Turning to the Eastern Front and Tresckow's resistance cell within the staff of Army Group Centre:
"The assassination must be attempted at all costs. Even if it should not succeed, an attempt to seize power in Berlin must be made. What matters now is no longer the practical purpose of the coup, but to prove to the world and for the records of history that the men of the resistance dared to take the decisive step. Compared to this objective, nothing else is of consequence."
Henning von Tresckow was the primary mover of the German resistance movement for the period 1943 and 1944. Through his direct involvement in multiple assassination attempts and coup plans, Tresckow showed himself to be Hitler's most indefatigable enemy. Had he managed to secure access to Hitler, there can be no doubt that he would have carried out the attack with his own hands without second thought.
Tresckow grew up in a noble Prussian family with a long tradition of military service. He fought in WWI as one of the youngest soldiers carrying the rank of Leutnant
and at the Second Battle of the Marne, he earned the Iron Cross. At that time, his commander in his 1. Guards Infantry Regiment, Count Siegfried von Eulenberg, presciently said: "You, Tresckow, will either become chief of the General Staff or die on the scaffold." In 1920, Tresckow left the army to study law and to run his family's estate in the Neumark region. He rejoined the Reichswehr
two years later. In the inter-war period, he served in the 9th
Potsdam Regiment, a unit that Axel von dem Bussche justifiably claimed saw more officers executed for treason against Hitler than any other. In 1936, he attended the Kriegsakademie
where he graduated top of his class. Subsequently, he was appointed to the army's prestigious General Staff.
Like many other members of the old nobility and officers of the army, Tresckow initially found some aspects of the National Socialist agenda to be somewhat attractive; particularly their plans for rearmament and repudiation of the hated Treaty of Versailles. The 'Night of the Long Knives'
in 1934 sewed some initial doubts, while Kristallnacht
and the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair completely alienated him by the end of 1938. Prior to the commencement of the war, Tresckow was heavily involved in scenario analysis and war planning. It was then that he concluded that Hitler's aggressive plans would plunge Germany into an unwinnable cataclysm, particularly in the East.
In 1939, Tresckow served in the Polish campaign on the staff of 228. Infanterie Division.
In 1940, he was on the staff of Heeresgruppe A during
the campaign in France.
At the Compiegne surrender ceremony, Oberstleutnant von Tresckow appears in newsreel footage escorting the French delegation from the famous railroad car where the surrender was signed. For the 1941 Russian Campaign, Tresckow was assigned as Chief of Staff to Heeresgruppe Mitte
(Army Group Centre or AGC), then under the command of his uncle GFM Fedor von Bock.
It was here in Central Russia that Tresckow went down in history as the most ardent of those who sought Hitler's removal from power. As AGC Chief of Staff, he was very well informed of the war crimes committed by Einstazgruppe B,
then under the command of another conspirator, Artur Nebe. Tresckow also had occasion to see the infamous 'Commissar Order'
that required all captured Russian political officers to be executed without trial, even if taken in uniform. In his role as AGC Chief of Staff, Tresckow provided the linkage between the military and civilian elements of the resistance that were respectively personified by Ludwig Beck and Carl Goerdeler. He was heard to state that it was necessary to "shoot Hitler like a mad dog."
Tresckow was promoted to Oberst i.G.
in 1942. He filled his staff almost entirely with anti-Hitler officers. These included his nephew Fabian von Schlabrendorff, Rudolf von Gersdorff, the two von Boeselager brothers, Bernd von Kleist, Hans-Alexander von Voss, Georg Schulze-B?ttger, Hans-Ulrich von Oertzen, and several other senior officers. During his tenure at AGC, Tresckow actively lobbied the various Field Marshals to resist Hitler and to agree to join in the various coup attempts. Despite openly voicing his anti-Hitler views to GFMs von Bock, von Kluge, von Manstein and von Rundstedt, he got no support. On the bright side, none reported his clearly treacherous activities to the authorities and most signalled a willingness to support a new government after a successful coup.
Tresckow planned several failed assassination plots against Hitler. In March 1943, Tresckow had a hand in enticing Hitler to visit AGC HQ at the front. Several assassination attempts were planned but not carried out due to the risk of hitting innocent bystanders or due to Hitler's security precautions. On March 13, 1943, following a rare visit by the F?hrer's to AGC headquarters, Tresckow and his ADC von Schlabrendorff managed to talk Oberst Heinz Brandt (who would ironically be killed by Stauffenberg's July 20, 1944 bomb) into taking two wrapped bottles of Cointreau to General Stieff at Wolfschanze
. The Cointreau was a cleverly discussed plastic bomb with a British acid time fuse that had been flown into AGC headquarters for this express purpose by Abwehr
chief Admiral Wilhelm Canaris. Tresckow had arranged with General Olbricht in Berlin to launch a coup upon news that Hitler's plane had exploded and crashed. Giving rise to one of the great "what ifs" in history, the detonator fired but the plastic did not ignite, possible due to cold cabin conditions. Hitler arrived safely and a panicked call was made to General Stieff (not at that time a conspirator) telling him not to open the Cointreau as the wrong item had been sent. Von Schlabrendorff was immediately dispatched to Wolfschanze
to retrieve the evidence and ascertain what had gone wrong. A week later Tresckow tried again!
On March 21, on the annual 'Heroes Memorial Day' remembrance ceremony, AGC invited Hitler, G?ring and Himmler to view a display of captured Russian war materiel at the Berlin arsenal, or Zeughaus
. This presented a rare and not to be missed opportunity to remove Hitler and his two most likely successors at one sweep. Oberst
von Gersdorff, AGC's counterintelligence officer, volunteered to carry plastic explosive in his uniform pockets and to sacrifice himself to remove Hitler. Gersdorff acted as Hitler's expert guide in a tour that was expected to take 20 minutes based on prior years' experience, more than enough time for the two 10 minute fuses to ignite the bomb. For some reason Hitler, who perhaps senses danger, sped through the exhibit in two minutes, leaving Gersdorff to rush to the nearest toilet to deactivate the explosives.
In late July 1943, Tresckow was transferred to the "F?hrer reserve" for home leave pending reassignment. He used this time on the reserve list to work on coup plans in Berlin with Claus von Stauffenberg. It was in this period that the coup plans and proclamations were refined, dictated and typed by his assistant Magarethe von Oven. One of these drafts was the one buried at Mauerwald by Leutnant von Hagen and Major Kuhn in late 1943 and recently rediscovered in the KGB archives. Part of the coup planning involved refining the pre-existing "Valkyrie" plan and tailoring it for use in supporting a coup.
In late November of 1943, Tresckow was again transferred to the southern eastern front. He was appointed Chief of Staff of the 2nd Army and in June 1944, he was promoted Generalmajor. Throughout 1944, he maintained contact with the Berlin conspirators, although he was unable to be directly involved in the preparing the coup. Immediately before the assassination attempt of July 20, Tresckow strengthened Stauffenberg's determination to carry out the assassination attempt no matter what by noting that success was irrelevant next to demonstrating for world history that a credible Widerstand
Tresckow knew he would be implicated and was anxious to avoid giving information on his friends under torture. He therefore resolved to take his own life. He did so on 21 July, 1944 near Ostrow, Poland after leaving behind some inspiring last words. He walked into the woods, simulated a fire fight with his pistol and blew is own head off with a rifle grenade. He was originally reported as killed in action by partisans. Tresckow was buried in the family home in Wartenberg but was later exhumed. His headless body was shown to Schlabrendorff in a strange attempt to induce him to talk before being burned in the crematorium of KZ Sachsenhausen
. His ashes were scattered in an unknown place.
Per his ADC Schlabrendorff, Tresckow's parting words were: "Now they will all fall upon us and cover us with abuse. But I am convinced now as much as ever, that we have done the right thing. I believe Hitler to be the archenemy, not only of Germany, but of the entire world. In a few hours' time, I shall stand before God and answer for both my actions and the things I neglected to do. I think I can with a clear conscience stand by all I have done in the battle against Hitler. Just as God once promised Abraham that He would spare Sodom if only ten just men could be found in the city, I also have reason to hope that, for our sake, he will not destroy Germany. No one among us can complain about his death, for whoever joined our ranks put on the shirt of Nessus. A man's moral worth is established only at the point where he is ready to give up his life in defense of his convictions."
In the photo of Tresckow's staff below, Fabian von Schlabrendorff appears at the right hand side.
Edited by ColinRF, 21 March 2009 - 16:25 .