At 9.20 pm on November 8, 1939, a massive explosion rocked a Munich beer hall, the Bürgerbräukeller. The apparent attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler was headline news around the world. Henrich Himmler was quick to blame the exiled Nazi leader Otto Strasser and the British Secret Service. The capture of two British SIS agents the next day aided the Nazi accusations. When a cabinetmaker named Johann Georg Elser from the Swabian town of Königsbronn was caught on the Swiss border and interrogated in Munich he confessed to being the sole perpetrator, though his confession did not end the controversy.
The bombing had unintented victims, while the ‘miraculous’ escape of the Nazi leaders fuelled the myth of Hitler’s invincibility, aiding the dictator's plan to invade in the West. The British press reacted by casting Elser as a tool of the Nazis, like the Dutchman Van der Lubbe, found guilty and executed for the 1933 fire in the Reichstag. After further interrogation in Berlin Elser and the two captured British SIS agents were imprisoned in Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps to await a Nazi show trial.
Elser was murdered in Dachau on April 9, 1945, when a show trial was no longer a Nazi priority. Conspiracy theories continued to mushroom in post-war years, with Elser still under suspicion of being in the employment of the Nazis, the British or the Communists. Not until after the discovery of his Gestapo interrogation record was there a consensus he had acted alone and was guided by his own convictions.
Once thought to be a Nazi stooge, Georg Elser is now recognised as a resistance fighter against the Third Reich by the German Resistance Memorial Centre, Berlin.
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Georg Elser's reconstruction of his regime-changing timing device and firing mechanism [left].
Destruction at the Bürgerbräukeller akg images
You know what Elser’s problem was? This man of the people loved ordinary people; he laid out for me passionately and in simple sentences how, for the masses in all countries, war means hunger, misery, and the death of millions. Not a pacifist in the usual sense, his reasoning was quite simplistic: Hitler means war—if he goes there will be peace.
“When the curtains were falling thunderously on the last moments of the Nazi regime, Hitler suddenly remembered the existence of the zither player—and as if possessed by a sudden and inexplicable shame, this murderer of millions attempted to conceal his execution of the assassin who had long since been forgotten by the world.”
Hans Bernd Gisevius
'We have seen this man. He is the murderer; the dead are the victims of his terrible plan. This is the man whose intended target was the Führer, and with him the leadership of the Reich. One has to keep all of these things in mind, because this man does not have the obvious physiognomy of a criminal, but has intelligent eyes, and expresses himself in a cautious way, carefully deliberating, he considers every word, thinking long and hard before he responds, and when one watches him, one forgets for a moment what a satanic monster this is and what guilt and ghastly burden his conscience is apparently capable of bearing with ease.''
Extract from German newspapers, November 22 1939
Cartoon from The Times [London] Nov, 1939 comparing Bürgerbräukeller bombing to the Reichstag fire in 1933.
THE war the zither playing Elser wanted to prevent cost 50-60 million lives worldwide. No one could have predicted the misery, terror and genocide the Nazis would inflict by the time the Third Reich had passed into history. Not even Elser.
The book "The Venlo Incident", published in 1950, by Captain Sigismund Payne Best of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) not only tells of his role in the last-ditch British attempt to avoid war with Germany, the book provides an intriguing account of Best's encounter with Elser while both were imprisoned in Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
Best portrays Elser as a hapless man caught up in the web of a bizarre Nazi plot to stage manage propaganda. It was only the discovery of Elser's 203 page Gestapo interrogation report that vindicated Elser as the sole perpetrator of the bombing in Munich, making him the assassin who came closest to decapitating the Nazi Party.
Elser's story must be coupled with the ill-fated Venlo Incident, and the fate of the two captured British SIS agents to be fully understood.
'GEORG ELSER: The Zither Player' was written with the assistance of Peter Koblank, creator of the German website MythosElser.de.
Elser was front page news with two captured British SIS agents in German newspapers. For English translation go to GERMAN PRESS
Hitler address the Nazi Party 'old fighters' at the Bürgerbräukeller on November 8, 1939
Elser's hand tools and zither preserved in his home town of Königsbronn