Elser, Johan Georg, born 04-01-1903 in Hermaringen, Württemberg,
to Ludwig Elser and Maria Müller, who married one year after their son’s birth. He attended elementary school in Königsbronn from 1910–17 and showed ability in drawing and handicrafts. His father was a farmer and lumber dealer, and expected his son to succeed him in this trade. Georg, who had helped his father in his work, however, instead pursued his own interests. He began an apprenticeship as a lathe operator in a foundry, which he quit two years later for health reasons. He completed an apprenticeship as a carpenter in 1922.
He then worked as a carpenter in several joineries in Königsbronn, Aalen and Heidenheim. From 1925–29, he worked in a watch factory in Konstanz, where he acquired the knowledge enabling him to build the timer for the bomb he was later to use in an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. From 1929–32 he worked as a carpenter, in Switzerland. After his return to Königsbronn,
he worked with his parents. From 1936, he worked in a fitting factory in Heidenheim. While working here, he became aware of the Nazis’ rearmament program. Elser was a quiet yet sociable character, joining in different cultural societies and clubs, amongst others, a Tracht club. He played the zither
and the double bass for the local choir. He also enjoyed to hike with his friends. In 1930, his girlfriend, Mathilde Niedermann, became pregnant and gave birth to his son Manfred.
The pregnancy was unplanned and mirrored his parents’ situation at his birth. Unlike his parents, Elser did not marry Mathilde and separated from her soon afterwards. He became a member of the federation of wood workers union. In 1928, a colleague persuaded him to join the Red Front Fighters’ Association,
the paramilitary organization of the Communist Party. He did not devote much time to these memberships. Though not a committed Communist, he was a devoted church-going Protestant, he voted for the Communist Party until 1933, as he considered them to be the best defenders of workers’ interests. He opposed Nazism from the beginning of the regime in 1933, and refused to perform the Hitler salute
, or to join others in listening to Hitler’s speeches broadcast on the radio. Nor did he vote in the Third Reich’s elections or referendums. In 1938, Europe was on the verge of war over the Sudetenland Crisis. After the experience of World War I, Elser was apprehensive about the possibility of another war. Though war was averted at this time, Elser mistrusted Hitler’s peace proclamations and considered removing the Nazi leadership by assassination. In order to find out how best to implement his plan, Elser traveled to Munich on 08-11-1938, to attend Hitler’s annual speech on the anniversary of Hitler’s failed Beer Hall Putsch.
Elser not only judged the poorly guarded event to be a favourable opportunity, but during the same night also witnessed the outbursts of anti-Jewish violence during the Kristallnacht. This experience convinced Elser that a leadership capable of inciting such violence would plunge Germany into a major war, and that only Hitler’s death could prevent this from happening. Elser chose the next anniversary of the Beerhall Putsch, to kill Hitler with a bomb during his speech at the Bürgerbräukeller.
He built a time bomb with which he travelled to Munich in the weeks preceding Hitler’s anniversary speech. Elser managed to stay inside the Bürgerbräukeller after closing hours each night for over a month, during which time he hollowed out the pillar behind the speaker’s rostrum, and placed the bomb inside it. Security was relatively lax as it had been left to local party strongman Christian Weber
rather than Reinhard Heydrich
Weber a much-hated figure in Munich, Weber was killed by Bavarian insurrectionists just after the collapse of the Third Reich, age 61, on 11-05-1945. While Elser was making these preparations, World War II broke out on 1 September 1939. Due to his intense, laborious preparations, he hardly noticed these and other events. Unknown to Elser, Hitler initially cancelled his speech at the Bürgerbräukeller
because of the war. However, he then changed his mind and attended the anniversary, but planned on returning to Berlin that same night. Fog prevented a flight back to Berlin, forcing Hitler to deliver his speech earlier than planned in order to take the train. Hitler left the beer hall at about 13 minutes before Elser’s bomb exploded as planned at 21:20, and Hitler did not even learn of this attempt on his life until later that night on a stop in Nuremberg.
The bomb killed eight people, and injured sixty-three, seriously injuring sixteen of them. Elser was arrested by chance at 20:45, about 35 minutes before the bomb exploded, by the customs border police in Konstanz when he tried to cross the border into Switzerland. At first the officers did not suspect his involvement in the assassination attempt, but then they found picture postcards from the Bürgerbräukeller in Elser’s coat. Elser was transferred to Munich, where he was interrogated by the Gestapo . Elser remained silent and denied any involvement in the explosion, but the evidence pointing to his complicity became increasingly clear. What finally pointed to Elser as the would-be assassin were his bruised, scraped knees. As it turned out, the hollow space in the column where the explosives had been hidden could only have been reached by an assassin crawling on his knees. Waitresses then identified Elser as a frequent patron of the Bürgerbräukeller, and he eventually confessed. “The solemn act of state in front of the Feldherrnhalle in Munich (11-11-1939) for the seven victims of the criminal bomb attack in Bürgerbräukeller on 08-11-1939” After his confession to the crime in Munich, Elser was taken to the Berlin headquarters of the Gestapo, on Prinz Albrecht Strasse,
where he in his prison cell was severely tortured.
Arthur Nebe told Hans Gisevius of Elser’s frayed state during this period. Gisevius wrote later,
Elser was just a shell of his former self because they (the Gestapo) had tried to squeeze information out of him by feeding him very salty herring and exposing him to heat, and then depriving him of liquids … They wanted him to confess to some kind of connection, however vague, to Otto Strasser . The artisan remained steadfast. Almost like an innocent child or the kind of person one sometimes finds among sect members, he told Nebe of his torment, not begging mercy, not even complaining — it was more like an outburst of joy at seeing once again the person (Nebe) who had treated him humanely since his arrest. Arthur Nebe commanded the Kripo until he was denounced and executed, age 50, on 21-03-1945, after the failed attempt to kill Adolf Hitler in July 1944. Gregor Strasser, an ods comrade from the first hour, was murdered on Hitler’s orders during the Röhm purge on 30-06-1934, age 42, in Berlin.
Elser parents, siblings and their spouses, together with his former girlfriend Else Härlen, were taken by train to Berlin to be held in Moabit prison and then in the grand Hotel Kaiserhof. His mother, sister Maria Hirth, brother-in-law Karl Hirth and Else Härlen were interrogated in the presence of Elser. The SS Reichsführer, Heinrich Himmler
did not believe that a diminutive Swabian, a craftsman with a grade-school education, could have almost managed to assassinate the Führer without accomplices. The protocol from the Gestapo was recovered at the end of the 1960s. This 203 page document is the most important source of information about Elser. Elser was imprisoned in Sachsenhausen and Dachau
Although he consistently claimed to have been acting on his own, the Nazis, especially Josef Goebbels
persisted in suspecting a British-led conspiracy, and intended to stage a trial exposing this alleged plot after the war. Elser was kept in special custody. The mystery about the identity of this “special security prisoner” sometimes led to malicious rumours among his fellow inmates. Even after the war, Martin Niemöller,
a German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor, who died old age 92, on 06-03-1984 in Wiesbaden. He is best known for his statement “First they came…”, also in custody at Sachsenhausen, claimed that Elser had been a member of the SS and that the whole assassination attempt had been staged by the Nazis to portray Hitler as being protected by Providence. However, historical research by Anton Hoch in 1969 confirmed that Elser acted alone, and no evidence involving the regime, or any outside group has been found. In April 1945 German defeat became imminent and Allied troops were drawing nearer to Dachau. This meant that the Nazis’ aim of staging a trial became futile, so Hitler ordered the killing of the “special security prisoner Eller”, the name by which Elser was called in Dachau. Gestapo chief, SS-Gruppenführer, Heinrich Müller
who died age 45 in Mai 1945, delivered the order for this killing to the Commandant of the Dachau concentration camp, SS-Obersturmbannführer, Eduard Weiter
. In the event Weiter did not face trial as he fled Dachau immediately before its liberation and made it to Austria where he died in mysterious circumstances, possibly being killed by a fellow SS member angry at his lack of ideological conviction, on 02-05-1945, also age 45. Following order has arrived: At one of the next terror attacks on Munich area of Dachau, “Eller” has a deadly accident. I ask you to liquidate “Eller” without attracting attention after such a situation appears. Also take special care that only a few people who are specially bound come to know of this. The message for me then shall be something like…On… caused by a terror attack (air raid) on…. security prisoner “Eller” fatally injured.
Death and burial ground of Elser, Johan Georg.
The execution spot
His grave of honor in Königsbronn-Itzelberg. He was buried in a mass grave at Leitenberg cemetery near Dachau.