I am amazed there were only 35 attempts to murder Adolf Hitler (above), not counting the entire Second World War, of course. He was in public life for 25 years – 1920 to 1945 - so that works out to less than one (actually 0.777) attempts to shoot, stab, poison or blow him up per year. True, it was not generally known at the time that he was the second greatest mass murderer of the 20th Century. But he was a polarizing public figure, a supercilious, narcissistic vulgar vegetarian given to long antisemitic bile filled public tirades. Hitler should have attracted assassins the way the Republican Party draws frat boys. I think the explanation for Hitler's longevity may be the illusions he created to fool others, and the delusions of his would-be assassins, by which they fooled themselves.
Adolf Hitler was just an average man, about 5 foot 8 inches tall and weighing about 150 pounds. There is no accurate record for his weight because Hitler refused to disrobe for physicals. But other than that phobia, little about him was not ordinary. He had a reputation as a great public speaker, but I have doubts about that. The only thing that made him stand out in a crowd was that distinctive “chaplinesque” mustache. It was chosen by Charlie Chaplin for his “Little Tramp”, to stand out in a long shot. And that was probably why Hitler cut his World War One mustache so sharply, too. In fact just about everything Hitler did was for effect and illusion.
Marcel Gerbohay was the definition of delusion. The studious, serious French boy, and a devout Catholic, just another seminary student at Saint-Ilan (above), in the Brittany coastal village of Saint-Briuc. And it was there in 1936 that he was stricken with what his teachers described as a nervous breakdown. Marcel was not sent home, but confined to his dorm room bed for most of the year. After he had physically recovered, he displayed a new malady, a grandiose delusional disorder in which Marcel believed he was actually Dimitri Romanov-Holstein-Gottorpa, a member of the Russian royal family. He shared his delusion with only a few carefully chosen fellow students, who he admitted in his secret “Compagnie du Mystère”.
After trying to seize power by force in the November 1923 Munich Beer Hall Putsch, Adolf Hitler's party failed to secure even a single seat in the May 1924 Reichstag elections. By 1929, the power of Hitler's antisemitic speeches had increased the Nazi share to... less than 3% of the voters – winning just 12 out of some 600 Reichstag seats. Everything changed with the Great Depression. In the September 1930 elections the Nazis won 107 seats, making them the second largest party in the Reichstag. Two years later Adolf Hitler became a German citizen, and in May of 1932 the Nazi share climbed to 230 seats, 37% of the electorate. But that would be Hitler's democratic high water mark. In new elections that November, his party lost 34 seats. Luckily for Hitler, that would be the last free election in Germany for 17 years.
In 1937 Marcel/Demitri's plan to defeat communism and put himself on the Russian throne ran into an obstacle. He decided Adolf Hitler, the most virulent anti-communist in Europe, had betrayed the cause. For that crime, Hitler must die. In July of 1938 Marcel/Dimitri gave the assignment to one of his most ardent acolytes, a 21 year old Swiss landscaping student named Maurice Bavaud (above).
The chosen assassin left the seminary and returned to his family home in the Swiss lakeside resort town of Neuchetel (above). His return was a financial burden to his family, but Maurice spent his time studying German and reading the book Hitler had written while in jail for the Beer Hall Putsch - “Mein Kampf”. Then in the early hours of 9 October, he stole 600 Swiss francs from his mother, leaving behind a note which read, “I am going to make a life for myself.”.
Adolf Hitler's father, Alois, had been born to the unmarried Maria Schicklgruber in 1837, so he used her last name until he was 39 years old, when he finally petitioned the government to adopt his stepfather Johann's last name - Hiedle. The church recorded it in another form, as “Hitler”. In German both versions mean “small land owner”. In January 1885 Alois married his third wife, Klara Potzl. Their first three children died in infancy. Their fourth child, born when Alois was 52 years old in 1889, was thus Adolf Hitler (above), and not Adolf Shicklgruber. In German Hitler means “wolf”, and Hitler often used the pseudonym “Mr Wolf” when registering in hotels. During World War Two, which he would start, Hitler called his headquarters the “Wolf's Lair”, and he named his favorite German Shepherd “Wolf”. In 1945 Hitler tested the cyanide capsules prepared for his own suicide, on his beloved Wolf.
Maurice Bavaud went first to Berlin, where he discovered Hitler was actually at his Bavarian mountain top retreat above the village of Berchtesgarden (above). Disappointed, Maurice headed for Munich, where he took a bus 2,300 feet up in the Bavarian alps, and on 25 October checked into the budget hotel Stiftskeller. Maurice spent a week pretending to be a fanatical Nazi, trying to gain access to Hitler. Then he encountered a police captain who told him Hitler had just left for Munich, to participate in the annual celebrations of the Putsch. On Halloween, Maurice headed back down the hill to Munich.
Adolf Hitler often described Angela “Geli” Raubal (above), as the only woman he ever loved. In 1929 her mother, Hitler's half sister, allowed the vibrant 19 year old girl to move into an apartment in her 42 year old “Uncle Alf's” Munich suite. The women on Hitler's staff never approved of “Geli”, one saying, “She flirted with everybody; she was not a serious girl.”
On Friday, 18 September, 1931 as he left for a rally in Nuremburg, Hitler (above right) and Geli (above left) argued loudly over the degree he controlled her life Around 9:30 the next morning, worried staff knocked down the door to Geli's apartment. She was found wearing a blue night dress, face down on the floor, with a bullet wound from Hitler's Walther pistol through her left lung. She had drown in her own blood and had been dead for several hours.
Hitler was inconsolable and friends feared he would take his own life. As Chancellor Hitler hung portraits of Geli in his public offices, and for the rest of his life kept her apartment as it was the day he last saw her.
On 9 November, 1938 Maurice Bevaud secured front row VIP seating along the parade route by telling officials he was a journalist. His position street side, at the corner of Prälat and Miller Way in Munich, in front of the Church of the Holy Spirit ("Heiliggeistkirche"), meant the Nazi leaders would pass within feet of him.
As the line of brown shirted officials leading the parade approached, Maurice stood and prepared to draw his pistol. But he was shocked to see Hitler had moved to the opposite side of the street, fifty feet away from him. Worse, the crowd rose to offer the Nazi salute ("Hitlergruss"), preventing Maurice from even seeing his target clearly.
Still, no one had searched him before allowing him into the restricted seating and even though he spoke bad German, no one had asked to see his credentials. The frustrated Maurice Bevaud caught the next train back to Berchtesgarden.
Beginning at night fall, this night, 9 November, 1938 , the Nazi Party unleashed a 48 hour wave of violence against Jews across Germany and Austria – called the Kristallnacht, or crystal night, because of the tens of thousands of smashed store windows.
Almost every synagogue in German was damaged or burned down. More than 7,000 Jewish owned shops and department stores were burned or ransacked (but not looted). Even Jewish cemeteries were attacked, tombstones smashed and shattered, crypts opened and bodies thrown onto the ground. Jews were beaten to death in the streets, in full view of the police.
Another 30,000 Jewish men were arrested (above) and detained in Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen – concentration camps to be infamous in another 7 years . This time most were released over the next three months on the condition that they leave Germany, but over 2,000 died in Nazi custody. And finally, insult to injury, the Jewish community was fined for the cost of cleaning up their assault, one billion Richsmarks.
Maurice Bevaud took a taxi directly from the Berchtesgarden train station to the front gate of Hitler's retreat. He managed to talk his way inside and was finally stopped only because Hitler had already left by plane for Berlin (above). The Swiss assassin immediately returned to the capital, where he again plotted to reach Adolf Hitler. But by 12 November, Maurice he had finally used the last of the 600 francs stolen from his mother, and was forced to abandon his quest.
Maurice stowed away aboard a train, but was caught by a conductor while still carrying the revolver and ammunition, a map of Berchtesgarden and a faked letter of introduction to Hitler. The railway officials handed him over to the Gestapo in the Bavarian university town of Augsburg. They assumed he was part of a larger plot, and tortured him until he confessed..
Adolf Hitler became a vegetarian in 1937, lecturing his Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbles that “meat-eating is harmful to humanity”. His Nazi party created the most stringent anti-vivisection laws in Europe, and stopped all use of animals in medical experimentation. Hitler would even turn his head to avoid watching any scene in a film which depicted the injury or death of an animal.
Yet, after the 20 July 1944 bomb attack on his life, Hitler ordered the conspirators “must be hanged like cattle”, and had then filmed, slowly strangling on piano wires suspended from meat hooks, The film was rushed through the developers, so he could view it the same night..
According to a witness “the men dangled and strangled, their belt-less trousers finally dropping...”. Now it was Goebbles who had to look away from the images Berthold von Stauffenberg, eldest brother of the man who planted the bomb, was hanged, revived, hanged again, and again and again, at least four times in all, before finally dying in front of the cameras. All German officers were ordered to watch the full 2 hour record of the executions, although many turned their backs to the screen and the SS cadets at Berlin's Lichterfelde barracks, training to become members of Hitler's personal bodyguard, walked out during the showing.
Maurice Bevaud was convicted of conspiring to assassinate Hitler on 18 December, 1938, and was sentenced to die in Ploetzensee Prison (above). He was questioned and tortured for another 17 months. In one of last letters to his parents, Maurice had written, “Ah, if I had just kept my service to God, and not left the creator for the creation...then I would not be here...I don't know, whether my last words will be 'damn' or 'God, I put my soul into your hands.. Since my mistake was made from weakness and passion and not from bad, arrogant intention, God (may) give me the victory of goodness and mercy.”
On 14 May, 1941, Maurice Bevaud was led to the execution shed at the rear of the prison, and was beheaded by guillotine (above). The German government charged him 300 Reich Marks for the service.
Marcel Cerbohay went into hiding when Hitler's armies conquered France in June of 1940. Gestapo agents were then dispatched to Saint-Briuc, but the founder of the “Compagnie du Mystère” had fled to Vichy territory. But that December, Marcel slipped home to spend Christmas with his ailing mother, and was captured by the Gestapo on New Years day, 1942. He was questioned and tortured in France for 9 months, before being sent to Ploetzensee Prison, where his deluded brain was separated from his body 9 April, 1943, in the same execution shed where Maurice Bevaud had died two years before.
Adolf Hitler's illusions resulted in the deaths of some 5, 500,000 Germans, Austrians and allies, 20 million Russians, 6 million Poles, 1,500,000 Slavs, 350,000 British empire citizens, 500, 000 Czechs, 500,000 Frenchmen and women, almost 500,000 Americans, 200,000 Dutch, 160,000 Greeks, 88,000 Belgians, 20,000 Bulgarians and 10,000 Norwegians. The delusions of Marcel Gerbohay resulted in just two deaths, that of Maurice Bevaud and his own. And that is the difference between politics and mental illness. One is illusion, and the other is delusion.
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