The simple carpenter and lone fighter Georg Elser wanted to kill Hitler with a bomb on November 8, 1939. His attack in Munich’s Bürgerbräukeller failed. To this day, Elser is overshadowed by the Scholl and Stauffenberg siblings. Wrongly.
November 8, 1939, shortly after 9:15 p.m. A bomb detonates with a timer in the ballroom of the Munich Bürgerbräukeller. The ceiling collapses. Eight people die and 63 are injured.
The bomb was aimed at Adolf Hitler. But he narrowly escapes the attack. He gave a speech in front of 2,000 people and then left the hall a few minutes earlier than planned. Just before the bang.
The bomb was built by 36-year-old Johann Georg Elser, a simple carpenter from the Swabian Alb in Württemberg, Germany. His assassination attempt is one of over 40 that were unsuccessfully carried out on Adolf Hitler.
He wanted to prevent war
But Georg Elser’s attack was unique, says German historian Wolfgang Benz, who has written a new biography about the assassin: “Georg Elser came to the correct conclusion very early on that National Socialism was a human disaster.” And that Hitler’s death could have prevented the war.
Elser made the decision to commit tyrannical murder in the fall of 1938, long before the attack on July 20, 1944 by Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg. At the time of Elser’s crime he was still a staunch Nazi supporter.
Georg Elser was “rather apolitical,” says Wolfgang Benz. He was driven by a “Christian-influenced sense of justice”. And of a “deep pacifism”.
“The determination with which Elser planned and carried out his crime, completely on his own, is impressive,” says Benz. The craftsman acquired the missing knowledge himself, such as how to detonate a bomb using a timer.
One victim against millions
But Elser was also lucky that he was never exposed. Especially when he secretly let himself be locked in the Munich Bürgerbräukeller at night for weeks and hollowed out the stone pillar in front of which Hitler would speak. And in which he finally deposits his bomb.
“It was bad luck that he failed in the end,” says Benz. “Perhaps many millions of people could have been saved if the assassination attempt had been successful.”
The police caught Elser on November 8, 1939, the evening of the assassination attempt. She puts him in a concentration camp. The SS kills him shortly before the end of the war.
Almost forgotten by the history books
Georg Elser is “an outstanding figure” for Wolfgang Benz. Nevertheless, to this day he remains in the shadow of well-known Hitler opponents such as Stauffenberg or the Scholl siblings. Why?
After the war, Elser had no lobby to honor his memory. After 1945, for example, the church liked to refer to resisters such as the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Also to distract from your own failure.
This is how Georg Elser is being honored today
Georg Elser also remained the victim of various conspiracy myths long after the war: he was a tool of the British secret service and therefore a traitor to Germany. Or – just as absurd – he was on behalf of the SS, who planned the assassination attempt to demonstrate “Hitler’s special providential protection”.
According to Wolfgang Benz, German society was “secretly ashamed” of Elser. Because the simple craftsman drew the right conclusions “when the majority was still cheering for Hitler.”
Elser thought as millions should have thought. If not we should have thought.
Wolfgang Benz: “Alone against Hitler. Life and deeds of Johann Georg Elser”. CH Beck, 2023.