DO YOU KNOW THIS MAN?
Most people don’t. He looks mild mannered and, from all available information about him, apparently he was. He made cuckoo clocks and he played the zither (a mutant musical instrument resembling something between a harp and a piano’s insides). He loved animals, was a momma’s boy and sexually irresponsible. Yet this chap single-handedly conceived of, planned and executed the only assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler that worked – but was still a failure. Now, how is that possible?
Georg Elser sincerely wanted to halt the onset of WWII, though why it was so important to him to do so is anybody’s guess. In order to endure endless nights on his knees chiseling away at a 1m thick pillar, then meticulously concealing his work and slipping out of the building undetected, he must have had a strong motive! His determination was so blindly resolute that he was totally unaware of the fact that Hitler had cancelled the speaking engagement; it was only reconfirmed at the last minute. So, despite the fact that our boy wasn’t actually paying attention, he succeeded in planting a bomb in the venue where the Führer would be speaking the evening of November 8th 1939.
He had the knowledge to build an effective time bomb, and the skills required to make the device undetectable even to Hitler’s most loyal hounds. He had the self discipline essential to carry the plan out and, last but not least, the Führer showed up – so what went wrong?
I would venture to say that Georg Johann Elser may well have been the most competent yet unluckiest assassin of all time:
He had no way of knowing what the weather in Berlin would be that night. As it happened there was heavy fog which meant that Hitler and his entourage would not be able to fly back from Munich, they would have to take the train to Berlin.
Who could possibly imagine a megalomaniac cutting a speech short!? Hitler however was forced to do so that night – there wasn’t time to change the train schedules so he spoke for less than an hour in order to catch the last scheduled train for Berlin.
Georg was governed by fixed ideas. His plan was absolute and he executed it to the letter. As such he was absolutely certain of its success. He set the device, and then blithely set off for the Swiss border. Everything had been perfectly planned except his escape. He had crossed the border into Switzerland so many times during his adult life it never occurred to him that it might pose a problem. He hadn’t counted on the political changes during Hitler’s surge for power affecting even sleepy hollows like Konstanz. His papers were not in order so, he was detained.
Pay attention now because this is the point in our tale where things become really ridiculous.
Initial accounts of the Burger Braü Keller bombing stated that more than 100 people were killed and even more wounded. The “official” party reports that followed however claimed that it was not a bomb but a freak accident due to a gas leak and that only 8 people were killed.
The Munich police had collared a suspect within 36 hours and not long thereafter acquired a full detailed confession without torture: that should have meant cigars and promotions. The only problem was that their suspect’s confession was totally unacceptable. Hitler’s popularity base was supposed to be the German working class – if an Aryan Lutheran German worker wanted him dead, and had very nearly succeeded in offing him, then things would not look rosy for the future of the Reich! Goebbels’ team may have gotten a great opportunity to declare divine intervention, but for the overall good of the “Kampf” it was essential the entire incident be relegated to the ‘insignificant and thus easily forgotten’ pile.
The GESTAPO, lovely individuals, were in a real pickle; simply unable to accept that one civilian could have executed such an act unassisted. For their own peace of mind (not to mention for the perpetuity of their own job security) it was tantamount they unearth a foreign conspiracy. Our boy Georg was interrogated by a seemingly endless stream of well meaning and appropriately terrified officers – but the result was always the same – it was the only story he knew how to tell. He even politely offered to sign off on whatever would make their position easier, he was screwed one way or the other, but that only served to make his captors more paranoid. Were an actual conspiracy ever substantiated it would have looked like an intentional cover up.
An expeditious execution would have been hugely convenient but would have required a trial and lots of documentation that might be cross referenced some day (putting careers and kudos at risk). The only course of action was to hold on to him until sufficient time had passed for him to simply fade away.
My long-time friend and co-author Donald Schwarz was obsessed with Elser for decades. In essence Interrogation Tango, this attempt to flesh out an historical ghost, is the way Don would have liked the story to turn out if he were the protagonist.
Interrogation Tango is an anti-detective story, based on real events and people, about an assassin who drove the Gestapo crazy because they could not explain him away.
A non-descript clock maker named Georg Elser thought it would be a good idea to stop the onset of WWII. He thought he might be able to do that if he could kill Hitler and all of his entourage and, because he was sincerely looking for an opportunity, he found one. He placed a bomb in a beer hall where the Fuhrer was scheduled to give a speech.
It was a good honest try and it went wrong only by minutes. Elser was caught by a series of accidents and, when his family was threatened, he immediately confessed. There was only one problem: his confession was unacceptable. The police had assassin profiles then as they do now and he fit none of them. In fact, it was obvious to the police that he was not a criminal. Besides which, politics demanded that the attempt could not be perpetrated by one of Hitler’s faithful, adoring citizens; it had to be a British conspiracy. However, there was no conspiracy and the cops were afraid to invent one, since in the event that there was a real conspiracy, an invented one would look like a cover-up.
Interrogation Tango is the policemen’s story: the detectives Elser destroyed and the Gestapo men he drove crazy, followed by chaos and a body count.
Victoria lives in the city of Herákleionon the island of Crete, Greece with her husband and two beautiful daughters. A freelance writer and translator in Greece since 1992 she has received two screenwriting grants from the EEU Media Programme for both original and commissioned feature scripts, has worked on local and foreign productions. Victoria met her co-author Donald E. Schwarz in 1994 while visiting New York and the two instantly struck up a creative partnership.
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