Hans Ulrich von Oertzen was born in Berlin to an aristocratic family on 6th March, 1915. His father, Captain Ulrich von Oertzen, served during the First World War and was killed on the Western Front on 27th February, 1916. He was brought up by his widowed mother on the family estate at Rattey near Strasburg in Mecklenburg. He attended the boarding school at Salem Castle on Lake Constance and graduated in 1933.
Oertzen joined the German Army and during the Second World War. He was promoted to Major and served in Army Group Centre under General-Major Henning von Tresckow. He had been an early supporter of the Nazi Party. One of his friends said that: "He was for many years able to see only the side of National Socialism attractive to a soldier: the assertion of discipline, the reestablishment of military primacy, and the revision of the Versailles Treaty." The turning point for him was the Night of the Long Knives and by 1938 he was contemplating treason. "Hitler," he said, "is a whirling dervish. He must be shot down." (1)
Trescow set about methodically assembling on to the staff of Army Group Centre men who would help to turn it into an instrument for a coup. In January, 1942, Von Tresckow established Operation Valkyrie. Members of the group included Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben, General Friedrich Olbricht, Colonel-General Ludwig Beck, 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. (2)
According to Hans Gisevius, who was also a member, during 1942, several senior military officers, joined the conspiracy. 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." (3)
On 26th March 1944, he married Ingrid Langenn. A sselection of 240 letters he wrote to her provide an insight into his thoughts during that period. 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." (4)
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. (5)
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." (6)
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. (7)
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. (8)
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". Hans Ulrich von Oertzen arrested and interrogated by General Lieutenant Karl Freiherr von Thüngen, who was also involved in the conspiracy. There was no evidence of complicity in the plot until the next morning when a secretary reported having seen him with Stauffenberg. When the Gestapo arrived he managed 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." (9)
At the centre of the plot were such senior officers as Major General Henning von Tresckow, chief of staff in Army Group Center on the Russian front; Colonel General Erich Hoepner, the commander of an armoured force who had been dismissed by Hitler in December 1941; Colonel Friedrich Olbricht, head of the Supply Section of the Reserve Army; Colonel General Karl Heinrich von Stuelpnagel, military governor of France; Major General Hans Oster, chief of staff of Abwehr; and Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben, who has been retired from active service in 1942. Added to these senior members were a number of younger officers who believed that the Third Reich was a catastrophe for Germany and were willing to gamble their lives on the outcome of the plot.
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.
(1) Louis R. Eltscher, Traitors or Patriots: A Story of the German Anti-Nazi Resistance (2014) page 281
(2) Peter Hoffmann, The History of German Resistance (1977) page 270
(3) Hans Gisevius, Valkyrie: An Insider's Account of the Plot to Kill Hitler (2009) page 108
(4) Ian Kershaw, Luck of the Devil: The Story of Operation Valkyrie (2009) page 39
(5) Peter Hoffmann, The History of German Resistance (1977) page 400
(6) Joachim Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death (1997) page 258
(7) Peter Hoffmann, The History of German Resistance (1977) page 401
(8) Louis R. Eltscher, Traitors or Patriots: A Story of the German Anti-Nazi Resistance (2014) page 313
(9) Joachim Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death (1997) page 293