Germany is honoring the 75th anniversary of a famous plot to assassinate Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel praised the would-be killers in a weekly video address Saturday, stressing the gratitude Germany owes them and urging the nation to follow their example by resisting the threat of far-right extremism, according to the Associated Press.
“They followed their conscience and thereby shaped a part of Germany’s history that otherwise would have been solely defined by the darkness of National Socialism,” Merkel said, according to German news site DW. “We, too, have a duty today to stand up against all those tendencies that want to destroy democracy.” (RELATED: Way Too Americans Don’t Know What Auschwitz Was)
She was referring to plot leader Col. Claus von Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators, who in July 1944 attempted to kill Hitler at his secret headquarters, the “Wolf’s Lair,” in East Prussia. Von Stauffenberg successfully snuck two bombs in his briefcase into the heavily armed compound, planning on setting the bomb while in a daily briefing with Hitler and the Nazi high command.
He was, however, interrupted while setting the bombs, and was only able to put one device in his briefcase. Leaving the briefcase under the conference table, von Stauffenberg excused himself from the meeting, fled the compound, and saw an explosion behind him as he sped away. He was sure the dictator was dead.
But the bomb had been moved away from Hitler after von Stauffenberg left, and as it detonated Hitler was bent over, looking at maps on the thick wood table, which acted as a shield. Four died and many were injured, but the Fuhrer survived the blast. Von Stauffenberg was executed within hours.
The plot received little attention in the aftermath of World War II, when most Germans still viewed the conspirators as traitors, which was how the Nazi regime had portrayed them. According to Johannes Tuchel, director of the German Resistance Memorial Center, German memory of the plot remained dim as late as the 1980s. (RELATED: German Neo-Nazi Woman Sentenced To Life In Prison For Murdering Immigrants)
“Only if we understand our past can we build a good future,” Merkel said in the video address.
The chancellor used the anniversary to stress the importance of resisting far-right violence. According to a recent NBC News report, a German domestic intelligence agency found last month that there are 12,700 “violence-orientated right-wing extremists” in the country, and Merkel’s address comes just weeks after a senior German official was killed by a suspected far-right terrorist.
Merkel implored her countrymen “to do their part in our society to ensure that democracy is strong, that civil society is strong and that right-wing extremism has no chance.”