Eduard Wagner

Eduard Wagner

Eduard Wagner was born in Kirchenlamitz, Germany, on 1st April 1894. He served in the German Army during the First World War. He remained in the army and on 24th July 1939 he drew up regulations that allowed German soldiers to take hostages from civilian population and execute them as response to resistance. (1)

Quartermaster-General Wagner took part in Operation Barbarossa and was placed in charge of German forces in the rear, and had been responsible for ordering the execution of Jews and communists in Poland and the Soviet Union. It has been claimed that he had strong anti-Semitic views. (2)

Louis R. Eltscher has argued that like other senior officers who took part in the invasion: "Instead of raising their voices and speaking out, they immersed themselves in the strictly military aspects of the Polish campaign and turned the proverbial blind eye to what was actually going on. They took refuge in strict military duty. Their moral myopia came at great cost to them and to the institution of which they were a part." (3)

In January, 1942, a group of men that included Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben, General Friedrich Olbricht, Colonel-General Ludwig Beck, General-Major Henning von Tresckow, General Erich Fellgiebel, General Paul von Hase, Lieutenant Fabian Schlabrendorff, Wolf-Heinrich Helldorf, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, General-Major Hans Oster, Wilhelm Leuschner, Ulrich Hassell, Hans Dohnanyi, Carl Langbehn, Carl Goerdeler, Julius Leber, Helmuth von Moltke, Peter von Wartenburg, Johannes Popitz and Jakob Kaiser, decided to try and overthrow Adolf Hitler. The conspiracy was called Operation Valkyrie. (4)

According to Hans Gisevius, who was also a member, during 1942, several senior military officers, joined Operation Valkyrie. This included Field Marshal Günther von Kluge, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, General Eduard Wagner, General Fritz Lindemann, Lieutenant-Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, Lieutenant Werner von Haeften, Colonel Albrecht Metz von Quirnheim, General-Major Helmuth Stieff, and Colonel-General Erich Hoepner. "These generals, either because of their strength of numbers, their key positions for a revolt, or because of the recognition that the fate of the class was at stake, began to feel an increasing sense of unity." (5)

Eduard Wagner, also joined the conspiracy. It has been claimed that that the reason that Wagner joined the revolt against Adolf Hitler was when he heard from Heinrich Himmler that he intended to exterminate about 80% of the population of England by special forces of the SS after the German victory, because Hitler had called the English lower classes “racially inferior”. (6)

General Eduard Wagner
General Eduard Wagner

On 20th July, 1944, Claus von Stauffenberg and Werner von Haeften left Berlin to meet with Hitler at the Wolf' Lair. After a two-hour flight from Berlin, they landed at Rastenburg at 10.15. Stauffenberg had a briefing with Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of Armed Forces High Commandat, at 11.30, with the meeting with Hitler due to take place at 12.30. As soon as the meeting was over, Stauffenberg, met up with Haeften, who was carrying the two bombs in his briefcase. They then went into the toilet to set the time-fuses in the bombs. They only had time to prepare one bomb when they were interrupted by a junior officer who told them that the meeting with Hitler was about to start. Stauffenberg then made the fatal decision to place one of the bombs in his briefcase. "Had the second device, even without the charge being set, been placed in Stauffenberg's bag alone with the first, it would have been detonated by the explosion, more than doubling the effect. Almost certainly, in such an event, no one would have survived." (7)

When he entered the wooden briefing hut, twenty-four senior officers were in assembled around a huge map table on two heavy oak supports. Stauffenberg had to elbow his way forward a little in order to get near enough to the table and he had to place the briefcase so that it was in no one's way. Despite all his efforts, however, he could only get to the right-hand corner of the table. After a few minutes, Stauffenberg excused himself, saying that he had to take a telephone call from Berlin. There was continual coming and going during the briefing conferences and this did not raise any suspicions. (8)

Stauffenberg and Haeften went straight to a building about 200 hundred yards away consisting of bunkers and reinforced huts. Shortly afterwards, according to eyewitnesses: "A deafening crack shattered the midday quiet, and a bluish-yellow flame rocketed skyward... and a dark plume of smoke rose and hung in the air over the wreckage of the briefing barracks. Shards of glass, wood, and fiberboard swirled about, and scorched pieces of paper and insulation rained down." (9)

Stauffenberg and Haeften observed a body covered with Hitler's cloak being carried out of the briefing hut on a stretcher and assumed he had been killed. They got into a car but luckily the alarm had not yet been given when they reached Guard Post 1. The Lieutenant in charge, who had heard the blast, stopped the car and asked to see their papers. Stauffenberg who was given immediate respect with his mutilations suffered on the front-line and his aristocratic commanding exterior; said he must go to the airfield at once. After a short pause the Lieutenant let them go. (10)

According to eyewitness testimony and a subsequent investigation by the Gestapo, Stauffenberg's briefcase containing the bomb had been moved farther under the conference table in the last seconds before the explosion in order to provide additional room for the participants around the table. Consequently, the table acted as a partial shield, protecting Hitler from the full force of the blast, sparing him from serious injury of death. The stenographer Heinz Berger, died that afternoon, and three others, General Rudolf Schmundt, General Günther Korten, and Colonel Heinz Brandt did not recover from their wounds. Hitler's right arm was badly injured but he survived. (101

Adolf Hitler, seized by a "titanic fury and an Unquenchable thirst for revenge" ordered Heinrich Himmler and Ernst Kaltenbrunner to arrest "every last person who had dared to plot against him". Hitler laid down the procedure for killing them: "This time the criminals will be given short shrift. No military tribunals. We'll hail them before the People's Court. No long speeches from them. The court will act with lightning speed. And two hours after the sentence it will be carried out. By hanging - without mercy." (12)

General Wagner, who had provided Stauffenberg's escape aircraft, knew he would be arrested and tortured and so he shot himself on 23rd July. Joachim Fest, the author of Plotting Hitler's Death (1997) pointed out: "Suicides such as this only extended the circle of suspects to include friends, relatives, and colleagues." (13)

Primary Sources

(1) Hans Gisevius, Valkyrie: An Insider's Account of the Plot to Kill Hitler (2009)

It is not at all by chance that a tightly knit group of officers, all firmly resolved to direct events, first coalesced in 1942, and grew in number and determination with each successive defeat. Generals von Tresckow, Olbricht, and Fellgiebel began it; in 1943 they were joined by Count Stauffenberg and Colonel Merz von Quirnheim; toward the end of the year by General Stieff and still later by Quartermaster-General Eduard Wagner and General Lindemann; finally Kluge and Colonel-General Hoeppner fell in line; and last of all came Field Marshal Rommel. These generals, either because of their strength of numbers, their key positions for a revolt, or because of the recognition that the fate of the class was at stake, began to feel an increasing sense of unity.

(2) Joachim Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death (1997)

On the evening of July 20 an overtly confident Count Helldorf had averred that the police would not dare lay a finger on him. In fact, the investigators hardly hesitated before pouncing. Other conspirators, like General Eduard Wagner, escaped their fates by committing suicide. Major Hans Ulrich von Oertzen who had urged the military district headquarters on Hohenzollerndamm to support the uprising, managed in the bedlam that surrounded his arrest to hide two grenades. Shortly before he was to be led away he held one to his head and detonated it. He collapsed on the floor, grievously wounded. With all his remaining strength, he dragged himself to where the second grenade lay hidden, shoved it in his mouth, and pulled the pin. Suicides such as this only extended the circle of suspects to include friends, relatives, and colleagues.

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(1) Geoffrey P. Megargee, War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front 1941 (2006) page 13

(2) Hans Mommsen, Alternatives to Hitler (2003) page 257

(3) Louis R. Eltscher, Traitors or Patriots? A Story of the German Anti-Nazi Resistance (2013) page 228

(4) Peter Hoffmann, The History of German Resistance (1977) page 270

(5) Hans Gisevius, Valkyrie: An Insider's Account of the Plot to Kill Hitler (2009) page 108

(6) Gerhard L Weinberg, Hitler's Table Talk: Secret Conversations (2008) page 91

(7) Ian Kershaw, Luck of the Devil: The Story of Operation Valkyrie (2009) page 39

(8) Peter Hoffmann, The History of German Resistance (1977) page 400

(9) Joachim Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death (1997) page 258

(10) Peter Hoffmann, The History of German Resistance (1977) page 401

(11) Louis R. Eltscher, Traitors or Patriots: A Story of the German Anti-Nazi Resistance (2014) page 313

(12) Joachim Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death (1997) page 293