processed" beer at spacious lavatories on the one side of the hall, with immediate access from the hall.)`

On November 8, 1939 Hitler was speaking at the "Buergerbraeukeller". His speech normally ended about 10 p.m., but that day he left at 9.07 to catch his special train. The bomb exploded at 9.20 destroying half the hall, killing seven people and wounding sixty-three. Next day Hitler claimed that an "inner voice" had told him to get out and on the same day he decided to launch a western offensive ! Elser was arrested the same evening of the attempt at the Swiss frontier, brought to Berlin, the Gestapo, etc. Subsequently, he was sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp as "Hitler's special prisoner," He was given a carpenter's bench and allowed to make what he pleased. In 1944 he was moved to Dachau and kept alive, possibly in the hope of being used in a show trial after the war. On April 9, 1945, only 29 days before the Germans surrendered, he was murdered by the Gestapo on a secret order from Himmler, and his death was attributed to an allied bombing raid.

The Elser case is unknown not only to the general public but there is almost nothing in the works of scholars, with expertise on Hitler and Nazism. For example, in the work of Ian Kershaw, Professor at the University of Sheffield in England, there is no mention of Elser's name (The Hitler Myth, Oxford, 1987; Popular Opinion & Political Dissent in the Third Reich, Oxford, 1983). However, in a recent interview to the German magazine Der Spiegel Kershaw when asked if Elser is "his hero at that time," he answered that Elser is " certainly one of the few (heroes), probably just because he was an outsider. Elser is no political person, he wanted to kill Hitler, to put an end to the war, simply that. Compared to the (Nazi) officers, who hesitated again and again, Elser is a luminous figure." (Der Spiegel, 34/2000, p.58)

The Germans have repressed the Elser case for more than 60 years. Yet, there are exceptions. One is that of the 53-year old artist Wolfram Kastner of Munich, whose work as a painter aims to "make visible, what the people do not want to see." In order to make "visible" The act of Elser, Kastner, on November 8, 1999, sprayed in four different sites of the city of Munich, a sentence taken from the minutes of the Esler trial: "I wanted through my act to prevent more bloodshed." (Elser's words). One of the sites was the monument dedicated to the "Resistance against the Nazis." The monument consists of a black stone slab on which are engraved the names of those that resisted Nazism. Elser's name is not among them! Kastner sprayed Elser's name on the monument with white paint. Next day the German Rolf Hochhuth gave a lecture in the Bavarian Academy for the Fine Arts. The title of the lecture : "Johann Georg Elser - the most solitary among us Germans."

It seems that in the Elser case there are still some things that demand to become "visible', or should be analyzed at a deeper level. What would have happened if Elser succeeded in eliminating Hitler? Would the (US supported, in the 1920s and 1930s,) Nazi institutions have found a Hitler substitute and continued W.W.II? Can the act of an individual (Elser) have so vast effects as to stop W.W.II?

PS Who is going to make a film on the Elser case?

Nikos Raptis was born in Athens, Greece, in 1930. He is a civil engineer. For the last 30 years he has been writing on social matters for papers and magazines (mainly) in Greece. He is the author of "Let Us Talk About Earthquakes, Floods and...the Streetcar" (1981) and "The Nightmare of the Nukes"(1986), both in Greek. He, also, translated into Greek and published Noam Chomsky's "Year 501" and "Rethinking Camelot". He lives in Athens, Greece.

© Nikos Raptis