This week’s Hearing International looks at Hitler’s hearing impairment. Like most World War I survivors, Hitler had been exposed to much noise during the war in the trenches and sheer speculation would suggest that he had some high-frequency sensori-neural hearing loss. While that is speculation, there is documented medical evidence suggesting that he did incur some hearing impairment during World War II as a result of the July 20, 1944 assassination attempt against him.
Part I in this series offers some background into the plot to assassinate him.
Since about 1938 there had been various plots in the German Army and in the German Military Intelligence Organization to depose Hitler. Early leaders of these plots were mostly political adversaries of Hitler and of his National Socialist Party who had no plans to forcefully take over the government of Germany. One group of opponents (called the Kreisau Circle) met regularly in Kreisau (now Krzyżowa, Poland) at the home of Helmuth James Graf von Moltke (Right). self-governing communities, so as to avoid a manipulation of the whole of society. The circle’s main focus was to plan and propose a peacetime government for Germany and a society based on Christian values; they did not ever appear to have made any plans to overthrow the Nazi state. As van Moltke wrote to his wife just before his execution “we are to be hanged for thinking together.”
The July 20 plot was developed as a modification of Operation Valkyrie (Unternehmen Walküre). Operation Valkyrie had been approved by Hitler for use if there was a general breakdown in civil orders as the result of Allied bombing of German cities or an uprising of forced laborers from occupied countries working in German factories. It called for the creation of the Reserve Army, which included members of the Kreisau Circle. They totally changed the Valkyrie plan to include assassinating not only Adolf Hitler, but also Hermann Goering (left, above) and Heinrich Himmler (left, below). German Army officers General Friedrich Olbricht (above, right), Major General Henning von Tresckow (right, middle), and Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (right, below) sought to take control of German cities, disarm the SS, and arrest the Nazi leadership once Hitler had been assassinated. Hitler’s death (as opposed to his arrest) was required to free German soldiers from their oath of loyalty to him (Reichswehreid). By mid-1943 the tide of war was turning decisively against Germany. The Army plotters and their civilian allies became convinced that Hitler should be assassinated so that a government acceptable to the western Allies could be formed, and a separate peace negotiated in time to prevent a Soviet invasion of Germany.
Count von Stauffenberg Joins the Group
In August 1943, Tresckow met, for the first time, a young staff officer named Lieutenant Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg. Badly wounded in North Africa, Count von Stauffenberg was a political conservative, a zealous German nationalist and a Roman Catholic. From early in 1942, he had come to share two basic convictions with many military officers that:
2. Hitler’s removal from power was necessary.
After the Battle of Stalingrad in December 1942, despite his religious scruples, he concluded that the Führer’s assassination was a lesser moral evil than Hitler’s remaining in power. Stauffenberg brought a new tone of decisiveness to the ranks of the resistance movement. When Tresckow was assigned to the Eastern Front, Stauffenberg took charge of planning and executing the assassination attempt.
After lengthy preparation, the plot was finally ready to be carried out in 1944. While a modification of the plans offered by the Kreisau Circle, General Olbricht suggested that this plan could be used to mobilize the Reserve Army for the purpose of the coup. In August and September 1943, Tresckow drafted the “revised” Valkyrie plan and new supplementary orders. A secret declaration began with these words: “The Führer Adolf Hitler is dead! A treacherous group of party leaders has attempted to exploit the situation by attacking our embattled soldiers from the rear in order to seize power for themselves.” Detailed instructions were written for occupation of government ministries in Berlin, Himmler’s headquarters in East Prussia, radio stations and telephone offices, and other Nazi apparatus through military districts, and concentration camps.
Previously, it was believed that Stauffenberg was mainly responsible for the Valkyrie plan, but documents recovered by the Soviet Union after the war and released in 2007 suggest that the plan was developed by Tresckow by autumn of 1943. All written information was handled by Tresckow’s wife, Erika, and by Margarete von Oven, his secretary. Both women wore gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints. Operation Valkyrie could only be put into effect by General Friedrich Fromm (left), commander of the Reserve Army, so it was essential for the plan’s success that either he be won over to the conspiracy or be in some way neutralized. Fromm, like many senior officers, knew in general about the military conspiracies against Hitler but neither supported them nor reported them to the Gestapo.
Next: The execution of the plot and how Hitler actually received his hearing loss. Click here for Part 2