How 13 minutes could have killed Hitler, rerouted history

Georg Elser crafted a nearly-perfect plan which, had it not been for chance and timing, could have brought about Hitler's demise.

April 5, 2015 13:46
1 minute read.
Georg Elser

Georg Elser.. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Adolf Hitler was almost assassinated two months after World War II began, during a November 8, 1939, speech at a Munich beer hall, the BBC reported on Sunday.

13 Minutes, a German film released this month, tells the story of Georg Elser, a 36-year-old carpenter/cabinet maker from a small southern German town, who crafted an intricate assassination plan that proved to be one of history’s greatest “what ifs.”

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Elser believed that Hitler’s rule would bring the downfall of Germany. To deter this, he drafted a plan to place a bomb in Munich’s Bürgerbräukeller beer hall, where Hitler made the same speech annually and at a regular time to commemorate the Beer Hall Putsch he had launched there in 1923.

Elser, who had picked up skills working with explosives while employed at an armaments firm, began working at the beer house, granting him daily access. For more than a month he arrived late at night, hiding in its corners until it closed. He would work all night, carving out a space by the stage for a home-built bomb with a timing mechanism concealed in a cork casing.

According to the BBC, he made sure that his loudest actions took place every 10 minutes, coinciding with the regular automatic flushing of toilets in the Bürgerbräukeller, to muffle the sounds of drilling.

On the eve of Hitler’s speech, Elser’s bomb was ready. Yet things did not go according to plan. Hitler began his speech at the anticipated time, but concluded it an hour early in order to catch a train back to Berlin. Thirteen minutes later, after most of the Nazi faithful had left, the bomb went off, killing eight and bringing about massive damage.

Ian Kershaw, Hitler’s biographer, told the BBC that Elser was a lone-wolf – a “single person, an ordinary German, a man from the working class, acting without the help or knowledge of anyone else.”

The Gestapo soon arrested him while trying to cross into Switzerland. He was interrogated, kept at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, transferred to Dachau in 1945, and subsequently executed at age 42.

The Buergerbraeuhaus after the 1939 assasination attempt.

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