Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1976-130-51 / CC-BY-SA
Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1976-130-51 / CC-BY-SA

10 Would-Be Assassins Who Tried To Kill Hitler

Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1976-130-51 / CC-BY-SA
Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1976-130-51 / CC-BY-SA

More than 30 attempts were made on Adolf Hitler's life before he finally took it himself—and some of them came very close to doing the dictator in.

1. Johann Georg Elser

A woodworker by trade, Elser was convinced that Hitler was going to lead Germany to war, and was unhappy with Hitler’s aggressive anti-union policies. So to make Germany better, Elser decided to kill the Führer and devised what seemed like the perfect murder.

On November 8, 1939, Hitler would be delivering a speech at Munich’s Bürgerbräukeller beer hall. So, several months in advance, Elser dropped by, looked around, and spotted a thick, supporting column. Under the cover of darkness, he spent 35 meticulous nights digging out a hole inside it—which he concealed beneath some tiles. Meanwhile, the mastermind used 110 pounds of smuggled explosives to build a time bomb with Adolf Hitler’s name on it. The Nazis would never know what hit them.

When the day finally came, though, Hitler’s speech wrapped up earlier than expected—and by the time Elser’s bomb went off, his intended target was en route to Berlin for a military meeting. Back in Munich, eight patrons were killed at Bürgerbräukeller while dozens more sustained serious injuries. That same day, Elser was arrested near the Swiss border with incriminating detonator sketches in his pockets. He died in Nazi custody six years later.

2. Heinrich Grunow

This SS soldier lay in wait near Berchtesgaden, where Hitler often entertained his most important visitors. Armed with a rifle, Grunow pumped several shots into the back of the chancellor’s passing car. He then immediately committed suicide, failing to realize that Hitler had moved to the driver’s seat and missed every bullet.  

3. Maurice Bavaud

Disguised as a foreign reporter, Swiss theology student Maurice Bavaud arrived in Munich in 1938 with the intention of slaying Hitler before several hundred witnesses. His quarry would be marching by in a parade and Bavaud planned to shoot him from the sidelines—but when the moment came, innocent bystanders unwittingly blocked his view, staying this gunman’s hand. He was later captured and executed.

4. Helmut Hirsch

Few self-described Nazis opposed Hitler more than Otto Strasser, who’d been exiled for his views in 1930. Six years later, Strasser—then residing in Prague—handed off a bomb to Helmut Hirsch. If all went well, a co-conspirator would meet this young Jewish man in Stuttgart, discreetly take the device, and plant it inside Nuremberg’s Nazi Party Headquarters. Sadly, things didn’t work out that way. German authorities somehow caught wind of Hirsch’s intentions and had him executed.

5. Josef Thomas

Little is known about Thomas, though he’s consistently described as having been “mentally-ill.” Arrested by the Gestapo in 1937, he confessed that he’d traveled from Elberfeld to Berlin for the explicit purpose of shooting Hitler and air force commander Hermann Göring.

6. Henning von Tresckow

Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1976-130-53 / CC-BY-SA

This general came up with several ingenious plots to kill Hitler, but, try as he might, he simply couldn’t bring down the Führer. Altitude ruined what was arguably his best chance.

Before Hitler’s plane took off one fateful day, von Tresckow and his accomplices discreetly had two bombs sent aboard. Masquerading as Cointreau bottles, these things should have blown the dictator to kingdom come. But when the plane's pilots made a sudden climb to avoid storm clouds on the horizon, the deadly chemicals froze, rendering them useless. Later, Tresckow’s team retrieved their gadgets and managed to walk away scot-free.

7. Rudolf Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff

Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1976-130-51 / CC-BY-SA

Mere days after failing to assassinate Hitler in mid-air, Tresckow was back at the drawing board. He learned that Hitler would be touring Berlin’s Zeughas Museum on March 21, 1944. For the occasion, like-minded Colonel Gersdorff loaded his jacket with explosives and became Tresckow’s designated suicide bomber. Seconds before the blast, Gersdorff was to wrap his arms around their victim in a fatal embrace. 

There was just one problem: Tresckow had given Gersdorff 10 minutes’ worth of fuse, which he delicately set off—but Hitler left the museum after only eight minutes. The colonel had to race to the men’s room and defuse the live bomb that was still draped over his body.

8. Helmuth Stieff

Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-146-1547-17 / Menzendorf / CC-BY-SA

Stationed at the German military’s eastern headquarters in Ratsenberg, Steiff was supposed to plant a bomb near Hitler’s favorite dog-walking trail. But the bomb was placed in a nearby water tower, either because Steiff second guessed himself or the tower was being used for storage. Either way, the water tower blew up. The SS never identified Steiff as a culprit, but he was later executed for another plot against Hitler.

9. Axel von Dem Bussche

Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1994-022-32A/ CC-BY-SA

The blond-haired, blue-eyed Axel von Dem Bussche (another ally of Tresckow’s) had the Nazi party’s “master race” look down pat—and so was chosen to model some new uniforms for the Führer during the winter of 1943. Seizing this opportunity, Bussche prepared a modified, pocket-sized grenade that he hoped Hitler’s guards wouldn’t detect. But Allied forces foiled his plan when they destroyed the train that was transporting his outfits. 

10. Claus von Stauffenberg

 In 1943, Tresckow recruited Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a career army man who’d lost multiple body parts (including his right hand) while fighting Hitler’s war. Shortly thereafter, Stauffenberg became Chief of Staff for Germany’s replacement army, which served as the centerpiece in an elaborate coup d’état. On July 20, 1944, a routine strategy meeting took place at “The Wolf’s Lair,” a notorious bunker. Stauffenberg arrived with explosives nestled inside his unassuming messenger bag, which he placed beneath the conference room table, getting as close to Hitler as he possibly could before quietly excusing himself. Ten minutes later, an explosion rang out, which the Berlin-bound Stauffenberg observed from a distance. Four people were killed. None of them was Hitler.

Wasting no time, the Colonel and his colleagues began mobilizing an anti-Nazi rebellion throughout Berlin. However, once news of Hitler’s survival spread, the effort unraveled. Tresckow committed suicide and Stauffenberg found himself shouting “Long live our sacred Germany!” before a firing squad. 

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
15 Riveting Facts About Alan Turing
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

More than six decades after his death, Alan Turing’s life remains a point of fascination—even for people who have no interest in his groundbreaking work in computer science. He has been the subject of a play and an opera, and referenced in multiple novels and numerous musical albums. The Benedict Cumberbatch film about his life, The Imitation Game, received eight Oscar nominations. But just who was he in real life? Here are 15 facts you should know about Alan Turing, who was born on this day in 1912.


Turing essentially pioneered the idea of computer memory. In 1936, Turing published a seminal paper called “On Computable Numbers” [PDF], which The Washington Post has called “the founding document of the computer age.” In the philosophical article, he hypothesized that one day, we could build machines that could compute any problem that a human could, using 0s and 1s. Turing proposed single-task machines called Turing machines that would be capable of solving just one type of math problem, but a “universal computer” would be able to tackle any kind of problem thrown at it by storing instructional code in the computer’s memory. Turing’s ideas about memory storage and using a single machine to carry out all tasks laid the foundation for what would become the digital computer.

In 1945, while working for the UK’s National Physical Laboratory, he came up with the Automatic Computing Machine, the first digital computer with stored programs. Previous computers didn’t have electric memory storage, and had to be manually rewired to switch between different programs.


Turing began working at Bletchley Park, Britain’s secret headquarters for its codebreakers during World War II, in 1939. By one estimate, his work there may have cut the war short by up to two years. He’s credited with saving millions of lives.

Turing immediately got to work designing a codebreaking machine called the Bombe (an update of a previous Polish machine) with the help of his colleague Gordon Welchman. The Bombe shortened the steps required in decoding, and 200 of them were built for British use over the course of the war. They allowed codebreakers to decipher up to 4000 messages a day.

His greatest achievement was cracking the Enigma, a mechanical device used by the German army to encode secure messages. It proved nearly impossible to decrypt without the correct cipher, which the German forces changed every day. Turing worked to decipher German naval communications at a point when German U-boats were sinking ships carrying vital supplies across the Atlantic between Allied nations. In 1941, Turing and his team managed to decode the German Enigma messages, helping to steer Allied ships away from the German submarine attacks. In 1942, he traveled to the U.S. to help the Americans with their own codebreaking work.


Early on, Bletchley Park’s operations were hampered by a lack of resources, but pleas for better staffing were ignored by government officials. So, Alan Turing and several other codebreakers at Bletchley Park went over their heads to write directly to Prime Minister Winston Churchill. One of the codebreakers from Bletchley Park delivered the letter by hand in October 1941.

“Our reason for writing to you direct is that for months we have done everything that we possibly can through the normal channels, and that we despair of any early improvement without your intervention,” they wrote to Churchill [PDF]. “No doubt in the long run these particular requirements will be met, but meanwhile still more precious months will have been wasted, and as our needs are continually expanding we see little hope of ever being adequately staffed.”

In response, Churchill immediately fired off a missive to his chief of staff: “Make sure they have all they want on extreme priority and report to me that this had been done.”


Like many geniuses, Turing was not without his eccentricities. He wore a gas mask while riding his bike to combat his allergies. Instead of fixing his bike’s faulty chain, he learned exactly when to dismount to secure it in place before it slipped off. He was known around Bletchley Park for chaining his tea mug to a radiator to prevent it from being taken by other staffers.


Though he was considered an average student, Turing was dedicated enough to his schooling that when a general strike prevented him from taking the train to his first day at his new elite boarding school, the 14-year-old rode his bike the 62 miles instead.


Turing started running as a schoolboy and continued throughout his life, regularly running the 31 miles between Cambridge and Ely while he was a fellow at King’s College. During World War II, he occasionally ran the 40 miles between London and Bletchley Park for meetings.

He almost became an Olympic athlete, too. He came in fifth place at a qualifying marathon for the 1948 Olympics with a 2-hour, 46-minute finish (11 minutes slower than the 1948 Olympic marathon winner). However, a leg injury held back his athletic ambitions that year.

Afterward, he continued running for the Walton Athletic Club, though, and served as its vice president. ”I have such a stressful job that the only way I can get it out of my mind is by running hard,” he once told the club’s secretary. “It's the only way I can get some release."


In 1952, Turing was arrested after reporting a burglary in his home. In the course of the investigation, the police discovered Turing’s relationship with another man, Arnold Murray. Homosexual relationships were illegal in the UK at the time, and he was charged with “gross indecency.” He pled guilty on the advice of his lawyer, and opted to undergo chemical castration instead of serving time in jail.


In 2009, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a public apology to Turing on behalf of the British government. “Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted as he was convicted under homophobic laws were treated terribly,” Brown said. "This recognition of Alan's status as one of Britain's most famous victims of homophobia is another step towards equality and long overdue." Acknowledging Britain’s debt to Turing for his vital contributions to the war effort, he announced, “on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan's work I am very proud to say: we're sorry, you deserved so much better."

His conviction was not actually pardoned, though, until 2013, when he received a rare royal pardon from the Queen of England.


Turing was only one of the many men who suffered after being prosecuted for their homosexuality under 19th-century British indecency laws. Homosexuality was decriminalized in the UK in 1967, but the previous convictions were never overturned. Turing’s Law, which went into effect in 2017, posthumously pardoned men who had been convicted for having consensual gay sex before the repeal. According to one of the activists who campaigned for the mass pardons, around 15,000 of the 65,000 gay men convicted under the outdated law are still alive.


There is still a bit of mystery surrounding Turing’s death at the age of 41. Turing died of cyanide poisoning, in what is widely believed to have been a suicide. Turing’s life had been turned upside down by his arrest. He lost his job and his security clearance. By order of the court, he had to take hormones intended to “cure” his homosexuality, which caused him to grow breasts and made him impotent. But not everyone is convinced that he died by suicide.

In 2012, Jack Copeland, a Turing scholar, argued that the evidence used to declare Turing’s death a suicide in 1954 would not be sufficient to close the case today. The half-eaten apple by his bedside, thought to be the source of his poisoning, was never tested for cyanide. There was still a to-do list on his desk, and his friends told the coroner at the time that he had seemed in good spirits. Turing’s mother, in fact, maintained that he probably accidentally poisoned himself while experimenting with the chemical in his home laboratory. (He was known to taste chemicals while identifying them, and could be careless with safety precautions.)

That line of inquiry is far more tame than some others, including one author’s theory that he was murdered by the FBI to cover up information that would have been damaging to the U.S.


Alan Turing was a well-respected mathematician in his time, but his contemporaries didn’t know the full extent of his contributions to the world. Turing’s work breaking the Enigma machine remained classified long after his death, meaning that his contributions to the war effort and to mathematics were only partially known to the public during his lifetime. It wasn’t until the 1970s that his instrumental role in the Allies' World War II victory became public with the declassification of the Enigma story. The actual techniques Turing used to decrypt the messages weren’t declassified until 2013, when two of his papers from Bletchley Park were released to the British National Archives.


Can a machine fool a human into thinking they are chatting with another person? That’s the crux of the Turing test, an idea developed by Turing in 1950 regarding how to measure artificial intelligence. Turing argued in his paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” [PDF] that the idea of machines “thinking” is not a useful way to evaluate artificial intelligence. Instead, Turing suggests “the imitation game,” a way to assess how successfully a machine can imitate human behavior. The best measure of artificial intelligence, then, is whether or not a computer can convince a person that it is human.


As technology has progressed, some feel the Turing test is no longer a useful way to measure artificial intelligence. It’s cool to think about computers being able to talk just like a person, but new technology is opening up avenues for computers to express intelligence in other, more useful ways. A robot’s intelligence isn’t necessarily defined by whether it can fake being human—self-driving cars or programs that can mimic sounds based on images might not pass the Turing test, but they certainly have intelligence.


Inspired by the chess champions he worked with at Bletchley Park, Alan Turing created an algorithm for an early version of computer chess—although at that time, there was no computer to try it out on. Created with paper and pencil, the Turochamp program was designed to think two moves ahead, picking out the best moves possible. In 2012, Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov played against Turing’s algorithm, beating it in 16 moves. “I would compare it to an early caryou might laugh at them but it is still an incredible achievement," Kasparov said in a statement after the match-up.


In 2012, Monopoly came out with an Alan Turing edition to celebrate the centennial of his birth. Turing had enjoyed playing Monopoly during his life, and the Turing-themed Monopoly edition was designed based on a hand-drawn board created in 1950 by his friend William Newman. Instead of hotels and houses, it featured huts and blocks inspired by Bletchley Park, and included never-before-published photos of Turing. (It’s hard to find, but there are still a few copies of the game on Amazon.)

E. A. Tilly, Library of Congress // Public Domain
The 19th Century Poet Who Predicted a 1970s Utopia
An electric airship departing Paris in 1883.
An electric airship departing Paris in 1883.
E. A. Tilly, Library of Congress // Public Domain

In 1870, John Collins dreamed of a future without cigarettes, crime, or currency inflation. The Quaker poet, teacher, and lithographer authored "1970: A Vision for the Coming Age," a 28-page-long poem that imagines what the world would be like a century later—or, as Collins poetically puts it, in "nineteen hundred and threescore and ten.”

The poem, recently spotlighted by The Public Domain Review, is a fanciful epic that follows a narrator as he travels in an airship from Collins’s native New Jersey to Europe, witnessing the wonders of a futuristic society.

In Collins’s imagination, the world of the future seamlessly adheres to his own Quaker leanings. He writes: “Suffice it to say, every thing that I saw / Was strictly conformed to one excellent law / That forbade all mankind to make or to use / Any goods that a Christian would ever refuse.” For him, that means no booze or bars, no advertising, no “vile trashy novels,” not even “ribbons hung flying around.” Needless to say, he wouldn’t have been prepared for Woodstock. In his version of 1970, everyone holds themselves to a high moral standard, no rules required. Children happily greet strangers on their way to school (“twas the custom of all, not enforced by a rule”) before hurrying on to ensure that they don’t waste any of their “precious, short study hours.”

It’s a society whose members are never sick or in pain, where doors don’t need locks and prisons don’t exist, where no one feels tempted to cheat, lie, or steal, and no one goes bankrupt. There is no homelessness. The only money is in the form of gold and silver, and inflation isn't an issue. Storms, fires, and floods are no longer, and air pollution has been eradicated.

While Collins’s sunny outlook might have been a little off-base, he did hint at some innovations that we’d recognize today. He describes international shipping, and comes decently close to predicting drone delivery—in his imagination, a woman in Boston asks a Cuban friend to send her some fruit that “in half an hour came, propelled through the air.” He kind of predicts CouchSurfing (or an extremely altruistic version of Airbnb), imagining that in the future, hotels wouldn't exist and kind strangers would just put you up in their homes for free. He dreams up undersea cables that could broadcast a kind of live video feed of musicians from around the world, playing in their homes, to a New York audience—basically a YouTube concert. He describes electric submarines (“iron vessels with fins—a submarine line, / propels by galvanic action alone / and made to explore ocean’s chambers unknown") and trains that run silently. He even describes climate change, albeit a much more appealing view of it than we’re experiencing now. In his world, “one perpetual spring had encircled the earth.”

Collins might be a little disappointed if he could have actually witnessed the world of 1970, which was far from the Christian utopia he hoped for. But he would have at least, presumably, really enjoyed plane rides.

You can read the whole thing here.

[h/t The Public Domain Review]


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