Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg (15 November 1907 – 21 July 1944)
On July 20, 1944, lieutenant-colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, a 36-year-old German army officer, embarked on a daring mission to assassinate Adolf Hitler at the Wolf's Lair, Hitler's secret headquarters in East Prussia. Stauffenberg, an aristocratic and Catholic officer who had once supported Nazi policies, grew increasingly disillusioned with the regime due to the atrocities committed in the east and the realization that Germany was losing the war. Severely injured in Tunisia, losing an eye, his right hand, and two fingers on his left, Stauffenberg joined a group of conspirators intent on overthrowing the Nazi government.
Stauffenberg's role as chief of staff for the German Replacement Army provided him a critical opportunity to act. His plan involved smuggling a bomb in his briefcase into a briefing with Hitler and the high command. Despite managing to set off the explosion, a stroke of fate saved Hitler; Stauffenberg's briefcase was moved behind a sturdy table leg, significantly reducing the impact of the blast. Hitler survived, and the coup unravelled.
The failure of the 20 July Plot led to the swift execution of Stauffenberg and other conspirators, with more than 200 people later executed in retribution. Hitler's response was ruthless, resulting in over 20,000 Germans being killed or imprisoned. The plot's failure also led to the replacement of the traditional military salute with the Nazi salute, symbolizing an even tighter grip of terror over Germany.
Sophie Scholl (9 May 1921 – 22 February 1943) & Hans Scholl (22 September 1918 – 22 February 1943)
Sophie Scholl, though not widely known outside Germany, is a revered figure within Germany, celebrated for her extraordinary resistance against the Nazi regime. Her story, immortalized in literature, films, and plays, continues to inspire.
Born in 1921 into a Lutheran family, Sophie grew up in a secure and value-driven environment. However, the rise of Adolf Hitler to power saw her and her brother Hans initially drawn to the National Socialist Party, much to their father's dismay. Over time, influenced by their family and friends, their enthusiasm turned into staunch opposition.
While studying medicine at Munich University, Hans and Sophie founded the White Rose group. Alongside a circle of friends, they produced and distributed leaflets urging resistance against the Nazis, condemning the persecution of Jews, and calling for an end to the war. Their message was clear: “We won't be silenced,” they declared, “we are your bad conscience; the White Rose won't leave you in peace.”
On February 18, 1943, while distributing leaflets at the university, Sophie's act of defiance—throwing pamphlets from the top-floor landing—led to her and Hans's arrest by the Gestapo, following a betrayal by a caretaker. Despite a swift show trial that resulted in their death sentence, they did not divulge their fellow conspirators, who were eventually captured and executed.
Sophie's final words before her execution at 21 encapsulate her courage and hope: “Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go... What does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (4 February 1906 – 9 April 1945)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, and resolute anti-Nazi dissident, was a pivotal figure in the founding of the Confessing Church (German: Bekennende Kirche). His legacy is defined by his fierce resistance to the tyranny of the Nazi dictatorship, prominently opposing Adolf Hitler's euthanasia initiative and the genocidal campaign against the Jews.
Arrested by the Gestapo in April 1943, Bonhoeffer spent over a year in Tegel Prison before his transfer to Flossenbürg concentration camp. His alleged involvement in the 20 July Plot to assassinate Hitler led to his trial alongside co-conspirators, including former members of the German Military Intelligence Office. As the Nazi regime crumbled, Bonhoeffer's life was cut short by execution on 9 April 1945.
From the onset of Nazi rule, Bonhoeffer stood as a beacon of defiance. Merely two days after Hitler's appointment as Chancellor, he boldly condemned the emerging Führer cult in a radio speech, cautioning against the elevation of Hitler to a status that could betray the German people into following a Verführer—a seducer or misleader.
In April 1933, Bonhoeffer's voice was among the first to call for church resistance to the persecution of Jews, insisting that the church's role was not merely to “bandage the victims under the wheel, but to jam a spoke in the wheel itself.”
To support Jewish Christians, he, along with fellow activists, established the Pastors' Emergency League (German: Pfarrernotbund), which laid the groundwork for the Confessing Church. Bonhoeffer's commitment to the cause saw him engage internationally, delivering lectures on the church's mission in the looming war and ultimately participating in a plot to overthrow Hitler. During the war, his role was to use his pastoral duties abroad as a cover to disseminate information about the coup. Captured on 5 April 1943, he was executed two years later in Flossenbürg concentration camp. One of his last written works from prison, the poignant poem “Von guten Mächten wunderbar geborgen,” remains a testament to his enduring faith and courage amidst adversity.
Von guten Mächten wunderbar geborgen
Von guten Mächten treu und still umgeben,behütet und getröstet wunderbar,so will ich diese Tage mit euch lebenund mit euch gehen in ein neues Jahr.
Noch will das alte unsre Herzen quälen,noch drückt uns böser Tage schwere Last.Ach Herr, gib unsern aufgeschreckten Seelendas Heil, für das du uns geschaffen hast.
Und reichst du uns den schweren Kelch, den bitterndes Leids, gefüllt bis an den höchsten Rand,so nehmen wir ihn dankbar ohne Zitternaus deiner guten und geliebten Hand.
Doch willst du uns noch einmal Freude schenkenan dieser Welt und ihrer Sonne Glanz,dann wolln wir des Vergangenen gedenken,und dann gehört dir unser Leben ganz.
Lass warm und hell die Kerzen heute flammen,die du in unsre Dunkelheit gebracht,führ, wenn es sein kann, wieder uns zusammen.Wir wissen es, dein Licht scheint in der Nacht.
Wenn sich die Stille nun tief um uns breitet,so lass uns hören jenen vollen Klangder Welt, die unsichtbar sich um uns weitet,all deiner Kinder hohen Lobgesang.
Von guten Mächten wunderbar geborgen,erwarten wir getrost, was kommen mag.Gott ist bei uns am Abend und am Morgenund ganz gewiss an jedem neuen Tag.