The story of a quiet man who tried single-handedly to kill Hitler.
Born Hermaringen, Germany, 1903, died Dachau, Germany 9 April 1945
Georg Elser was born at Hermaringen in Wurtemberg province in 1903. His father was a wood merchant and owned several hectares of forest and lived at Koenigsbroenn. Georg left school in 1917 and got a job as an apprentice turner in a local foundry. After the war, his father, an alcoholic, got deeper into debt and had to sell his business and his land.
Georg left the foundry after two years for health reasons and took up an apprenticeship as a joiner. He got his master’s certificate as an cabinet maker in 1922, getting the best marks in his class. Described as sociable but not very outgoing, Georg loved working with wood and metal. He set up a workshop in the basement of the family house where he repaired locks, furniture and watches and clocks.
He left Koenigsbroenn in 1925, working in the Dornier plane factories, and then at Konstanz in a watch factory. He worked there on and off during 7 years, and then when the enterprise went bankrupt, was out of work for several months, before getting work with new employers. This was a period of great tribulation for the whole working class, with many out of work or in short term work.
In his leisure time Georg played a zither with a folk dance association. He was very popular with women, and had a child with one of his many girlfriends, though he had no close male friends.
He had managed to get through the economic depression without any real difficulties, either working around Lake Constance or at Koenigsbroenn. He did not seem to have any particular interest in politics. He had joined the woodworkers union in 1920 as a teenager. Like many workers, he voted Communist up to 1933. Between 1928 to 1930 he was a member of the Roeter Frontkaemppferbund, a front organisation of the Communist Party (KPD), but this only involved paying his dues, buying the badge of the group (but not the uniform) and attending 3 or 4 meetings in 2 years. He said later – during the course of police interrogation- that : “I was never interested in the programme of the KPD. In the meetings there was no question other than wage rises, the improvement of social housing by the government and that sort of thing. That it was them who formulated these demands were sufficient to bring me to the communist side”.
He was far more active within the folk music group. From 1933, he ended all political contact but became a member of a zither club and took double bass lessons. At the end of 1936 he got work as an unqualified worker in an arms factory at Heidenheim. He quickly moved up the scale, getting a responsible post in the dispatch office in 1938. It was in this period, when his life had never been more stable, quiet, bland and anonymous, that he decided to kill Hitler.
Georg later explained his reasons under police interrogation. The first was that Hitler was preparing to take Germany into another war. This opinion was shared by many in Europe, and not least amongst a large number of Germans. Other reasons for his acts were that wages had been driven too low by Hitler (in fact wages in 1938 under Hitler were less than in 1929, contrary to popular misconceptions). Georg said that the working class had become exasperated and that something had to be done. He admitted often talking with colleagues, and unknowns met on trains or in restaurants, though he never revealed any names, even under torture.
Georg was not mad, nor a fanatic. Once he had made up his mind, he proceeded in the methodical manner like the conscientious worker he was.
In autumn 1938 he started stealing small amounts of explosives from the factory, bringing out 25 packets in a year. Georg knew that Hitler visited the Buergerbraukeller pub in Munich every year on 8th and 9th November to celebrate the anniversary of the Nazi putsch of 1923. He went to Munich on 8th November, inspected the pub and saw Hitler arrive and then returned home.
In March 1939, shortly after German troops invaded Czechoslovakia, Georg resigned from his job and went to Munich. He attempted unsuccessfully to get work at the pub. Returning to live with his parents, he got a job in a quarry, which allowed him to build up his explosives supplies. He returned to Munich in August.
Georg was an anonymous worker, one among many in a crowd. He attracted no attention.
From 5th August until 6th November he ate every evening at the Buergerbrau. At closing time he hid in a cupboard, waiting for the staff to leave. He was able to work for four hours, then returned to his hiding place and left with the arrival of the first customers. In three months, he had hollowed out a pillar big enough to house a time bomb. He planned for this to explode on 8th November at 9.20 pm.
Georg should have read the papers, where he would have discovered that Hitler had cancelled his visit. He was apprehended by customs officials when he attempted to cross the border to Switzerland, and detained on suspicion of being a spy or deserter. Incriminating evidence, including a postcard of the pub, were found on him.
Meanwhile the bomb had exploded killing 6 members of the Nazi old guard and a waitress. When this was announced on the radio, the customs officials remembered the postcard.
Transferred to Munich, Georg denied all involvement in the attack. The Gestapo was called in. After 14 hours of beatings and torture, Georg admitted his responsibility. The Gestapo refused to believe that a simple German worker had acted on his own.
Georg gave away no one. Despite his suffering, he refused to remember a single name of Roeter Frontkaempferbund members, except one who had died in 1930.
The German papers called Georg a British agent. Hitler hoped to finish the war on the Western front with a trial of British leaders at London, for which he would use Georg as a witness, and he was placed in Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
When it became obvious that the London trial would not happen, the Nazi leaders lost interest in him. Transferred to Dachau in 1944, he was murdered on the orders of Himmler on 9th April 1945 at the same time as other resisters, just a few days before the liberation of the camp.
From 1933 he had refused to salute the swastika and promptly left any public place where a Hitler broadcast was being played on the radio. Once he had taken his decision to act, he proceeded methodically.
Some remarkable individuals have made their lives a monument to revolt and courage. Louise Michel, Nestor Makhno and Simon Radowitzky spring to mind. Georg never thought himself anyone out of the ordinary, let alone a hero. But he had acted as he saw fit. How many in similar situations would act as he did?